Is teen heart-throb Zac Efron, the so-called “next Brad Pitt,” an otaku? That’s the question asked in a Japanese magazine I happened to come across the other day. Zac is getting a lot of press in Japan because of the popularity of the High School Musical films which made quite a splash here, and he’s accumulated a sizeable base of screaming female fans. The article was especially interested in whether or not Zac’s love of anime like Dragonball Z, Death Note and Evangelion qualified him as a bona fide otaku or not. Zac is quite taken with Japan, and whenever he’s here he reportedly heads to Akihabara for some serious shopping. In a way I guess it’s no mystery that Zac’s name goes hand-in-hand with anime in the minds of Japanese fans, since he’s named after one of the most famous mecha from the Gundam universe, the MS-05J Zaku, the backbone of the Principality of Zeon. The Japanese certainly are no strangers to cute male idols. Between the constant flow of new “boy talents” from the Johnny’s Entertainment management agency and the current crop of South Korean male idols hoping to make it on Japan’s lucrative idol circuit, Japanese fans have a place in their hearts prepared for Zac.
As in most other parts of the world, the cellular phone has taken root in Japan in a big way, and a lot of the innovations we now take for granted came about as a result of the stiff competition in the “keitai” (portable phone) market here. Take the humble in-phone digital camera, a feature that just about every unit sports nowadays. The first phone to feature a built-in camera was the Sanyo J-SH04, released back in 2000 by J-Phone, formerly Vodafone and now part of Yahoo Japan mogul Masayoshi Son’s Softbank empire. This feature started the era of “Sha-Mail” (picture mail), allowing people to email 80×160 pixel postage stamp-sized pics to each other, surely a landmark in the progress of mankind. Which brings me to one more big difference between Japan and the U.S. — patents and how they’re used. While all modern countries allow for new ideas to be patented for a period of time so that the owners can realize benefit from their inventions, I’ve seen some pretty bizarre patent claims over the years, including individuals asserting “ownership” of the concept of the mouse click, a virtual shopping cart, and the hierarchial menu. Somehow, the Japanese manage to get by without these kinds of “patent wars,” and it’s very rare that the subject comes up at all. When Nissan comes up with a nifty new way to add storage space to a sedan, they don’t try to patent it to keep Toyota from copying it, and when the first camera was put inside a phone, no company tried to get a own the concept of “A method for mounting a CCD censor in a communications device.” Yet somehow, the Japanese economy seems to move along pretty well, with competition making sure the best products are chosen most often by consumers. I wonder what it is the Japanese are doing differently when it comes to patents?
Although my adopted country is always fun, I still have love my real home town of San Diego — the beautiful weather, the laid-back attitude, being able to go to the beach in January. Unfortunately the warm Santa Ana winds that make California such a nice place most of the time to be are causing absolute havoc right now, as fires engulf hundreds of thousands of acres. San Diego has several fires still burning, and winds are still whipping the flames to incredible temperatures, causing tragedy for many and forcing a mind-blowing 300,000 people to be evacuated. Our thoughts are with everyone caught up in these events, and we hope things will start to turn around soon. While J-List’s San Diego office isn’t in danger, several of our employees are affected by the flames, including two who can’t get to work because of closed roads. We’re striving to make sure any delays in shipping products are minimal while firefighters get the flames under control, and we thank everyone for your understanding in advance.