Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Birthdays and Electronic Family Politics

In 2004 Nintendo released the DS hand-held game system in Japan. Anticipating a huge demand, they produced large numbers of them, but the results were disappointing. The DS didn't sell nearly as well as expected, apparently owing to its being larger and more cumbersome than the Sony PSP. Stores wound up with considerable surplus inventories even though they were virtually dumping them in the end. This led to the 2006 release of the smaller, lighter, and more streamlined DS Lite in 2006. Nintendo decided to play it safe anyway, and production was intentionally limited in favor of the Wii TV game system. Such thinking turned out to be prudent in the U.S., as sales of the DS Lite have apparently been reasonable but moderate there. In Japan, however, it has been a disaster, for the DS Lite turned out to be a smash hit here. Even now they are extremely difficult to find; stores receive shipments of them only irregularly, never with any prior announcement, and stocks are sold out within days. It is also not uncommon for unscrupulous individuals (read "mobsters") to scoop up entire stocks and then hawk them online at up to three times the list price. The only way to obtain one is either by sheer luck or by going to some pretty extreme measures.

One of my ex-pat friends here showed me his DS Lite (which he'd bought in America), and I immediately fell in love with it. I didn't care so much about playing games, as I haven't done much of that since the end of the 90s. However, I really liked the adult brain-training exercises. I also saw the machine's tremendous value as a tool for learning kanji. It didn't take long for me to make up my mind to buy one. The only problem, of course, was finding one in the first place. I searched for months and kept coming up empty.

Then I found out about one store in Kamisu that does something so ridiculously simple that I wonder why others don't do the same: they import DS Lites back from the U.S.. The American-made machines are exactly the same as the Japanese ones. The only difference is that they come in a box printed with the principal European languages, have instruction manuals printed in the same languages, and come preset in English. Even the AC recharge adapter is the same. Of course, shipping and import duties add a bit to the cost, but it's still a lot less than the outrageous markups one finds on the internet. I finally went to that store. They had a couple of American-made ones left, both black, so I snapped one up. I was VERY happy I did, too, for I put that machine to heavy use.

Of course, my kids were both VERY happy I got that DS Lite, too...till I told them they could only touch it when and if I gave them permission. I definitely did not want them to:

  • spend all their time playing with it instead of doing their homework
  • break it
  • get it all dirty
  • take it to school or lend it to friends and not get it back
  • run the battery down to zero before I even got to it.

No, I wasn't altogether nice about it. However, things weren't quite so simply. You see, all the kids' friends had DSs and/or DS Lites. (In fact, one reportedly has TEN of the things...which makes me wonder how many fingers his dad has how the hell his parents got them.) The fact that my kids were practically the only ones in the school with no portable game devices of their own really singled them out as square pegs. My getting a DS Lite but holding it just out of their reach made things even more frustrating for them.

That's why I decided to get one for my daughter for her birthday. Her birthday being in late April, not long after the start of the new fiscal year, I figured chances would be better than usual for finding a DS Lite. No such luck. In between work on the house and the start of the new school year, I combed the toy and electronics shops and came up short. Finally I gave up and went to that toy store in Kamisu again to get an American-made one. Lo and behold, they had one in stock that was pink, my daughter's favorite color, so I grabbed it, feeling very pleased with myself.

Four days later I went shopping at a department store in Narita, and...wouldn't you know it! Their toy store had Japanese-made DS Lites in stock...but only pink ones! If I had only waited I would have paid 25% less! Oh, well. My daughter didn't know the difference; she was just tickled when she opened the package.

Unfortunately, my son was not. He went totally ballistic. "Even though I got good scores on my tests...," he moaned before running into the other room and bawling his head off. (I'm not sure which is worse, his being so damned spoiled or the implied accusation of our being education parents...) Later I promised him that, if he got good results and good behavior reviews on his next report card, I'd get him a DS Lite, too. (I know, I sue me!) That cheered him up. Of course, there's the issue of finding one...preferably not pink or black...but that's another story. If worse comes to worse, I can always grit my teeth and get another American one.

Today was the day after my daughter's birthday, and she had a DS party here at her house. She proudly sported her new, pink DS Lite, and my son borrowed mine. One friend had a white DS Lite, and the other had a green DS (original model). They played games and chatted using the wireless interfaces. Nifty trick, that. It kept them all quiet and out of trouble for almost two full hours.

It also apparently caused our phone to conk out. It stayed dead from the time of the four-way wireless DS session until I reinitialized my ADSL modem. Weird. I guess the modem is sensitive to electromagnetic waves, and those DS things must pump out a lot of 'em. I can only wonder what that does to the kids brains...or their genes.

Oh, well. At least I get my brain-training!


  • Do you have cordless phones at home? Through some miracle of stupidity, one of the frequencies for cordless phones is the same as one of the frequencies for wireless internet (and probably DS wi-fi). Of course, I unknowingly bought the same freqs of phone and internet wireless and they like to occasionally blot out the signal on each other.

    Whoever thought of that idea should be keel-hauled. Maybe something similar happened to you.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 3:12 AM  

  • Um, not the keel hauling, the phone problem. Right. Off we go then.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 3:13 AM  

  • What happens to kids who are different from the others in a school - that is, their parents ban electronic games for them and they fly kites instead? Do kids have to have the same toys as their peers? Okay, okay, my grandkids are into things like this, but when our boys were little the best present they had was an old Volkswagon car (without engine).

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 8:20 AM  

  • Peer pressure -ouch

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 9:56 AM  

  • Donusnab
    Bingo! We do, in fact, have a cordless extension to our phone, and my daughter used it during the wireless session. Okay, now I have something for future reference.

    Keel-hauling's too good for 'em. That's just plain stupid.

    My wife and I wanted to delay getting any kind of video game as long as possible because we didn't want our kids to wind up more or less living in them instead of the real world, as is often the case. However, here in Japan being different from one's peers isn't tolerated. It's bad enough that my kids are obviously not 100% Japanese (particularly my son, who definitely looks Caucasian and is always getting reminded of that fact). If they are too dasai ("unhip") they may find themselves without any friends at all. That means being ostracized at best and cruelly humiliated at worst. Considering the neighborhood we live in is anything but rich, it amazes me how pretty much every kid has to have his or her DS and/or PSP and/or PS3 and/or Wii and/or Xbox and/or personal computer or s/he is considered a second-class citizen. My kids griped about it constantly till I finally gave my daughter her own DS (and I have a feeling they were occasionally borrowing mine while I was out). The fact that they invited friends (who had never visited before) over for a four-way DS party the next day pretty much underscored that bit.

    When I was in the fifth grade my best present was a huge collection of colored art markers and a drawing tablet. :-)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:07 AM  

  • Swinebread
    In a word, yes.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:07 AM  

  • Our cordless phone wipes out the router signal too. Also, when I have the computer in the kitchen the microwave oven disrupts the signal at anything above a 600 watt setting.

    I'm not sure I like being bathed in RF signals.

    And now we have one of those ugly mobile communications towers about 50 meters behind the house.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:33 AM  

  • I've never seen anything wipe the signal out while it was in use. This was a case of the phone just simply not working long after the DS party was done. It was fine when I bypassed the modem, but when I reactivated Yahoo "BB phone" I got a dead line...till I reinitialized the modem. The internet connection itself (i.e. from the computer) was never affected. The only other time something like that happened was after a thunderstorm. I figure the BB phone connection either had the signal cut off or it got overloaded by my phone picking up the wi-fi signals, and the provider shut me down.

    If it happens again, I'll know.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:08 PM  

  • Can i have one too ? how it is these days..I must say humans are very "computer" oriented..stay at home punching buttons and staring at screens instead of living a life..but hey its all good, u can interact with a wii :D yahoo!

    By Blogger memo, at 10:33 AM  

  • Everyone and their uncle has a DS Lite!

    Too bad about the brain drain waves...

    i'm off to bed now

    By Blogger Olivia, at 11:04 AM  

  • Memo
    Welcome back, wandering, winged philosopher!

    I know what you mean. That's one of the reasons why I was probably the last person in my circle of friends to get a computer. I was determined not to let these things rule my life. Guess what...

    but hey its all good, u can interact with a wii :D yahoo!

    And you can interact with Yahoo :D Weeee!

    Well, by some amazing stroke of luck, I unexpectedly found one for my son, so maybe you're right.

    I don't think my uncle-in-law has one, though.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:24 PM  

  • I took the brain training test (by Dr Whatsisname) once when the DS Lite first came out and it said I had the brain of 75 yr old. Golly.

    My security code tonight is dqwgabw. I dare you...

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:46 AM  

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