Friday, December 14, 2012

North Korea is the Least Fun Country to Live Next To

While I generally enjoy living in Japan, there are a few things I dislike. Having to pay $22 to see a movie in a theatre or $35 for a pizza, which are exotic "Western" imports and thus expensive, though 100-yen-per-plate sushi offsets this somewhat. The voices of politicians shouting at me through loudspeakers during Japanese elections is also something I could do without. It's also no picnic living next to North Korea, the least fun nation on the planet, which operates state-sponsored programs to counterfeit Japanese currency and smuggle illegal drugs into Japan, and has kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens since 1977 to serve as language teachers for North Korean spies. Now North Korea has launched a long-range missile, I mean a peaceful satellite, a three-stage ticket that splashed down off the coast of the Philippines. While the belligerent act was clearly intended to threaten Japan and South Korea, the message is clear: North Korea can strike at any country in Asia and even reach the West Coast of the U.S. So, anyone want to trade places with us?

North Korea launched another missile. That means I get to use this graphic again.

Regardless of My Adolescent Delusions of Grandeur, I Still Want an Accurate Translation!

The act of translating from one language to another can be a complex process, which is why reading documents that have been machine translated is so amusing. The other day I was was reading the Wikipedia page for the popular Kyoani series Chuunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai! (中二病でも恋がしたい!) , and I realized I wasn't satisfied with the English translation they'd listed, which was "Regardless of My Adolescent Delusions of Grandeur, I Still Want a Date!" (This had been taken from the English website of TBC, the show's producer, making it semi-official.) First of all, this translation assigned a subject ("I") that is specifically missing from the original, implying that Yuuta wants to experience love with Rikka, his eyepatch-wearing odd little friend, when really the statement applies to both equally. Also, the word 恋 (koi) is an important one, encompassing the burning, almost compulsive feelings you have for someone when you're experiencing romantic love with them, and "have a date" didn't seem to capture this very well. (Incidentally there's another word for love, 愛 (ai), that describes the deeper, long-term love you feel for family or a partner of many years, plus the compound word 恋愛 (ren'ai) covers both koi and ai in one word.) So I clicked the "edit" button and changed it to, "Even People With Adolescent Delusions of Grandeur Want to Fall In Love!" Do you like my translation?

I'm rooting for Rikka and Yuuta in Chu2koi!

"Kurisumasu" (Christmas) in Japan

Here in Japan it's beginning to look at lot like Christmas, or as it's known locally, Kurisumasu. In addition to being an important day for the 1% or so of Japanese who are Christians, December 25th in Japan is a festive time when children look forward to a special present from "Santa-san" and couples plan a romantic dinner together. Just as Japanese cities compete against each other to make the prettiest sakura displays in April, they work hard to create beautiful lit-up areas for couples to walk through -- some of the best can be founded in Shinjuku, Ginza and the Roppongi Hills area. For a gaijin expat living in Japan, nothing says "Christmas" like being asked to play Santa Claus and hand out presents to children, and I've donned the red suit and fake beard many times. At one visit to a preschool operated there was a question-and-answer period when kids could ask me anything they wanted. One asked, "Santa-san, what's your favorite food?" and I kind of freaked him out by answering "reindeer hamburger steak." Then there was the year I was asked to play Santa for a Buddhist preschool near J-List, which was kind of odd since you don't normally associate festive Christmas icons with Buddhism. The kids sang Christmas songs while holding candles and lotus flowers, though, and we all had fun.

Christmas in Japan is a happy time for couples and foreigners dressed like Santa-san.

The Last Chance to Get Gifts from Japan In Time for Christmas

Well, this is it: Friday and Saturday are the last days to order products from Japan and get them in time for Christmas. Whether you're looking to get some awesome Totoro plush toys or those warm, soft Totoro blankets, special Japan Hello Kitty products, our popular Fuku-bukuro grab bags or other cute things from Japan, order in-stock items by Saturday, and your order should arrive within time. Since we're having a great sale on EMS orders from Japan, this means we pick up up to $40 of your order, too. But hurry -- there's no time to lose! Why not get started by browsing the most awesome products on J-List, as ranked by our customers?

J-List's Pre-Christmas Sales Are Still Going On

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. 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! And if you're ordering products stocked in San Diego, we now offer a UPS Next Day Air option too.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kanji, Kanji Everywhere

When Japanese couples get ready to have a child, they naturally start making lists of possible baby names. While most names are based on kanji characters -- and just as there are a dozen variations on the spellings of names like Jason or Ashley, there are different kanji characters parents can choose from -- it's perfectly okay to keep it simple and choose a name in hiragana. When it was time for our kids to be born, we made sure to consult our family's Buddhist priest to make sure the name we were considering didn't have bad omens attached to it (for example, names with animal kanji in them were a bad idea, we were told). My wife also made sure to choose a name for our daughter that had the same number of strokes (written lines) as her own name, so her "strong luck" would pass to her daughter. The list of this year's most popular names for babies in Japan was recently released, so I've posted it below. The most popular boy's name was Len, the same as the popular Vocaloid character, and anime fans probably won't be surprised to see that the most popular name for girls right now is Yui, as it seems every other anime has a character with that name these days.
Speaking of kanji, today (December 12) is kanji-no-hi, or Kanji Day. Each year the organization that publishes the Standardized Kanji Test (and the kanji practice tools for the Nintendo DS) announces the "kanji of the year," the single character that best sums up the events of the past twelve months. The character is announced at a ceremony at the beautiful Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, where the head Buddhist priest writes the character on a large sheet of paper while everyone watches. The character for 2012 has been announced, and it's...kin, meaning "gold," a word that summed up the year thanks the gold medals Japan won at the London Olympics, the recent award of a Nobel Prize to Shinya Yamanaka for cellular research, the the financial popularity of the newly opened Tokyo Sky Tree, and just maybe, the release of Persona 4 The Golden. I personally would have gone with datsu "to remove" to reflect the efforts of many Japanese to end nuclear power in Japan (called datsu genpatsu), or perhaps shima (island), since so much trouble was caused over disputes with China and South Korea over silly islands that no one would want if the other side didn't claim it also. Last year's kanji of the year was kizuna, meaning "bonds," which describes the precious bonds that tie us all to one another, which were sorely tested when Japan experienced an unprecedented 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunamis. Kanji for previous years have included sho, "hot" in 2010, a year when many died from the unusually hot summer; shin, "new" in 2009, a year of renewal; and ki "return" in 2002, to mark the return of five Japanese who had been kidnapped by North Korea.

The most popular name for girls is Yui.

Japan's Female "Announcers" Are Lovely

One of the most enviable professions for women in Japan is joshi-ana, the female "announcers" (aka newscasters or presenters) who deliver the news and provide commentary during sporting events with such elegance. Japanese female announcers are universally loved by all, hailed for their grace and charm, and there are websites that track their popularity from week to week, only some of which are creepy. Many Japanese announcers are haafu, like Elena Hayama, who is half Japanese and half French, and this increases her mystique and popularity since she can speak both languages. TV announcers are also used to promote products in Japan. When I was in Tokyo, I noticed a train ad for a brand of toothpaste called To Be White, promoted as "the toothpaste that makes newscasters' teeth so white." Should we carry it on J-List?

Everyone loves joshi-ana, female newscasters.

The Most Popular Products This Christmas

Browsing the most "wishlisted" products on J-List is just about the best way to see what products are the site are most popular, and you can see all the most awesome anime and plush toys, random Japanese snacks, and other products that our customers are most interested in. If you order in-stock items by EMS before the 15th or the 16th, they should arrive in time for Christmas. This means you can get that extra awesome DX Kit Kat 30 Piece set to grandma's house in time, or some Totoro plush toys, or maybe a Fuku-bukuro grab bag from Japan.

Another Reminder on our EMS Sale

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. 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! And if you're ordering products stocked in San Diego, we now offer a UPS Next Day Air option too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December is "Forget-the-Year" Party Season

December is the month for bonenkai, the year-end parties Japanese hold in December that literally means "forget-the-year party." (After the new year arrives, you switch to shinnenkai or "new year party.") A tradition going back to the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), a bonenkai party is a good time to reflect on the events of the past year while eating good food and imbibing large amounts of alcohol, or oolong tea, if you prefer. During this time of year everyone is inundated with advertisements for beer companies promoting their products, hoping patrons will remember them while having their year-end get-togethers, and of course Ukon hangover-curing drinks do the same thing. Over the weekend I went down to Tokyo and had an enjoyable forget-the-year party with a friend from Italy and this lovely lady, and am now ready to say "so long" to 2012 and hello to 2013.

At the Ghibli Character Year End Party.

Kanji, Ateji and Anime

Kanji are the Chinese characters which were imported into Japan around the 5th century A.D. Unlike the hiragana and katakana syllaberies, which only express sounds like ka, ki, ku, ke and ko, kanji have actual meanings attached to them. Fundamentally there are two ways to read any kanji character: the Japanese reading and the Chinese reading, with the former generally used for more elemental concepts like air, water, and house, with the latter for more more advanced concepts like atmosphere, water pressure, and residence. There's another way to read any kanji, however, and that's basically any way you like, thanks to something called ateji, which means "substitute pronunciation" (basically attaching an arbitrary reading for that character). Two good examples of this are the Japanese titles of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun, which defines "index" and "railgun" using kanji characters and force an English pronunciation for the words with overlaid katakana. In a recent episode of Chunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai ("Even People With Adolescent Delusions of Grandeur Want to Fall In Love"), Rikka makes kanji shirts that say "Evil Eye" and "Dark Flame," using the ateji system to make kanji readable in English. J-List sells kanji name stamps that allow you to get your name in kanji, and ateji is one way to convert a Western name into kanji characters. For example, I have a friend who's last name is Lockwood, and he uses the characters for "lock" and "wood" for his name stamp.

Forcing English readings on kanji characters is easy with ateji.

The Japanese ♡ Cats

There are a few things that the Japanese really love. First, they love nature, which is slightly confusing since they also love concrete, and when driving in the mountains it's not rare to see that an entire mountainside has been covered in concrete "just in case there might be a rockslide someday." Japanese people love mayonnaise and eat it on french fries, just like they do in parts of Europe, and there's even a slang word to describe people who love the stuff ("mayolers"). They love the four seasons, and walking down the street you're likely to be accosted by a random person who will tell you how great Japan's four distinctive seasons are. Finally, the Japanese truly love cats. There are "cat cafes" where you can spend some quality cat time when you need a mental pick-me-up, and cats like Maru regularly become as popular as idols in Japan. Also, Japanese use Lucky Cat (in Japanese, maneki neko) to beckon good luck into their home or business, a custom we like a lot. Incidentally, we have some rather amazing cat-related products on the site, including Catbus plush toys for Totoro fans, if you want to see. (Yes, you can still get them in stime for Christmas by choosing in-stock items via EMS.)

The Japanese really love cats.

Shuffle! is In Stock Now!

Remember that the gorgeous English-translated eroge Shuffle! is in stock and shipping. One of the most famous visual novels ever brought out in English, Shuffle! is the story of a lucky guy stuck between two cute princesses who both want to marry him, a problem a lot of guys I know would like to have. It's got a fantastic reputation with the fan community, is 100% uncensored and DRM free, and we think all fans should own a copy!

J-List Special 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!