Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What we learnt from TV this week

This week I have watched a little bit of TV, mostly in the doctor's surgery but also tonight while eating dinner. Television in Japan is a strange affair, being composed mostly of game shows, "variety" shows (i.e. various japanese tv stars talking to each other in a studio), badly acted soap operas, and various news shows. Mostly Japanese television seems to involve anything which involves a lot of talking. For people who are comfortable with their own silence, Japanese people love to talk.

So the three main shows I have watched this week are:

The graduation news, an hour long news show describing the fashions, songs, and activities at this year's graduation festivals. The graduations (sotsugyo) are from university, high school and primary school (that's right, primary school) and appear to be a very important part of Japanese life. Otherwise why would one have a news show (on cable TV no less - I watched this at the doctor's surgery) devoted entirely to the topic. The news show had three main sections, which were: footage of various high school graduations around the country, with particular emphasis on the pop stars who sang the graduation song at the end (for example, Angela Aki played at a graduation) and the screaming girls who mobbed them; a top 5 of the favourite graduation songs this year (Angela Aki was number 3); and footage of children crying with happiness at the primary school graduations ceremonies. These primary school graduations involve some very serious bowing and thanking the principal, and some crying. Also there was a cherry blossom motif through all the music videos, in the graduation ceremonies, and in the special newsflash halfway through the show, when two reporters live in Tokyo showed footage of the first solitary cherry blossom of spring, with breathless commentary. The cherry blossom is supposed to represent the ephemeral nature of things, so is perfect for a graduation ceremony.

The foreign housewives show: also at the doctors, this show gives profiles of foreign housewives of Japanese men in Japan. The first section had a Croatian woman visiting a Croatian restaurant in Tokyo (with a Japanese chef) to sample their cabbage rolls. Evidently they were very good, because she was reduced to tears and begged the chef to marry her. I think this sort of thing isn't quite the done thing hereabouts, because the chef was rather taken aback, though he didn't object to the breathless hug he got. Then there was a profile of an American woman who moved into her Japanese boyfriend's house, only to discover his mother hated her. Fortunately his Dad loved her and showed her around to all his friends; until he had a heart attack that is, and then from his hospital bed demanded to know why mum and girlfriend couldn't get along. At this point the girlfriend asked her boyfriend to marry her, and everything was okay. These shows were presented with an air of simple factuality, and no tone of either 'those stupid foreigners coming here and pissing off our mothers' or 'those stupid mothers who can't accept foreigners for daughters-in-law.' It was a mere presentation of facts, with a light-hearted tone and as far as I could tell no attempt at deeper insights into Japanese life (not that I could tell - I don't even know the Japanese word for racism).

Sasuke: a crazy game show in which 100 people attempt to complete a stupidly dangerous obstacle course in four stages. Whoever falls off the obstacle course at any point is excluded, and usually only 5-10 people make it through the first stage. You can see why here, where the entire series of obstacle courses is completed by one of the only two men in history to have done so. The successful contestant, Nagano Makoto, is a 34 year old fisherman from Miyazaki prefecture. I watched his younger brother fail a similar course tonight, along with all the other contestants. I think this show is every week, or at least every month. There are no prizes for failure; if no-one completes it, no-one wins. The last stage finishes with a mini fifth stage, which consists of a 25 metre vertical climb - half in a type of chimney, half up a rope - which must be completed within 25 seconds. An interesting side point of this sasuke show is the importance of talking in Japanese TV, and the humility with which Japanese people conduct themselves while being stupidly cool. Watch the clip, and you will see what I mean.

So what did I learn from the TV I watched this week? Allow me to share the profound insights one can gain from quality Japanese TV:
  • It's cool to have a foreign wife, even if she pisses off your mother
  • Graduations are really important
  • Forklift adverts are best shown during game shows
  • The best advertising method is to cut to the advert in the middle of a scene without warning (as in, for example, when Mr. Nagano's younger brother is about to make his final leap for glory in the cliffhanger)
  • Japanese game show contestants are crazy (watch the video - there is a crazy rolling log!)
  • Japanese women like watching hard men do crazy things - half the adverts in Sasuke were for perfume, women's drinks, or makeup, as are half the adverts during the K1
  • Advance hair, yeah yeah (actually the slogan is different, but I think the company is the same)
Plus of course, talking is a crucial part of television life. But we knew that already. Soon I hope to obtain satellite tv for the house, so that we can watch the rugby world cup and K1 in comfort; at this point I also hope to be able to learn more profound lessons about life from music Television shows, more gameshows, and even higher quality badly acted dramas. Enlightenment will surely soon be mine!!!


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