The post-Koizumi era will soon be on us, now that Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe has officially been elected leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democrat Party. Although Mr. Abe’s name might remind some of another famous politician, it’s pronounced “AH-beh,” not like the nickname of Mr. Lincoln. At 51, he’ll be the youngest Prime Minister since the end of World War II, and he has promised to continue his predecessor’s reform policies, which included making Japan’s sprawling postal system more efficient and cutting those silly public works projects like bridges and roads that no one is using. One big issue he must wrestle with is a revision to the Japanese Constitution regarding the military, which exists in a kind of extra-Constituional no-man’s land, as Article Nine specifically states that Japan will never have a standing military force. He’ll also have to worry about how to stimulate the economy even as Japan’s population dips, with a national debt that stands at 170% of its GDP. I’m personally hoping he’ll work to find a lasting resolution to the ongoing Yasukuni Shrine problem, which honors the nation’s war dead (good) but also the men who were most responsible for starting the war (bad). Following the popular Prime Minister Koizumi — a hip unmarried politician who liked rock n’ roll and who looked like George Washington — will be a hard act to follow, but we wish him all the best.
Japan is ahead of the U.S. in some important areas, like tiny electronics, animation, cute character toys and fuel efficient cars, but they lag behind in the equally important areas of micro-brewed beers and availability of breakfast cereals and Mexican food. Unfortunately Japan seems hopelessly behind the U.S. and Europe when it comes to advanced technical knowledge of computers, including programming languages, Unix, and the like. The average Japanese just doesn’t seem that interested in exploring the inner working of their PC, and as people come to think of email as “something you do on your phone” rather than “something you do on a computer,” the trend seems to be continuing. The other day my wife mentioned to me that she’d taken quite a few computer courses at her high school, a “commercial” school that aimed to teach real-world skills over academic subjects needed for university entrance exams. It turned out that she’d been learning material that was a generation or more behind what I knew in the same era (1986), learning COBOL and LISP, making flow charts, and learning to touch-type on a now-archaic kana-layout keyboard. She even had to use a stack of punch cards to save her programs, which I vaguely remember from my days as a boy playing Original Adventure at my mother’s office on Saturdays. A big part of the problem seems to have been the incredibly closed nature of Japan’s computer industry, which saw several Japan-only platforms like NEC’s PC98 which seemed to be designed to shut out third party software developers, as well as the popularity of stand-alone “wa-pro” word processing machines that used proprietary software in ROM. (Apologies to anyone who is going to flame me saying that COBOL and LISP are still taught and/or used somewhere in the world today…)
One rule about living in Japan: be at peace with taking your shoes off several times a day. Since shoes are considered “dirty” (on the same level as livestock), they’re left in the genkan, a lowered section near the front door built into every home and many businesses (including J-List). Japanese know that Americans leave their shoes on inside the house from watching American television, and it looks very funny to them. While watching Shrek with my kids, they commented on the fact that Princess Fiona was in bed with her shoes on, something unthinkable in Japan. Inside the house, Japanese usually wear slippers, and if a gaijin goes to a Japanese person’s house, the Japanese person will give him slippers to wear, even if they’re much too small for his feet (they always are). Although we try to “live like Americans” when we go to the U.S., most of my Japanese family (including myself) quietly leave our shoes near the front door when back home — it just feels to odd to walk on carpet with shoes.
J-List sells dozens of anime, manga, JPOP, fashion and “H” magazines from Japan via our “reserve subscription” service, which allows you to get the most recent issues sent to you automatically as they appear on newsstands here. It’s a revolving service, so you pay for each issue as they come in, never needing to pay in advance, and you can switch subscriptions or cancel at any time. We have a new mag for everyone today, Myojo, great for fans of “bishonen” or really beautiful guys, like the actors and “talents” affiliated with the Johnny’s Entertainment talent agency (you know the type). Each issues is filled with pictures and information on the hottest male heart-throbs in Japan as well as hip hair and fashion culture for guys and girls.
J-List has always pioneered cool stuff from Japan, like OH! Mikey, the parody of Americans living in Tokyo that’s acted out by outrageous mannequins. Today we’ve got a treat on the site for you: Vermilion Pleasure Night, the wholly wacky late-night TV series that spawned OH! Mikey and which features many other wacky SNL-like skits for you. Translated into English through subtitles or dubbed tracks (depending on the skit), this is a great way to enjoy some of the most talented and avante-garde short films made in Japan in years.