May 22, 2015

Kissing Day in Japan, and Japan’s love of meat.

When I first arrived in Japan 24 years ago, I brought a lot of preconceived notions with me. Like, the Japanese all lived in small houses (my house in Japan is larger than my San Diego home) and drove tiny cars (actually, you see quite a few large vehicles on the roads, including the occasional Cadillac Escalade). I also was pretty sure the Japanese didn’t eat much meat, since the impression we all had back in the 1980s was that they spent 25% of their income on a meager diet of fish and rice. (This was before the Internet and bloggers like me came along, making it possible for us all to know something approximating “the real” Japan.) Happily, this notion turned out to be mistaken, and the Japanese eat a variety of delicious foods, including lots of niku (meat). One of the most common ways to enjoy meat is to go to a steak house where you can choose from a regular steak or a cheaper “hamburg” (ground beef) steak, usually imported from Australia or the USA. Yakiniku (Korean BBQ) is another popular way to get your meat fix, and any time a birthday rolls around this is the option my family will choose. Another popular meat dish is shabu shabu, which is thinly sliced pieces of beef or pork you cook in a pot of boiling water and dip in a delicious sauce. The current generation of Japanese eat much more meat than in past decades, and people occasionally voice concern whether such a “Western” diet is good for everyone. I’ve heard several times (though have no way of verifying) that “Japanese have a shorter intestinal track than Europeans,” which causes people to worry they might be eating more meat than is good for them.

Japanese are fond of attaching events to dates. One day might be designated as Word Processing Day, celebrating the sale of the first Japanese language word processor on September 26, 1978, and another as Sweet Potato Day on October 13, just after harvest time. Some of these special days are rather dubious, such as KFC’s promotion of November 21 as “Fried Chicken Day” to commemorate the opening of its first restaurant in Nagoya in 1970 — shameless marketing though it may be, it’s as good a day to go get a bucket of chicken as any. It turns out Saturday (May 23) has been designated as キスの日 Kisu no Hi (Kiss Day), since it was on this day back in 1946 that the first movie with a kiss scene was shown in Japan. While the Japanese use the English word キス kisu, they’ve been kissing since long before Commodore Perry sailed his “black ships” into Edo Harbor. The first mention of 接吻 seppun (the Japanese word for kiss, now somewhat archaic) comes from the Heian Period (794-1185), where it’s described in The Tale of Genji, about the playboy son of a fictional Japanese emperor, essentially Japan’s first “harem” story.

300,000 Likes on Facebook Sale!

J-List’s Facebook page is a popular place to get updates about new J-List products, as well as enjoy the fanart I post for everyone to share and comment on. We reached an important milestone this week, an amazing 300,000 “likes,” so we decided to have a sale to thank everyone! Take $20 off any order of $100 or more from now through the end of May using code JLIST300! This can be combined with any other offers, too, like our 3x point sale on personal stress toys and cosplay and apparel. Limit one use per customer, and it can’t be used on certain items (iTunes Japan cards etc.).

May 19, 2015

Questions about Japanese companies answered, and the last bombs of WWII.

Over the weekend I decided to visit Kiryu, a pleasant city near J-List that’s known as “Little Kyoto” because of the many temples and other cultural sites it offers. I had a nice visit, though driving through the narrow streets made me remember something I was told by a Japanese friend after arriving back in 1991: “You can tell which cities in Gunma weren’t bombed during WWII because the roads are narrow and cramped today.” Our own city of Isesaki was bombed during the war — my future father-in-law was five at the time, and heard the B-29s as they approached. It turned out to be an auspicious day, August 14, 1945, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but a day before Japan’s official surrender. Which means that the last bombs to fall in Japan, in the entire conflict of World War II actually, fell just a few kilometers from where J-List and Hakase and Nano’s house are located. Happily the damage and loss of life from the attack was low, thanks to the windless night and the fact that many spaces with no houses in them had been left open in the city to keep fires from spreading in the event of an air raid.

I like J-List’s Facebook page and Twitter feed since I can toss out questions about what people would like to see me write about here. Today’s topic is…questions about Japanese companies.

How is the culture at Japanese companies?

Each company will be different, of course, but certainly, larger and more conservative companies in Japan will tend to be very strait-laced, without a lot of flexibility. Happily, the old expectation that people will work for the same company all their lives is gone, and if someone wants to change jobs, there are many options. I know a guy who worked in a subsidiary of Toyota, but he quit and now he’s the president of a company making eroge and otome games.

How are things at J-List?

There are really two kinds of companies in Japan: Japanese ones, which can be tightly-wound organizations, and 外資系 gaishi-kei, international companies doing business in Japan, like Nestle, Aflac, Microsoft or even J-List. These companies will hopefully incorporate the efficiency and hard work of the Japanese side with creative ideas about how best to make customers happy. In our case I believe we merge the best of Japan with contributions from our staff from the U.S., France, Canada and the Philippines to find fun and wacky products for our customers.

Is it hard for gaijin to work in Japanese companies?

Foreigners are increasingly doing all kinds of jobs in Japan, including a German guy I know who makes sales pitches for advertising to normal Japanese clients. (His language skills are very good.) In all honesty, it can be a challenge being a foreigner in a Japanese company, since the pressure to do exactly as the Japanese around you can make you feel isolated. As with all things in life, you should look for a career that “fits” who you are.

What’s working in an open-plan office like in Japan?

We have this kind of office layout at J-List, and I personally like it a lot, since communication is improved and you know everyone is working hard. There’s a kind of energy that’s created when we’re all busy with a site update, adding products to the site, resolving customer tickets or mastering our next visual novel. At our San Diego location, there are individual offices, and much less communication. When companies like Google come to Japan, they naturally bring their crazy ideas about innovative workspaces that improve creativity, which are always widely covered by the news media, who can’t believe anyone could get work done in an office with a basketball court in the center of it.

Is smoking really allowed at work?

Several members of J-List’s staff smoke, and they pass many minutes together talking about various work or personal issues in our designated smoking area outside. “Working hard” in Japan is usually defined as “being at work long hours” and employees will use smoking breaks to relax a little. Since I don’t smoke, I tend to work all day without breaks and thus I feel more stressed. Maybe I should take up smoking like our Japanese staff….

Fashion or Fap sale NOW

May is a very special month, a month to get in touch with yourself and spend some quality time alone, if you’re feeling stressed out. J-List is offering an awesome 3x points on all personal toys, including “dolphin polishers” for guys, massagers for guys and girls as well as personal lotion and more. Also, we’re offering 3x J-List Points on all apparel and cosplay products. Make an order now!

May 15, 2015

Fun with Japanese urban legends, and why do Japanese students clean their own schools?

The other day I saw an image bouncing around the Internet that showed Japanese high school students cleaning their classrooms, with a caption that explained that, rather than hiring janitorial staff, Japanese schools make the students do the cleaning themselves because it teaches them respect, responsibility and equality. I smiled, because this is one of my favorite things about Japan. The goal of this practice is to teach the students three concepts that are at the core of what it is to be Japanese: 責任 sekinin, which means to take responsibility for something; 勤勉 kinben, which means to have an industrious and hard-working spirit; and 謙虚 kenkyo, or humility, since nothing builds character like cleaning a toilet with an old toothbrush. “This kind of thing is super important to us,” said J-List’s manga and artbook buyer Yasu. “If students stopped taking responsibility for cleaning their own classrooms, they would no longer be Japanese.”

Urban legends are funny things, sometimes leading millions of people to believe something that just isn’t true, like the way I grew up positive that Walt Disney was not actually dead, but had been put into cryogenic suspension somewhere. They have urban legends in Japan, too, and some of them can be quite fascinating. For example, the Japanese have an odd belief that the Lucky Strike cigarette brand logo represents the atomic bombing of Hiroshima when viewed from above, though of course this is wrong as the logo has been in use since the 1930s. Urban legends related to the films of Miyazaki Hayao are common, too. In addition to the now-famous fan theory that Totoro is actually a shinigami (God of Death), there’s a mistaken popular belief that when Miyazaki went to create Kiki’s Delivery Service he learned to his chagrin that the term 宅急便 takkyubin, meaning home delivery service, was a trademark of the Kuroneko Yamato delivery company. In exchange for permission to use the term in his movie, it’s wrongly believed, the company demanded that he create a black cat character for the film, which is supposedly where Jiji the cat came from. Another common urban legend has to do with a mythical Japanese creature called a kappa, part of the Japanese system of yokai folk spirits that shows up in many areas of popular culture, and which Haruhi wanted to capture in a recent episode of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki. Kappa have a bald spot on the tops of their heads, which Japanese think is related to

Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary credited with bringing Christianity to Japan in 1549, though it’s another case of a misunderstanding being passed down through the centuries.

Starless is AVAILABLE NOW

We’ve got some good news for fans of English-translated visual novels: the English version of Starless is available now! Actually we’re still waiting for the finalized packages to come in stock, but since every copy of the Limited Edition comes with a download code, enabling you to play the game on the official release date, we’ve sent these codes out to all preorder customers. You can still order the game, which comes with a deluxe large-sized box, DVD-ROM, and a 62-page artbook filled with amazing art, character data and an original interview with creator Sei Shoujo, and we’ll get it out to you when they come in in 1-2 weeks. Order the game now, if you haven’t already!

May 12, 2015

Top Gear and Japan, and my weekend in Tokyo.

Mrs. J-List is visiting Australia with a friend for a week, so I’ve got the house to myself, which is kind of nice as it means I can watch anime and drink beer til 3 am if I want. Rather than gorge on anime and beer all weekend, I decided to pack a bag and head down to Tokyo to explore some parts of the city I hadn’t visited yet, like the excellent Tokyo Edo Museum that shows you what life was like back during the Edo Period (1603-1868). I also bummed around the Ryogoku area where the National Sumo Stadium is, which is quite interesting as there are always sumo wrestlers passing by on the street you can strike up a conversation with. Visiting Tokyo from J-List’s home prefecture of Gunma (100 km north of Japan’s capital, pretty much in the exact center of the country) is always a treat, since the level of fashion and culture is much higher than it is out in our humble corner of the country. My eyes pop out of my head at the vibrant fashions and beautiful Tokyo girls every time I’m there.

It’s interesting to see how some kinds of pop culture transfer move over national boundaries — the fun hare hare yukai dance from Haruhi, or cosplay and fanart involving a certain blue ribbon — while other types have a harder time jumping from one country to another. Most old-school gamers know the famous “it’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” line from the 1986 Legend Of Zelda NES release, but Japanese fans never latched on to that particular scene and made a meme of it. Similarly, one of the famous lines from anime in Japan is Amuro’s “You hit me! My own father never hit me!” response to being “Brightslapped” in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but that quote hasn’t become part of the shared consciousness of anime fans outside of Japan. Most forms of humor are hard to translate from one culture to another, too. The other day I was watching a late-night re-broadcast of an episode BBC’s excellent Top Gear, which has quite a following in Japan, with my wife. Again and again I’d laugh out lout at the hilarious Britishisms uttered by presenter Jeremy Clarkson (“the car’s suspension is so low, you can feel it every time you drive over an amoeba”), but because these were not being accurately represented in the Japanese subtitles, my wife had no idea why I was laughing so hard. 

Starless is AVAILABLE NOW

We’ve got some good news for fans of English-translated visual novels: the English version of Starless is available now! Actually we’re still waiting for the finalized packages to come in stock, but since every copy of the Limited Edition comes with a download code, enabling you to play the game on the official release date, we’ve sent these codes out to all preorder customers. You can still order the game, which comes with a deluxe large-sized box, DVD-ROM, and a 62-page artbook filled with amazing art, character data and an original interview with creator Sei Shoujo. Order now, if you haven’t already!