It’s hard raising bilingual children in a country where English isn’t used on a daily basis, except on signs that say “SPLUSH is not only the problem of age” and T-shirts with bizarre slogans like “Let’s enjoy with me.” I’ve been using the Brain Quest flashcards with my kids quite a lot these days, since it’s a fun way to motivate them and provide plenty of input with English — also, the cards are coated with plastic which keeps them from getting too wet in the bath, our preferred place of study. My kids are good at figuring the answers to most of the questions, with the exception of cultural ones that only someone who grew up in the States would answer, like who cut down the cherry tree. Last weekend a question came up asking how many digits were in the number 76,315. When my son answered “six,” I immediately knew why: because the Sino-Japanese numbering system is based on 10,000 (ichi mahn, written 一万) rather than 1,000, his brain has misheard 760,315. Translating numbers between the two languages is always a pain — for example, the above number becomes 7 mahn, six thousand, three hundred and fifteen. This is why gaijin will often speak English but revert to Japanese for numbers; it’s just too mendo kusai (a pain in the butt) to stop what you’re doing and make the conversion.
When Japanese couples choose a name for a new baby, they often consult a Buddhist priest who will advise them on what characters are lucky for that year. The number of strokes used to write the name are important, too, and my wife took great pains to ensure that our daughter’s Japanese name would have the same number of lines as hers, for some reason that’s unfathomable to me. Names can be written in hiragana, foregoing kanji altogether for aesthetic reasons, but most parents choose kanji characters for the names of their children, being sure to choose from the official list of approved name kanji the government publishes. One big difference between the West and in Japan are the lack of Biblically-derived names here — every country in Europe has a local version of “Peter” (Pedro, Pierre, Pietro), but not here. Because Western names are rare in Japan, they can easily become larger than any one person. You might know several people named Jason, but in Japan, there’s only one: the famous killer from the Friday the 13th movies. Similarly, if Chuck E. Cheese wanted to open a restaurant in Japan, they’d have to find a new name due to the cult status of the old Child’s Play movies and Chuckee. There are many Michaels in the world, but in Japan Michael Jackson is the name that springs to everyone’s mind right away, and if you name is Clara, Japanese of a certain generation will probably identify you with the girl in the wheelchair from the famous anime Heidi, Girl of the Alps (the scene where Clara gets out of her wheelchair and walks brings tears to my wife’s eyes 100% of the time).
I saw on BoingBoing that today is the meinichi — the anniversary of a person’s death that I talked about recently — of Carl Sagan, who died in 1996. Considering that I happened to be watching some old episodes of Cosmos at that exact moment, MacBook Pro balanced on my lap, seeing the announcement was quite a surprise. I reflected that Mr. Sagan is probably more responsible than anyone else for my sense of wonder, of love of space and ability to say sugoi (soo-GOH-ee, “that’s amazing”) when I see something truly wonderful in the world. As a father I’ve tried to pass this quality on to my kids, and I think I’ve done a good job so far. It was a bit more difficult to try to bring that energetic spirit into the ESL classroom back when I was a teacher, with 18-year-old students who seemed bent on wasting the best years of their life doing baito (part-time job, from the German word arbeit) rather than actually getting out and, you know, living. Of course, Japanese expect foreigners to be overly expansive, emotional, and be full of pie-in-the-sky ideals, and they’re usually not disappointed. Still, I hope I passed my love of life on to a few of them, at least.
As you know, J-List has tons of cool products from Japan for you this Holiday Season. The J-List staff on both sides of the Pacific has been working incredibly hard to make sure orders are shipped out in a timely manner, and they’ve really been working miracles on a daily basis. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control (including a slipped disc in one employee, ouch), we’re seeing some delays for orders going out from San Diego, for which we apologize. We thank you for your understanding as we cut through the backlog of orders and get back to our normal speedy service.
We’re loaded with 2007 calendars from Japan, of course, with 140+ excellent calendars to choose from, all printed exclusively for the Japanese domestic market but available through us. This year’s hits so far have included the always-popular Studio Ghibli calendar with its all-original art; the incredibly popular Negima; the 10th Anniversary of Evangelion calendar; cute Japanese stars like Yuko Ogura, Jun Natsukawa and our famous ‘onsen’ calendars; the eternal Domo-kun, whose calendar will be sold out soon; and cool JPOP calendars like Gackt, Ayumi Hamasaki and Kumi Koda. Remember, Japan is a very seasonal place, and the time to get cool calendars is now, not later.
Remember that J-List stocks thousands of wonderful items from Japan, including bento boxes, cute electronic toys, tools to help you study Japanese, cool ways to bring a touch of Japan to your personal space, and much more. There are many great ways to browse our extensive selection of products, including with the “3 day” link on the front page that shows you items added or updated in the last 3 days; the alternate “view all” link, which shows all J-List products in newest-to-oldest order, and for slower connections, our handy “tree display.” Remember that we’ve recently added a Wish List feature, making it easy for you to add items to the list that you can either use as a reminder of items you want to check out later, or else you can make it a public list and share it with others.