February 27, 2015

How Japanese names work, and is J-List located in a ‘Power Spot’?

How Japanese names work, and is our J-List's city a 'Power Spot'?

When I came to Japan in 1991, one of my first impressions was that the country must be a dangerous place to raise children because the staircases were made of hardwood and were very steep, in order to take up less space in cramped Japanese houses. I also thought that Japan seemed to be a place where bizarre coincidences happened a lot. In my first year here, I managed to bump into several people I’d studied Japanese with in university while wandering around Tokyo and Yokohama, which was surprising since I lived far from these cities. Before coming to Japan, I taught myself the language using the classic baseball manga Touch, and by an incredible coincidence the rural city I came to live in (Isesaki, Gunma) just happens to be the birthplace of the
artist, Adachi Mitsuru…who also shares a birthday with Mrs. J-List. Yulia Nova is a beautiful Russian model who stole the hearts of many Japanese and international fans, and the photographer who publishes her works just happens to live here too, about
3 km away. This pattern continued: the company that makes those cute Nyanko Cat figures is also located in our mild-mannered city, and when J-List finally attained status as an official Touhou shop, we learned to our surprise that the distributor we’d be buying figures, mousepads and games from is located less than 1 km from us. (Our city is also the setting for Nichijou.) My wife’s theory is that her ancestors are watching over J-List and ensuring that serendipitous accidents keep happening to help our business grow, but I think Isesaki is some kind of “power spot” that links Japan to the rest of the world in some mysterious way.

I sometimes receive questions about Japan through J-List’s Facebook page and Twitter feed which I do my best to answer. The other day a reader asked me to talk about how Japanese names work, so I thought I’d write about that. Japanese always have two names, a family name and a given name, which are written in Chinese characters, or less frequently hiragana or katakana. Family names always come first – so you’d say Hatsune Miku, never Miku Hatsune – though this rule isn’t followed for foreigners, who always say or write their names in Western order. The system of family names is quite recent, having been adopted after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when Japan put aside its feudal past and embraced modernization. One odd quirk of Japanese people is that they’re all positive their ancestors were samurai warriors, despite many having agrarian family names like 田中 Tanaka (“in the rice field”) or 山田 Yamada (“the rice field on the mountain”). Since there are many ways to write a given name in kanji, the nuances can be hard to represent in English. In Kana Okari ~ Welcome Back Kana, the just-released remake of one of the best visual novels ever made, there are two characters who share the same name: 加奈 Kana, the main character’s younger sister, and her cousin 佳奈, which is spelled “Cana” in the game to separate the two.

Kank Okari ~ Welcome Back Kana is now shipping!

We’re happy to announce that the total remake of one of the best visual novels ever released is in stock and shipping. The game is Kana Okari ~ Welcome Home Kana, a total remake of one of the most beloved Japanese visual novels ever made, written by the creator of Yume Miru Kusuri. This new version adds full character voices, a modern game engine, a re-edited translation plus animated “H” scenes. It’s a journey that every fan of visual novels will want to make, the seminal edition of this epic visual novel.

February 24, 2015

The best stories in anime, and how do ‘gaijin’ accents work?

Awesome stories in anime, and how do gaijin accents work

As I wrote in Friday’s J-List post, the first anime that really called me into the welcome folds of Japanese pop culture was Space Battleship Yamato, a melodramatic space opera in which a WWII battleship-turned-spaceship had to travel to the distant planet Iscandar and return within one year, or all life on Earth would die out. (My TV broke for a two week period soon after I started watching, and I remember rushing to my local J.C. Penny and watching each day’s episode on the TVs there.) More than images of space combat and transforming robots, it was the depth of the stories which drew me to the anime genre, stories in which characters could die or fall in love as worlds hung in the balance. Some great series I’ve enjoyed over the years have included the well-structured suspense of Death Note, the realistic story of love and tsundere in Toradora!, and AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day, about a girl who dies then comes back as a ghost to hang out with her childhood friends. Great stories aren’t only found in anime of course: the visual novels we publishing in English are often extremely well-written, like the just-released Kana Okaeri ~ Welcome Home Kana, a game that has an amazing reputation with fans because of the intense quality of the its story. Another important series is the currently-running 四月の君は嘘 shigatsu no kimi wa uso, or Your Lie in April in English. It’s the story of a 14 year-old boy who’s a genius pianist, who is inspired to play again by a young female violinist he encounters, and it’s really outstanding. So, what are your favorite stories from anime and visual novels?

Like all languages, there are many regional dialects in addition to standard Japanese, which is what they speak in Tokyo. While famous dialects like Osaka and Kyoto are well-represented in anime, a lot of the more subtle local language variations are not generally found in pop culture as a rule. The reason (I’ve heard) is that people from places like Tochigi Prefecture – located 150 km north of Tokyo, a place where people really talk funny, unlike J-List’s home prefecture of Gunma – aren’t used to having their accents represented on TV, and might feel like they were being mocked. You don’t have to be Japanese to have an accent, of course: we foreigners have them too. In a recent episode of Kantai Collection we meet Kongo, a Japanese battleship “who was born in England” (since the historical ship was built in 1911 in that country). Being a kikoku shijo or “returned-to-Japan child” who came to Japan after growing up abroad, Kongo naturally speaks Japanese like a Westerner, injecting too much emotion into her sentences and using random English phrases like “no problem” while speaking. Like any foreigner, she’s able to nullify social rules, too, embracing the more humble Japanese ships and imposing her personality on them at will…which is actually a pretty accurate description of what foreigners often do in Japan.

Kank Okari ~ Welcome Back Kana is now shipping!

Speaking of high-quality stories, we’re happy to announce that the total remake of one of the best visual novels ever released is in stock and shipping. The game is Kana Okari ~ Welcome Home Kana, a total remake of one of the most beloved Japanese visual novels ever made, written by the creator of Yume Miru Kusuri. This new version adds full character voices, a modern game engine, a re-edited translation plus animated “H” scenes. It’s a journey that every fan of visual novels will wan to make, the seminal edition of this epic visual novel.

February 20, 2015

J-List’s big Touhou news, and Peter’s Favorite Anime over the Years.

J-List's official Touhou news, and Peter's Favorite Anime over the Years

I’m often asked “hey Peter, what’s your favorite anime?” Since I’ve been an active anime fan for 35+ years (and blogging about it here at J-List for 18), this is not an easy question to answer, as I’ve seen so many. The show that first attracted me into the genre was the dramatic space opera Space Battleship Yamato, and the recent remake is so good I can’t help but recommend it highly. I’ve always felt that “Gundam is to Star Trek as Macross is to Star Wars,” and it’s been fun comparing the quasi-realistic vision of the future of humankind in space seen in Star Trek and Mobile Suit Gundam with the more playful and adventurous Macross and Star Wars worlds. I’m a card-carrying fan of time-travel stories, so naturally I love Steins;Gate, and another series that’s quite good is Zipang, about a modern Japanese warship that gets transported back to WWII. While anime is a fun medium, it’s all too common for series to not be written or structured that well, though there are always pleasant exceptions to this rule, like Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 or Toradora! As both an anime fan and a retailer, I’m concerned at the speed 1-cour (12 episode) series are forgotten by fans once they end…unless the shows make their fans cry for days, like Madoka Magica or AnoHana, which are both excellent. Finally, anime should be able to make you laugh, and I’ve enjoyed series like Yamada’s First Time and Non Non Biyori immensely.

One of the most interesting corners of Japan-related fandom is Touhou Project, a series of indies shooting games that combined outstanding visuals and music with fanciful characters to become one of the primary engines for pop culture generation in Japan. Meaning “to the East,” the games are set in Gensokyo, a magical land of witches, ice fairies, traditional Japanese youkai spirits and a few scattered humans, which was created by programmer and music composer ZUN then greatly embellished by fans. To celebrate J-List’s new status as an official Touhou shop, I asked J-List’s Facebook and Twitter readers what they liked about the Touhou universe. “Touhou is where I escape to whenever I’m not feeling well,” said one fan. “The deep stories, mysteries, relationships, gameplay, and back-stories are magical, especially when the fanbase is so large and creative.” Many fans thought the music was the main draw: “It’s all about ZUN’s music, and the billions and billions of remixes of his music.” Another responder liked the fictional world of Gensokyo because “[it’s] a place where forgotten things end up, that’s pretty cool in itself. The folk aspect of it is also pretty good.” Another reader said, “Personally I’m in awe at how much of what Touhou is was produced by fans. I’m a fan of the fandom!” Personally I love Touhou fanart, and I’ve always been amazed at how ZUN comes up with dreamy titles like “The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil” and “Phantasmagoria of Flower View.”

J-List is now an official Touhou shop!

J-List has some great news for Touhou fans: we’re now an official shop, stocking great products direct from Shanghai Alice, ZUN’s company. We’re going to bring you some great products, from Touhou figures to keychains to mousepads. While we’ve always stocked the Touhou shooting games, we now carry the entire line of titles, including the excellent official doujin games made with ZUN’s approval, like Super Marisa World. Since music is a big part of the Touhou experience, we’ve got great official soundtracks for you to order too. And for a limited time, pick up any 4 Touhou products and get an automatic 15% discount!

February 18, 2015

Eating Ethnic in Japan, and Things Today’s Anime Fans will Never Experience

Eating 'Ethnic' in Japan, and Things Anime Fans Don't Have to Do Anymore

I’ve been an anime fan for a long time, long enough to remember attending the monthly anime club meetings at San Diego State University, surrounded by like-minded fans as we watched the newest episodes of City Hunter, Dirty Pair and Zeta Gundam. This was before anime had become a proper industry, and there were no commercially-licensed titles in existence yet…and no fansubs either, which meant we were watching in Japanese, with a short sentence describing the plot (“Lum uses a ‘copy gun’ to make copies of Ataru, which gets out of hand pretty quickly”) in our newsletter if we were lucky. Over the next 30 years (ack! I shouldn’t have calculated that), anime rose in prominence around the world, then declined somewhat as the arrival of the Internet chipped away at the old business model of selling $600 laser-disc sets to fans. It’s fun to look back and see how things have changed over the years. The days of renting anime on VHS from your local Blockbuster are gone, are is the bulky VHS format itself. Also gone are watching aggressively edited-for-TV anime on Toonami or Fox Kids, with swimsuits digitally drawn on characters in a bath even though nothing was showing, and bizarre “cousins with benefits” plot-lines introduced for no reason.

Without a doubt, one of the best things about living in Japan is the food. There’s lots of amazing Japanese food here (surprise!), but cuisine from just about every other country in the world is available, too. While Americans might head to their local Mexican restaurant for a nice dinner, in Japan the most popular “ethnic” food is Indian, like delicious keema curry and naan bread washed down with a lassi yogurt drink. Another popular category of food to the Japanese is Korean, and going out for Korean BBQ is roughly the same here as a New Yorker going for bagels and matzah ball soup. (The Japanese have also embraced Korea’s spicy pickled cabbage called kimchee, something which Koreans hate, saying that Japan is “stealing” their national food.) One area of food culture that doesn’t feel “ethnic” here are Chinese foods like fried rice, yakisoba (Japan’s version of chow mein) and gyoza dumplings, which are so closely interwoven with Japanese cuisine they’re almost considered part of the same group. If you’re interested in learning more about foods the Japanese eat, browse our cookbook sections or read the Happy Cooking Graffiti manga we posted today!

Popular Magazine Subsciptions from Japan

One of the more popular products we sell are revolving subscriptions to popular magazines like Megami, Nyantype, Newtype and Dengeki G’s. These magazines are in Japanese, but have great visuals on every page, and free stuff like posters, figures and more for collectors. Interested in Japanese fashion and cosplay? We’ve got magazines for that. How about great monthly manga that deliver hundreds of pages of interesting stories every month? We have those items too. Best of all, it’s pay-as-you-go, so you never need to pre-pay for your subscription and can cancel any time. If you’re more of a Japanese snack person, don’t forget our Japanese Snack Subscription, a box of random Japanese snacks sent to you every month!