August 31, 2015

Do Japanese hate hugs? And other random observations.

Observations on the Japanese people and media

I’ve always done my best to observe the Japanese people during my time here, so I can pass those observations on to all of you. Japanese people aren’t generally fans of spicy food, and whenever my wife goes to South Korea she knows to bring me back proper spicy kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage) since the varieties sold in Japan aren’t hot enough for me. When Japanese drink, their faces often turn bright red after only a drink or two, due to a problem many have metabolizing alcohol called Asian Flush Syndrome. Japanese almost never show affection in front of others, and the idea of hugging a family member is quite rare in daily life here…though my American daughter apparently never learned this rule, and in elementary school would eagerly hug her mother at school events despite my wife’s embarrassment.

Younger Japanese also sometimes lack what we might consider an acceptable level of knowledge of their own history, a fact that rubs Japan’s neighbors the wrong way sometimes. As part of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a TV news program asked young people to name the second country that was allied with Japan after Germany, but the responders didn’t know the correct answer, some saying “Great Britain” and even “the United States.” In their defense, Italy was kind of unimportant in the wider conflict as seen from the Pacific, and they changed sides in 1943, but still, you’d hope that anyone who had completed their country’s compulsory education system would have a basic working knowledge of their own recent history.

Another issue is the nature of the program, which naturally wanted interesting answers to make the show fun to watch. 98% of respondents could have correctly replied “Italy” but they presumably wouldn’t have made it on the show, which cherry-picked which responses we got to see, something called ヤラセ yarase or faked news. This, along with the tendency to self-censor certain subjects (a demonstration against the government’s handling of the recovery in Fukushima, for example) have made many Japanese mistrustful of the mass-komi, as the news media is called in Japanese (from “mass communications”), which is cynically referred to as mass-gomi (“mass garbage”). Interestingly, translations of news articles from Yahoo News or MSNBC sometimes provide the only mainstream reporting Japanese can get on some topics, like when Google accidentally published maps that showed the regions where Japan’s “untouchables” lived back in the Edo Period, which is still a delicate subject today.

2016 calendar season START!

Every year J-List makes gorgeous traditional photo, bento and sushi, kimono, art and awesome anime calendars from Japan available to our customers around the world, and we’re happy to announce that the first batch of calendars are on the site now, ready to be ordered. Today we added even more 2016 calendars, including the upcoming offerings by Kantoku, Coffee Kizoku, and the Totoro and Jiji the Cat desktop calendars, which are always a treat. (The bulk of anime-related calendars will be posted soon.) This year we’re an “Earlybird Special” on all calendars. Preorder two or more calendars before Sept 30 and get our early bird special of 20% off your purchase, which will go away after October 1st.

August 28, 2015

Confusing Japanese English, plus the most famous pool in Japan.

Kawaii Japanese English, plus the most famous pool in Japan.

One subject I like to explore is why certain types of popular culture flow all over the world, becoming part our shared global experience, while others can’t make it out of one country or language region. Certain kinds of culture, for example the great “Ievan Polkka Leekspin” boom of 2007 or the “Oreimo pose” visual gag, easily become common memes, while more specific jokes such as Reddit’s “Tsundere Shark” or the trope of recent anime series inserting lines from Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 film Castle in the Sky Laputa into random episodes will be more limited in scope. (We had to explain to the Japanese staff of J-List why we knew our “Property of Senpai” shirt would be a hit, since they didn’t know this joke.) The other day I posted a replica of a certain Japanese indoor pool to J-List’s official Facebook page, and unsurprisingly, everyone knew the pool and what is was famous for. For the record, the pool is part of a private filming studio in Tokyo called Hanazono Room, which you can rent for the low price of $900 for a three-hour session, no matter what you want to film there.

One huge benefit to being a native English speaker living in Japan is the high number of “English” words the Japanese use every day, which in theory means fewer Japanese words for us to learn. I put the word above in quotes of course, because the Japanese often get very creative with English, changing it in ways that make sense to them but not necessarily to us. Many words are simplified for convenience, so that a baby stroller/pram becomes “baby car” and asking someone to be considerate of others is “manner up.” Other meanings are just mapped differently: for example, the English word “tension” means excitement or fun here, and a corn dog in Japan is always called an “American Dog.” Often old English terms that have fallen out of use live on all eternity in Japan. Back in the 1950s, it was common for movies to be distributed through a limited engagement called “roadshow.” We’ve forgotten the word, but it’s still going strong here in Japan, where it’s used to describe the opening of any film in a movie theater.

How many of these English words used in Japan can you guess? Highlight to read them.

  • Fancy shop — a shop that sells cute toys like Sanrio or San-x
  • Rentogen — an X-ray machine, named after Wilhelm Röntgen, who discovered X-rays
  • Shutter chance — a great opportunity to take a photo
  • Cheek time — time to dance slow, cheek to cheek
  • Career up — something that enhances your career
  • Link free — a Japanese note meaning “it’s okay to link to this website”
  • Guts pose — showing off how strong you are with a corny pose
  • Virgin Road — the church aisle a woman walks up is called this for some reason
  • Hotchkiss — a stapler, named after a company that made them back in 1895
  • Oneman bus — a bus without a second person to take your ticket
  • Handle keeper — a designated driver.

2016 calendar season START!

Every year J-List makes gorgeous traditional photo, bento and sushi, kimono, art and other calendars from Japan available to our customers around the world, and we’re happy to announce that the first batch of calendars are on the site now, ready to be ordered. Preorder this year’s awesome Lucky Cat art calendar, view the most beautiful night scenes of Japanese cities and experience the four seasons in Japan. Best of all, we’re having an “Earlybird Special” on all calendars. Preorder two or more calendars before Sept 30 and get our early bird special of 20% off your purchase, which will go away after October 1st.

August 25, 2015

A new anime about Seiyu, and how I started selling eroge.

An anime about Seiyu, and how I started selling eroge

Without a doubt, the thing that makes 2D characters in anime and games really come alive are the seiyu, the voice actors who spend years training their voices so they can make the characters we all love real for us. I started watching the currently-airing Sore ga Seiyu! (English title: Seiyu’s Life!), an anime about three tamago voice actresses (the word means “egg” but in Japan’s entertainment world it refers to a fledgling performer who’s just starting out) as they try to make their way in the industry. I like that the 4-koma manga the anime is based on was created by Masumi Asano, the voice actress for Hakufu from Ikki Tousen, based on her experiences. While the show isn’t quite up to the level of Shirobako when it comes to showing how the anime industry works, it does try to help viewers understand the seiyu world in interesting ways. As an anime fan, one of my pet peeves has always been when they ask a Japanese seiyu who doesn’t actually speak English to do voices in the language, which usually comes out sounding terrible. (Some examples are Kaji and Mari from Eva 2.22 and Ohno from Genshiken.) I always thought it’d be cool if my daughter entered this field, since she’s good at voices and her English is excellent, though after seeing the incredibly strict framework the poor voice actors have to work in, and knowing that the vast majority of them earn about $850 a month, I’m not sure I really want to recommend this line of work to her.

I see that yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the release of Windows 95, the first version of Windows you could use without wanting to claw your eyes out immediately, and this made me natsukashii (nostalgic) for those bygone days when I got my start publishing Japanese 18+ games in English. It was a simpler time back then, when anime fans connected to the Internet using analog modems, which many then used to download “hentai” games in Japanese, despite the difficulty of getting these games to work in the Windows of the era. While casting around for something interesting to do, I made contact with Mr. Sato, the president of an H-game maker called JAST — for some reason, 80% of eroge presidents seem to be named Sato — and we decided to try publishing three of his games in proper English under the JAST USA name. In retrospect, I was trying to do something that was utterly impossible (publishing a kind of game that had no distribution channel), but happily I also started another company called J-List — literally, to tide us over for a few months until the visual novels took off — which of course became our main business. We’ve all come a long way since those days thanks to the warm support of our awesome customers, and we thank each and every one of you!

Preorder Shiny Days!

One game J-List customers are waiting very patiently for is Shiny Days, the awesome sequel (well, sort of a prequel actually) to the bestselling School Days. We’ve got a small announcement though: in the grand tradition of School Days publisher STACK, there’ll be a delay getting this most awesome game out to our customers due to issues mastering the massive 18 gb game. The physical Limited Edition games will now ship by September 18, but we’ll push the download edition out to customers who have preordered sooner, as soon as the final master is ready (in 1-2 weeks). So preorder the game now, while you can still get the limited edition keychains!

August 22, 2015

J-List Website Update, and new Highschool of the Dead?

Competition in education, and a new High School of the Dead?

First, an update on our new website. After several days of toil as we imported our customer data — a challenge since we were moving to a totally new platform and needed to bring over all products, customer accounts, existing download codes — the new J-List site went live on Friday…though it quickly developed serious problems from a high traffic load. We made the decision to revert back to the existing site while we give the new servers a proper shakedown. While you wait, enjoy our new Megumi mascot and a $10 off coupon! (And if you didn’t do it yet, screenshot your existing wishlist before the new site goes live.)

One new anime I started watching last week is Gakkou Gurashi, which means “Living in the School,” though the official English title of the show is is “School-Live!” It’s about a group of cute girls and their teacher who are living inside their school for some reason…which we eventually learn is because Japan was the site of a zombie apocalypse. While many of the characters are interesting for various reasons — for example, the dedicated teacher Megumi (no relation), who tries to instill some sort of normalcy in her students despite the undead shuffling outside the school — my favorite character would have to be Yuki, a cute and ditzy girl who seems to have convinced herself that everything is normal as a way of coping with it all. While it’s not quite season two of another zombie anime we’ve been waiting for, the series is written by Norimitsu Kaiho of Nitroplus, so it carries with it the promise of quality that company is famous for. I’ll certainly keep watching.

Having been a teacher of ESL in Japan as well as a parent to two kids who passed through the Japanese school system, I’ve certainly spent a long time observing schools in Japan. One important “secret sauce” for education here is competition, which kicks in when students choose which high school to take the entrance exam for. High schools aren’t part of compulsory education, instead operating like miniature versions of universities, with famous schools offering excellent academic programs, while others might teach useful trades like business or agriculture. (There’s even a high school that trains students to work as commercial airline pilots…they should totally make an anime about that.) Students in some schools also face competition in their own classes, when test scores are ranked openly for everyone to see, as seen in a recent episode of Umaru-chan. While my son’s high school ranked the students’ test scores publicly (he was always in the top three), I personally don’t think I could have managed that level of pressure in my own school life.

New J-List Mascot!

The new J-List website is still a ways off, but we have a brand-new version of Megumi, our kawaii mascot, and to celebrate we’re going to give everyone a $10 coupon that you can use for any purchases of $40 or more. Enjoy, and thanks for being an awesome J-List customer!