November 29th, 2009

When I first came to live in Japan, going back to the U.S. meant two things: visiting with family, and shopping. Shopping meant getting all the neat stuff that I couldn’t get in Japan–often including several pounds of See’s Candy (arguably the best chocolates to be found). Mostly, though, it involved a few trips to Costco, getting new shoes (shoe sizes in Japan traditionally have stopped at size 10 or so), English-language books, candy & other food goods, and so forth.

However, over the years, most of these goods have found their way to Japan, especially books, but also lots of food items. What isn’t sold in local stores is now available at Costco Japan, or via mail order from the Foreign Buyer’s Club. Amazon.co.jp handles a lot of the rest, and prices on many goods that used to be a lot more expensive are now a lot more cheap.

Nevertheless, there remains a lot which is still worth buying in the U.S., and in order to make things run more smoothly, I now make an online order from Amazon a week or two before traveling, so everything is there–allowing for return or exchanges should something be damaged or not work. I thought that the list of stuff I found best to buy in the U.S. included interesting perspective on what international buying is still like.


Blu-Rays. Now that Sachi and I have a Blu-Ray player, it’s about time we got some Blu-Ray movies. Unfortunately, the local rental shop, typical of Japan, has a depressingly paltry selection of Blu-Ray titles, and most new DVD releases don’t even have Blu-Ray versions. What’s up with that? Blu-Ray is a Japanese standard, made by Sony. I have a student who loves “Fast and the Furious,” and insists that the Blu-Ray is not available in Japan–but it is in the U.S.

Add to this the fact that Blu-Ray regions conveniently put America and Japan in the same region, and you got good reason to buy–especially from the U.S., where again, things are much cheaper.

The Ultimate Matrix ($52 U.S., $171 in Japan). This one makes extra sense, given that if put in a Japanese player, Japanese language options appear. And it just seems like a natural Blu-Ray movie, being primarily visual in its appeal.

Kung-Fu Panda ($24 U.S., $44 in Japan). The movie is good, but that’s not the reason I’m getting it. In 1080p Blu-Ray, it’s stunning. When Sachi and I rented it–the first Blu-Ray movie we saw–our jaws (well, my jaw) dropped to the floor. Subtle textures in fabrics, for example, stood out in a way which I am certain are invisible in lower resolutions. The detail is simply fantastic. And it’s a funny movie.

Contact ($17 U.S., $27 in Japan). This is one of my favorite movies–a great story, well-made. Despite having one of the lowest price differences between the U.S. and Japan, this one comes with Japanese subtitles in the U.S. version.

Wall•E ($18 U.S., $42 in Japan). A good movie, one that should be great in Blu-Ray, and doesn’t need subtitles nearly as much as almost any other mainstream contemporary movie out there.

I, Robot ($13 U.S., $34 in Japan). I like it, it’s cheap, and reports say that it’s another stunner in Blu-Ray. It’s also one of those movies that depends a lot on visuals.

Star Trek ($20 U.S. [3-disc w/ digital copy], $42 in Japan [2-disc]). This is one which probably won’t have Japanese subtitles, but it matters less–the technobabble is babble anyway. This is just a film I like–ironically, it probably won’t shine as much in Blu-Ray, as the film was shot in a less-than-sharp manner, with even the effects shots having fake dirt and dust on the lens.

And that brings me to an observation about Blu-Rays: you can’t count on the extra resolution making a difference sometimes. With some films, the extra definition simply isn’t there, and with others, the transfer to Blu-Ray was made with a lower-resolution copy. Sometimes I’ve watched a Blu-Ray and wondered if the DVD would really be any worse. But sometimes, the quality of the movie is pretty incredible.

Mdp-HdmiMini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter Cable ($8).

Macs have always been less than universal about video ports. For a while some models had S-video and/or DVI, but for a while now they have more custom ports for which you have to buy adapters. The latest is a non-Apple standard, the DisplayPort cable. While Apple does have a hand in its development, it’s not a proprietary Apple technology. Alas, it is also not used by anyone else at present, at least not that I can see, and so cables are not in abundance.

In particular, I have wanted a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter so I can hook up to my HDTV more easily–but I cannot find any such cables in Japan, period. So I’m getting one when I go back home.

Motos305Motorola S305 Stereo Bluetooth Headphones ($40).

This comes under the category of “too expensive in Japan.” Amazon Japan sells these puppies for $76. And outside of places like Amazon, finding anything Bluetooth is hard to do. Bluetooth mice are rare here, much less stereo headphones like these.

A friend bought a pair of S9’s, which are essentially the same but have ear buds instead of the muff-style pads. I really prefer the pads. And the S305 reportedly works quite well with iPhone OS 3. I only hope that they don’t break too easily–but at $40, I don’t feel it’s so great a risk.

OnthegoKool-Aid Sugar Free On the Go, Tropical Punch ($20, 6-pack).

I got hooked on these when I stumbled across them a few years ago. Pour one into a bottled water, and you got instant no-calorie juice. Japanese people seem to be averse to powdered drinks, the exception being sports drinks. But something like “Kool-Aid” is unknown here. When I use one of these in class, my students frown and act like I’m making haggis or something.

So far, no one offers this in Japan–not Costco, not FBC, no local stores, no import shops. I guess it’s one of those things that Japanese people won’t go for. (Same goes for the flavor–you just don’t see Tropical Punch here.) If so, it’s probably just because they don’t know what it is. Like Pimenton, it’s a great product that’s just unknown. For me, these help as I am trying to avoid sugar drinks.

That’s all for today–more soon. (I ordered a lot of stuff!)

Categories: Computers and the Internet, Movies, Travel Tags: by
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