September 15, 2014

Learning about language and Buddhist food, and how to marry a Japanese person.

International marriage, and learning about language and Buddhist food.

One interesting subject when thinking about Japan is the role of 国際結婚 kokusai kekkon, or international marriage, on society here. Currently about 4% of registered marriages in Japan are between Japanese and foreigners, with Japanese men marrying women from countries like China, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, and Japanese women marrying men from South Korea, the U.S. and U.K. and France. In a way, choosing a partner from another country represents “coloring outside the lines” to the Japanese, and many find great happiness, though individual mileage will of course vary. Japanese females often have a rose-colored view of what international marriage is like, and my wife’s friends speak enviously of her for marrying an American, saying things like, “I’ll bet your husband does the dishes every night” (in reality she won’t let me in the kitchen as I’ll mess everything up). I’m also assumed to hold doors and chairs, cook an occasional romantic meal, and say “I love you” as I head out the door to work every morning, unlike Japanese men who (it is generally thought) never express their feelings, though I think they’re just going for the “stoic” vibe. Children produced by international marriage must surely be kawaii, combining down-to-earth Japanese common sense with the ability to speak English and selectively ignore the social pressures that Japanese are subject to. For the record, the first legally recognized international marriage took place in 1872, when a samurai named Minami Sadasuke studying in London fell in love with Liza Pitman and married her…though the marriage ended in divorce when Liza proved unable to adapt to life back in Japan.

One reason I like studying foreign languages like Japanese is the way it’s very introspective, allowing you to learn more about your own brain works. Everyone learns differently, and to succeed at language learning you need to find a strategy that works for you. (For me it was making sure I approached Japanese study from several different directions, e.g. doing my homework for Japanese class, but also transcribing sentences with vocabulary we were learning, translating JPOP songs to English, reading manga with compelling stories in Japanese, and so on.) One phenomenon I’ve learned is that, when you come across a new vocabulary word, it’s really hard for your brain to process it, or even recognize that a meaningful bit of information has been encountered. In Kyoto, we went to a 400 year old Buddhist temple and ate traditional vegetarian food that Buddhist priests eat called 精進料理 shojin ryori. I’d not encountered this word, however, and when I heard it it sort of went in one year and out the other, as if my brain had heard static rather than a spoken word. Then there are times when my brain will just refuse to learn a word, almost as if due to “bad sectors” on a hard disk. By some unwritten law, all Japanese cities must have a tower, like Tokyo Tower or Yokohama Marine Tower. When we went to Osaka we visited the tower there, which is called 通天閣 tsu-ten-kaku (“Tower Reaching to Heaven”) rather some sensible name like “Osaka Tower.” Although I’ve encountered the name of the tower many times before, my brain has always refused to learn the word.

Preorder Littlewitch Romanesque, a great new English-translated "H" game!

Here some awesome news for fans of our visual novels and eroge titles: we’ve posted the popular upcoming game Girlish Grimoire Littlewitch Romanesque to the site for preorder! A fabulous game illustrated by famed artist

Oyari, the goal of Littlewitch is to teach two cute girls to use magic. There’s a ton of innovative gameplay, including teaching the girls magic, sending them on quests, teaching them more than 100 spells and 20 endings. This is the “Editio Perfecta” (perfect edition) of the game, which includes all additional scenarios from the game’s fandisc plus one all-new game route created for this edition. You can preorder the limited Deluxe Edition (which comes with a large game box, 3 laminated pencil boards and a detailed game manual), and you’ll get the download version free, sent to you on shipping day, so you can start playing right away. The game ships in a few months, so preorder it now!

Lower shipping rates from Japan!

We’ve got more good news: we’ve reduced shipping rates for all products coming from Japan, including SAL, first class airmail and (our favorite), EMS, which provides cheap, speedy shipping with delivery times of only a few days while including full tracking and shipping insurance. Everyone loves getting more anime artbooks, Japanese snacks and other good stuff for their money, and now you can!

September 12, 2014

Anime holy land locations, and why foreigners hate Kyoto Station.

Anime "holy land" locations, and why foreigners hate Kyoto Station.

Modern anime series usually go out of their way to set themselves in actual locations, which adds realism and also encourages fans to get out and visit these “holy lands” (as they’re called in Japanese), which can bring much-needed otaku tourist dollars to less economically vibrant areas of the country. For some reason J-List’s location of Gunma (in the exact center of the country) is often the “setting” for anime series, perhaps because it’s close enough to Tokyo that staff doing ロケハン loke-han or “location hunting” can come here and return the same day. In one of the pool episodes from I Have Few Friends, the characters visit a pool that’s located near J-List, and many other series – from Oreimo to Persona 4 to Kiss x Sis – have episodes that were “filmed” near us. In a recent episode of Rail Wars the characters visit rural Gunma to solve a crime while riding on a classic old train called the Kiha-40. I’d ridden this train with my son back during his “train phase” (which all boys in Japan go through, right before their “giant beetle collecting phase” and their “Yu-Gi-Oh card mania phase”). I heard a rumor that the train line (the Watarase Keikoku Line) might be shutting down because it was in such a rural part of the country serving only a few thousand people, and I wanted to visit the onsen hot springs that was built into one of the small train stations. J-List’s employee Tomo, who keeps the site stocked with cool anime games for the PS Vita and interesting “dolphin polishers,” is from the city where the train line starts, and was amazed to see his hometown rendered so accurately in anime.

When I took my trip to Kyoto last week, it was my first time visiting the city since the new train station was completed nearly a decade ago. A massive 15-story construction that contains dozens of shops, a department store and a five-star hotel, Kyoto’s new train station is a very convenient place to travel through…though foreigners who have come to the city looking to experience something of old Japan nearly always hate the sprawling steel-and-glass monstrosity. Japan has a tradition of going out of its way to build expensive shiny things because they think foreigners will be impressed with their engineering skills, such as the famous shinkansen bullet trains, which exist almost entirely because Japan wanted to impress gaijin arriving for the 1964 Olympics. I can imagine the thought processes that went through the minds of the architects designing the new Kyoto Station – which, at $1.25 billion, is the 5th most expensive building in history. They were positive that foreign visitors would oo and ah at how modern and futuristic it looked, when what we really wanted is a delicate train station made of bamboo and traditional washi paper…which aren’t terribly good things to build a train station out of, now that I think about it.

More 2015 calendars are posted! Browse them now!

2015 anime calendars season is in full swing around here, and today we’ve posted another 40+ calendars for you to browse and preorder. Japanese calendars feature huge, glossy poster-sized sheets and are beautiful to gaze at all year long. Today we’ve posted calendar from top Japanese artists like Kantoku and Coffee Kizoku, all the Kyoto Animation calendars including Chu2koi and Free!, plus Youkai Watch, Hatsune Miku and Arpeggio of Blue Steel. We’ve also got a huge volley of JAV calendars featuring your favorite JAV actresses.

September 9, 2014

My trip to Kyoto and Osaka, and world peace through Asian power.

Over the weekend I took a business trip to the best place you can take a business trip to, Kyoto. The capital of Japan from 794 until Tokyo officially took on that role in 1869, Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, compelling the poet Basho to write, “Even while in Kyoto, I yearn for Kyoto.” While the city is home to some of the most amazing Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan, it’s also an energetic city, with a great local beer culture and lots of Internet startups. It’s got another unique feature, too: while most Japanese cities grew out of castle towns, with twisting, curving roads that are impossible to navigate if you weren’t born there, Kyoto’s roads are wide and straight, organized along a north-south grid. While most roads in Japan lack names, at least that anyone ever refers to (it’s common to say “turn left at the street with with the beauty shop and the pachinko parlor”), the streets in Kyoto have had names for more than a thousand years, with lots of history to go with them. It’s not rare for taxi drivers in Kyoto to point out interesting tidbits like, the bridge you just crossed over was famous as the location where infamous thief (and later folk hero) Ishikawa Goemon was executed in 1594.

Then on Monday my employee Yasu and I went to Osaka, which is an amazing, vibrant city that’s full of unique flavor and culture you just can’t find in Tokyo. While we walked around the bustling Dotonbori district, lining up to eat takoyaki (batter balls with octopus meat inside) and kushi-katsu (deep-fried meat and vegetables on wooden skewers that you dip in this amazing sauce before eating), I noticed something interesting: it seemed that less than half the people around us were Japanese, but rather tourists from China, Taiwan and South Korea. A taxi driver who happened to look like a scary yakuza but who was very kind and helpful said, “Yes, we call that ‘Asian power.’ The city is filled with tourists from neighboring countries, and we’re very happy to have them here, helping the local economy.” When Yasu expressed mild surprise at the sheer number of Asian tourists around us, I told him that I’d seen it all before, back when the Japanese suddenly burst onto the world stage in the mid 1980s. I’m optimistic that tourism, trade and taking a common interest in our shared popular culture will bring peace and happiness to Asia, despite ongoing disputes over various silly rocks in the sea.

The 2015 anime calendars are posted!!

Great news! The 2015 anime poster calenadrs from Japan are finally posted for preorder, and the start of 2015 Calendar Season can officially get started. Every year J-List sells hundreds of large-format calendars from Japan, with huge, glossy sheets filled with beautiful art from your favorite anime or manga series. This year’s lineup of anime calendars looks great, including Cardcaptor Sakura, No Game No Life, Knights of Sidonia, One Week Friends and a ton of others (with more being added daily). These calendars will start coming in stock in October, so get your orders in right now!

September 5, 2014

Interesting gender issues in anime, and teaching my kids English with Harry Potter.

Greetings from Japan! I’m off to Kyoto and Osaka on a business trip, but while I’m gone the hardworking J-List staff will make sure all orders go out smoothly. What awesome Japan-related products can we send you today?

Getting into anime means exposing yourself to a lot of new ideas, for example the way Japanese relationships tend to be “vertical,” with the older members (senpai) acting very differently from junior members (kohai). It also means getting used to stories about characters whose genders might not be what they seem at first glance. There’s a long list of anime that feature 女装 joso (males dressed as females), like Mariya from Maria Holic, or 男装 danso (females dressed as men) characters, my favorite being Charlotte Dunois from Infinite Stratos. Every few anime seasons it seems there’s a new variation on how genders are played with, such as Hideyoshi from Baka Test or Izana from Knights of Sidonia, whose official genders are “none of the above,” or Yukimura from I Have Few Friends, a boy who thinks he’s a girl…though we learn later that it’s a bit more complex than that. Stories of characters in non-standard gender roles have deep roots in Japan, from Kabuki plays in which all the actors are male to the famous Takarazuka Revue, with all roles filled by incredibly talented females. Incidentally, if you’re interested in “trap” or otokonoko themes, J-List has some products you might like.

When our kids were born, both my Japanese wife and I wanted to make sure they’d be raised bilingually, since we both knew firsthand how much work is involved with learning a language from scratch. To ensure our success I came up with various strategies. First, we imported all our DVDs from the U.S. rather than buying them in Japan, so that if my kids wanted to watch Harry Potter, they had to do it in English rather than with a Japanese dubbed track. Once my daughter found my Magical Knights Rayearth DVDs and asked to watch it, and I pretended there was no Japanese track on the disc, watching the English dub with her even though I’d rather have watched it in Japanese. My son and I had fun comparing the English and Japanese versions of things, for example watching an episode of Power Rangers in Japanese, then the same episode in English, to compare what had been changed, or comparing Yu-Gi-Oh! cards from Japan and the U.S. For the longest time I pretended not to speak Japanese, asking my kids to say what they wanted to tell me in English, but eventually they figured out I was faking it. A big part of learning a language is knowing the associated culture, so I made sure my kids were quite familiar with “American” things like Scooby Doo and Pop Tarts.

The 2015 anime calendars are posted!!

Great news! The 2015 anime posters from Japan are finally posted for preorder, and the start of 2015 Calendar Season can officially get started. Every year J-List sells hundreds of large-format calendars from Japan, with huge, glossy sheets filled with beautiful art from your favorite anime or manga series. This year’s lineup of anime calendars looks great, including Cardcaptor Sakura, No Game No Life, Knights of Sidonia, One Week Friends and a ton of others. These calendars will start coming in stock in October, so get your orders in right now!