July 3, 2015

Health masks in Japan, and why you shouldn’t laugh at ESL students.

Crime in Japan, and a new sale from J-List!

J-List is currently attending Anime Expo this year at booth 1319. We hope you’ll come by our booth and check out all the cool products we’ve got for you. If you can’t be at the show, don’t fret, since we’ve got a great side-wide 10% off sale for you!

All things considered, laughter only belongs in a foreign language classroom if it helps build confidence in language skills, and it’s really not a good idea to throw your head back and laugh at the mistakes your students make. Although I’ve tried to hold to this goal, there have been times during my career as an ESL teacher when it was very difficult to keep the giggles away for one reason or another. One older student was describing traveling to New York to see skyscrapers, but she kept saying “skycrappers” instead, which had me twisting this way and that trying to get the image of giant lavatories in the sky out of my head. Another time a student told me how he fixed his car radio over the weekend, only he didn’t say “fixed,” but another word entirely which starts with the same letter, and I struggled to keep from laughing out loud at this. Then there are those bits of insight that only a learner of a foreign language can have, like a student of mine who who observed, “We cannot go to Antarctica because it is under penguin rule.” I feel bad about laughing at my students from time to time, although I know that I’ve given as good as I got, providing the Japanese with many hours of amusement thanks to my own language slip-ups. Like the time I tried to order some mango juice in a restaurant, and substituted a “k” for the “g” consonant, resulting in pretty much the rudest word that exists in Japanese (which is “manko” and is a word referring to the female genitals).

If you come to Japan you’ll see some strange things. I remember my first few days after arriving in Japan, wowing at everything from the vending machines that were less than a few inches in depth to allow them to be placed along narrow streets to highly urbanized areas which nevertheless had rice paddies in the middle of them. Every time I’d head out to explore my city, I’d encounter a person wearing what appeared to me to be a surgical mask, as if they’d just ducked out of the operating room to get some air. These masks are worn by anyone experiencing cold or hayfever symptoms (or Mers, for our South Korean readers), done to avoid infecting others with your germs and to also to give them a visible warning that you’re sick and they might want to keep their distance. In a country where one of the most important virtues is 頑張る gambaru — that is, do your best, give your all, work hard, always show your effort — the image of an employee working hard at his or her desk with a gauze mask on, perhaps enduring a fever or other unpleasant symptoms, is in some ways a classic cultural image in Japan. The surgical masks also send another cultural message: anyone who wants to hide their identity wear these masks to help maintain their anonymity.

Free Headbands with any purchase of J-List

If you’ll be at Anime Expo we’ve got great news: an awesome free gift for you. In addition to our popular anime eyeglasses and J-List pocket tissues, we’ve prepared a special item for all customers, an original hachimaki headband that that proclaims your status as an オタク (otaku). Free with a purchase from our booth at the show!

J-LIST SALE 10% off during Anime Expo!

J-List’s staff is busy at Anime Expo in booth 1319, selling tons of T-shirts, English-translated visual novels, sexy figures, plush toys, Tentacle Grape, and other items that we’ve spent all year preparing for you. But since not everyone can be at the show, we thought we’d do something cool for our fans, something like, oh, give a huge discount on all products for the duration of the show. So starting now through Sunday, California time, you can get 10% off any J-List order using code CONSALE. (As usual, the code can’t be used for items like iTunes cards, subscriptions and so on, sorry.)

July 1, 2015

Crime and punishment in Japan, and a new sale from J-List!

Crime in Japan, and a new sale from J-List!

J-List will be attending Anime Expo this year at booth 1319. We hope you’ll come by our booth and check out all the cool products we’ve got for you. If you can’t be at the show, don’t fret, since we’ve got a great side-wide 10% off sale for you!

Sometimes I think my family would make the basis for an interesting 4-koma (4-panel) manga series along the lines of Darling wa Gaikokujin, a comic about a Japanese woman who thinks she’s found the “perfect” American husband but is surprised when things don’t always go as she expects. In the tradition of every magical girl show ever, my daughter would be the main character, since she’s a bit おっちょこちょい occhokochoi, translatable as “clumsy in a cute way,” always needing help from everyone around her just like Usagi, Doremi, Madoka, and many others. Her brother would be a glasses-wearing egghead, constantly pointing out her faults, which is what he does already, and we could make jokes based on his over-analytical approach to English compared with her tendency to use English words freely without actually knowing what they mean. I think I’d make a pretty cool anime father character, a good-hearted but bumbling American who loves Japanese hot spring baths and who collects useless information about Japan that even Japanese don’t know, like how to write the kanji for “rose” (it’s 薔薇, and my being able to write this is what made my wife decide to go out with me). Having my wife as the president of the company (since my wife is president of J-List) would create some humorous situations, too — she could try to pull rank on her husband while at home — while providing a fresh model for women in Japanese pop culture. I’ve even thought of a name for the manga: お宅のパパは外国人 Otaku no Papa wa Gaikokujin, meaning Your Father is a Foreigner, but using the word otaku to add a double meaning.

One thing I love about Japan is that it’s generally a very safe place free from crime and violence, and even in the “most dangerous” part of Tokyo (the Kabuki-cho region of Shinjuku, home of some shady bars and other establishments) you’d never actually feel unsafe. Perhaps it’s because of this fact that when murders do happen, they often seem especially cruel and senseless. One year a woman killed her (allegedly abusive) husband by hitting him a wine bottle, then tried to dispose of his body by cutting it up and hiding the parts in different corners of Tokyo. In another sad event, a 16-year-old girl decapitated her 15-year-old classmate. In 2012 Japan’s gaming community was shocked by news that Minamino Shingo, the Nitroplus producer responsible for the music in such games as Demonbane and Steins;Gate, had been stabbed to death by a random passer-by with a knife, sadly a common enough event to have a name (通り魔 tohri-ma meaning “a devil passing by on the street”). The crime was committed by recently-released-from-prison Kyozo Isohi, who gave as his reason that he wanted to die but was too cowardly to commit suicide, so he committed an unforgivable crime so he’d receive the death penalty. Well, Mr. Isohi got his wish, with a verdict of death being handed down by a court last Friday.

J-LIST SALE 10% off during Anime Expo!

Anime Expo starts on Thursday, and J-List will be there in booth 1319, selling tons of T-shirts, English-translated visual novels, sexy figures, plush toys, Tentacle Grape, and other items that we’ve spent all year preparing for you. But since not everyone can be at the show, we thought we’d do something cool for our fans, something like, oh, give a huge discount on all products for the duration of the show. So starting now through Sunday, California time, you can get 10% off any J-List order using code CONSALE. (As usual, the code can’t be used for items like iTunes cards, subscriptions and so on, sorry.)

June 29, 2015

Japan’s love of cats, and the cutest government program ever.

Japan's love of cats, and the cutest Social Security Number program ever

The English language is often simplified or made “cute-sounding” when used in Japanese. A good example of this is the word “my,” found in words like マイペース “my pace” meaning someone who lives life by his own rules and at his own pace, or banks marketing loans for マイカー “my car” or マイホーム “my home” (personal automobile or home purchases). Now Japan us getting a new “my” word, called マイナンバー (“My Number”), which is a number that will be assigned to all Japanese citizens for tracking taxation and pension payments, like Social Security numbers in the U.S. While a new system like this naturally has some Japanese citizens nervous about privacy, there’s clearly a need for it: back in 2009, a scandal caused when millions learned they hadn’t been properly credited for pension payments made over their lifetimes helped bring down the Democratic Party of Japan and whisk Prime Minister Abe into power. Japan has two social security systems: Social Pension for employees of large companies, and Citizens’ Pension, a system for self-employed and anyone working at small (20 or fewer employees) companies. All citizens are “required” to enroll in either of the two systems, but in practice many who are part of the Citizens’ Pension system don’t sign up, since they believe the program won’t be there for them in the future, though of course this causes the system to rot from the inside even faster. Forcing everyone to make their required pension payments is one of the goals of the My Number system, though if I were Japanese, I’d be asking why the slow-to-change government is just getting around to modernizing the system now, when America has had Social Security numbers since 1936.

There are a few things that the Japanese really love. First, they love nature, which is slightly confusing since they also love concrete, and when driving in the mountains it’s not rare to see that an entire mountainside has been covered in concrete “just in case there’s ever a rock slide someday.” They love the four seasons, and often think Japan is the only country in the world with four distinct seasons because they visited California once. Japanese people love mayonnaise and eat it on french fries, just like they do in parts of Europe, and there’s even a slang word to describe people who love the stuff (“mayolers”). Finally, the Japanese truly love cats. There are “cat cafes” where you can spend some quality cat time when you’re feeling down in the dumps, and cats regularly become “idols” in Japan. One cat that became famous throughout the country was Tama the Stationmaster, a stray calico living near an unmanned station along the Kishigawa Line in rural Wakayama, near Osaka. When the cat was proclaimed honorary stationmaster, his popularity spread throughout the country thanks to the power of the Internet, and an estimated $9 million was brought into the local economy by people who traveled to see the cat. Sadly Tama died on June 22 at the old age of 16, and an incredible 3000 people attended the cat’s Shinto-style funeral yesterday.

Property of Senpai T-shirts in stock!

We’re getting ready for a very exciting (and insane) two weeks of convention-ing, with Anime Expo and the San Diego Comic-Con coming back-to-back this year. Today we’re rolling out some fun new shirts for you, from our new Property of Senpai athletic shirt to a hilarious “Illegal Alien” kanji shirt and something that haters of School Days/Shiny Days main character Makoto will want to have in their shirt collections. J-List T-shirts are hand-printed by our hardworking staff in San Diego (not mass-produced in Asia), and all sizes are full U.S. sizes. Browse the new T-shirts now!

June 26, 2015

What is it to be “Japanese”? And other eternal questions.

What is it to be "Japanese"? And other eternal questions.

Is Japan a racist nation? This is a very delicate question, but I wouldn’t be worth much as a Japan blogger if I didn’t tackle complex topics like this every once in a while. The short answer is that yes, as in other countries, Japan has its share of short-sighted citizens who act in an unkind way towards people from other countries or cultures for various reasons. This can take many forms, such as the tendency to think of “foreigners” only as friendly North Americans or Europeans and not “seeing” the Sri Lankan guys working hard assembling televisions at the Sanyo factory, or the jibing my half-American daughter once received in elementary school by a classmate who kept saying “sorry, I don’t understand English” when she was speaking to him in Japanese. That said, the foreign staff of J-List — who hail from the U.S., France, Canada and the Philippines — agree that they generally have easier lives as gaijin in Japan than foreigners do in their home countries in terms of legal protection, access to employment and health insurance, and so on. While I’ve personally encountered very little negativity during my time in Japan — a few odd bars in Roppongi who decline to let foreigners in because of specific bad experiences in the past, the rare drunk yakuza who can’t believe there’s a white guy sitting in the sauna with him — most of the discrimination I’ve encountered has been positive: people giving me presents or teaching jobs I didn’t deserve, or phone numbers written on a chopstick wrapper in an izakaya back in my single days. So while Japan is far from perfect, it is a happy country where foreigners can feel welcome.

The question of “what it is to be Japanese” came up recently when Ariana Miyamoto, a stunning half-Japanese, half-African American model born in Nagasaki, won the Miss Universe Japan beauty contest. It was reported that some Twitter users didn’t think she looked “Japanese” enough to represent their country in an international event — despite the regular use of Japan-naturalized Brazilians at sporting events like the World Cup — and this ignited an online debate. The issue is that Japan is one of the most homogenous countries in the world, with 98% of people believing themselves to be of pure Yamato Japanese stock. In truth, there’s plenty of Chinese, Korean, Ainu, Mongolian, Russian and other blood in the ancestry of many Japanese, but they’ve all sort of agreed not to “see” these differences for the sake of a happy and harmonious society. (In the past J-List had a Japanese toy buyer from Kyushu who was so dark-skinned as to appear Samoan, and I was always warned by the other staff to never make reference to this.) In contemporary Japanese society, there are certain groups that don’t fall under the tidy definition of “Japanese,” including Okinawans, who have always had a culture and language separate from the mainland; Ainu, the descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of Japan, who appear to have died out due to their penchant for tattooing permanent mustaches on their womens’ lips; and zainichi (“residing in Japan”) Koreans and Chinese, who were born and raised in Japan but who maintain separate citizenship for cultural reasons. Then there are ハーフ haafu, or Japanese of mixed race, like my children as well as many famous models, actresses and singers, including Ms. Miyamoto herself. The funny thing is, haafu are nearly always held up in Japanese society as the “ideal” Japanese, combining the beauty and grace (and linguistic abilities) of the West with down-to-Earth Japanese sensibilities. Licca-chan, Japan’s version of Barbie, is a mirror of this:her father is a French musician from Paris and her mother is a Japanese fashion designer in Tokyo.

Will you be at Anime Expo or SDCC?

We’re getting close to two of our favorite summer conventions: Anime Expo and the San Diego Comic-Con. We’ll be attending both events, though since they’re back-to-back this year instead of separated by two weeks as is the norm, we’re likely going to be dead on our feet, but we’ll be having fun. Find us at booth 1319 at Anime Expo (we’ll have our big sign hanging from the ceiling in case you get lost), and in the 4900 aisle at SDCC. We’ll also have an awesome panel at Anime Expo too, on Thursday at 10 pm in room LP4, so make sure you’re there to hear about our new announcements!