Friday, December 07, 2012

Buddhist Superstitions and Japan

One thing that surprised me about the Japanese was how superstitious many people here are, and there are many beliefs held by people here that seem odd to foreigners, such as, don't cut your fingernails at night or you won't be able to be with your parents when they die, don't whistle at night or snakes will come and get you, and so on. Many of these beliefs come from Japan's unique flavor of Buddhism, which seems to be very death-oriented -- for example, it's bad luck to sleep with your head to the north (kita makura), as dead people about to be cremated are laid with their heads pointing north. In this vein, there's a complex system of lucky and unlucky days according to a Buddhist calendar, with six different days that cycle throughout the month. It's good luck to get married or start construction on your home or take delivery of a car on the luckiest day (called Taian), but if you were to get married on the unlucky day (called Butsumetsu), you'd probably end up divorced and unhappy. The six days, and their kanji meanings, are Sensho ("win first"), Tomobiki ("take away with"), Senpu ("lose first"), Butsumetsu ("Buddha's Death"), Taian ("Great Calm"), and Shakkou ("Red Mouth"). Supposedly, it's lucky to do things in the morning on Sensho, but it's unlucky to do anything in the morning on Senpu -- wait til the afternoon instead on that day. Never have a funeral on Tomobiki, as the soul of the deceased will be taken away instead of staying near his loved ones. Many of the traditional 2013 calendars J-List stocks, such as the Lucky Cat art calendar, display this "lucky day" right on the calendar pages, if you're interested in following this Japanese tradition for any reason.

Always get married on a "lucky" day to avoid divorce down the road.

Anime = Emotional Communication

My favorite aspect of anime is the way characters communicate emotion to viewers in ways that go beyond what's possible in the real world, aka "meatspace." Character designers are excellent at making use of subtle visual cues to really make their characters come alive, for example using blue hair on a female character to create the image of purity or mystery or communion with nature, or giving characters like Asuka from Eva and Yoko from Gurren Lagann red hair to reinforce their fiery personalities, and of course who can say no to a really cute eye patch? I love to observe the various facial expressions animators create, like the odd "blue forehead lines" that indicate frustration, or the "so embarrassed my soul is about to come out of my body" face. Of course, anime characters wouldn't be nearly as memorable without the highly trained voice actors that bring them alive. The other day I was at the gym working on my "Toradora diet" (I'm re-watching the entire series on my iPhone while running on a treadmill). When the highly emotional Christmas party episode played, with its amazing performance by voice actress Rie Kugimiya, it was hard to keep from choking up.

Anime is good at communicating emotions.

More Good News for English Eroge Fans: Shuffle! ships

Man, it's a great time to be a fan of English-translated eroge and visual novels. Not only did we just ship a great set of combo games at a new low price -- they are Crescendo and Target: Phermone, Idols Galore and Slave Pageant, Absolute Obedience and Enzai, and Amorous Professor Cherry plus Kango 1 & 2 -- but we just posted the excellent moe racing game Moero Downhill Night Blaze in packaged and download versions. Now we've got even more good news: the awesome English visual novel Shuffle! has been released and is shipping now. Grab a copy!

J-List Sale Reminder

Remember, J-List is having three great sales right now. First, we're giving a whopping $15 or $40 back when you order items from Japan and choose EMS shipping, which is fully insured and trackable and will arrive at your house in about 4 days. (Yes, there's still time to get items by Christmas, as long as you order in-stock items using EMS before December 15.) Order $100 or more to get $15 back as a store credit, or $200 or more to get $40 back. Next, we have a special offer on J-List's world-famous anime and kanji T-shirts. Through the end of December, buy any 2 J-List shirts shipping from San Diego and get a free shirt chosen randomly by us in the size you choose. Finally, everyone who makes an order is entered into a drawing for a $50 gift certificate, one per day, given away by Santa Megumi on Christmas!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Conveyor Belt Sushi is the Best

The other night it was time to celebrate my daughter's birthday, so we all got into the car and went out for sushi. While there are many options for sushi available, including one place I know where live fish swim around in a tank making it possible for you to choose which one you want to eat tonight, we opted for a simple kaiten-zushi or conveyor belt sushi restaurant. This popular alternative to a traditional-style sushi was invented in 1958 by an enterprising restaurant owner in Osaka who was having trouble staffing his restaurant, so he came up with a way for very few employees to serve many customers at once. According to research, a lot of the popularity of conveyor-belt sushi comes from the way the products scroll by from right to left, which creates a pleasant, almost hypnotic sensation in the brain. The companies work hard to create the best customer experiences -- the chain we were at lets you order items with a touch panel, and another chain near us has a separate conveyor belt with a train that delivers your sushi right to you!

I love eating sushi in Japan.

Japanese Words You Already Know

It's time for your lesson in Japanese words you already know, because they have the same pronunciations as English words. Bose makes excellent speakers, but in Japan the term bozu means a bald-headed Buddhist priest, and by extension, anyone who is bald. The word for "geography" is chiri, which sounds like the country of Chile, guaranteeing lots of bad puns about the geography of that country. (Japanese also believe that all spicy food originates from Chile.) Japanese know the story of the Three Little Pigs, but the part about "not by the hair of my chinny chin chin" is mysteriously absent here, since chin chin (pronounced with long vowels, like "cheen cheen") is a somewhat cute-sounding word for a penis. Here are some other Japanese words you already know.
Cheek show! -- Damn! (chikusho)
Psycho! -- That's great! (saiko, pronounced "sai-koh")
Bimbo -- Poor, no money (binbo)
Hen -- strange (it's the hen in hentai)
She knew -- [I] am going to die (shinu)
Show you -- soy sauce (shoyu)
Oh, you -- hot water (o-yu)
Ohio -- Good morning (ohayo)
Never never -- sticky (like natto, fermented soybeans, pronounced neba neba)
"E" -- good, ok, sometimes "no thanks" (ii)
Ski -- [I] like [that] (suki)
Haha -- one's own mother (will always incite giggling in Japanese 101 class)

Sup, dawg, I heard you like the geography of Chile.

Understanding Japan Through "Kata"

I often write about a useful method for understanding Japan through the concept of kata, a word that can mean "mold" (to shape things), "model" (as in the model number of car), "type" (for classification, also used for blood type), as well as the customary postures taken in martial arts. In a wider sense, the word describes pre-defined social conventions that are an important part of living in society. When a Japanese person starts a new job or attends a wedding or joins a school club, there's a pre-set list of social forms he or she can follow in order to ensure interactions go smoothly, and they usually do. A year ago the grandmother of Yasu, the J-List employee who keeps our site well stocked with artbooks, manga and Japanese study products, passed away, and it was absolutely required that my wife and I immediately make a visit to his home and offer our condolences in person, since we're his employers. The idea of kata can take other forms, too. When the heavy concrete slabs in a tunnel in Yamanashi Prefecture collapsed, tragically causing the deaths of nine people last Sunday, I knew exactly that police would have to make a show of searching the offices of freeway operator NEXCO as well as the home of the company's president for evidence of falsified inspections, all of which are pre-set social forms the police have to follow in a situation like this.

Understanding Japan in terms of kata is quite useful.

J-List Sale Update

Remember, J-List is having three great sales right now. First, we're giving a whopping $15 or $40 back when you order items from Japan and choose EMS shipping, which is fully insured and trackable and will arrive at your house in about 4 days. (Yes, there's still time to get items by Christmas, as long as you order in-stock items using EMS before December 15.) Order $100 or more to get $15 back as a store credit, or $200 or more to get $40 back. Next, we have a special offer on J-List's world-famous anime and kanji T-shirts. Through the end of December, buy any 2 J-List shirts shipping from San Diego and get a free shirt chosen randomly by us in the size you choose. Finally, everyone who makes an order is entered into a drawing for a $50 gift certificate, one per day, given away by Santa Megumi on Christmas!

New English Eroge Combo Packs!

We've got a nice announcement for fans of our English-translated visual novels and eroge today: a new line of discounted shrinkwrapped games on DVD-ROM with multiple games on the discs, a great way for you to play the best eroge in English with uncensored graphics! We've got combo sets of Crescendo and Target: Phermone, Idols Galore and Slave Pageant, the excellent yaoi titles Absolute Obedience and Enzai, plus a super pack with Amorous Professor Cherry plus Kango 1 & 2. Not only do these great game packs let you get multiple games for a low price, they're great for collectors who want to own the games in physical formats. All games are DRM-free.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Christmas in the Sky, Laputa

Japan is starting to get into "Christmas mode" as cities turn on beautiful illumination in parks and other public areas and couples start planning for that special date. Christmas is definitely seen as a special time for people in love, second only to Valentine's Day, and sales of condoms grow around 8% this month. Naturally Christmas is much loved by children, who look forward to getting special presents from parents and grandparents. It's also the season for anonymous gifts being left for orphans, which has become one of the nicer holiday traditions lately. Several days ago an anonymous person going by the name of Colonel Musuka (the villain of the Castle in the Sky Laputa film by Hayao Miyazaki) donated school backpacks and other gifts to a facility for disadvantaged children in Tokushima, Shikoku. He was following in the footsteps of other kind-hearted Japanese who have given gifts using pseudonyms like Tiger Mask (a popular pro wrestling manga from the 1970s) and even "Jason" of the Friday the 13th movie series. What a great tradition!
(A note about Col. Muska. He's become a meme generator in Japan, and literally every one of his quotes from the Miyazaki film are regularly incorporated into funny parody videos on Nicodouga and YouTube. Sadly the quotes aren't as well known to fans outside Japan so the gags are hard to bring over. If you know Laputa and want some laughs, here's a silly "Unreleased Laputa Edition" that I've spent many hours laughing over with my kids.)

"Christmas will live. It will return it to life! The power of Christmas is the dream of all children! "

The Pompeii of Japan

Over the weekend I had some free time, so I decided to get in the car and head off in a random direction. I ended up in a village called Komochi, whose main claim to fame is that it was totally destroyed when nearby Mt. Asama (the most active volcano on Japan's main island of Honshu, even today) erupted in 1783, killing thousands and making it the "Pompeii of Japan." The upside to the whole volcano thing is lots of onsen hot springs, and happily there were several in the area to choose from. Since I am a furo-bito (the name for someone who loves taking hot springs baths), I keep a full bath kit in my car, including toothbrush, razor and shaving cream. While you may have heard that men and women bathe together in Japan (called kon'yoku), but sadly this has become quite a rarity. I've only been able to find mixed bathing once in my many years of onsen-bathing in Japan, and believe me, I've been avidly searching.

Actual onsen bathing is not quite as awesome as this.

Japanese Late-Night TV Report

I like to watch late-night TV in Japan because there's always something interesting to see, like the show in which 100 PET bottle rockets were strapped to a crash dummy to see if they offered enough combined power to enable a man to fly (they did barely, though things didn't end well for the dummy). Late-night is also prime time for most anime shows, since nearly all the popular moe series like K-On! and Sword Art Online are shown in the midnight-to-2 am time slot. Another category of TV programs are "ranking" shows like Count Down TV and Ranking Oukoku (Ranking Kingdom), which track the popularity of everything from music to manga to Vienna sausages from week to week. The other day I caught a similar show called Docchi Mania! ("Which One? Mania!") in which various topics that people feel obsessive about (the Japanese use the English word "mania" to describe this) are hotly debated to determine which is best. In the past the show has compared soba vs. udon for noodles, Ginza vs. Roppongi for Tokyo night life, and even the benefits of Tochigi Prefecture vs. J-List's home prefecture of Gunma. The episode I caught pitched two rather strange Japanese foods against each other: natto, the famous fermented soybeans vs. tamago kake gohan, aka steamed white rice with raw egg and soy sauce mixed in, considered a delicacy by many for some reason. Both groups argued their cases fervently, but because several judges were from Osaka (a region famous for hating natto), raw-egg-on-rice won out. Is Japanese TV random or what?

Late-night "ranking" TV shows are popular.

Moero Downhill Night Blaze is Now Shipping!

We've got some great news for fans of English-translated visual novels and eroge: the third chapter and final chapter of the Moero Downhill Night mountain racing series of eroge titles in stock and shipping now. The third game is great, an extension of the story and characters seen in the second title, and in addition to the great "H" you expect, this is the first-ever game of its kind to offer real 3D racing, which really adds a fun dimension to the gameplay. This game was delayed by last year's terrible earthquake and tsunamis -- the Japanese company that made the game had the bad luck to be based in northern Japan, though no one at the company was hurt -- and we're glad to get it out to you finally!