Friday, November 02, 2012

Homestay Shimasu Ka?

Before I came to live in Japan more than two decades ago, my family used to host Japanese homestay students, and I learned a lot about the country through those experiences. We hosted quite a few over the years, high school kids from Yokohama and Nagoya, a university student from Hokkaido and so on, and had a lot of fun as well as more than our share of linguistic and cultural communication problems (which are kind of the point). There's one unfortunate reality to homestay programs in the U.S., and that is since host families receive money for putting up their Japanese guests, homestay has been turned into a for-profit activity by some, who host as many foreign guests as their houses will hold and greatly reduce the chance for useful cultural sharing to take place. If you think you'd be interested in sharing your home with homestay students from Japan, learning from them as you help them learn about your country, please look into what programs you can find on the web. Googling homestay programs in your city is a good place to start, or consider contacting a nearby university that has an ESL department to see if they're looking for homes to place new students in.

We recommend you consider a homestay student if you want to have a great experience!

I'm Not Upgrading your OS Because I Like You Or Anything. Baka!

Microsoft has released a new OS, and in Japan that means new moe characters will be used to market the product to fans. The tradition of creating cute characters to represent computer OSes started on Japan's 2ch BBS with a discussion about making a character who was "as unstable and prone to breakdowns as Windows Me." This was the birth of "OS-tan" (-tan is the same as the cute -chan name ending, but pronounced like a cute child would), and characters representing all other major OSes soon followed. Microsoft got into the spirit of things by promoting Windows 7 with Nana Madobe, an official OS-tan, then added her cousin Claudia who represents the company's cloud computing initiatives. With Windows 8 there are two new cousins, Yuu and Ai (you and I, get it?), one of whom (Ai-chan) is a classic tsundere. There's even a family tree for the entire Microsoft OS family, including Kyuhachi (Nana's father, representing Windows 98) and the venerable grandfather San'ichi (representing Windows 3.1). It remains to be seen if Japanese fans will embrace the official characters and create fanart about them, but if any (ahem) interesting doujinshi show up, we'll be sure to carry them on J-List.

Windows 8 has new moe mascot characters.

"Campaign Girls" in Japan

Some images just seem to sum up Japan for me somehow. Walking through a tunnel of torii arches in Kyoto, which represent the 108 temptations we're subject to over the course of our lives. Seeing Mt. Fuji through the branches of a sakura tree in bloom. A Buddhist priest begging for alms in front of Louis Vuitton store in Ginza, or visitors to Tokyo's Meiji Shrine washing down the KFC they'd just eaten with holy shrine water. Then there's this picture, which shows a chorus line of attractive models employed by Japanese cellular carrier AU to promote its brand. They're "campaign girls" which large companies hire through talent agencies for promotional events, and they're similar to the "race queens" who promote interest in F-1 racing. (The reason these girls are all the same height is, their shoes are each made with custom sole thickness for each girl. Genius!) Marketing events using models like these are quite common in Japan, and I'll never forget the time I was wandering around Shinjuku and a line of two dozen beautiful girls wearing "Swatch" watches and matching T-shirts came marching by, part of a brand awareness campaign. Before she met me my wife worked briefly as a campaign girl, but it wasn't very glamorous: her job was to stand against a wall holding a "no smoking" sign while smiling.

A lineup of "campaign girls" promoting the AU brand. Do you find this awesome, strange or creepy?

The Most "Wishlisted" Items on J-List

J-List has a great wishlist system that makes it easy to add products on our website to your wishlist for later viewing and optional sharing with others, and I sometimes like to browse all J-List products in "wishlist popularity" order to see what our customers are most interested in. It warms our hearts to see customers love the new Totoro plush chair we recently added, or watch them checking out our kawaii Japanese fashion products, or Japanese Kit Kat and Pokemon bento boxes. We also have hundreds of 2013 Japanese calendars in stock right now, and it looks like our Ghibli and Totoro offerings are among the most popular calendar items.

Japanese Chocolate and Snack Sale through Nov 11!!

J-List loves to bring you delicious chocolate and other snack products from Japan, and for a limited time we're having a sale on all our snack items, so if you want to pick up some awesome Japanese Pocky or Kit Kat or bizarre gum or Kracie "DIY" snacks, now is a great time. The sale will run through November 11, which has been designated as "Pocky Day," since 11/11 looks like four Pocky sticks lined up next to each other. Click here to see all J-List's Japanese snack sorted by popularity!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Japan, World War II and UXBs

One thing about being an American is visiting our national shrines in Washington D.C., which include dignified memorials to the veterans who fought in World War II and the solemness of Arlington National Cemetery, which I took my son to this year. Japan, in contrast, has almost no visible signs of the Pacific War, as it's usually called in Japanese -- there are no memorials or shrines in mainland Japan (though there are on Okinawa), and the closest thing to Arlington is Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of 2.4 million Japanese soldiers are symbolically enshrined, though not without controversy. (One puzzling exception to this: a park in the neighboring city of Kiryu there's an old Japanese Zero fighter on display that kids and climb on, why I cannot say.) One inescapable leftover from World War II are unexploded bombs which are regularly uncovered even 67 years later. This week saw two of them, one in Tokyo that forced a neighborhood to evacuate while it was disarmed, and another in Sendai which caused the city's airport to close.

Japan's proposed WWII memorial. I am totally going to hell for posting this.

"Why did you come to Japan?"

One interesting aspect of Japan is that they're the only country in the world that cares what foreigners think about them. The other day I caught a TV show called "YOU wa Nani Shini Nihon e?" ("Why did you come to Japan?"), hosted by Bobby Ologun, a popular "talent" from Nigeria who's a fixture on Japanese TV these days. In the show, a camera crew walks around Narita Airport and interviews interesting foreigners who have just arrived, exploring what motivated them to come to Japan. There was quite a range: a student arriving in Japan to study martial arts, two girls from Germany who had arrived to attend a Dir en Grey rock concert, and a cyclist whose dream was to tour the Sea of Japan side of the country on his bicycle. The Japanese are also fascinated by foreigners who sing in their language, and there's a TV show called Nodo Jiman The World featuring contestants from countries like the U.S., Britain., Canada, Spain, and Sweden singing famous Japanese songs on stage as they compete for prize money.

The Japanese are fascinated by foreigners who love Japan.

Halloween in Japan 2012

Happy Halloween from Japan! October 31st is a fun day to wear scary costumes and chase ghosts and spirits from your town (or something like that). It was important to me that my half-Japanese kids be "acculturated" to the U.S. as they grew up, so I made sure they were exposed to such grand American traditions as Scooby Doo and School House Rock and the Peanuts TV specials like "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" -- and I also brought them to San Diego so they could experience the joys of trick-or-treating firsthand, just like American kids. Japan, of course, has no historical connection with Halloween, and like Valentine's Day and (arguably) Christmas, it's treated as a fun annual event imported from the West. While there's no tradition of trick-or-treating here, there's plenty of fun stuff to do, like going in costume to clubs in Roppongi, or going to see the popular Kawasaki Halloween Parade in Kawasaki, sandwiched between Tokyo and Yokohama. Or if you want to be somewhat annoying, you can ride the "Gaijin Halloween Train," an underground event in which hundreds of costumed foreigners try to get on the same train on Tokyo's Yamanote loop line then have a drunken party inside. (It's officially banned due to the inconvenience it causes to hapless Japanese unlucky enough to be trapped on the train with all the foreigners.)

I am always down with posting Halloween fanart.

Magazine Subscriptions from Japan

J-List sells awesome Japanese anime, manga, fashion, hobby and other magazines via our popular revolving monthly subscription service, making it easy to get the newest issues of Japan's best magazines sent to you each month. Many magazines come with cool omake (Japanese for "free stuff"), like posters, figures etc. Best of all, because the subscription is revolving you can quit or change magazines at any time. Click to see our most popular subscription magazines from Japan!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Preparing for The Hobbit's Japan Release

I'm currently re-watching the Lord of the Rings films on Blu-ray in preparation for the coming Hobbit movie. Like other Tolkien fans in Japan, I'm doki doki (nervous) as to whether or not the first minutes of The Hobbit will feature the name of Toda Natsuko as the Japanese translator. Ms. Toda is a huge name in the movie business, the "Queen of Subtitles" whose personal schedule can influence the release dates of Hollywood films that want to sell well in Japan. Whenever Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt comes to Japan to promote a film she's on hand to interpret for them and make sure Japanese movie-goers are reminded of her star status. She's translated everything from E.T. to Titanic to the Harry Potter films and every James Bond movie since 1983. She also translated the three Lord of the Rings films, and drew the ire of fans by screwing the job up, either by crassly translating some of the most memorable lines without referring to the established Japanese translations of the books or getting other lines just plain wrong. Fan outrage was so great that Peter Jackson had to get involved, reassuring fans that errors would be fixed for the DVD releases. So we've got our fingers crossed that the subtitles for the Japanese version of The Hobbit won't be bungled.

Fingers crossed that The Hobbit's subtitles won't be screwed up.

Exploring Stereotypes with Japan and the World

Stereotypes are bad because they cause us to make assumptions about people from other countries before we've gotten to know them. I've often found myself doing this with the Japanese people I met here, only to discover they were a lot deeper than I'd originally thought, like the father of a student I used to teach who seemed like the most boring "salaryman" ever until I learned that he loved trains and had recently traveled from Vladivostok to Moscow on the Siberian Railroad. Then there was the silver-haired mother of my daughter's friend who seemed like a normal Japanese obasan (middle-aged woman), though she was really an established author of children's books. On the other hand, sometimes stereotypes can be eerily accurate. When I went to Germany I asked an older man to take my picture, and when he couldn't work my camera, he let out a frustrated "Ach!" just like a parody of a monocled villain from a 1960s spy movie. In Italy, the gentle, matronly mother of a friend of mine punctuated every third sentence with "Mama mia!" which seems too stereotypical to be possible. Japanese are famous for saying ah, so (short for ah, so desu ka? or "oh, is that so?"), and they really do say it a lot. I'm always embarrassed when I inadvertently say this in Japanese when my American family is nearby, snickering.

Exploring international stereotypes, with Hetalia fanart naturally.

Decision 2012: Japan's Most Delicious Cookies

The U.S. is currently embroiled in "election hell," and while this doesn't involve Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney driving around in a loudspeaker car shouting their names outside your window at 8 am, as it does in Japan, it's still a lot of noise to endure. The other day I caught an interesting "election" on Japanese TV -- it was a television program in which viewers got to vote on their favorite brands of cookies and crackers. All the major companies were there, from Glico to Morinaga to Meiji plus foreign brands like Nabisco and McVittie's from the UK. It was a close contest, with Nabisco's Japanese Oreo offerings competing with classic Ritz Crackers and those those oddly named Collon cream cookies, but in the end, Fujiya's Country Ma'am soft cookies were able to come from behind and take the top spot. Fujiya's Peko-chan character -- her name comes from peko peko, which is the sound of hungry stomach rumbling in Japanese -- was smiling with her trademark tongue hanging out of her mouth as she accepted the award.

Decision 2012: "Country Ma'am" were voted the best cookies in Japan.

J-List Mobile Site Reminder

Remember, J-List's mobile site is live for iPhone and Android users. The site is still "beta" -- it works great but a few features are still due to be added in the coming weeks. (The site for PG products isn't up yet, but will be in a couple days.) Access the mobile site by visiting from any mobile phone, or visit if redirecting doesn't work for some reason. If you have any feedback on the new site, please let us know!

Moero Downhill Night Blazer Golden Master!

Great news for fans of English eroge and visual novels: we're happy to announce that Moero Downhill Night BLAZE, the third and final chapter in the fun Initial D-style parody racing game, has gone "golden master" and will be shipping out in a couple weeks. J-List is based on Gunma Prefecture, where the 'Initial D' anime is located, and when we saw the Moero game series we knew we wanted to publish it for fans around the world. The third volume was delayed because the original publishers had the bad fortune to be located in Sendai, Japan, and they received much damage when the earthquake hit on March 11 of last year. (Happily, no one was injured.) Since this game includes not just interactions with cute girls and ero content but actual 3D racing simulation, it's a bit of gaming history, too. You can still preorder the game for free shipping when it's ready!