When I upgraded to iTunes 8.0 and turned on the new Genius feature, I discovered that the US iTunes Store has acquired a rather large catalog of J-Pop, including a significant subset of the various Hello!Project groups’ albums and singles. The iTunes Genius analyzed my collection and gleefully pointed out all of the songs that would be perfect for me.
All of which I already owned. In many cases, it was pointing to the exact same song, from the exact same album. Why? Because the purchased albums have metadata that’s written with kanji and kana, and the iTunes versions are all romanized. Er, mostly romanized. Okay, inconsistently romanized. Album and song titles are usually romanized, artist names are all over the map: kana-ized, Hepburn-romanized, Kunrei-romanized, last-name-first, first-name-first, capitalization and white-space optional; fortunately they seem to stick with the same version for multiple albums.
This makes searching entertaining, but this is a big deal, because all of this stuff is at standard iTunes pricing, which is a helluva lot cheaper than import CDs, and just over half the price of the same tracks in the Japanese iTunes Store.
The Japanese store is the source of the peculiar partial romanization, by the way, and in fact when you view it from the US, all of the navigation is translated as well. I remember that when the store first launched, everything was in Japanese, including song titles, so I’m wondering if they’re geographically localizing not just the menus, but also the song metadata. The search system seems to handle pretty much anything you throw at it, so I wonder if Apple was seeing so many American purchases from the Japanese store through gift cards that they went out of their way to accommodate them, first through romanizing the interface, then through importing popular content.
There are some indexing oddities. If you search for “nakazawa yuuko” in the US store, you’ll get her most recent EP and a stub link that should lead to her audiobooks, but that only works if you’re on the Japanese store. I’m guessing that the stores all talk to each other internally, sharing indexes and content, with flags to indicate what content is importable. Given the price difference, new releases are unlikely to show up for a while.