Archive for November, 2008

Don Quijote: A Shopper’s Geeky Paradise

There’s one store I spend more time at than any other in Japan. It’s Don Quijote — a one-stop discount shop for all my geeky needs.

At the Roppongi branch, you have eight floors brimming with toys, electronics, anime goods and costumes of all types. The stock-boy packs the shelves so tightly, the store looks like it’ll burst open should a customer so much as sneeze down the aisle. I spend hours perusing through maid outfits on the top floor. I’ve yet to actually buy one, but should I ever quit my current job I plan on heading to Tokyo to learn the ways of serving tea and drawing hearts with ketchup.

On the lower floors you’ll find all sorts of odd costumes like Sailor Moon uniforms for men, hats shaped like poop, and anatomically-correct animal outfits. I commend anyone who can dress up as a raccoon with his family jewels hanging down like it’s nobody’s business.

monkeyr

Other floors supply more common-use items like clothes and toiletries. The store is open 24 hours so at all hours of the day you’ll see people coming in to do some serious shopping. Though one minute they’re searching for ribbed undershirts, the next minute they’re ogling maids in the center aisle.

Don Quijote is a mecca for purchases falling in the “want but don’t necessarily need” category. It’s a wonderland of stuff. Just don’t allow yourself too much time in the store, otherwise you’ll never see the light of day.

Himawari

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November 28, 2008 at 3:42 pm 1 comment

Time For a Cup of Zen (and Tea)

With the troubled economy, the bailout, the jokes about Depression II, the housing situation, and politics in general stressing everyone out, I wanted something to take my mind off current events. The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura, is great for slowing down, looking at the world a different way, and forgetting about your cares for an afternoon.

the-book-of-tea

Basically, Sado, or “the way of tea,” is a small, intimate gathering of friends to eat a small meal (usually a sweet cake), drink tea, and leave the business of life behind.

Originally published, in English, in 1906, The Book of Tea is a slim volume that explains what happens in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and the significance of each action. For example, shortly after guests arrive, they pass through a garden and take time to admire the sounds, sights and fragrances. The change of pace and scenery helps them mentally break free of the outside world.

To enter the tea room, you have to crawl, because the doorway is short (about three feet tall). This maneuver serves the purpose of humility for all the guests, and equalizes everyone from the get-go.

The Book of Tea reveals how a tea ceremony can help you appreciate aesthetic ideals, from the expression of life, to the simplest arrangement of flowers, to “the beautiful foolishness of things.”

sadou

Tea rooms are sparse and clean, with little ornamentation and no repetition; what decoration exists changes with the seasons and is deliberately unfinished, or asymmetrical, so that “the tea room is left for each guest in imagination to complete the total effect in relation to himself.”

True beauty is completed in the mind, changing the imperfect to the perfect.

Ahh, I feel better already…

Sarah S.

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November 25, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Japan’s Chocolate Prince

A few weeks ago, I was at a party talking to an American guy who was really big on chocolate. No, he doesn’t spend evenings stuffing candy bars into his mouth. (That would be me.) He’s the owner of an artisanal chocolate shop called Compartes, located in LA’s haute westside. A friendly but modest guy, he mentioned a few things about his little shop then listened attentively as I began gushing about my love for Tokyo and all things Japanese. “Ah yeah, Tokyo is great,” he said, referring to his first recent trip there. “They sell my chocolates at Takashimaya,” he said. That’s when my jaw dropped to the ground.

Takashimaya is the Saks Fifth Avenue of Japan, which would make his chocolates the newly-inaugurated Godiva of the eastern hemisphere. When Japanese people travel abroad they’ll drop a wad of travelers checks at the nearest Godiva branch in exchange for those ganache-filled morsels of delight. And come Valentine’s Day, it’s handcrafted chocolate, not Sweet Tarts, that steers the romantic futures of young Japanese couples.

Jonathan told me more about his visit to Tokyo last year which, as it turned out, was a media-blitzed tour where he chatted up TV talk show hosts and signed autographs for fans eagerly awaiting a taste of his signature chocolates. I was suddenly star-struck.

Looking at the pictures, it’s easy to see why his Japan-tailored line of chocolates would be so popular:

compartesr

Compartes has all the ingredients for success in Japan: 1) Both product and packaging are ultra-cute; 2) They use high-quality ingredients, and 3) it’s endorsed by Hollywood celebrities. Last year, Jonathan introduced a line of dark chocolates dusted with salt granules. Rumor has it, he’s the one who launched last year’s sweet-and-salty craze. And it doesn’t hurt that Jonathan is an affable guy with a clean-cut look and a keen sense of style. Image is everything in Japan.

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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November 21, 2008 at 1:19 pm

The Course of True (Cartoon) Love Never Did Run Smooth

During election season, beleaguered Californians get extra stressed because we have to vote on all the Props. Any citizen can make a proposal to change state laws (well, any citizen with enough time, money, and signatures), and these initiatives are added to the ballot during general elections.

The topics vary wildly; usually they concern education, transportation, jail overcrowding, fixing a perceived social ill or – like this year – chickens. Yes, chickens. Prop 2 was all about the humane treatment of animals, specifically regarding the amount of room chickens have to move around in, and whether farmers should provide better accommodations for them.

This year we also voted on Proposition 8, aka The Same-Sex Marriage Ban, and the political ads, both pro and con, flew fast and furious across my TV screen. I wonder what my fellow Californians would think of Taichi Takashita, who launched a petition in Japan to allow marriage between people and cartoons! Here is Takashita’s argument: “I am no longer interested in three dimensions. I would even like to become a resident of the two-dimensional world.”

anime_weddingr

Although he’s not naming names, it seems he has a specific cartoon heroine in mind, and he’s in love. He just wants their union to be legal.

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Does he win Otaku of the Year Award, or is he pulling all of our legs? Either way, he’s gotten 1,000 signatures so far, so his movement has touched a nerve!

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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November 18, 2008 at 4:59 pm

It’s Victory Around the World for Obama

Around the world, people have been rejoicing over our new U.S. president, Barack Obama. Sorry Republicans, but Senator Obama’s message of ‘change’ amid this sobering economic crisis was something we desperately needed to hear.

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Following last Tuesday’s election, members of the Japanese parliament, particularly ones of the president-elect’s generation, let out a collective sigh of relief: “Obama’s election means that the qualities of youth, efficiency, and ability to move with global trends could become prized commodities even within the Japanese political world,” said Diet member to Mainichi News.

sanaer

Like with many countries, Japan’s political and economic will has been at the mercy of the U.S. government. And let’s face it, this current U.S. administration has been nothing more than a big bully. When Japan discovered spinal cord tissue in its U.S.-imported beef it held up a two-year ban that, sadly, ended with the U.S. strong-arming them back into trade relations. Imagine having to feed your children suspicious and perhaps deadly meat just because the dirty ‘ol butcher wants to stay in business.

I think it’s this sort of arrogance by the U.S. that’s brewed a greater sense of nationalism from Japan to stand up on its own. But now with Obama at the helm, in about 70 days at least, I think we may start to see their attitude soften a bit.

Meanwhile, in the western corner of Japan, the town of Obama has been celebrating the senator’s victory with hula dancers and red bean cake. The sleepy coastal village made headlines around the world as they rooted loudly for the senator who shared its name. The attention helped bolster the local economy, of course. Seems everyone came out a winner. \(^o^)/

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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November 13, 2008 at 4:33 pm 1 comment

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Virtual Woman Scorned

When you think of cybercrime, what comes to mind?

Identity theft? Chatroom harassment?

What about (cue ominous music)…MURDER?

We all probably know someone who got addicted to the Sims games. And remember that South Park episode when the boys spent weeks obsessing over World of Warcraft? Multiplayer games like WoW and Second Life, in which participants create characters and send them off on long-running adventures against other people in real time, are massively popular, both here and in Japan.

southparkhd1

Now a woman from Sapporo is accused of “killing” her cyber-husband in the game Maplestory after he “divorced” her online. How did she commit the crime? By logging in illegally as him and deleting his avatar!

maplestory1

According to BBC News, “If charged with the offenses, and convicted, she faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.” That seems a bit harsh to me. I wonder if her lawyer can argue that it was a crime of passion, unlikely to be repeated?

maplestory_1152_qjpreviewth

People playing Maplestory, a Korean game that has spread in popularity throughout East Asia, normally concern themselves with fighting monsters, but some enjoy virtual social activities, marriage and domestic bliss (or agony). Curious about the game? It’s free to download and use, and comes in nine languages.

Just don’t fall in love…

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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November 11, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Super-Size My Lunch!

What’s better than a Japanese bento? How about a Japanese bento 1.5 times its size?

That’s what you’ll find stacked at train station kiosks these days. It’s part of the “mega” boom going on across the country where people are getting more for their hard-earned money. It’s an unlikely sales tactic in a country of skinny people, but during economic hard times even skinny people yearn for a bargain.

In the U.S. it was McDonalds that pioneered the super-size menu. Now Japan has caught on with its Mega Mac — four patties and three buns — and the Mega Muffin, a monster breakfast sandwich stacked with two pork patties, two bacon strips, a slice of cheese and a poached egg. Americans haven’t even seen the likes of that one. Yikes!

mega_01r

At restaurant chain Sukiya, they serve mega beef bowls with grilled onions and nearly half a pound of juicy meat. It’s 1,286 calories — over half the recommended daily intake — but priced at $6, I’d say it’s worth the artery cloggage. Of course, Yoshinoya has been the hungry-man champ for years with its ‘special large’ (tokumori) beef bowl. Late last year, one of its workers made a viral video showing someone piling the beef on like it was Sears Tower. They called it the ‘tera’ beef bowl. Hungry viewers flocked to the nearest Yoshinoya hoping to get one, though of course it was only a joke.

Typically speaking, Japanese people abide by the saying, “Hara hachi bu,” meaning you should eat to no more than 80% stomach capacity (otherwise you’ll be a fatty). Restaurants often accommodate the mantra by serving portions so dainty you’d think it was just the starter. But in 2008, the mentality of ‘less is more’ is out the door. Now it’s all about MEGA! \(^.^)/

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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November 7, 2008 at 4:32 pm 1 comment

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