A lot of people have a very mistaken idea of what Japanese TV is like, largely because of YouTube clips taken from bizarre Japanese gameshows and/or Takeshi Kitano’s 1980′s TV show Takeshi’s Castle. The basic format of these shows is that contestants vie with each other to complete humiliating and often impossible tasks for the amusement of the viewer. Takeshi’s Castle was very popular in Japan during it’s lifespan and the TV gameshows of popular Western imagination were briefly popular as well. However, the shows scandalised older viewers to such an extent that they demanded that the TV stations reign in their degenerate programming, with the result that, today, Japanese television is almost entirely beige vanilla nonsense.
Now ‘variety shows’ dominate TV schedules and, despite their name, they are all incredibly similar and predictable: they invariably involve some combination of a quiz, bad slapstick, loud comedians in ‘wacky’ outfits, near-silent beautiful women, ridiculous over-reactions and lots and lots of people saying “Eeehhh?!” in feigned disbelief at the drop of a hat. “The Czechs drink the most beer per capita” – “Eeehhh?!”, “Penguins don’t live in the Arctic” – “Eeehhh?!”, “Bears shit in the woods” – “Eeehhh?!”.
Sugi-chan, a typically “wacky” Japanese comedian who is not funny.
The other ubiquitous staple of Japanese television are cooking/restaurant shows in which some G-list celebrity samples a restaurant’s food and announces to the camera that it’s delicious. The format of this kind of show never changes, and everything is always deemed “delicious”. There are no exceptions, ever.
Finally, watching sports highlights on television here is quite perplexing because the TV stations usually only show the Japanese teams’ points/goals/passages of good play. This means that it can be surprising when the final score appears at the end of the highlights package and shows that, despite seemingly racking up a huge score against an apparently hapless opposition, the Japanese team has in fact, somehow, lost the match.
I’ve been living in Japan for the past few years and overall it’s been wonderful. Like living in an enchanted, high-tech lost country, apart from the outside world and time itself. However, nothing lasts forever and I’ll most likely be moving on within year, so what follows are some posts about life here and the general gaijin experience, starting with some belly-aching about Japanese television.