Denki News

March 12, 2007

Buying songs from the Japanese iTunes Store

Filed under: iPod & iTunes, Japan — icruise @ 3:06 pm

I’m not a big fan of what is commonly called “J-Pop” but when I lived in Japan I made a conscious effort to find some Japanese artists that I did like. I rented a lot of CDs (yes you can rent CDs in Japan — a good thing, since they are close to $30 apiece) and eventually found quite a number of artists that a liked a lot. But when I moved back to the US, I was pretty much cut off. It is possible to import Japanese CDs to the US, but it’s expensive and you certainly can’t do much experimenting with new bands that you’ve never heard of before.

When the iTunes Music Store opened in Japan, I had hoped that it would allow me to buy Japanese songs, much as the US version of the iTS had helped me keep in touch with American music while I was in Japan. But unfortunately, they required you to have a credit card with a Japanese billing address just to open an account. You can listen to the 30-second previews, but not download anything — even the weekly free songs.

However, I recently found out that if you buy an iTS prepaid card from Japan, you can use it to create a Japanese iTS account without any credit card at all, allowing you to download Japanese songs. There are even places on the net (such as J-List) that sell Japanese cards for this express purpose. There are instructions on the J-List page telling how to go about creating an account with a prepaid card. You need to have the card first, though, since if you try and create an account without it, it will insist that you have a credit card. The only tricky part is that you have to have a Japanese address of some kind (even though it will likely never be used). I don’t know how strict the system is about putting in a real address, but J-List has said that you can even use their address as a dummy. However, I couldn’t find their Japanaese address on the site, though, so you might need to contact them if you want to try that.

Anyway, I can finally download Japanese music now, so I’m happy. Here are some of my favorite Japanese artists. Clicking the links will take you to their iTS page. Unfortunately, the iTS doesn’t have the greatest selection for some of them — I have 13 albums by my favorite band Spitz, and only one of them is on the iTS. They do have a couple of greatist hits albums that have some of their best stuff, though. There are also some major artists that aren’t on the iTS at all, such as Mr. Children and the Southern All Stars.
Spitz
Utada Hikaru
Ulfuls
Yamazaki Masayoshi
Inoue Yousui
Makihara Noriyuki
UA (prononuced Ooh-Ah)
Aska
Chage and Aska
Yaida Hitomi

November 11, 2006

The darker side of the PS3 launch

Filed under: Japan, Video Games — icruise @ 8:22 pm

Kotaku has an excellent article written by a reader about the recent PS3 launch in Japan. Most of the coverage I have seen has focused on the long lines of people waiting in front of the stores but what I didn’t realize is that a large portion of the people waiting there are actually Chinese nationals who are being paid to stand in line and purchase the machines. The people who pay them are presumably going to sell the PS3s for a profit.

Similar things are going on in the US, with more people buying the systems to sell them at auction than to play them. It’s easy to blame the people doing this, but I guess in the end they are just responding to the situation that Sony has created. 400,000 units for North America? Only 80,000 units for Japan? Madness.

Foreigners And Fights, PS3 JPN Launch’s Dark Side [Kotaku.com]

August 13, 2006

Engrish (or, “This tastes like Asse!”

Filed under: Japan — icruise @ 10:25 pm


Yes, this is a brand of chocolate called “Asse.” OK, it’s supposely pronounced “Ass-ay” but who are we kidding, right?

Anyone spending any time at all in Japan will come across the phenomenon known as “Engrish” — English that has been mangled in some way by a non-native speaker (sometimes very non-native). This will sometimes take the form of signs, menus, or product instructions that are actually trying to communicate something to non-Japanese people, but in many cases it is actually intended only for a Japanese audience. Things like product names, slogans, and what is called “decorative English” (English whose only purpose is to look nice on a t-shirt, bag or lunch box) are not trying to convey anything to English speakers, and the fact that they often use funny-sounding or grammatically incorrect English is not really that important to most Japanese people. (More after the jump.)
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August 8, 2006

List of region-free Xbox 360 games

Filed under: Japan, Video Games — icruise @ 3:50 am

Xbox 360 games are unusual in that they do not necessarily have region coding. It is up to the publisher to decide whether or not to include the region coding in their games. This means that for some games, it is possible to buy the cheaper Asian versions and still use them on your Xbox 360 no matter what region it is (US, Japan, etc). Since the Asian versions of these games are identical to the versions sold in the US (all in English, etc) and they usually cost about $40 instead of $50-$60 like the US versions, this can be a good deal for people living in the US. It’s also good for people who have an Xbox 360 from a different region than the country they are living in (I have a Japanese Xbox but live in the US, for example, so buying Asian versions is the only way to get some games for me). A list of these region-free games follows. (More after the jump.)

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July 11, 2006

Nintendo shows its true colors

Filed under: Japan, Video Games — icruise @ 2:00 pm

I was at a Japanese Toys R Us the other day looking at the video games and I was struck by the sheer number of color variations that Nintendo has for its products. For those of you counting, that’s 6 colors of GameBoy Advance, 4 colors of GameBoy Micro, 5 colors of old-style DS, 3 colors of DS Lite (soon to be joined by “Noble Pink“), plus 4 colors of GameCube. Whew! And that’s just what’s in the store! They’ve had all sorts of other colors and limited editions in the past as well.

It’s true that the color variations help attract a new customers. I know some people who would be more likely to get something like a DS Lite if they knew they could get it in pink, for example. But it’s also been Nintendo’s strategy for a long time to make regular minor changes to their product line, altering it just enough to warrant a repurchase. I wonder how many people have more than one of the same machine, just because they wanted a different color?

No Xboxes please, we’re Japanese

Filed under: Japan, Video Games — icruise @ 7:13 am

I don’t want to belabor the point I made in an earlier post, but on a recent outing here in Japan I went to a number of stores that sold video games — some new, some used. The state of Xbox consoles and games was pretty pathetic. As you can see in the picture above (taken at a Book Off store, which sells used books, CDs, DVDs and games) used Xbox consoles are going for around $35, while PS2s are selling for amazingly high prices — some as high as $150. Admittedly, there were some GameCube systems that weren’t much more than the Xboxes, but it shows just how popular the PS2 is in relation to these other two systems. It also makes me think that the Xbox 360 has an almost impossible task ahead of itself in trying to compete with the PS3 in Japan. If the Wii can come in at a reasonable price, Nintendo may be able to carve out a niche as a casual console/second console, but the Xbox is expensive enough to make it unlikely for most people to have one in addition to a PS3.

Stock of Xbox games was pretty bad in the retail (non-used) game stores. I can’t recall seeing any original Xbox games, and while most places did have some Xbox 360 games, there were only 8 or 10 available. Also, they were all selling for full retail price (around $60) while many of the Xbox 360 launch titles are now being discounted in the US, at least online. And as if to drive the point home, DSFanboy reports that this week only 8 original Xboxes were sold in Japan. Still, when you think about it this isn’t that surprising since if my informal survey is accurate, hardly any stores carry new Xboxes anymore.

July 9, 2006

V@mp C@ndi 512MB flash MP3 player review — is it a decent iPod alternative?

Filed under: iPod & iTunes, Japan, Technology — icruise @ 11:04 am

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m currently visiting Japan, and one of my favorite things to do when I’m here is to make the rounds of the electronics stores. This time I found some cheap little MP3 players on the clearance rack. I had been thinking about buying something similar to use while doing errands (when my full-sized iPod is a little too big or heavy) so I decided to buy one. How does it stack up against the iPod? (More after the jump.) (more…)

July 3, 2006

The Xbox in Japan

Filed under: Japan, Video Games — icruise @ 3:57 pm

The Xbox has, to put it mildly, not been a success in Japan. When it first came out, Japanese players complained that the system and controllers were big and unwieldy, and the types of games generally made for the Xbox tended to be things like first-person shooters, which are generally not very popular in Japan. Admittedly, the original Xbox has passed the apex of its popularity even in the US, but you know things are bad when only 10 Xboxes were sold in Japan last week. No, that’s not 10 in one particular store or city. Not 10 in one particular prefecture or region. 10 Xboxes for the entire country. By comparison, the Gamecube sold 120 times as many consoles, the the PS2 sold 2,500 times as many consoles, and the (admittedly still brand new) DS Lite sold more than 15,000 times as many consoles as the original Xbox.

I also know from personal experience how unpopular the Xbox was, because I’ve never translated a Japanese Xbox game — there just aren’t that many domestically made games for the system in Japan. I’ve translated lots of games for the PS2, a few for the DS, PSP and Gamecube, but none for the Xbox. It’s bit of a viscious circle, because without games made in Japan that appeal to Japanese tastes, people aren’t going to buy the system, and without a relatively large installed base, publishers aren’t going to make the games.

But Microsoft isn’t giving up. They’ve released the Xbox 360 in a relatively competitive way in Japan. Instead of releasing a BS “Core” system for slightly less money that lacks most of the things that make the system attractive (as well as any means of saving your games), they have only released the higher-end hard drive-equipped system in Japan. Plus, they have priced it about $50 less than what the same system would sell for in the US. It’s still up in the air whether they are going to be able to come up with games that more Japanese people want to play, but it is encouraging to see some Japanese-made games like Ninety-Nine Nights coming out. And I’ve recently been asked to translate an Xbox 360 game (no, I can’t tell you what it is), so maybe that’s a good sign, too.

I didn’t have an Xbox 360, but I’ve ordered one now that I’m going to be translating this game. I happen to be in Japan at the moment, so I was able to order it from Amazon Japan for about same price as the Core system in the US. Unfortunately, many Xbox 360 games are region-coded, so I won’t be able to play a lot of US games, but it will play “Asian” games (games intended for Chinese-speaking regions, but which usually have English as well). I’ll post a mini-review with my thoughts in a few days.

June 5, 2006

PSP vs. PSP

Filed under: Japan, Video Games — icruise @ 2:52 pm

I am a freelance Japanese translator specializing in video games. Unfortunately, I don’t always get to see the games I am translating before I do the translation. Sometimes the game isn’t finished yet and the developer can’t be bothered to give us in-progress builds, and sometimes (like with the portable systems) it isn’t really possible to play non-final versions without some kind of development hardware, and translators like me don’t usually have that. But when I am given the game to play, I have to have a system to play it on, so I have at least one of all of the current video game consoles.

Up until recently, my PSP had been used mostly for homebrew software such as emulators. I absolutely love being able to play all the old 8-bit and 16-bit games that I played years ago on a portable device (what I wouldn’t have given for something like that when I was a teenager!). And frankly, there weren’t all that many PSP games that appealed to me. Now, those of you familiar with the state of homebrew software on the PSP know that Sony has been doing everything it possibly can to prevent its users from running homebrew software. Each firmware update they put out adds some new features, but often the main reason is to close off a loophole that someone has found that lets them run homebrew software again. I think the main thing they are worried about is piracy of UMD games, and in fact some people have been successful at running copies of games from a memory stick. It’s unfortunate that in their crusade to kill off piracy that they’re also making it impossible to use a lot of cool software that users have made.

For this reason, my original PSP’s firmware is 1.5 and it’s going to stay there. While there has been some progress in getting homebrew software to run on later versions, it’s a never-ending struggle, with every firmware update from Sony disabling whatever hacks that people came up with. My PSP was able to stay at 1.5 for quite a while, but recently I started the translation of a new PSP game that forces you to upgrade to 2.6 or later in order to play. Although I hate Sony for making me buy two PSPs, I decided that being able to play my emulators was probably worth a couple of hundred bucks, so I plunked down the money for a second PSP.

Of course, as long as I had to buy a second PSP, I couldn’t just buy another black one. Not when there are Ceramic White models available in Japan. So I ordered one from Lik-Sang.com who got it to me very quickly. It’s quite nice looking, and certainly reminiscent of the iPod. I think I prefer the black model overall, but the white certainly has its appeal, and I think its screen is somewhat brighter as well. So now I have a “good” PSP (the angelic white one that will always been updated to the latest firmware version) and the “bad” PSP (the devilish black one that can run all of my emulators and other software). I suppose now I’ll have to look into getting a DS Lite…

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