Hi again, from the land where soft-serve ice cream is known as the much more delicious-sounding term, “soft cream.”
Lightning strikes! Last summer, the J-List office was struck by lightning, which caused our big air conditioner (which we informally refer to the Giver of All Life and Happiness) to die for a week during the hottest part of the summer. After a freak lightning storm on Friday night that made national news, the J-List office has been hit again — and we have lost our air conditioner again! Hopefully it will be a minor repair, as it was last time, but the timing is really terrible, as it happened on Friday night before the week-long Obon holiday. Doh! The lightning also managed to kill our phones, and knock out our internet connection (the one we use from Japan, not the one the J-List site is served from). This has been a hell of a day. Now if we can just get that air-con fixed before it heats up again.
Speaking of heat, by the time you read this, I’ll be basking in it. Comic Market 60 is going on in Tokyo, at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center (you can see the famous inverted pyramid as it gets destroyed in Godzilla vs. Destroyer), and Yasu and I will be making the pilgrimage on Sunday to talk with doujinshi circles about letting us sell their works on J-List. A massive doujinshi convention in which about 50,000 fans line up to spend hundreds of dollars on these extremely popular amateur-printed comics, Comic Market (or “Comiket” as its called) is held twice a year, in the summer (sweaty, dripping hell) and in the winter (blessedly cold and refreshing). Inside Big Sight, there are four large halls jam-packed with doujinshi circles selling doujinshi (comics) as well as CG collections on CD-ROM, cute hand-made tributes to their favorite anime character, and more. We try, but I never have time to get through more than two of them before the event is over. Because there is no air conditioning in any of the halls, our bodie will be completely drenched in sweat by the time we’re done, despite the towels I bring with me to stuff in my clothes. Yasu and I will do our best.
I’m a big fan of video games, and have loved them ever since the days of Berserk and Star Castle. Whenever my son and I go to our favorite public bath (“Furo 21”), we stop off and play a few games at the Sega ge-sen (Japanese for “game center”). We can only afford to play a few, since video games cost 100 yen here in Japan, which is roughly $1 per game, compared to a quarter or 50 cents in the States. Actually, many of the really exotic games are $2 to play. But the extra income from the higher video game prices comes back to consumers in the form of some really cool games. Of course there are the ones that show up all over the world, the Virtua Fighter 4’s, the shooting games, and so on. One of my current favorites is a Japanese taiko drum game, in which you have to hit the Japanese drum (either the face of the drum or the rim around the drum, which produce different kinds of sounds) in tune with the song you’re playing. There’s also a funky “photographer game” out, in which you’re a photographer with a camera on a wire, trying to catch great shots at sporting events. Every game center in Japan has a large amount of floor space devoted to “UFO catcher” (crane games) as well as “puri-kura” (print clubs, i.e. those cute machines that take your picture and print it onto stickers), which are solid money-makers here in Japan. Another major trend in video game entertainment is the rebirth of “retro” games that were popular in the 80s and early 90’s, like Crazy Climber, Donkey Kong, and the original Street Fighter II. Some of them are cool, but at $1 per pop, I’ll stick to Mame.
Everywhere I look, I see more and more signs that Japan really is in a deflationary spiral. We’re all used to prices going up a little bit as time goes by, but in Japan, the rule is “Japan’s prices are high to begin with, but the rate of inflation is low.” This seems odd, but somehow it accurately describes the movement of prices here in Japan — actually, during the nine years I’ve lived in Japan, I can’t think of a single thing that went up in price, except for train fare to Tokyo (which was raised fro, $16 to $18 a few years ago). Now, signs that prices are actually coming down are everywhere. Beef bowl (that all-important economic indicator) now costs just $2.80, $2 less than it did a few months ago. Many food items that were $1.20 are now under $1. You can even find the 500 ml PET bottles of tea, which usually go for $1.50, for $1 if you look. More than just certain prices dropping, I feel there’s a new attitude of “cheapness” present in Japanese consumers, who were known in the past for spending money on all sorts of silly things (like toilets that clean and dry your butt, complete with remote control). Now, consumers want value and low prices, even if it means shopping at Fresay instead of Shimizu Supermarket because their instant coffee is 68 yen instead of 88 yen. This is a good thing in some ways, but if Japanese housewives are being extra-stingy with their pennies, it will make it that much harder for Japan’s economy to grow in the future. At the Comic Market on Friday, I watched a huge line of people wait for 30 minutes in the hot sun to ride the free bus to Tokyo Statin, rather than pay the 400 yen to ride the Yurikamome train (a very pleasant train line that takes you up and over Tokyo bay).
Well, we hope you are having a great weekend — hopefully cooler than Japan is right now!