I am utterly fascinated by Japan. If I could afford it, I'd love to spend six months to a year over there. Superficially, their society resembles ours, but dig down a bit and it's clear just how different they are from America. They are also weird. Really, really weird. A lot of human nature has to get repressed to make their society work, and it leaks out in the most unusual ways.
Anyway.... I have a number of links in the Daily Blog bookmark folder I need to process, so here's an omnibus Japan post:
First, here's a FAQ on the Japanese language from Usenet. Answers some basic questions, but it does assume some familiarity with the language.
Did you know that Japanese has very few words like the "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television?" There are quite a few naughty words that will earn you a frown, but few that are of themselves unspeakable. However there are lots and lots and lots of ways to insult someone by using the wrong word! Class, family and power status are very important to the Japanese and if you use the wrong form of respect in how you address someone, you can gravely offend them. Use a noun form for a friend with your boss and you can stop a conversation cold!
A lot of Americans travel to Japan to teach English. They frequently don't even speak Japanese, but are there to add "authenticity" to how students speak English. Japanese teachers handle basic English language instruction. Here's one account of the travails, risks and rewards. It's a bit risque in spots (the Japanese obsession with sex), but also very, very funny.
I'd never heard of a SAQ (Seldom Asked Questions) before until I discovered this SAQ answering all kinds of oddball questions about Japan. It's all the stuff that language and travel guides don't cover because no one thinks of these things until they get over there and encounter them. Engrossing reading.
Here's a news story on the deterioration of manners in modern Japan.
I love Japanese anime (pronounced ah-nee-may). The American impression is that it's for kids (Thanks Hollywood and the Fox network!), but they also have a lot of animated movies and television series for adults. And erotica, too. If you've ever wondered, though, why Japanese characters have such huge eyes, and exagerated reactions, read this. Click around the rest of the site for more, but be careful. Not everything is work safe there.
Manga, Japanese comic books, are a related phenomenon. They, too, aren't just for kids. There are romance novel styles, historical, sports, you name it. An interesting interview with one manga artist, which also give a look into the history and conventions of manga drawing, is here.
Those sites should get you started, and you can always follow links from them to get to more. Japan is, in many ways, a more technological country than we are. Their internet and cell phone networks are far superior to ours. They are also better connected to their history and traditions than we are. But Japan is a crowded island. Parts are still pretty rural, but most of the country is dense like New York City. And because so much has to be imported, it's way more expensive.
What else? If you like Japanese and other East Asian films like I do (Takashi Miike makes Quentin Tarantino look like the wannabe he is. Miike cranks out as many as four films a year! Crazed, ultraviolent yakuza films; musical horror films; mood movies.) then try Poker Industries. Huge variety and reasonable prices.
Interested in buying some Japanese weirdness? Not just the dirty stuff, but lots of candies, toys, t-shirts and geegaws? Want a bottle of Pocari Sweat? A Domokun? Try the J-list site. Hours of browsing fun; very reasonable prices. They also sell all-region DVD players for those DVDs.