Among the many problems modern Japan faces is katsuji-banare (ka-TSU-jee bah-NAH-ray), or a growing detachment from printed characters. Japan publishes more books and magazines than any other country — a whopping six billion individual books and magazines in one recent year. But at least 40% of that figure is represented by manga, Japan’s world-famous comics, and as the percentage of visual manga increases, people are getting worried that Japan is moving away from its traditional writing system and culture. In our neighbood we have a bookstore called Family Book, and there are rows and rows of manga of all kinds there, taking up about the same floor space as novels and non-fiction books. How will this store look a decade from now, I wonder? Computers exacerbate the problem of moving away from the printed word, of course, since you essentially don’t need writing skills to create a message — just type your sentence into your computer and hit the space bar until the kanji you want pops up automatically. It makes for lazy brains, unfortunately.
Words become famous for various reasons. In English, a lot of well-known words and phrases come from Shakespere, and every time you say “there is method to my madness” or “that’s greek to me,” you’re actually quoting the Bard. Japanese lock on to certain English phrases, too, often as a by-product of the six years of English language that most take in school. Some of the most well-known English phrases are those used in the classroom, like “this is a pen” or “How are you? Fine, thank you, and you?” or famous speeches from history (I have a dream, four score and seven years ago, that sort of thing). Many Japanese learn English through music, and J-List’s Tomo was very familiar with lyrics from Beatles and Led Zeppelin songs at an early age. Every few years some TV commercial will use an English phrase that will imprint itself on the Japanese mind a little, like the Kanebo commercials that use “for beautiful human life” as a slogan. During the war, Japanese kids would go up to GI’s and say “Give me chocolate!” and the Japanese staff reports that this is still a well-known phrase by their generation, sixty years later. One of my favorite English expressions is “Boys, Be Ambitious,” spoken by Professor Clark, an American educator who taught at what would become Sapporo University around 1877. The words were for his students, eager to begin the work of modernizing Japan’s government and other institutions in the Meiji Era, but they could be used to inspire just about anyone who needs a reason to aim for a higher goal. One of my favorite manga series is Boy’s Be…, a collection of boy-meets-girl stories told from the point of view of boys trying to find true love. I once took a 14 hour train ride with nothing but Boys Be manga to entertain myself — it was pretty cool, since the stories are so interesting. (Small plug, we have the Boys Be anime in stock now if you want to give it a spin.)
One thing I’ve always liked about Japan was the obsession with good design here. With a few rare exceptions — schools and other public facilities are still often built in the Late Contemporary Chernobyl style — most products here, from cell phones to cars to umbrellas to fax machines called “Fappy, the Fax that Makes you Happy,” exhibit a strong sense of design. Japanese designers always strive to create products that will be judged kakko ii by consumers, which literally means “good style” and can be translated as cool, stylish or good-looking. (The opposite word is kakko warui, meaning dorky, ugly, uncool.) This approach to design even extends to something as simple as notebooks and stationery, as in the “64 degrees Fahrenheit” notebooks we’ve just posted to the site, which combine excellent design, beautiful quality paper and somewhat meaningless English (gotta love that).
Want to plug into some cool music from Japan? J-List sells Apple’s iTunes Japan Music Cards, which happen to be the only way to buy songs from the iTunes Store in Japan unless you have a credit card with a billing address here (and even I don’t have one of those). The Japan iTunes Store is chock full of great J-POP and other music, with songs priced at only 150 or 200 yen per track. The cards come in 2500, 5000 and 10,000 yen varieties, can be used with the iTunes you’ve already got installed on your Mac or PC, and music purchased is compatible with all iPods, including the new ones Apple just announced.
For fans of our 2007 calendars, it may surprise you that we have … more calendars! Our staff has been hard at work releasing the rest of the fantastic large-format calendars that are printed exclusively for the Japanese market. Today we’ve posted some great new items for preorder, including popular anime calendars (Rozen Maiden, the new Kanon anime, Aria The Natural), oh-so-cute idols (Sayaka Ando, Kana Tsugihara, Momoko Komachi), fun calendars for kids, and even some sizzling calendars that will keep you warm this winter. Why not browse our extensive selection of 2007 calendar preorder items right now?