The Interview:
Peter Payne from J-List

By Tom Edwards,

    As I've gone into detail elsewhere on the site about my love of J-List and the things they sell, I decided that Peter Payne, founder of J-List, would be one of the first interviews we did.

    J-List is a website that specialises in selling products found only in Japan to consumers outside of Japan.  With a sister location in San Diego (Peter's original home), J-List provides its American customers with quicker service by sending popular products to San Diego so that a small inventory can be kept there.  Items which aren't in stock in San Diego are sent directly from Japan to the consumer's door.

    Peter is married, with two children, and has lived in Japan since October of 1991.  J-List can be found at, and Peter's homepage can be found at For those who don't know, how would you describe J-List?

    PP: Well, J-List is a company I started in 1996 that sort of grew out of everything I had been doing since I got to Japan. You've lived in Japan for over 11 years.  Before moving to Japan, you studied Japanese at San Diego State University.  How did your family react to your decision to move to Japan?  Did they think you would come back?  Did they think that this would be just something that "passed" and eventually you would settle down as an accountant or toll booth attendant?

    PP: I remember my grandmother being sure I would come back and go into broadcast journalism. Go figure. I've fallen in love with J-List because I have an obsession with Japanese culture.  It's not an issue of "foreign" culture, because other countries don't interest me like Japan does.  Obviously, your livelyhood on J-List depends on people like me.  What do you think it is that attracts people to Japanese culture so much?

    PP: It's hard to put your finger on it. I tend to think of it has a "strength of culture" that Japan has. Other countries have strong culture too, which influences the world over -- look at how many people speak English in the world as a result of England's strong culture. Japan is similar. No matter where you go, everyone know all these cool things that have come out of Japan in the past 25 years. We're glad to see so many people falling in love with Japan just like us. The Japanese obviously use the ocean to get a lot of their food. America still has issues with eating food like sushi, while sushi is actually quite mild in comparison to some of the other food that is eaten over in Japan.  What are some of the weirder foods that you've grown used to over in Japan, and are there still a few that you can't understand how people can eat, but are still very popular?

    PP: When you live in Japan, you realize how silly Americans are about eating their fish. It's good! Eat it! It's kind of a commentary on our society that so many unhealthy people can exist, and so many of those can claim an "allergy" to any kind of seafood.  Just eat it, guys. Personally, I didn't like seafood that much until I got into sushi, and the rest was easy. Remember, any guys reading this: you can impress pretty Japanese girls by your ability to eat fish. When you first went to Japan, you taught English to Japanese students for four years.  It seems that there is a demand for English teachers in Japan, and the companies that do the recruiting make it seem almost too good to be true.  Companies will supply living arrangements, offer "good" salaries, not ask for a long commitment, and state that you don't need any knowledge of the Japanese language to teach.  You've mentioned some of your experiences teaching in Japan on your personal page, but with unemployment the way it is in the United States currently, do you think more people fresh out of college are considering teaching in Japan?  Do you think that most who do come over really aren't prepared for life in Japan, and the job they took?

    PP: Remember that a "good" salary to someone just out of school is one thing, a good salary to someone with a career is another. You can make around 300,000 yen pretty easily in Japan, and get up to 500,000 or so if you work hard and pick up extra classes. It's hard work though, and anyone wanting to teach in Japan should research it a lot, of course going beyond reading what I have on my personal site. I will say that there aren't that many North Americans (Americans and Canadians), and there would be demand for qualified teachers from the U.S. and Canada, if you're interested in the idea of teaching here. (No offense to Australians, Brits or anyone else from a country outside of North America.)

    Imagine this. You decide you want to take up weight-training, and become a really muscular person, winning awards for your gorgeous bulk. Starting the process of being ready to go to Japan and teach is similar, without the beautiful girls hanging on you. It takes a long time to learn about it, then another long time to find a job worth having. You have to do many things, overcome many things like squid on pizza. And then you may be ready to start having it be worth it. On the other hand, as you can see from my site, I've met many great people in Japan and wouldn't do a thing differently. So make your own decision.. If you look through the "adult" section of J-List, you end up noting that the Japanese seem to have a different view on pornography than America does, or at least seems to.  Japanese pornography depicts senerios and fantasies that are quite "taboo" to say the least in America.  One might think that Japan is a little more "perverted" than America, but if you look at statistics, you find that violent crime is much lower in Japan than it is in the United States.  Do you think that this is related to the more "diverse" pornography available to the Japanese (allowing them to see their fantasies lived out on screen), or perhaps there is less reported crime because Japanese women are less likely to report violent crime?

    PP: All countries are just different. In Japan, they like certain themes that aren't expressed in Japan, including various costumes, theme-based fantasies, bukkake, some bondage or rape play. I don't think one is worse than the other. Pornography is about being a grown-up, and having tastes, and being able to express that, be it in your bedroom or internally.

    Definitely, Japan is more open about a great many things. Masturbation, for one. I was out drinking, and a guy next to me asked which I preferred, masturbation or sex. Not much of a contest, I answered, but we got into an interesting discussion on the subject. You wouldn't have that in America, where one of the great taboos is the subject of solo sex. I think the Japanese people are less repressed, and less uptight in general, and are less likely to explode in violence when things build up. That leads to much less violent crime.

    I feel I'm kind of a champion for the Japanese adult video industry, since J-List is one of the only, if not the only, place you can buy legitimate AV from Japan. (People ask why there are no video CDs on our site. These people are not using their heads.) I'm a big fan of "style" and one thing the Japanese studios get into, especially companies like Soft on Demand and Wanz and Moodyz, is building "style" into their erotic presentations. This is a really good thing, and so sorely lacking in much of American adult life.

    I'm also the champion for bishoujo games, i.e. hentai games, which I've been involved with since the beginning, or a bit before, actually. These interactive love-sim games are great, and since the games are done with these fictional characters instead of actresses, there are no limits to the stories that can be told. Just as they do in animation, we believe the Japanese will continue to lead in adult games. On to less serious topics now.  The Simpsons (one of my favorite alltime shows) did an episode several seasons back where the family took a trip to Japan.  Considering how "close to home" the Simpsons satire tends to be, I'd be interested to see what someone living in Japan thought of it.  Assuming you've seen the episode, what did you think of it?

    PP: Love it ^_^  It's pure gold. That and the Pokemon South Park episode. I mentioned before that you've lived in Japan for over 11 years. By now, one would assume you've done pretty much everything that the typical Japanese adult would have done.  Are there still any customs that you can't get used to?

    PP: I'm pretty Japan-ified, so much that I have to be careful not to embarrass myself when I go home. In general I get along okay, although you always strike a balance between how Japanese and how gaijin you want to me. I still wear San Diego clothing on San Diego time, wearing shorts from about April through November, even though in Japan, the "day" to change from winter clothes to summer is June 1st, and Nov. 1st to change back. I wasn't born into this, and I can't adhere to it. Obviously, you had a good amount of knowledge about Japan before you moved there.  However, you couldn't have been totally prepared. What was the biggest "mistake" that you made living in Japan during your first years?  What is the worst mistake you have seen other "gaijin" make?

    PP: I actually studied too much Japanese. I studied 4 years at SDSU before coming, so I was pretty well off when I got here -- not really, since I didn't know the vocabulary words, but better off than most. It was a bad thing though, since people said, oh, Peter is okay by himself, we don't need to help him. Just as the Chinese character for "person" contains two strokes, one holding the other up, people need people, and I wish I'd have come to Japan earlier,  when I didn't know as much Japanese. Culture, whether it be Japanese, American, or any other country, is always changing.  What do you think has been the biggest change in Japanese culture recently?  Is this a good turn or a bad one?

    The economy bottoming out has been the big one. Before, there was the opinion that Japan would be a superpower in the future, and now there's a lot of cynicism. Japan's also opened up, just like the U.S. had been pushing for throughout the 80's. Is there a connection? Having products come in from the outside caused Japan's inefficiencies to be laid bare, and that's where a lot of problems they're dealing with now came from. Another thing you really see is the aging of the population. Korea and Japan had similar economic problems around 1997, but Korea jumped on them and innovatated in many ways. Japan, where the average age of people is much higher, seems too "tired" to innovate as much as they need to be doing. What's the stupidest thing you've bought off of eBay?

    PP: Hmm, I got into buying classic Macs a while back. I have a really decked out SE-30 that can surf the web if you are in the market. The guy who runs has a college degree in business. He has job experience, no criminal record, doesn't do drugs, and gets along with others.  Wouldn't you hire him?

    Haha. We do get a lot of people asking about hiring. Since we're in Japan, except for our small San Diego office, we have to say no to a lot of people. Basically, to consider an applicant we'd need for them to already be in Japan, already speak Japanese at level 2 of the Japanese Ability Test, have done something in Japan already, and so on. There also aren't that many jobs an American would be able to do at J-List, since all our staff is Japanese, we deal with other companies in Japanese, order products in Japan, and so on. Which would you rather see: yourself in an animated cartoon, or in a feature film?

    PP: Oo, I'd like to become friends with the Gainax guys and have them immortalize me. I doubt it will happen though. I'm not in that side of the business. Hugh Jackman, Buck Naked, or Dick Pole: which is the best porn name?

    Ugh, I really have no opinion. It's funny, but since I'm so involved with Japanese AV, I really can't abide American porn, especially the "porny" stuff, with women grunting for no reason and that "wild animal" face actresses make, a saxaphone blowing in the background, the use of fowl language, and those silly inflated breasts. I'd much rather watch a really pretty AV starlet in an unpretentious studio showing her stuff, or some of the innovative AV that Soft on Demand has come up with. It's not that one is necessarily better than the other, I've just been over here so long that I can't understand what anyone sees in some of the American stuff that's made. Who would you like to see interview next (keeping it realistic, of course).  Pass the buck!

    PP: Freedom over at TokyoDV?