October 20, 2014

Creative labels for groups in Japanese, and a special anniversary for Peter.

Creative labels in Japanese, and a special anniversary for Peter.

Labels are funny things, and the terms we use to define groups can be interesting to consider. Since every Japanese learns six years of English during their education, even though this is intended for passing tests rather than actual use, virtually everyone is familiar enough with English grammar for it to seep into the Japanese language a bit. The other day I was scanning blog posts and came across one about an interesting itasha (anime-themed car) owned by a particularly dedicated ラブライバー (“Love Live-er”), which is the official term for hardcore fans of Love Live! School Idol Project. If you love visual novels, you should thank the talented artists who create those gorgeous CG images, a profession known as グラフィッカー (“graphicker”) in Japanese. If you’re an aficionado of Sapporo-style ramen with a miso soup base, you’re what’s known as a 味噌ラー (“miso-ler”), and people who take mayonnaise very seriously, like Akane from Vividred Operation, are known by the slang term マヨラー (“mayoler”). Some other creative words the Japanese use include meganist, a word for lovers of meganekko or girls who wear glasses, ユニクラー (“Uniqler”) for someone who buys all their clothes from Uniqlo, and “vipper” (from the English word VIP), the “alpha” users of Japan’s ubiquitous 2ch BBS who collect posts into summary sites so they’re easier to find. In my family I’m known as a すき焼きテリアンor sukiyaki-terian, because I’ll always choose sukiyaki over other foods if it’s available.

This past Saturday was a special day for me, the anniversary of my arrival in Japan back in Heisei 3, known as 1991 to you and me. It was 23 years ago that I got off the plane at Narita Airport, taking in the strangeness that was all around me and suddenly realizing I’d managed to forget one of my two suitcases in the car back in San Diego. Japan was a very different place back then, an age before the bursting of the Tokyo Asset Bubble and the arrival of the Internet forced the country to discard many of its outdated, inefficient approaches for dealing with the outside world. This anniversary is extra special to me since I’m 46 years old this year…which means I’ve officially lived in Japan for more than half my life. I guess I’ve been unconsciously following in the footsteps of my father, a British engineer also named Peter Payne, who emigrated from London to the U.S. back in the 1950s.

Kawaii Fashions from Japan!

J-List loves to delight our customers with random products from Japan, and today we posted some fun new apparel items! This year’s Animal Room Wear series is in stock, and it’s super cute, hooded kigurumi full-body outfits that transform you into a cute leopard, complete with furry ears and a tail. We also have great shimapan offerings, amazing Japanese socks, plus fun fashions for otokonoko fans.

October 17, 2014

Fun with visual memes in anime, and how baby names work in Japanese.

Fun with visual memes in anime, and how baby names work.

Ever since the rise of “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” 14 years ago, people have been used to the idea of memes spreading randomly through our popular culture. While many of these memes have no problem crossing
national or linguistic boundaries, such as the Haruhi Hare Hare Yukai dance back in the mid 2000s, others seem limited to a certain language zone. For example, Japanese fans have no awareness of the “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” meme from The Legend of Zelda, while jokes that reference the classic “You hit me! Even my father never hit me!” scene from Mobile Suit Gundam might sail over the heads of Western fans. Memes are an important part of anime, serving as building blocks for creating characters that will be instantly familiar to viewers even though the characters themselves are new. A character designer might add a pinch of absolute zone socks here and a dash of shimapan there, or perhaps choose the “twintails chara” route, as in the new anime Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu, about a guy who loves girls with twintail hair so much he ends up becoming one himself. Recently a new anime meme called #PregnancyAnnouncement exploded onto the Internet thanks to a Japanese Twitter user who created a generic image of hands holding a pregnancy kit, which fans combine with their favorite anime characters, creating much mirth and entertainment.

When Japanese couples get ready to have a baby, they naturally start making lists of possible baby names, searching for one that captures the dream they have for their new child. Just as there are dozens of ways to write names like Ashley in English, some of them quite ridiculous, Japanese parents have a wide range of kanji characters to choose from when thinking up names, or they can choose to keep it simple and go with no kanji at all. While a person usually only needs to be able to read 500-1000 characters to read Japanese (far fewer than are needed for Chinese), there’s a lot of nuance that goes into names for people, and it’s not uncommon at all for names to be quite difficult to read, something the staff of J-List is all too familiar with, as the pen-names of manga-ka seem can be especially esoteric. Choosing names seems to be something the Japanese take quite seriously. Before our kids were born, my wife went to visit our local Buddhist temple to get advice from the priest on what to name each child, and she was advised to choose a name for our daughter that had the same number of strokes (lines needed write each kanji) as her own name, so she could pass her own “strong luck” on to her daughter.

Ecchi Fuku-bukuro Grab Bag Start Today!

The Japanese have a fun tradition called fuku-bukuro or “Lucky Bags” in which you get a bag filled with random stuff from Japanese department stores and other stops. Our customers love our annual Lucky Bag tradition, so this year we decided to start sales of the ecchi grab bags — huge collections of awesome products which are sent to you in a secure box from either Japan or San Diego — a few weeks early. Each is filled with awesome English eroge titles and DVDs, personal stress toys, personal lotion, manga and shrinkwrapped JAV DVDs, and we really went out of our way to make sure
this year’s lineup of products was great. Browse them all now! (Non-adult grab bags will be posted to the site in November.)

October 15, 2014

A new anime about an ecchi bookstore, and the eternal lure of Kyoto in the fall.

A new anime about an "ecchi" bookstore, and the eternal lure of Kyoto in the fall.

Another new anime season is upon us, and I’m doing my best to stay on top of the new shows that have been coming down the pipe. I always try to watch at least three episodes of any series I start before deciding whether to drop it or continue, because of the Japanese proverb 石の上にも三年 ishi no ue ni mo san-nen, which translates as ”
you have to sit on a rock for three years” and essentially means, be diligent and work at a thing for a long-enough period of time before deciding whether it’s worth continuing with or not. One show I started watching is Denki-gai no Honya-san (“the Electric Town’s Bookstore”), a slice-of-life comedy about a bunch of misfit otakus who work in a large bookstore that’s clearly modeled after the Tora-no-ana store in Akihabara. The cast includes a mild-mannered main character who’s just started work, a “rotten girl” (slang for girls who love BL and otome games) who likes zombies and wearing school swimsuits, a meganekko doujinshi artist, and a token non-otaku girl added for comic relief. If you like the idea of the Working! anime reworked with otaku jokes, give the show a try!

October in Japan is a time of enjoying the changing of the leaves, called 紅葉 koh-yo or “crimson leaves,” and for maybe hitting the Yokohama Oktoberfest if you’re in the area. It’s also time for being tormented by TV commercials advertising Kyoto as the place to visit in the fall, and every year they manage to come up with even more amazing visuals that capture the ancient Japanese capital in its most beautiful season. The music played during these commercials is an instrumental version of “My Favorite
Things” from The Sound of Music, and it becomes impossible to hear this song without your brain summoning up beautiful image of Kyoto. Incidentally, if you’re ever planning a trip to Japan, you could do worse than to aim for October, since it’s frankly the best time to be in Japan, with pleasant temperatures and no humidity. Plus airfares are nice and cheap in October!

Some of my favorite things: clear Japanese umbrellas and more

I like J-List’s Facebook page and Twitter feed because they provide a way for customers to ask me questions about Japan, give feedback on products and so on. Yesterday a customer asked me what my favorite J-List product was, and this was interesting because I’d never thought about this question before. I certainly love selling Japan-only versions of familiar things, like the bizarre flavors of Kit Kat we stock, and anything that brings anime fans closer to Totoro is also great. I’m always happy to help readers learn a little nihongo, and budding artists learn to draw manga-style art, and occasionally help someone find a Japanese girlfriend (this shirt has actually worked in a few cases!). One product I wanted to sell for the longest time were the clear plastic umbrellas you see everywhere in Japan (and in the film Lost in Translation), and now it’s one of our most popular products. I guess what I really like are products that connect us to Japan in a way that’s fun, so that we can touch and feel (and eat) the cool things we see in anime.

October 13, 2014

A new anime series from Kyoto Animation, and understanding Japan through greetings.

A new anime series from Kyoto Animation, and understanding Japan through "greetings."

In my city there are these metal signs posted at random places with the collected wisdom of our local PTA printed on them. One I drive past occasionally says, “A child who can do 挨拶 aisatsu properly will not stray as he goes through life.” On its surface aisatsu just means “greeting,” such as saying good morning to people you meet every day, though as with many aspects of Japan, things get a little more complex. Because the junior member of a relationship (the 後輩 kohai, if in a school or company setting) is supposed to greet the higher-ranking member (先輩 senpai, or bosses/managers) first, this greeting effectively reinforces the relationship and allows the junior group member to show respect to the senior member. Another application of aisatsu is something like “official greetings after a happy event,” and every New Years Day we get into the car and visit with various family members, catching up with them on what we’ve been doing over the past year and eating various traditional foods (including Mugi’s eyebrows). Another time you make a formal aisatsu greeting is after the birth of a child, and over the weekend J-List’s DVD and PSVita game buyer Tomo and his wife visited our house with their new baby daughter, so we could officially meet her, since we’re indirectly responsible for her welfare as Tomo’s employers.

As an anime fan I find I tend to be loyal to creators or studios who have made interesting works in the past, and if something new comes along written by Madoka Magica and Song of Saya creator Urobuchi Gen or animated by SHAFT, I’ll usually check it out. I feel the same way about Kyoto Animation, the company that brought us everything from Haruhi and Lucky Star to the Air/Kanon/Clannad visual novel adaptions and the Free! swimming club anime. The newest Kyoani series is the story of a reluctant Japanese youth named Seiya who is compelled to accompany a musket-wielding transfer student named Isuzu on a date to a dilapidated amusement park called Amagi Brilliant Park. The twist comes with Seiya learns that that the “magical” inhabitants of the park, which Seiya assumes are people in costumes, really are magical beings, and he’s asked to help save the run-down park by somehow bringing in 250,000 visitors within the next month. It’s the freshest idea since Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions, and I’ll certainly keep watching!

Ecchi Fuku-bukuro Grab Bag Start Today!

The Japanese have a fun tradition called fuku-bukuro or “Lucky Bags” in which you get a bag filled with random stuff from Japanese department stores and other stops. Our customers love our annual Lucky Bag tradition, so this year we decided to start sales of the ecchi grab bags — huge collections of awesome products which are sent to you in a secure box from either Japan or San Diego — a few weeks early. Each is filled with awesome English eroge titles and DVDs, personal stress toys, personal lotion, manga and shrinkwrapped JAV DVDs, and we really went out of our way to make sure this year’s lineup of products was great. Browse them all now! (Non-adult grab bags will be posted to the site in November.)