September 2, 2014

Living in space-challenged Japan, and the glory of Japanese pizza.

Foreigners living in Japan know that whenever there’s an earthquake in any corner of the country, we’ll get concerned calls or emails from family members back home asking us if we’re okay, as if Japan were a tiny country like Belgium rather than stretching from Canada to Mexico if laid overtop the U.S. Still, Japan’s land area is small, about the size of California despite having a population just under half the U.S., which means that space is often at a premium. You see this in various ways, including tiny gas stations with pumps located in the roof to save space, or ridiculously narrow office buildings and homes that have to be that shape because that’s the only land that was available. Land in Tokyo is especially valuable, and whenever we go there from Gunma (100 km away) we experience minor culture shock at how compact everything is, like “standing only” restaurants with no seats, just counters to lean against while you eat, and vending machines that are just a few inches deeper than the canned coffee they dispense, to avoid sticking out too far into the street. Recently Japan has been encouraging the development of solar power, but there’s a problem: unlike places like Arizona, there’s usually not a lot of excess land for solar panels. One company had an interesting idea, floating them above large commercial ponds used for growing koi fish. In addition to costing less, the water in the pond acts as a coolant for the solar panels, saving them even more money.

One great thing about Japan is its varied food culture, with everything from Thai to Indian to Mediterranean all available within 1 km of the J-List office. Another food the Japanese have become big fans of is pizza, which got its start in Japan in 1954, when an Italian American named Nick Zappetti opened a pizza restaurant called
Nicola’s in Roppongi. Though he was mainly targeting the U.S. military officers working nearby, his pizza caught on with young Japanese, and it changed the Japanese forever. While you might go for some pepperoni, onions or green peppers on your pizza, the Japanese are just as likely to order a kani-mayo or crab-and-mayonnaise pizza, or perhaps be more traditional and just go with squid and corn. Just as curry is considered “Western food” because it was introduced here by the British, pizza in Japan often has a very “American” feel to it. Another unfortunate thing about pizza in Japan: it’s quite expensive, costing US$35 or more for a large, and that won’t be an American sized large. Also, Pizza Hut’s pizzas are now apparently made by cats.

3x point sale on all sex anime figures plus "ero" DVDs and Blu-ray

We’ve got a great new sale for you this month, a whopping 3x J-List Points on all the sexy and kawaii anime figures from Japan we stock. Pick up any figures you like this month, either in-stock figures or preorders, and you’ll get the points when your order is filled. The ecchi “cast off” figures are also part of the sale. We are also having a points sale on those lovely ecchi DVDs and Blu-rays, so get browsing! J-List points, of course, can use for discounts on your next purchase, and you can use them without limit at all. (They also never expire.)

August 29, 2014

How Japanese names work, and using cuteness to sell condoms?

How Japanese names work, and bringing cuteness to condoms and poop?

Japan’s love of cuteness has become famous all around the world, to the point that the word 可愛い kawaii can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary. There’s almost no aspect of life in Japan that can’t be made cute, and even something as mundane as the instruction manual for a new DVD player will include little manga images of the product sweating with a sad face to indicate that you shouldn’t put it in direct sunlight, or crying while standing in a puddle of water, letting you know to avoid getting the unit wet. There seems to be something about making unpleasant concepts less threatening by making them adorable, like my family’s brand of kitty litter, which features a cat holding his nose because of the bad smell. A lot of times you can tell when a product is being marketed to women because the design of the package is unreasonably cute, like those Rilakkuma condoms we carry. Another area where cuteness can “soften” a touchy subject is constipation, something nearly every Japanese female seems to suffer from. The other day I saw a TV commercial for a laxative which featured a cute female deer who was upset because she hadn’t pooped in several days. She sees another deer walk by with poop dropping out from behind her at regular intervals, and decides to fix her constipation problem using the product being advertised.

Most people know about the unique name suffixes used in Japanese. The most common, of course, is -san, which is added to the family name (Yamada-san) for general politeness, or to the first name (Taro-san) to indicate a warmer, friendlier relationship while still preserving some formality. There are some interesting uses of the -san name ending: for example, when J-List deals with other companies, we’re collectively addressed as “J-List-san.” Calling a person by their given name only is called 呼び捨て yobi-sute, and it’s only used with very close friends, or couples who are dating or married. Characters who are too shy to call each other by their first names, such as Makoto and Kotonoha in School Days, are a common joke in anime. I once got into trouble by calling a female student named Yoko on the phone and asking her mother if “Yoko” was there, without using any name suffix. Her mother became suspicious of what relationship I had with her daughter, that I was on a first-name basis with her.

Here’s a quick run-down of these name suffixes, in case you were curious:

  • -san: Shows formality, especially when used with the family name. Good for foreigners to use in any situation.
  • -kun: Usually used for males you’re friendly with, or who are younger than you. Can be used for females in university or military settings.
  • -chan: Used for females you’re friendly with, or girls who are younger than you, especially children. It can sometimes seem rude or sexist to add -chan to a girl’s name, so be sensitive to this.
  • -sama: The most formal way to address someone, and the best example of why you shouldn’t learn Japanese from anime. It’s never used except at weddings and in anime series.
  • -sensei: Honorific label for teachers and doctors, as well as a wide range of professions, including politicians, attorneys and certified public accountants. (No, really!)
  • -senpai: Honorific label for anyone who’s your senior in a school or company.
  • -tan: a cute version of -san, pronounced as if a child were speaking.
  • There are other specific name suffixes, like アナウンサー(announcer) for newscasters or 容疑者 yogisha (suspect) for anyone officially arrested for suspicious in a crime.

New English Eroge combo sets posted

J-List stocks fun visual novels and eroge, and recently we’ve been creating “combo bundle” game sets, which give you two English-translated games for one low price. The reason is that fans hate it when we take games out of print, making them available as Internet download editions only, and this 2-in-1 combo system enables fans to keep their collections growing. We posted several combo sets for preorder, including The Sagara Family + the hardboiled mystery drama Chain, and Yume Miru Kusuri + Little My Maid, both of which I can’t recommend highly enough. Also for this weekend only, get 33% off the Idols Galore + Slave Pagent bundle!

August 26, 2014

The end of an ecchi era in Japan, and how to count chopsticks.

The end of an "ecchi" era in Japan, and how to count chopsticks.

J-List has been in business since 1996, a long time if you think of it in “Internet years.” I started the company because it was clear that the world had changed forever when the Internet arrived in a big way in the early 90s, and I knew of the deep fascination most people had with Japan because I shared it, too. We got our start selling used J-POP CDs on Usenet (J-List stands for “the Japan list” because our products were recorded in a giant list saved in Excel), and quickly expanded into doujinshi, anime figures, and Japanese snacks. Over the years, our business has naturally changed quite a bit. Companies we worked with often went bankrupt, and the music CDs we used to sell gave way to iTunes Japan prepaid cards. Truth be told, there was a time when toy distributors in Tokyo weren’t overly happy to see a foreigner walk in, as it usually meant having to deal with language barrier issues, but as Japan’s decade-long recession wore on they were soon happy to have gaijin customers come in to make large purchases. One J-List product category that was popular for years was ero-hon, adult magazines that presented Japan’s AV actresses in amazingly beautiful photo spreads, promoting upcoming stars as well as letting fans know which glossy hardcover photobooks they should pick up that month. Sadly, the long history of these ecchi magazines is coming to an end, with the news that the venerable Bejean is ending its run after 31 years in print. The “sayonara, ero-hon!” farewell message in the final issue is enough to make me reach for a tissue…

Studying Japanese involves getting used to some new concepts, including learning to read non-Western characters (hiragana and katakana are quite easy to pick up) and becoming comfortable with sentences with the subjects omitted (because they’re clear from context). Another unique area of the Japanese language are the “counters,” special markers for counting objects based on their shapes, similar to the way groups of animals are named in English, e.g. a herd of horses, a flock of birds. The counter for flat objects like a sheet of paper or a sitting cushion is 枚 mai, resulting in ichi-mai, ni-mai, san-mai and so on, while machines like computers or cars are counted with 台 dai (ichi-dai, ni-dai etc.). One of the most common of these counting words is 本 hon, for counting long, cylindrical objects like sake bottles, samurai swords or trees. (Fun fact: 六本木 Roppingi means “six trees.”) Foreigners are likely to use this word when counting chopsticks, since they’re the right shape, but the counter for a pair of chopsticks is actually 善 zen, a word which Japanese themselves are often too lazy to use. Being a foreigner, I always go out of my way to use the correct counting word, saying something like お箸、一膳もらえますか?o-hashi, ichi-zen moraemasu ka? (“could I have a pair of chopsticks?”), mainly because Japanese don’t expect gaijin to get this word right and I like to surprise them.

Browse J-List's Sailor Moon products now

At J-List, we love Sailor Moon and spend several hours each day searching for awesome products to find for our customers. We’ve got all theanime figures, the pens and pointers, plush toys, 2015 schedule books, stickers and more, including a couple items that let older fans “fight evil by moonlight.” Browse the top Sailor Moon products now!

August 22, 2014

How the World Looks when Seen from Japan: Peace and War edition.

viewing the world from Japan: Peace and War edition.

One fun aspect of living in Japan is watching NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting network, the channel to turn to for news, educational programming and the best samurai period dramas on TV. It’s as near a clone of Britain’s BBC as the Japanese could manage, right down to the licensing fee structure that households are asked to pay. One show I like to catch when it’s on called 世界ふれあい町歩き Sekai Fureai Machi-aruki (“walking around the towns of the world”), which has a simple format: a cameraman with a steady-cam walks through various picturesque locations so that viewers can experience the sights as if they were really there themselves. The camera stops to talk with people passing by in the street, with the people’s replies shown with subtitles so Japanese viewers can understand, while the narrator provides information on the history and culture of each area. The last episode focused on America, with we, the viewer, taking a leisurely stroll through neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Seattle and Carthage, Missouri, located along old Route 66. The camera then moved to New York, seeking out the best bagel shop in Brooklyn before walking up the street to chat with an elderly Chinese couple who run a dry-cleaning business. The show has quite a following in Japan, with fans traveling abroad to take pictures in the same filming locations from their favorite episodes.

Of course, visiting the world’s most beautiful cities vicariously through one’s television may be lots of fun, but we all know that the world is more complex than that…in fact it can be downright dangerous. This is the lesson learned by poor Haruna Yukawa, a Japanese man who was captured by extremists in Syria this week, an event that has the Japanese press buzzing nonstop. While it’s unclear what Mr. Yukawa was doing in the war-torn country, it appears that he operates a private military company in Tokyo called, er, Private Military Company, an entity which is legally registered but seems to have no employees or even a physical address. The captive has been described on the Japanese media as a “military otaku” with a fascination with survival games and paintball guns, and he may have been in Syria to engage in “war tourism” to impress his friends on Facebook. Mr. Yukawa’s is a good example of what the Japanese call 平和ぼけ heiwa boke, literally being “dulled to the point of stupidity from too much peace,” the all-too-common assumption by Japanese that the world is as peaceful and safe as their country is. We certainly hope for the safety of poor Mr. Yukawa, a man who should probably should have made some different life choices.

New MangaGamer Games in stock!

At J-List, we love all visual novels and eroge from Japan, and have worked hard to build a catalog of licensed English games worthy of our customers’ love, as well as offering import (Japanese-language) games direct from Japan. We’ve got some good news: we’ve renewed our exclusive distribution agreement with MangaGamer have great new games in stock for you. In addition to fresh stock of titles we’d been sold out on for months, enjoy Tick! Tack! (the sequel/spin off from the popular Shuffle! game), plus Kara no Shoujo, Eroge! (an awesome game about developing H-games) and more. Browse all the new MangaGamer titles now!