Date: 2005 July 01 19:51
Posted by Joe
At any anime convention apart from cosplayers, you'll notice another popular fashion with otaku, t-shirts. The most common seem to be standard series specific t-shirts with large prints of characters on them, over the last couple of years at anime conventions the more fashionable anime fans has been wearing t-shirts a bit different.
One had kanji and hiragana characters and took me a second to figure out what it said "Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend", I wondered if the guy wearing it actually knew what it meant, since I've seen many Japanese people wearing Engrish t-shirts, it makes sense that gaijin would also make similar mistakes! But apparently he did know what it said, and I've even heard cases were the t-shirts in question work. ^_^
I first noticed these t-shirts a few years ago, when I saw them at a UK anime convention, since them I've seen them at US and even Japanese anime conventions too. Where ever there is fandom, these t-shirts appear. We've been able to track down the makers of these t-shirts - Japan and US based J-List. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to get more information about this current trend the Otaku News Crew too the opportunity to interview J-List's founder Peter Payne to discover what other t-shirts they sold and why!
Interview as follows:
Where did you get the idea to print Japanese influenced t-shirts?
Well, Japan's love of using "creative" English is quite well known, but since had established ourselves by selling interesting things from Japan to gaijin outside of the country, we thought that there must be a way to go in the opposite direction. Our big break came when we realized that most otaku would secretly like to go out with a Japanese girl, so we got the idea for our "Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend" shirt. I remember showing the first design to a friend of mine, forgetting that his wife was Chinese. She made an exasperated face, but I didn't figure out why at the time.
When did you start printing t-shirts?
Oh, almost from the beginning for us. We started out in 1998, I believe. and grew slowly from there.
What is your most popular design?
Definitely the "girlfriend" shirt, which has spread out into several versions, including "Japanese boyfriend" versions for girls, and hoodies.
Have you been surprised by the popularity of a t-shirt?
In retrospect, not so much. I mean, what's the one thing that defines current generation of young people? From Star Wars to the rise of video game culture, one of the biggest threads through it all has been Japanese culture having an effect on the West.
Have you seen anyone famous wear or comment on your designs?
The staff of an indies film asked us to send them a Girlfriend hoodie to put in the film, but I'm not sure what the movie was. Also, Ami from Puffy came by our table at the San Diego Comicon two years ago, and we gave her a shirt.
What your favourite design?
We just posted a shirt that says "No foreigners allowed" in parody of the pubs in Roppingi that still forbid gaijin from entering (even bilingual gaijiin who've lived here for years). I like this shirt and wear it in Japan. It's one of the few shirts my wife will let me wear. Other shirts I like are "You must be 20 years old to buy tobacco and alcohol" (which you can really see in convenience stores here), and our design that says "Baka Gaijin" ("stupid foreigner").
Are there any designs you considered that couldn't be made for one reason or another?
Sometimes I'm overruled by my wife. Sometimes an idea sounds good to us, but really falls flat when Japanese see it. We don't want anyone to really be offended.
Have you had any strange feedback about your t-shirts?
Nothing negative, although I caught some Japanese bloggers talking about our "Dirty American Devil" (kichiku beihei, the derogatory word for foreigners used in Japan during World War II). They assumed the gaijin who was wearing it didn't know what it said, but of course he knew. They didn't get the joke.
Has anyone Japanese bought the Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend?
We've had a few customers send us pictures of their Japanese girlfriends that they found while wearing the shirt. It's a good conversation piece, depending on how you use it.
What designs will you be bringing out soon?
We just brought out a shirt that presents a bunch of Japanese words
-- cultural items like torii (a Japanese arch) and hashi (chopsticks) and so on. We'll be making a "bad words" version soon, which features every Japanese naughty word you ever wanted to know.