Friday, June 22, 2012

Urban Legends and Totoro

As with any culture, the Japanese are susceptible to urban legends, the (usually mistaken) beliefs that people seem to accept because everyone else believes them. For example, there's a persistent conviction in Japan that the "Lucky Strike" cigarette logo is supposed to represent the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima as seen from above, although the logo has actually been in use for a quarter century. Then there's the odd urban legend, still hotly debated on Japanese websites, that there's a dark tale hidden inside the classic My Neighbor Totoro. It's almost certainly wrong, but may nevertheless be interesting if for no other reason than as a study of how ideas like this spring into being. It might be disturbing to some Totoro fans, so I'm hiding the paragraph. Highlight if you want to read.
According to the theory, Totoro (whose name may have come from a child's mistaken attempt at pronouncing the English word "troll" from the classic Billy Goats Gruff story) is really a shinigami (god of death) who has come to collect Mei. When Mei goes missing she actually dies by falling into a ride paddy and drowning, and when Satsuki asks Totoro, "Please take me to where Mei is!" she too, is brought to the land of death. (Some say that after this scene no shadows are drawn under the girls, though it's hard to tell for sure.) There are similarities to an event called the Sayama Incident on which a girl was tragically murdered on May 1, 1963. The names of Mei ("May") and Satsuki (the old name for the month of May, before Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar) both seem to mirror this. There's also a scene where the old lady is drinking tea with "Sayama Tea" written on it, which seems like a definite reference. Finally, in the last scene of the film, if the girls are not dead, why don't they go to talk to their mother?

Where Totoros really come from.

Japanese Love English Grammar

The Japanese, of course, spend a lot of energy learning English, with most taking six years of the language, or up to ten if they take it at university. While Japanese generally aren't the most effective speakers of English, most of them have a cerebral knowledge of the grammar of the language, quite possibly surpassing many of us. Depending on your background, you probably aren't up on what the difference between infinitive and gerunds is linguistically, and never consciously wonder if you should use a "past perfect continuous" verb when speaking or if you can get away with a "conditional progressive" form instead, but many Japanese people do. They're so analytical when it comes to English grammar that I was banned from helping my son when he was studying for his high school entrance exam, being told my natural, living English had no place on a Japanese style test. I have a Japanese friend who's an English teacher, and he always hits me up with questions like, what are the quantitative differences between "should" and "ought to." I tell him they both sound about the same to my ear, but this drives him crazy.

Japanese have extensive knowledge of English grammar.

Communal Cups and Japan

I've done my best to understand the Japanese in the 20 years I've lived in the country, and while I've made progress, there are still some questions that nag at me. Why do they think that hot dogs are the perfect breakfast food? They're a popular morning item at McDonald's, and whenever I get a pack from the Costco that opened near J-List, my wife serves them to me for breakfast every morning. Why does pizza with corn, squid and mayonnaise exist? (It really does.) Why do Japanese think traffic lights turn "blue"? Finally, how can the Japanese be the cleanest and most hygienic people in the world, yet be okay with drinking from communal water cups at Shinto shrines? It's something every foreigner who visits Japan encounters: beautiful long-handled cups of metal or bamboo...which hundreds of people use to drink from each hour. The communal drinking cup thing isn't limited to picturesque shrines: most public restrooms will have an old plastic cup caked with calcium deposits that's supposedly for everyone to use when they want to have a drink of water. At the gym I go to, they raise the "what?" bar even higher by providing a box of communal towels for wiping the sweat off your body if you want to work out but somehow forgot to bring your own towel. They're laundered each day, but still, I could never bring myself to use one.

Drinking from communal cups in Japan.

Join us on Facebook or Twitter

We love services like Twitter and Facebook which let us reach out and connect with our fans, and if you're on either service, be sure and follow and/or "like" us. In addition to posting about new J-List site updates, I post random pictures which people seem to find interesting, ask what Japan-related questions people would like to see me write about, and post my "random nihongo" observations as I think of them.

Cool Products Friday, June 22, 2012

Here are today's "really cool products" that I've picked out for you, out of the 30+ new items we've added to the J-List and sites today. Note that some products may be "not safe for work" but that all links will allow you to redirect yourself either to the J-List or websites. To see all the J-List products, check out J-List or the updated products link.
Hiragana Times July 2012 NO. 309
The new issue of Hiragana Times is here, as always combining great culture articles with Japanese language exercises. As usual we recommend this great magazine to anyone who wants to learn Japanese (either seriously or more casually), as well as people who want to read bilingual articles about current events in Japan.
View products »
Pokemon Pikachu 3D Kumu Kumu Puzzle
Pokemon Pikachu 3D Kumu Kumu Puzzle This is a 3D Pikachu Puzzle that will stand as a great Pikachu figure once assembled. 35 pieces. official Pokemon product.
Let's be a Toilet Man/Woman
Let's be a Toilet Man/Woman A totally awesome wacky item like J-List loves to carry. This is crazy toilet hat! Complete with the lid and fake poop!
Kotonoha Katsura T-Shirt  size M
Kotonoha Katsura T-Shirt School Days fans, check out this awesome T-shirt featuring Kotonoha in an adorable maid costume! A rare limited item from Japan.
School Days Sports Towel
School Days Sports Towel Then we have a fun official School Days towel, an awesome item for all your favorite aerobic activities. Features the School Days logo.
Reimu Hakurei 1/8 Figure Kourindo ver.  Touhou Project *Preorder* **Preorder**
Reimu Hakurei and Patchouli Knowledge Beautiful new figures for Touhou fans are now available for preorder. These Reimu and Patchouli figures will take your breath away.
Nendoroid Complete File ** Preorder **
Nendoroid Complete File For fans of all things kawaii, we have a Nendoroid photobook (Saber Nendoroid included) which is to die for. Click to see the fun items.
Nyanpire Plush Pukuramu
Nyanpire Plush Pukuramu An awesome waterproof Nyanpire plush that inflates as you put it in water! Get one of these cool transforming plushes today.
Nyanpire 2-Tier Bento Box
Other Nyanpire Products Restocked We have restocked Nyanpire products too, including the Nyanpire Face Kinchaku Bag, plus our most popular bento and chopstocks!
Angel Nurse  Pink
Angel Nurse ~ Pink Here's a great nurse outfit for performing all kinds of fun and sexy cosplay. Includes everything you need to look kawaii. Twintails sold separately.
Tsunagi One-Piece  Gray
Tsunagi One-Piece ~ Gray Another elegant Japan fashion item from J-List, a one-piece outfit that's totally cool. Casual and fashionable!
90cm Loose Socks
Kawaii 'Loose Socks' from Japan Great for cosplay, but also great fun just to wear -- these are the socks Japanese school girls wear to get that unique baggy sock look.
Men's Shimapan  Shimabra Dream  Blue 5L
Shimapan, Other Cosplay Items Restocked Next we've restocked some interesting shimapan and sukumizu (school swimsuits) in all sizes, including 5L for "trap" fans because, why not?
Japanese School Bag  Sports Type
Japanese School Bags, Cosplay Items Our popular high school bookbags are back in stock, great for creating that special cosplay outfit or carrying your books.
Gakken Otona no Kagaku vol. 9  Science Projects for Adult -- Pinhole Planetarium
Restocked Science Kits for Adults Build a working planetarium in your bedroom, an awesome real Theremin musical instrument, plus the most amazing Theo Jansen Mini Rhinoceros moving work of art.
Navy Striped JINBEI / Summer  Relax Wear Set   XL size
Fun Items for Summer from Japan! Get into the spirit of summer when you put on a pair of Japanese Jinbei summer kimono-pajamas, plus authentic Katori-Senko for killing mosquitoes.
Samurai Sword Toy
Samurai Sword Toy & More A traditional souvenir from Japan, this is an imitation of a short Samurai katana! Also, a really awesome chirimen box from Kyoto to hold your stuff.
AKIBA'S TRIP PLUS Enjoy a fusion of 3D battles, adventure interaction and AKIBAtic exploration in this innovative new game for the PSP!
Gold Jewelry Making Sticker Pen  Let's Make Original Stickers
Jewelry Making Sticker Pens Restocked We carry a lot of fun crafts on J-List, and the popular pens that allow you to make your own stickers for decorating stuff are back in stock.
Injection Ball Point Pen  RED
Wacky Pens from Japan Just when you thought J-List had run out of interesting pens from Japan to post to our site...we go and restocked the injection needle & crab leg pens!
Frog Fuwa Fuwa Pouch
Frog Fuwa Fuwa Pouch Nice, this is a really cute all-purpose pouch with zipper for anyone who loves kawaii frogs from Japan.
Driving Beginner's Mark
Driving Beginner's Mark Show everyone you're into Japan with this cool Beginner's Mark, a magnetic sticker you stick to your car's metal surface or window.
Meiji 100% Juice Gummy Set of 2 (Tropical Fruits and Citrus Fruits Mix)
Lots of New Snacks from Japan Made with 100% fruit juice and no artificial colorings or ingredients, you'll enjoy these tropical fruits and lemon gummies from Japan. Also new Furikake!
Morinaga Salt Butter Caramel
Morinaga Salt Butter Caramel Another wonderful treat from Japan, the famous Morinaga Salt Butter Carmel, a delicious sweet caramel with over 100 years of history.
Japan Made Oreo
Restocked J-Snacks Too We've got Japan-made Oreo cookies, traditional Pure Mist candy, UHA Puccho Ball Ramune, Glico Takoyaki and Pudding Pretz w/sauce, and more.
Ball Series Colored Aluminum Foil for Rice Ball (pack of 12)
Ball Series Colored Aluminum Foil for Rice Ball A collection of aluminum foil sheets for wrapping onigiri rice balls that turns them into fun baseballs, soccer balls, and basketballs.
Lucky Owl Yellow Wood 2 Tier Bento w/ Elastic Band
Lucky Owl Yellow Wood 2 Tier Bento A superb wood lacquered 2 Tier Bento box with a gold lucky owl print on top of it, a smart and stylish way to carry your lunch at school or work.
DX Simple Men's Genuine Lacquered 2 Tier Bento  Microwave Safe
Beautiful Bento Boxes & Chopsticks from Hakoya We also found some other fun traditional bento boxes to restock, including large sized elegant bentos for men to eat with.
Fruits Measuring Cooking Spoon  Beans Container
Fruits Measuring Spoon & Beans Container Add some colorful fun to your kitchen with these measuring spoons shaped like delicious fruit. Also, we restocked some random cute bento boxes.
Non Woven Cloth Health Mask  20pcs
Face Masks, Skin Products from Japan From great health masks from Japan to the best skin and hair products from Gatsby, we've got plenty of great items restocked.
TIGER  BUNNY Styling Box Set of 4 *Preorder*
Tiger & Bunny Preorder Figures and More If you're a fan of Tiger and Bunny, we recommend you click the link because we have those delightful figures in stock for you today.
Nao Matsumae 1/8 Figure  Hana Saku Iroha **Preorder**
Ohana Matsumae 1/8 Figure *Preorder* Top figure designer Alter presents a beautiful rendition of Nao Matsumae, the cute heroine of Hanasaku Iroha.
Shaomei 1/7 Figure  Shining Hearts **Preorder**
Shaomei 1/7 Figure ~ Shining Hearts *Preorder* From Sega's hit RPG Shining Hearts comes an exquisite figure of adorable catgirl Shaomei. So sexy, in a Tony Taka sort of way.
Subaru 1/8 Figure  Wish Upon the Pleiades **Preorder**
Finally, Even More Preorder Figures Then see many other items posted, including Pleades Subaru, DC Comics Power Girl, Spirited Away Hanafuda and re-issues of other epic figures.
Toro Toro vol. 9
Toro Toro vol. 9, New Bachelor If you're into Mature Japanese women, young wives and hot MILFs, this issue of Toro Toro will melt you. Also the new Bachelor for hot gaijin girls!
Takamichi Summer Works
Takamichi Summer Works Popular illustrator Takamichi presents a 180-page compilation of beautiful artwork starring cute girls in an idyllic summer setting.
Gush July 2012
Gush July 2012 It's time for another extra thick issue of the Boy's Love Manga Magazine GUSH, for a Sweet and Happy Boy's Love Life.
Tamaki Kousaka 1/7 Figure Vacation ver. White Pearl Color
Tamaki Kousaka Figure Vacation Toheart2 always captures our attention, with the very sexy character designs. This figure is just candy like candy for your eyes, in now in stock!
Magical Girl's Natural Hole 3  Puella Magi Madoka Magica Parody Toy
Magical Girl & 'I Have Few Friends' Parody Toys Enjoy premium healing with the Madoka Magika DX onahole toys, plus a really outstanding item for fans of Sena from Haganai. Click to see them now.
Restocked Onahole + Pantsu Toys I happen to be re-playing Love Plus on the Nintendo 3DS, and seeing this great item made me smile. Nene can be yours tonight.
Super Lotion Liquid
Awesome Japanese Lotions Too Personal lotion from Japan is the best in the world, and we've restocked several kinds, including the official (?) lotion of Kuroneko from Oreimo.
Shiawase Kazokubu - Happy Family Club  First Limited Edition
Restocked Import Eroge Too We have Sora to Kumo to Kimi to Koi, the limited edition, Happy Family Club, Draculus, Futari wa My Angel, Record of Hero's War plus the awesome Shiny Days (School Days sequel).
The Sagara Family
Great H-Games by Internet Download, Package J-List has tons of English-language eroge too, like the famous Sagara Family, one of the most beloved English titles ever. Choose CD-ROM or Internet download!
Super Idol 8 Hours Haruki Sato Blu-ray Special (Blu-ray Disc)
Super Idol 8 Hours Haruki Sato Hot AV idol Haruki Sato is one of the hottest things in the industry, time to discover her talents in this 8 hours original Blu-ray production.
Pretty Shimapan Girls Best 4 Hours
Pretty Shimapan Girls Best 4 Hours Japanese AV studio TMA presents 8 hours of the best Shimapan (stripe panty) in this superb HD Blu-ray edition, coming with a stripe panty!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Motivation through Kanji

Recently I wrote about a class of four-character compound words that are fun for students of Japanese to learn because they're so creative and unlike anything we have in English. For example, there's nana-korobi ya-oki, translated as "fall down seven times, get up an eighth," which is a positive slogan about being tenacious when life tries to get you down, or happo bijin (ha-poh bi-jeen) literally meaning "eight-direction beauty person" and describes someone who tries to be liked by everyone but ends up being popular with no one. Another word I like is issho kenmei (ee-show ken-mei), which literally means "to try very hard, as hard as anything you've ever done in your life." Like the verb ganbarimasu (to do one's best, to work hard), this phrase represents a big part of the Japanese study/work ethic that really defines Japan as a nation today. When I make up my mind to do something, I'm the kind of person who works issho kenmei at it, whether it's climbing Mt. Fuji, learning Japanese or creating a company to sell Totoro bento boxes and Japanese squeaking hammers to people all over the world, a passion I got by observing the Japanese. Perhaps the most famous symbol of being issho kenmei are those traditional Japanese hachimaki headbands, which are worn by anyone who is fired up with passion for something, including high school students studying for their university entrance exams, new employees in a company opening ceremony, volunteers at a political rally or gaijin studying Japanese.