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Best of Japan On the Web 2009

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the annual Best of Japan On the Web Awards ceremony, brought to you – as ever – by the kindly folks at Japanzine. If you’re arriving a little late, you’ll be disappointed to learn that Billy Crystal, your scheduled host, has declined to make an appearance. He pulled out at the last moment, saying he’s too busy twiddling his thumbs and wondering why all the real award show offers have dried up. So I’m here in his place. And if you think I’m a poor and underwhelming replacement, may I remind you that Bill was responsible for City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold. Nobody’s perfect.

Japanzine (which, of course, has a web presence at www.seekjapan.jp) is now into its 12th year celebrating The Best of Japan On the Web, so I expect most of you know what we’re here to do this evening. However, for the brain-dead amongst you (i.e., the NOVA teachers who never made it home), allow me to explain. This popular annual event aims to honor the various net portals that peer in on the country we’ve chosen to call home. Since our inaugural ceremony, this has become an almost impossible feat; the advent of blogging alone makes it extremely difficult to keep track of what’s happening. Sites come, sites go, sites get reborn under different names. Meanwhile, the stalwarts go from strength to strength, so don’t be surprised if you see familiar faces this evening, along with the punky young newcomers. As always, our only rules are that the sites are in English and that they relate to Japan.

And so, without further ado, let’s move on to the first award this evening…

 

Nippon News

CSS sites devoted to Nippon news, by which I don’t necessarily mean the kind of breaking stories that interest NHK, are all the rage this year. This award doffs its cap to the many sites that give themselves over to reporting on Japanese stories that don’t usually make it on the international wires.

The Black Ship (www.theblackship.com)
A relatively new site that deals in unusual news as well as the headlines. It’s very well informed and regularly maintained, which is all you really want from a news site. Nice newspapery design, too. Subscribe me up!

Néojaponisme (www.neojaponisme.com)
Possibly the hippest cat on the block, this site is run by a group of cooler-than-thou arty types, mainly based in Tokyo. They certainly know their stuff, and hitting the site regularly enough leaves you with the satisfying feeling that you’re kinda hangin’ wid da in-crowd. Don’t get any big ideas, though. You’re still too dassai to approach them in reality.

Fucked Gaijin (www.fuckedgaijin.com)
The site for the incurably culture-shocked. Ever had an urge to curl one off on the vacant seat next to you, just so your fellow-passengers have a real reason not to sit down? Then this is what you’ve been looking for. Reporting on all things ‘wrong’ with Japan, Fucked Gaijin provides a portal for your anti-Japan angst. Spending too much time on it, though, can leave you feeling depressed and irritable.

Japan Probe (www.japanprobe.com)
More irreverent than many of the others in this category, Japan Probe provides J-news for net-addicts everywhere. All the entertainment you could possibly want, without having to take your lazy wrist off the mouse.

This year’s award goes to Japan Probe, for doing much of the work of the others in its category, in an entertaining way. And because we can approach it at parties without feeling like a doofus.


Otaku Mura

The world of the otaku often overlaps with that of the hentai. However, there are enough non-titilating, Sailor Moon-loving websites out there to merit an award of their own. Back in the day, when I was attempting a career with the now-defunct gaijin band Cut Flowers, I performed a gig at an otaku convention, and I can honestly say I’ve never felt more at risk. We followed a Morning Musume-esque cabaret, and the busloads of 40-something men in the audience were disgusted to find their teenie idols replaced by a 4-strong gang of unshaven foreigners. Looks would have killed, if it weren’t for the glare of the stage lights reflecting off their spectacles and dental braces.

Anime News Network (www.animenewsnetwork.com)
This site is one of the most up-to-date Japan-related sites out there, and takes its otaku-ness to geek-pleasing highs. Always wanted to know about Sakai City Library’s policies on gay manga? Need to know which cosplay chracter Bob Sapp will fight next? Then this is the place for you.

Danny Choo (www.dannychoo.com)
Meanwhile, Danny Choo promises news on life in Japan, as well as "figurine news". Happily, it’s the latter that takes up most of the column inches. I doubt there’s anyone else specializing in figurine gossip, so that places Danny a little higher on the geek scale. No, no! That’s a good thing!

Cosplay (www.cosplay.com)
No self-respecting otaku ceremony would be complete without a nod to the cosplay geeks, and this website does exactly what it says on the tin. Unfortunately, the web design is a little dated. They ought to spend more time on web design ideas, and less time in the dressing-up box.

My Anime List (www.myanimelist.net)
This site is fairly exhaustive, and seems reasonably popular, but we’re not too keen on the way everything is categorized. First impressions mean a lot, and the first impression you get from this site is that it’s a bit deserted. More activity on the frontpage would be welcome.

Both Anime News Network and Cosplay are very good at what they do, but the award has to go to Danny Choo, for being a true geek icon. Anyone who specializes in anime figurine news deserves to call himself an otaku, and be proud of it!

 

Poser’s Corner

 

This category is constantly overwhelmed by the sheer number of entries. Japan being the number 1 destination for fashionistas and egotists the world over, the net is overrun with sites purporting to have the latest up-to-the-minute news on anything remotely fly. The truth is that many fail, either because they don’t have the energy to keep up, or because publications are often at the hub of the scene in the first place. For that reason, the nominations this year are scene veterans. They’ve seen it all before, so they know when something’s worth writing up.

Keikaku (www.keikaku.net)
Keikaku has been around for some time, dealing with J-music that isn’t contracted to wear its hair in a mullet. It’s slap-bang up-to-date on the live front, with the latest review published only yesterday (at the time of writing, obviously). Given its large staff, it could do with a well-maintained guide to up-and-coming gigs, but you can’t have everything.

Mekas (mekas.jp/en)
Mekas is run by the editor of Néojaponisme, which means that it’s almost impossibly darling. Easily the best English-language site devoted to fashion on the streets of Japan. Great interviews, extremely knowledgeable. Bruno would love it.

Jean Snow (www.jeansnow.net)
Oh, to be as cool as Snow
Is there nowt he doesn’t know?
As the boss of Cafe Pause
He’s used to loud and long applause
(It’s open now – so why not go?
It’s down in Ikebukuro)
As the owner of this site
Where we frequently alight
He keeps us in the frying pan
With all that’s hot in hip Japan

Despite the poetry Jean Snow inspired, this year’s award goes to Mekas, for being so far ahead of the curve. Excellent work, and we need never be caught out of fashion again!

 

Photo Gallery

 

 

With digital cameras and editing software now so cheap, it’s hard to imagine how a young David Bailey would survive in this modern world. With all its exotic and striking charm, its innovative architecture, and its transient youth culture, Japan is a would-be Bailey’s playground. Here are 4 sites devoted to photography in J-Land.

Tokyo Beats (www.tokyobeats.com)
The name may be a tad pretentious, but there’s no doubting that this little collective are a talented bunch. There isn’t much on the site at present, but the slide show is worth a visit alone. Anyway, what more do you want from a photo site? A picture says a thousand words, and all that…

Gaijin Eye (www.seekjapan.jp/article/jz/1920/Gaijin+Eye,+2009)
Where would you be without Japanzine, eh? (In another country, probably.) The yearly Gaijin Eye competition attracts hundreds of submissions, and presents an aspect of Japanese life that usually goes unnoticed by foreigners and Japanese alike. Produced by you, for you.

Abacom Magazine (www.abacomagazine.com)
Created by 2 Tokyo-based Italians, this multilingual site provides a free PDF photo mag – a fine idea that makes good use of this modern internet thingy I’ve been hearing about. The magazine is very obviously going through the teething stages, but with a little more support it has the potential to become something decent.

PhotoGuide Japan (www.photojpn.org)
A site that claims to be the final destination for all things J-piccy. It certainly is authoritative, and it seems to have been around for yonks (this award category is new this year, folks). If there’s anything you think it doesn’t have, there’s bound to be a link on it that leads you down the right path.

And the winner of the inaugural Photo Gallery award goes to The Gaijin Eye, for being the people’s site, and because we made it for you for free. Well, we deserve something!


Tourist Trap

 

This year we’re only looking at websites that are of genuine use to the lost gaijin of Japan. No, we don’t care if it looks like blatant back-patting for our sponsors; these sites are guaranteed to get you out of a hole (if you’ve ever lived in Omura City, Nagasaki Prefecture, you’ll know what I mean by hole).

123 Bus (www.123bus.net)
Alright, I’ll come clean. We only included this site last year because they paid us to. However, I’ve since used their service, and it’s remarkably good – especially if you’re humbled by your kanji inabilities. The routes they offer take you pretty much anywhere you need to go in Japan, and it’s all done in the Queen’s English. Booking couldn’t be simpler. Learning how to sleep on a Japanese bus, however, is all down to you…

Couch Surfer (www.couchsurfing.com)
The latest interactive web explosion involves linking up with people all over the world who have sofas available for you to crash on. Although it sounds like a murder scenario waiting to happen, it’s already hugely successful, and the Japan link has close to 3,000 willing hosts for you to take advantage of.

Jorudan (www.jorudan.co.jp/english)
In all my 10 years in Japan, I’ve yet to come across a travel website as simple and efficient as this. It doesn’t matter which part of the country you are in, it creates a travel itinerary in seconds, based on you traveling from the vicinity of one station to another (all rail companies inclusive). Now that’s what I call service!

Flight Finder (www.flightfinderjapan.com)
Flights in Japan have always been expensive. Even the discount flyers (Skymark et al) demand prices that JAL can compete with. Either way, if your Japanese literacy levels aren’t up to scratch, you’ll find many of the reservation sites difficult to operate. That’s where Flight Finder comes in useful. Just think 123 Bus, but for the skies!

The winner this year, and every year, goes to Jorudan. Until this gem of a site arrived, we were at the mercy of JR’s website, and even the most net-savvy locals have trouble with that. Think travel, think Jorudan (and, no, money was not involved in the judging of this category).


Study Monkey

 

God rest ye merry gentlemen who arrive in Japan determined to study the lingo until you can beat the emperor in a kanji-off. I tried, and totally failed somewhere around 3-kyu (no, I’m neither big nor clever). But for those of you who think you might want to have a bash at Basho, the nominations this year are…

Rikaichan (www.polarcloud.com/rikaichan)
Last year’s winner is still worth the trouble, though whether it promotes genuine study or terrible laziness is still open for debate. Download the free files, allow them to go to work on your web browser, then click any unreadable kanji to find out the ins and outs of how to put it to good use. Essentially the most up-to-date translation software out there. Trouble is, you no longer need your brain. But maybe that’s a good thing…

Speedanki (www.speedanki.com)
An excellent online flashcard program that allows you to review your reading abilities, taking note of where you need more work. The best site for revision before the annual exams – and it’s free, too!

J-Gram (www.jgram.org)
Though the design is starting to look a little dated, J-Gram is still one of the best portals for swatting up on your Japanese grammar. Their "Grammar-a-Day" mailing list has been a big success, though it’d be interesting to see just how long most people take to divert the missives to their spam box (in my case, about 6 days).

No Sword (www.no-sword.jp)
The irrepressible Matt Treyvaud’s personal blog, No Sword, can be seen as the very public research of a brilliant scholar, or the ramblings of a kanji freak beyond help (in which case, it ought to come with a warning sign). Matt is to Japanese language study what John Peel was to little-known Krautrock artists. I.e., if there’s an archaic phrase unused since the late Edo era, he’s probably got it on 7-inch colored vinyl.

The winner this year is, without a doubt, No Sword. This is a special award, as the website is not strictly for Japanese study, but shines as a beacon for what could be. Whether that’s an inspirational beacon, or the kind you find in a lighthouse, is entirely up to you.


The Outdoor Type

 

Each of us, at some point in our gaijin lives, flirt with the idea of being "the outdoor type". Even the flabbiest couch potatoes make worthy sounds when the notion of scaling Fuji is put forward. Few of us make it up there. However, this country is chockablock with less strenuous possibilities, and there are a number of great websites that specialize in the great outdoors.

Outdoor Japan (www.outdoorjapan.com)
Probably the best known site out there, not to mention the most obviously titled. It’s a fair bet that if OJ doesn’t have it, then English-language information will be hard to come by elsewhere. That said, they’re surprisingly low on quality Kyushu information – and since Kyushu is considered to have more ‘nature’ than any other part of Japan, that could do with correcting.

Snow Japan (www.snowjapan.com)
Snow Japan is unquestionably the cat’s gonads when it comes to information on snow-sports. Every patch of ski-able Japan is covered in minute statistical detail – essential to anyone planning a snowy holiday – and it’s written in a friendly, down-to-earth style, too. Really, the kind of website other websites ought to look up to.

Japan Surf (www.japansurf.com)
A reasonably good site for surf-bums, though not nearly as detailed as it could be. A site like this could do with taking a leaf out of Snow Japan’s book. Surfers, like skiers, rely on up-to-the-minute information and reviews for a good day out. If it’s worth doing, people, it’s worth doing properly…

The winner this year? Need you ask? Snow Japan, come on down!

 

Online Buying Frenzy

 

In this troubling economic climate, web shops are as likely to go out of business as they are to get your order to your door. What you need, then, are a sturdy set of players, ready to go the distance and supply you with all the otaku goodness a gaijin in Japan should require. After all, what else do you shop for online other than used schoolgirl underwear?

Foreign Buyers’ Club (www.fbcusa.com)
It’s mid-December, you’re stuck in the middle of icy Hokkaido, and there’s not a jar of mincemeat for your mince pies within 500 kilometers. Or so you thought. Anything the lonely gaikokujin could pine for is available online at the Foreign Buyers’ Club – not just mincemeat, but magazines, books, breakfast cereals… everything! If the delivery costs look a little steep, why not club together with your eikaiwa buddies and get it all delivered in the same box?

The Meat Guy (www.themeatguy.jp)
It’s mid-December, you’re stuck in the middle of icy Hokkaido, but this time you’re short of Xmas turkey. Never fear, The Meat Guy is here! Delivering meat for all occasions to anywhere in Japan, our meaty friend has been successfully serving the gaijin community for as long as we can remember. And now in Tagalog, too! Japan’s Philippine community need never suffer a dead flesh shortage again.

Web Lens (www.web-lens.biz)
This is the site you should head for once you’ve checked out all of our award winners. Your eyes will be tired, your lenses dry. Which is where this handy all-English online store comes to the rescue. If you’ve been having trouble buying or finding brand-name contact lenses in Japan, your troubles will be over after a virtual trip to Web Lens. This company delivers brand-name contact lenses straight to your door, anywhere in Japan. Oh, and here’s a bit of insider info: If you use the promotional code 2702069137, you’ll get an additional 10% off any order. And then you’ll be able to start your web browsing session all over again!

The award this year goes to the Foreign Buyers Club, without whom Taini Timu would have gone hungry this Christmas.

 

Pervert’s Paradise

 

And finally, to present the most eagerly anticipated award of the evening, may I introduce you to 2 very special guests. Legends in their own lunchtimes – yes, it’s Japanzine’s very own Doug Breath and Dr. Crotch!

Breath: My lords, ladies, and gaijin, it’s a pleasure to be with you this evening. My good man Crotch and I are delighted to be presenting the award for Most Titillating Website of the Year. And what a pert little selection of contenders we have for you. Certainly not for the easily offended!

Crotch: Yes, indeed! This award is given for services rendered… and that’s about all the explanation you’ll need. Japan is well known for its ability to put the perv in perverse, and these sites celebrate that ability better than any site out there (apart from maybe www.tokyo-hornies.com, but I’m not really allowed to say that).

Breath: Control yourself, man! The nominations this year are:

Rik Sanchez (www.riksanchez.net)
Rik is a veteran photographer of numerous S&M scenes, and his knowledge of Japan’s filthy underbelly is second to none. His recently developed website showcases his fishnet photography, and keeps a finger on the throbbing pulse of local depravity.

Fleshbot (fleshbot.com/tag/japan)
Ostensibly a site dealing with hentai-related news, but actually becoming more and more a portal for Japan-related porn. Don’t hit it up if you’re frightened of breasts.

Kari-Ssu-Mummy (kari-ssu-mummy.sub.jp)
Featuring for the 3rd straight year, Mummy continues his mission to subvert, pervert and generally disturb, all via the medium of photography. We likey! So should you!

Hikan Ninja (www.hikanninja.com)
A difficult site to place, given that it deals in all kinds of things – largely Nagoya-based. However, most of it involves a nod to upskirt shots, or similar, so it fits in this category nicely (if nice is the right word). Kudos for the video blogs, guys! Best thing about the site.

Breath: And this year’s winner is…
Crotch: Rik Sanchez!
Breath: Why?
Crotch: Because a website in fishnet stockings is not to be sniffed at (drum roll, cymbal splash, I thank you!)

 

 

Honorable Mentions

 

While you’re quaffing the champers and exchanging questionable vol-au-vent anecdotes with one another, permit me to redirect your attention to some of my favorite favorites which, like foreign birds in kimono, just don’t quite fit in. Still well worth checking these out, though.

STATIK GRAPHICS (www.statik-g.com)
A Japanese graphic designer, Machiko Yamashita, and an English street artist called David Bateman (aka BLOUSA) have formed this funky new graphics company called STATIK GRAPHICS. This is an insanely fresh collaboration of western and eastern design – so insane, in fact, that only ALL CAPS will do to convey how street these cats are. Machiko and BLOUSA offer to design T-shirts, logos, CD covers, retail murals, websites, and all sorts of other stuff. Check out the freshness.

Shalestone Music
(www.shalestonemusic.jp/eng.htm)
Shalestone Music is a website/company run by an American gentleman who is based in Osaka. Shalestone help foreign musicians of all genres living overseas (Japan included) to arrange tours, make key introductions to clubs across the nation, get media exposure, and so on. They’re experienced like Hendrix and are a great source of music knowledge in Japan. If you’re dreaming of becoming a star, Shalestone could help you on your journey.

Snowbeds Japan (www.snowbedsjapan.com)
This crisply designed site is the portal backpackers, snowboarders and ski resort property investors (yes, that crowd) have been waiting for. The Snowbeds Backpackers side of this operation is a great resource for finding cheap snowboarding/skiing holidays in Hakuba; Snowbeds Travel does a similar thing, but for the rich and privileged; and the Hakuba Realty corner of this show is a nifty tool for people who have visited and fallen in love with the Hakuba area, to the extent that they fancy buying property there. Hakuba must be really nice to get this much attention.

Play Asia (www.play-asia.com)
Like its UK sister site, Play Asia specializes in multimedia products, this time with an obvious regional slant. Shipping out of Hong Kong, the site offers delivery to your front door, specializing in software, manga, music and toys – Japanese goods are among the high-ranking favorites. A must for all the gamers out there who don’t live near a decent geisen.

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