First of all, happy day after Thanksgiving, if you’re in the U.S. — we hope everyone had a warm and wonderful holiday with friends and family. It’s usually quite hard for American expats here to get into the spirit of that particular holiday, since the Japanese don’t have anything like it, and usually we go to KFC and get a bucket of chicken. However, this year we actually managed to find real frozen turkey at a supermarket that sells various import foods. It was even on sale, since most Japanese don’t have large enough ovens to cook a turkey in (but we do). So for the first time in my life, we’re going to have a traditional Thanksgiving in Japan – wow!
While the various cultural gulfs that separate Japan from the West can feel vast at times, it’s also amazing how close we can be, too. I like to go to karaoke, and once I was asked to sing September by Earth, Wind and Fire by a student of mine, who wanted more than anything to hear it sung by a “nama no gaijin” (a foreigner in the flesh). I obliged, amazed that the Japanese would have an affinity for pop music from the 70’s. My wife has always surprised me with knowledge of obscure American television that was shown in Japan, like “My Wife is a Witch” (Okusama wa Majo, aka Bewitched), Charlie’s Angels, Knight Rider and Wacky Racers (Muttley’s Japanese name is Ken-Ken). My experience with Chinese living in Japan has been quite different. An American friend of mine married a Chinese exchange student from Beijing, and once I took them out to the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi. Virtually all of myriad cultural references that surrounded us were totally lost on the poor girl — she wasn’t even sure who the Beatles were or what they’d been famous for.
It’s time for more wacky tidbits from the Fountain of Trivia, our favorite Japanese TV show, which amuses us every week with off-the-wall trivia that you never dreamed of. On Thai Airlines, there’s a section that’s even nicer than First Class reserved for Buddhist priests. There are 48 official ways to defeat your opponent in sumo wrestling (called “shiju hatte” or the 48 hands) — and also arm wrestling. One of Nintendo’s first products was a “love meter” which measured the amount of love between two people when they held hands. There’s a national competition for supermarket clerks, who compete on speed, efficiency and friendliness. There’s a record featuring the howling of Hachiko, the famous dog that waited years for his master to return home to Shibuya station in Tokyo, not knowing that his master had died — they played the record into a Bowlingual dog translator to try to decode what he was saying. When you clip your fingernails, the pieces fly away from you at an average speed of 39 kph (24 mph). Manekin Pis, the famous Belgian statue that Japan is utterly fixated with, commemorates a brave boy who, when he found a bomb with a lit fuse, thought of a unique way to put out the fuse and save the town. Finally, Charlie Chaplin’s manager…was Japanese.
A useful word to know in Japanese is kakko ii (KAH-koe EE), which literally means “good style” and corresponds the slang word “cool.” The Japanese can be very style-oriented, and like to surround themselves with cool things — incredibly advanced cell phones, fashionable clothes, and products with English written on the package, since English is always cool. The opposite of kakko ii is kakko warui, which describes anything that is uncool or out of fashion. Things that are not popular in Japan these days include drinking martinis (made uncool by too many scenes of actors drinking them in “trendy dramas” on TV), jeans bleached with “chemical wash” (to make them appear old), and taking leave of someone by saying “Bye Bye Kin” (BAI BAI KEEN), which was made famous by Listerine commercials here (baikin is Japanese for bacteria, so you’re saying goodbye to the germs in your mouth). Another word that means uncool in the Tokyo area is dasai (da-SAI), which supposedly is a reference to Saitama Prefecture, the somewhat-urban, somewhat-rural area north of Tokyo that’s not unlike Orange County near Los Angeles. Dasai is supposed to be short for dame na Satmama (stupid Saitama), but is used in the Kanto area to refer to anything that’s generally dorky.
Announcing J-List gift certificates! Our customers told us that they wanted the convenience of giving the gift of cool things from Japan to their friends and family, and we’ve listened. Now you can buy gift certificates in several different amounts, choosing several options, like a message for your recipient and whether you want the certificate to be from J-List or JBOX.com. You can also opt for electronic delivery via email, or have us send your recipient a physical gift certificate that they can use online. Gift certificates will be redeemable after Dec 10.
Remember that J-List carries a full line of Japanese snack foods, with many rare cult favorites in stock for you, like Pocky, Black Black caffeine gum, and also the delicious and popular Felix the Cat bubble gum, which is famous all the world over (we’re not sure why this is, but we don’t mind). Why not make someone a unique gift basket of treats from Japan this year?