J-List has been around a long time, since 1996, and we’ve really enjoyed bringing Japan a little closer to everyone, both through the products we sell as well as these blog posts I write. As the first anime shop to be located inside Japan, we’ve often been well-positioned to bring interesting products out first, and react quickly when something gets popular. Sometimes the products we’ve carried have really blown up in popularity, starting some interesting trends, or helping influence existing ones. Enjoy this list of the 17 “J-List Best Hits” in our long history.
17 Times J-List Changed The World, at Least a Little
In the 90s, the kanji tattoo boom really took off, and suddenly it became fashionable to sport a tat with a favorite Japanese character or phrase. Unfortunately these characters were often meaningless gibberish or printed upside-down. One day I got the idea of putting Japanese characters on T-shirts, so people could sport fashionable kanji in a less permanent manner. We happened to be selling hachimaki headbands that said 彼女募集中 (lit. “now accepting applications for a girlfriend”), so I got the idea to add “Japanese” to it, and our legendary “Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend” T-shirt line was born. Many other kanji T-shirts followed, and we had a booming apparel business for a decade or so. More than a few of J-List’s customers found themselves interviewed on Japanese TV.
J-List T-shirts have even been featured in some movies, like Big Dreams in Little Tokyo — an outstanding indies film about an otaku who wants to become a Japanese salaryman and a Japanese-American boy who wants to be a sumo wrestler, but he can’t because he’s not fat enough — and a largely forgotten horror film called Stay Alive.
Sadly maintaining a large San Diego warehouse full of T-shirts mostly to sell at conventions is a costly enterprise, and we exited the T-shirt business in 2018.
We love to look for new and interesting products to bring to our customers. Back around 2002, we sold thousands of plush toys of The Dog, cute plush pups that were created to look like they were being viewed through a fish-eye lens, and helped make them generally popular. The next thing we knew, The Dog toys were being sold by McDonald’s and Nordstorm. It was weird to have such famous companies following J-List.
Hello Kitty Vibrators
One of the most popular products in J-List’s history was the Hello Kitty
vibrator “shoulder massager,” an officially licensed product created by Sanrio, and we sold at least 15,000 of these during their heyday. If you bought one from another shop, it probably came from us, too, as we were doing a brisk wholesale business in them, too.
The Great Domo-kun Boom
We didn’t create the Domo-kun boom, but we helped it along. Domo-kun is a character created in 1998 to serve as the official mascot of NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting service, but took off in the early 2000’s thanks to the Internet. J-List contacted NHK and became the de-facto official shop for customers outside of Japan, and in 2005 if you didn’t have a Domo-kun plush toy displayed in your cubicle at work you just weren’t one of the cool kids. Eventually Domo got licensed for general distribution.
Horse Head Masks
Often J-List gets credit for starting trends even when we were just another shop selling the item in question. This happened with the Horse Head Mask craze, which many customers attributed to us. We sure sold a lot of them, though!
Plush Poop Hats
You never know what will blow up on the Internet. One day we were selling these weird but cute plush poop hats, and suddenly sales went through the roof. It turned out we’d been featured in the Boing Boing blog, making our toy buyer Jun (above, at left) famous on the Internet for a few days.
“Yatta” by Happa-tai
Another case of “you never know what will take off on the Internet” was Happa-tai (“Fig Leaf Crew”), a group of dancing Japanese comedians who wore nothing but skin-colored shorts with a fig leaf sewn onto the front. Their song Yatta! became a sensation in the early 2000’s, and since we were the only source for the official DVD, we sold hundreds. It was basically the Pen Pineapple Apple Pen of its day.
Back in the golden age of Wired, I’d chat with their editors and sometimes give them the inside scoop on what was happening in Japan. Oh! Mikey was a bizarre Japanese TV show about an American family who had moved to Japan, made with still mannequins frozen in never-changing poses and hilariously-dubbed voices. I told my editor friend at Wired about it, and it got written up in the magazine, then licensed for DVD as The Fuccons.
The Great Bento Boom
In the first decade of the 2000’s there was a worldwide boom in bento, collecting cute bento boxes and accessories, and it was a great time for J-List, as it was a major product category for us. We even got mentioned in a New York Times article as one of the companies on the cutting edge of bento.
Popin’ Cookin’ DIY Sushi Candy
Then there was the year when everyone in the world wanted to buy “DIY candy” from Japan and make their own tiny candy sushi, or doughnuts, or whatever. We sold something like 10,000 boxes of these.
The Great “One Coin” Toy Boom
I have fond memories of the rise in shokugan or “candy toy” products in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The idea was that the post-bubble Japanese economy was bad and no one had money to buy toys, but everyone had “one coin” (that is, a ¥500 yen coin) in their pockets to buy small figures or toys. The toys you got in the box were random, so you had to buy more if you wanted to complete the whole set. When companies like Konami and Furuta started licensing Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Space: 1999, presumably because the licenses were cheap, as these show were never that big here inside Japan, it set up the perfect storm for J-List, because of course everyone in the world wanted them. We bought basically the entire allotment for the Kanto Region of these sets, and spent days not doing our normal work because we had to build complete sets of the toys for sale.
Another case of J-List getting credit for something we don’t really deserve are the advertising tissues we include with your order, and hand out at conventions. While it’s common for businesses in Japan to advertise their products with tissue packets that are handed out on street corners, J-List was the first company to print these tissues and start distributing them widely outside of Japan, so most people associated them with us. How many tissues to you have in your tissue drawer?
J-List Anime Glasses
Another fun advertising idea I came up with was “anime glasses” that would allow you to become your favorite anime character. We included these with orders and handed them out at conventions for a few years.
Mountain Dew Cheetos
Compared with Coca-Cola, Pepsi has a tiny market share inside Japan, so the only way for them to stand out is by making products so bizarre that people are curious to try them, such as basil-flavored Shiso Pepsi (which was awful), or pink-colored Sakura Pepsi (which was much better). One year FritoLay Japan went really crazy and made Mountain Dew flavored Cheetos. Naturally the Internet wanted to try them, and J-List was one of the few places you could get a pack. J-List ended up selling about 40% of the product’s allotment to the Kanto region.
Fuwarinka Rose Essence Gum
Then there was the time Fuwarinka Rose Essence gum suddenly blew up, and J-List was being contacted by CBS to send them packages so they could feature them on some news program I’d never heard of. We have Fuwarinka gum in stock here.
Black Black Caffeine Gum
Speaking of chewing gum, there was quite a cult for Lotte’s Black Black gum, which helps keep you awake through a combination of extreme minty taste and caffeine. It was advertised by such manly men as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star. “You are already refreshed!” Find Black Black in stock here.
The Cult of Yulia Nova
When J-List launched in 1996, the nascent Internet was in the middle of a huge JAV boom, with sites dedicated to the popular porn stars like Akira Fubuki, Madoka Ozawa, and Natsuko Tohno, and we helped this along by being the first company to sell legitimate videos, photobooks and calendars internationally. Another sexy star who became famous in Japan and around the world is Yulia Nova, a beautiful Russian nude model who was discovered by Japanese photographer Satoshi Kizu. By bizarre luck, Mr. Kizu is located about 2 km from J-List, so it was natural that we become his official representative in promoting Yulia Nova’s DVDs abroad.
Did J-List Cause Sailor Moon Crystal?
There’s a small chance I was responsible for the revival of Sailor Moon. One day I was attending an industry-only convention back in 2011 or 2012, and I happened to see an employee from Toei. I buttonholed the man, letting him know how many international Sailor Moon fans there were, and how they’ve grown up and have income now, which they’d love to spend on cool Sailor Moon products. In many cases, they have daughters, and would love to cosplay together with them and watch the show. A couple years later, Sailor Moon Crystal was announced, accompanied by a wave of cool official products. If I helped make that possible, I’m glad!
Sailor Moon Feminine Products
Speaking of Sailor Moon, remember when official Sailor Moon maxi pads were a thing? They were, and J-List sold at least 1000 of them to fans all over the world. These were mostly purchased by me, going around to various stores and loading up my cart. Any man knows how hard it is to buy feminine products his wife needs him to pick up for her, but can you imagine being a foreigner buying 100+ Sailor Moon maxi pads at a time? It took a lot of fortitude, but it’s the least I can do for J-List customers.
That Time J-List was Featured in Playboy
A few times J-List has attended the AVN adult industry show in Las Vegas. Once the publisher of Playboy came up to our booth and said, “Oh, J-List! I’m a fan of you guys!” He gave me his card, and Playboy ran a few short articles about bizarre Japanese porn concepts, such as the fetish of kinkeri or women kicking men in the balls for pleasure.
Another small way in which we’ve helped make the world a better place is being the first publisher of “dating-sim games” (as we called them back then), which JAST USA started publishing in 1995. It took a long time to prove to Japanese publishers that there was a market for visual novels, but we stubbornly refused to give up, releasing our own games and serving as a distributor for other companies, since there are no distributors for 18+ games as there are inside Japan. We’re extremely thankful to the fans who supported us by buying our early games, and we’re happy we were able to make a contribution to visual novel fandom!
Thanks for reading this post. Check out our post on the history of Anime Expo and J-List’s involvement with it, or browse our new products here.
The C98 Comiket event was canceled, which caused a lot of problems both for Japan’s awesome doujin artists as well as fans who can’t get the great doujinshi they want. Happily, J-List has increased our stock of doujinshi, and have a ton for you to browse here. Make sure to browse our line of translated + uncensored doujinshi by J18 Publishing, too!