J-List blog

The official Japan blog archive of J-List

  • The History of Cosplay, and International Marriage in Japan

    Well, another San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone, and the staff of J-List is tired but exhilarated from all the fun we've had here. As usual, one of the highlights of the show was looking at all the thousands of cosplays, from Maki from Love Live to McThor to the cutest Rey ever. The word "cosplay" is a good example of 和製英語 wasei eigo or "made-in-Japan English," coined in the June 1983 issue of My Anime magazine, which included a special feature on "hero costume play" that had to be shortened to "cosplay" on one page to fit into the layout. The first anime cosplay is said to have taken place at a science fiction convention in Yokohama in 1978, when a judge mistook a fan cosplaying a character from the cover of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel as being from an anime called Triton of the Sea; the error was never corrected, and suddenly fans got the idea of bringing 2D characters from anime into the 3D world. These days it's not hard to find "cosplay idols" like Kipi or Necoco or our favorite Jessica Nigri who create the most amazing costumes for us to enjoy, capturing every minute detail of the characters with remarkable skill.

    We live in a complex world in which everything around us is becoming more and more global, including marriage. My Japanese wife and I are an interesting example of an international marriage, with both sides bringing different things to the table. After 25 years of living in Japan, I'm certainly fluent in the language, but that doesn't mean I don't occasionally use the wrong word in an embarrassing situation, or get completely lost if the topic moves to something I have little experience in. Like everyone in Japan today, I almost never write kanji by hand anymore, instead typing it on a computer or keitai (cell phone), which makes it extra challenging when I have to fill out an insurance form in Japanese that has to be absolutely perfect or it won't be legally binding. While my wife understands enough English to watch on occasional episode of Cold Case without subtitles, her skills aren't perfect, like the time she asked my family for "gross lipstick" for Christmas. (She meant "gloss.") Once she found a box of cake mix I'd brought back from the U.S. the previous summer and decided to bake it. Unfortunately her brain mis-read the word "batter" as "butter," as in "add two cups of butter to the bowl" (when the recipe didn't actually call for any butter at all). The result was remarkably similar to the "lethal chef from hell" meme commonly seen in anime.

    J-List loves Kantai Collection, and always has lots of fun products in stock for you, from figures to our Iowa parody T-shirt to the official Vita game. Browse our KanColle ranking now!

  • Truth in Advertising, and How to Think in Japanese

    Hello from your Friend in Japan, J-List! The San Diego Comicon is upon us (we're at booth 4929!), but if you're not fortunate to be at the show, never fear, because we've got our Comicon 5% Off Sale for you!  Use code SDCC2016 to get a 5% discount when ordering through Sunday!

    One theme I write about a lot is that Japan generally practices a "kinder" form of capitalism than other countries. While it's become the American Way for companies in the U.S. to create new markets by "disrupting" old ones, although this causes real economic hardship for the dinosaur companies being disrupted (Nokia, Blackberry, Borders bookstores etc.), you never hear of Sony trying to destroy Panasonic's television business, or Toyota putting the screws to Honda with its patent portfolio. While here in the U.S. I happened to catch a TV commercial for Proactiv, a skin cleansing product, and I was interested to note on-screen visuals that clearly showed the product cleaning away 100% of the bacteria and oils that cause acne. This was interesting to me, because in Japan, commercials never show products cleaning away "100%" of anything. Instead, an advertisement for a product like Listerine will always show, say, 98% of bacteria being removed, but there'll always be a tiny bit remaining on screen, to avoid making a promise of 100% effectiveness that might not be accurate.

    The Holy Grail of language study is, of course, learning to think in that language without translating everything from your native tongue in your head first. It seems like an impossibly difficult goal, but just as with learning to read your first non-Roman writing system, be it hiragana or the Hebrew alphabet or whatever, it can be quite exhilarating when things click into place. What I find interesting about language is the way you develop separate personalities when speaking different languages, and my "Japanese" self is quite different from my English side, probably more considerate of others, able to apologize more honestly if I screw something up, and so on. I've seen this kind of thing with my kids, too, especially my daughter, whose English "self" expanded after she went to Australia to attend high school, forcing her to become much more assertive for example, because that's what English speakers do.

    The San Diego Comic-Con is here, and J-List is at our usual booth, #4929, with tons of anime T-shirts, visual novels and "H" games (including Super Sonico and Jessica Nigri!), naughty manga and related products, and more. If you'll be at the show, come by and say hi! If not, enjoy shopping on the site during our sale! Use code SDCC2016 to get 5% off $60 or more!

  • A New "Moe" Anime About Making Games, and The Proper Way of Sitting

    Hello from your Friend in japan, J-List! The San Diego Comicon is upon us (we're at booth 4929), if you're not fortunate to be at the show, never fear, because we've got  great Comicon 5% Off Sale for you!  Use code SDCC2016 to get a 5% discount when ordering through Sunday!

    One of the challenges of being an older anime fan is watching highly dramatic stories about love and romance in school involving characters who are half my age (if I'm lucky)...or one-third my age (if I'm less lucky). It never fails: I'm enjoying an amazing show like Your Lie in April or Toradora or Amagami about characters who experience intense romantic love, yet who are not old enough to vote, let alone buy a beer. That's why I've been happy with the newly launched anime called New Game!, about a young 18-year-old girl named Aoba who gets a dream job at a game developer. There she starts her life as a 社会人 shakai-jin or "society person" -- what an adult earning wages is known as in Japan -- working alongside a colorful cast of moe characters who highlight the zaniness of developing game software. I like the show because it's a break from yet another series about upcoming school cultural festivals and characters trying to start a school club, but they can't find enough members to get approval, and so on. Since J-List is involved in licensing and localizing eroge and visual novels, I can confirm that every day involves interacting with super cute moe staff members who are hopelessly cute and clumsy. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

    One theme I write a lot about is how there's exactly one "correct" way to do things in Japan -- a correct way for students to sit at their desk while in school, a specific stroke order that every kanji character must be written in, and so on. There's even exactly one "correct" way to hold chopsticks, though when my son got a girlfriend, the fact that he held his chopsticks in a not-totally-standard way became an minor issue in our family. ("Whatever you do, make sure you don't eat with chopsticks in front of her!") A symbol of the Japanese approach to how to do things can be seen in the marks they make on paper when counting objects. While most Westerners count by drawing sets of five "chicken scratch" lines, the Japanese draw the five-stroke character for honesty and correctness, which is 正 tadashii.

    J-List is preparing our usual awesome booth at the San Diego Comic-Con, booth 4929, where we'll have our popular anime T-shirts, visual novels and "H" games (including Super Sonico and Jessica Nigri!), naughty magazines and related products, and more. If you'll be at the show, come by and say hi! If not, enjoy shopping on the site during our sale! Use code SDCC2016 to get 5% off $60 or more!

  • A New Idol Anime, and What Year is it in Japan??

    Hello from your Friend in japan, J-List! We're busy preparing for the San Diego Comicon (we'll be at booth 4929!), but we thought we'd get the fun started early be launching our Comicon 5% Off Sale early! Use code SDCC2016, $60 minimum required. Get shopping now!

    A new anime season is upon us, even though I'm way behind in most of the shows I was following from the last season. One series I've had my eye on this season is Love Live Sunshine!, a spin-off of the original Love Live! about a new group of girls who aim to become school idols like the original μ's group from the first series. The marriage of idol culture with anime -- which began with 1982's Super Dimensional Fortress Macross -- has been one of the most successful innovations of the last 35 years, up there with using transforming mecha to sell plastic models and toys and switching to digital coloring instead of hand-painting animation cels. Another trend in anime is setting series in real cities in Japan...and hitting these municipalities up for cash to help fund production, in expectation of the "otaku-tourism" that will follow if the show is a hit. The new Love Live! series is set in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, a rural city with lovely views of the sea and of Mt. Fuji.

    Do you know what year it is? I often don't, thanks to the Japanese custom of counting years according to the reign of the Emperor in power. The current era of 平成 Heisei (translatable as "Having Achieved Maturity and Peace") started in 1989, when Emperor Akihito ascended to the throne, making this year Heisei 26. Heisei is the fourth era since Japan became a "modern" nation; the others were 明治 Meiji ("Enlightened Rule," 1868-1912), when Japan began to emulate the West for the first time; 大正 Taisho ("Great Righteousness," 1912-1926), which saw a terrible earthquake that killed 140,000 in Tokyo; and the long and eventful 昭和 Showa ("Brilliant Harmony," 1926-1989) period, a time of war, rebuilding and traditional dagashi candies. When you live in Japan for a while, you naturally come to memorize certain events in the Japanese era system: for example I was born in Showa 43, I came to Japan in Heisei 3, and started J-List in Heisei 9. While the era name isn't supposed to change until the current Emperor dies, recently there have been reports that the current ruler Akihito is considering stepping down early because of his recent health problems, which is quite unprecedented.

    J-List is preparing our usual awesome booth at the San Diego Comic-Con, booth 4929, where we'll have our popular anime T-shirts, visual novels and "H" games (including Super Sonico and Jessica Nigri!), naughty magazines and related products, and more. If you'll be at the show, come by and say hi! If not, enjoy shopping on the site during our sale! Use code SDCC2016 to get 5% off $60 or more!

  • My Daughter's Days in Japanese School, and a new Population Bomb for Japan

    Hello from your Friend in japan, J-List! We're busy preparing for the San Diego Comicon next week, but we thought we'd get the fun started early be launching our Comicon 5% Off Sale early! (Use code SDCC2016, $60 minimum required.

    It's quite a common thing for me to open my RSS feed and see yet another article about a drop in Japan's population. This time it seems that the number of Japanese in the world has dropped below 126 million after peaking in 128 million in 2010, as outgoing deaths outstrip incoming births with no meaningful immigration to help balance things. What effect will this population fall really have on Japan in the decades going forward? It's hard to say. Japan is a densely populated and prosperous country with a high standard of living, though as the population falls, especially in rural areas, economic activity must presumably drop. (Would you build a shopping mall in a rural city in Japan?) Unfortunately there's more bad news on the horizon. In 1966, Japan's number of births fell by 8% due to a widely held (but silly) superstition called Hinoeuma or "Fire Horse," which says that girls born in a specific Year of the Horse would be headstrong and bad luck for their husbands, and thus unable to marry. Unfortunately, a new Hinoeuma year is now just ten years away, which means the government should make stamping out this superstition a priority by 2026.

    Being half Japanese and half American, my kids didn't always fit the mold that was prepared for them here in Japan. At my daughter's junior high school they had something called 風紀検査 fuuki kensa, which is an inspection by the teachers or the student council to make sure the students aren't doing scandalous things like dyeing their hair, shortening the hems of their skirts or painting their fingernails. Once my daughter got stopped and asked why she had lightened her hair, but of course it was her natural color, which caused a bit of a logical disconnect until the school realized she was haafu (half Japanese). Pierced ears are also a no-no in conservative Japanese schools, and the teachers were amazed to see that my daughter had had her ears pierced as a child, which is unthinkable here.

    At J-List we sell a lot of fun Sailor Moon items, and one of our favorites are the Sailor Moon Schedule Books we sell every year, which let you have a great time with your favorite Sailor-senshi all year long. The books include full 2017 calendars, with address pages, pages for taking notes, and everything you need to keep organized all year long. The deadline to order the schedule books is July 20, so order the ones you want now!! Make sure you order during our sale!

  • Demonstrations in Japan, and All About Okinawa

    This has been a hard week in the U.S., with shootings, demonstrations, more shootings, and lots of general sadness. I was asked by a Twitter user if Japan has any similar instances of social violence, and the answer I gave him is that no, Japan today is one of the most peaceful and blessed countries on Earth, with very in the way of violence of the kind we've seen recently. This was highlighted after the terrible earthquake and tsunamis of March 11, 2011, when instead of hoarding food or looting, Japanese maintained their famed polite order, patiently lining up to make purchases in shops even as the country was crashing down all around them. The closest thing Japan has seen to social unrest in recent decades were the surprisingly violent demonstrations by farmers after Japan's government announced the location of the new international airport at Narita in 1971, which it did without securing the prior agreement of the residents, setting off a huge upheaval that left six dead.

    One of the most interesting areas of Japan is Okinawa, the local version of Hawaii, and an important cultural bridge between Japan and the United States. A separate kingdom until it was annexed in 1609, Okinawa has a culture and language that's distinct from Japan, though related. Because of its strategic location, the island saw some of the fiercest fighting in WWII, with 100,000 civilians killed, followed by 25 years spent as a U.S. protectorate before the island was returned to Japan by Richard Nixon. Currently the stress placed on Okinawans by the U.S. bases, along with occasional tragic events like a recent murder of a Japanese woman by a serviceman, are a delicate issue in Japan.

    My own thoughts are that since Okinawa was not an aggressor toward other nations during WWII, they should not have to "pay the price" on behalf of the Japanese mainland by giving up 19% of their land to U.S. forces (though the bases are terribly important economically for the island, which is already Japan's poorest prefecture). My proposed solution: move one of two of the bases from Okinawa to the Japanese mainland, in an area with falling population that could use the economic benefits the bases would bring. My pick would be Tottori Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan side across from Kyoto, which has just 580,000 residents. They could keep closer watch on North Korea from that location, too.

    Something we love about the new Sonicomi: Communication with Sonico is the way it's very interactive. As you move to help Sonico's career, choosing shooting locations, outfits, hair styles and more to help her become a famous model (or idol, or nurse, or your wife...), you have the option to get, ah, a little frisky or take shots that Sonico might not like, like upskirt pictures. Don't forget that new Sonico Dakimakura we have up for preorder now, too!

  • Japan's Love of Gift-Giving, and a Quick Update of Japanese Politics

    One of the more important areas of life in Japan is gift-giving, and there are many traditions of giving presents, from the twice-yearly gifts given to teachers, neighbors and one's boss (the last one is partially to butter him up so you can get a better bonus) to carefully tracking "return gifts" -- for example, if your friend attended your wedding, bringing a cash gift of $300, you make sure to return the favor when they get married. Another big area of gift-giving are omiyage, or souvenirs brought back to family and friends after visiting an interesting place. In past years my Japanese employee Yasu, who stocks our site with excellent manga, artbooks and Japanese study products, has bought different omyage gifts for the Japan staff, like American cigarettes (Newport Lights, a well-known brand that's not available in Japan), cheap T-shirts from Target or those 5-hour energy drinks. This year, he asked me to take him to Trader Joe's, a chain of healthy supermarkets. It seems the "eco bags" (reusable shopping bags) from the store are all the rage in Japan, and he bought several to bring back as gifts.

    Sunday marked a major election in Japan, so I thought I'd talk about Japanese politics briefly. The election was a solid victory for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Prime Minister Abe, the only Japanese politician besides Junichiro Koizumi (the guy who looked like Richard Gere) who's managed to serve out his term as Prime Minister without getting chased out of office early by low public support levels. This was the first election in which 18- and 19- year olds could vote (previously the age of adulthood started at 20), and it's hoped that young people will start to take an interest in politics if they can vote earlier. Of course, the political dynamics of each country are unique. In Japan to be "right-leaning" is to support business, to think that the Emperor is an important institution in Japanese society, and to favor close relations with the United States. To be "left-leaning" is to favor relations with China over the U.S. and to want to bring an end to the Emperor system as an outdated custom of the past.

    We're super happy about the new Sonicomi: Communication with Sonico game which is shipping out now (the Limited Edition form with figure, art cards and Steam key). In the game, you manage Sonico's career, determining where to take correct photo shoots, is shipping, both as our popular Limited Edition that comes with an original acrylic figure, art cards, the game plus the Steam code, as well as on Steam directly. My favorite part of the game is the photo sessions, which are fully interactive segments in which you have to photograph Sonico from just the right angle. (Upskirts are possible, though she might not like that.) Don't forget that new Sonico Dakimakura we have up for preorder now, too!

  • Exploring "Western" Foods, and How to Pronounce Japanese

    Is Japanese hard to pronounce? If English (or Portuguese, or Italian) is your native language, you might find that it's not, since the vowels used in Japanese happen to closely match those languages. But if you're coming from a language like English, there can be challenges.

    First, understand that Japanese is a syllable-based language, meaning that sounds always come in consonant + vowel syllable pairs (e.g. か ka, ki, ku, ke, or こ ko, never just a "k" sound by itself), or as a single vowel sound. The only consonant that can appear by itself is n, written ん, which is easy to remember as it looks like an 'n.' Vowels are easy as oppai:

    A - "ah" rhyming with "fall" I - "ee" rhyming with "feel" U - "oo" rhyming with "fool" E - "eh" rhyming with "let" O - "oh" rhyming with "go"

    Some more pointers. Discard if you can the spelling rules of English, like "silent e" on the ends of words. Every syllable is pronounced, so that the family name of voice actress Horie Yui would be pronounced "ho-ri-eh." There is no short "a" sound (as in "cat") in Japanese, so words like kanji (Chinese characters) or the final syllable of 一万 ichi man (the number 10,000) should sound like kahn-ji and mahn. If you're interested in learning Japanese, I always recommend textbooks and study guides that force you to work in the "native" Japanese writing system, hiragana, as its much easier to pronounce well if you move away from Romanized Japanese. The Kanji Practice Flashcards from White Rabbit and the Genki Japanese textbooks both use kana are both good for learning as they avoid Romanized Japanese (Japanese sentences written in the English alphabet), forcing you to read real Japanese, which helps reduce your accent.

    You probably don't think of Japanese foods like omurice (an omelet served over rice with a ketchup heart drawn on top) or katsu (Japanese pork cutlet) as "Western" foods, but in Japan dishes like this are all referred to with the word  洋食 yohshoku, meaning foods from Europe or the U.S. The yoh kanji (which literally means "sea") is found in quite a lot of common words, like 洋服 yohfuku, which the Japanese use to mean "clothes" though it actually denotes Western style clothing like shirts, jeans etc.; 洋間 yohma, a Western-style living room with a sofa and chairs instead of tatami mats; or 様式 yohshiki, meaning anything that's "Western-style," like a toilet you sit on rather than squat over. The opposite of 洋 yoh is 和 wa, a character that denotes peace and harmony but also refers to Japan. If you're interested in exploring Japanese variations of "Western" foods, J-List has some cookbooks you should see.

    The new Sonicomi: Communication with Sonico game is shipping, both as our popular Limited Edition that comes with an original acrylic figure, art cards, the game plus the Steam code, as well as on Steam directly. My favorite part of the game is the photo sessions, which are fully interactive segments in which you have to photograph Sonico from just the right angle. (Upskirts are possible, though she might not like that.) Don't forget that new Sonico Dakimakura we have up for preorder now, too!

  • Foreigners in Japanese Commercials, and How I Got Into "H" Games

    We just got done with the most successful Anime Expo in J-List's history. Thanks, everyone who attended, for making it so awesome! We had a blast, meeting and greeting fans, selling our trademark visual novels and RPGs, taking pictures of Sonico cosplayers, and generally having a great time. The highlight of the show was having Sonicomi: Communication with Sonico in stock and shipping. Order it now!

    During our industry panel, in which we announced some awesome upcoming games, we had some time left at the end so I did a short question-and-answer period. One person asked me how I happened to get into this line of work, and I thought I'd write about that here. The time was 1995, a year after the Internet really arrived in a big way, and I knew I wanted to do something with this interesting new medium. I loved anime, but didn't want to get into any kind of work that couldn't be done from Japan. That's when I hit on the idea of finding "dating-sim game" companies who wanted to help develop a market for the games in English. I contacted a company called JAST, and the president had just the right kind of crazy, expansive personality that made him want to help me. Though I was optimistic as we released our first three games, it frankly took years for the games to get any traction, and we actually started J-List as a temporary project to tide us over while we waited for the games to take off. Twenty years later, of course, everyone knows about visual novels and related "H" game culture, and we've been able to bring you some really amazing titles, from Shiny Days to Steins;Gate, and now the Super Sonico game.

    One fun aspect of living in Japan is seeing how many television commercials you can watch before coming across one featuring a famous famous foreign star pushing some product. It might be Leonardo DiCaprio plugging Jim Beam, or Brad Pitt drinking canned coffee, or a digitally resurrected Audrey Hepburn enjoying some refreshing Afternoon Tea by Kirin. Some companies develop reputations for being in love with foreign stars, like Suntory, which has paid actor Tommy Lee Jones to portray an alien observing life on planet Earth in their BOSS canned coffee commercials for years. Sometimes foreigners become famous in Japan by surprise, like Natalie Emmons, an American singer/songwriter who lived in Osaka and who speaks excellent Japanese. When she appeared in a series of TV commercials for a hotel finding website, her popularity went through the roof.

    Order Super Sonico now, senpai! The Sonicomi: Communication with Sonico is a fantastic new game in which you have to help Sonico's career as a model. As her photographer, you're responsible for deciding what kinds of photoshoots to do, including location, Sonico's outfits and hair style, and so on, before moving on to the . We've got great news, too: a new Sonico Dakimakura with the original image by Tsuji Santa is now up for preorder. 

  • The Joy of Japanese Toilets, and Summer Stamina Food

    Greetings from Anime Expo! We're here at the show, getting ready to meet thousands of fans. In addition to the launch of the Super Sonico English game, we'll have lots of great new game announcements at our panel, plus Dagashi Kashi snack grab bags and much more. Will you be at the show? If not, make sure you take advantage of our AX 2016 sale on the site!

    Ever since the coming of the Sony Walkman, the Japanese have been known for their gadgets, which is a good thing for all of us, as the world would be less interesting if it weren't for all those fun devices. From massage chairs that take the stress out of your muscles to butt-shaping products, it's always fun to see what new inventions Japan has for us. One of the most famous of all Japanese gadgets are those toilets which wash your butt when you're done, which are known as "washlets" (wash + toilet, get it?). Based on the European bidet, Japanese washlets were first introduced by ubiquitous toilet maker Toto in 1980, and have grown in popularity ever since. Most of these washing toilets share the same basic features, including a selector for which part you want to wash, a warm air dryer, and a control to set the desired temperature of the toilet seat. Some of the more advanced models freshen the air with negatively charged ions, contain sensors that check your blood sugar as you pee, and (great families with boys) raise and lower the seat as needed hydraulically.

    Japan is a country that's definitely in touch with its seasons, and they celebrate each time of year with many different traditional events, from cherry blossom viewing in April to enjoying the turning of the leaves in the Fall. It's summer now, the time of festivals and wearing yukata cotton kimonos while taking in fireworks, and there are many foods that help people survive the sweltering temperatures. Having a long tradition of eating noodles, many Japanese naturally enjoy cold soba or udon noodles during this season, as well as "angel hair" noodles called somen. One of the most famous of all summer foods is not one I'm not too fond of: unagi (oo-NAH-gi), or Japanese eel, which is broiled over an open flame and served on rice with teriyaki sauce. It's considered "stamina food" here in Japan, and many restaurants offer the dish to their customers in the summer to help them beat the heat. Unagi-don (Eel Rice Bowl) actually looks delicious, but I just can't get past the "eel-ness" of it all.

    Anime Expo is here, and it's going to be BIG. We'll have a huge booth this year (#2624) as well as a panel on Saturday at 11:15 pmThe panel will have three original free gifts for all attendees, brought from Japan, plus lots of news about new game releases. Hope you'll be there! If you can't make the show, we've got a great consolation for you: a sitewide AX Sale now, with 5% any order of $75 or more using code AX2016. Get shopping!

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