Teaching In Socks

Shows where they don’t cut off your finger
November 9, 2009, 4:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

This Chris Farely skit presents one of the many global stereotypes of Japanese television. If one were to put them all together the caricature created would be twenty-four hours of anime and shock and awe game shows. With any stereotype, there is some truth to it.  Yes, there is anime, and yes there are shows where comedians get dunked into a tank of eels  or have wasabi shot directly up their nose for reasons I still don’t understand (actually, the reason is pain is funny). However, in between, Japanese airwaves are filled with a mixture of programming that not much different from any other Western Country’s.

There are still many cultural  nuances to Japanese television that remain a mystery to me. One thing I have come to understand is that there is a larger percentage of shows in Japan on mainstream channels that are devoted to being informative as well as entertaining. Celebrities often appear on roundtable type shows where they present documentaries or examine surprising facts.  There is a real emphsis on the show being a learning experience. Of course, just as I typed that a program showed video of a cat that says “arigato” when it eats.

Within the last fews years (according to my Japanese Teacher) Kanji quiz shows have become quite popular. Kanji, which  are the adopted Chinese characters, are one of the three systems of writing in Japanese. There are about 2,000 “daily use” Kanji that every Japanese person is expected to know upon graduating High School, but there are many more beyond that Kanji can be very difficult to learn because most characters have multiple pronunciations that are used depending on the context. Also many Kanji can share the same sound, yet have a different meaning.

In these game shows often the objective of is simply to spell the Kanji correctly using Hiragana–a phonetic alphabet. In most cases, the contestants on then show are famous comedians, actors of athletes.  They are not scholars by any means and the mixture of questions ranges from simple immensely difficult. Many comedians have made a name for themselves by simply displaying a good sense of humor about being dumb. While there is a clear objective to the game there are often no prizes for winning. Rather the prize is simply the television exposure provided by being on the show.

As you can see from this clip, while it’s a stylized competition the production value is not exactly extravagant. In this clip the members of a team are trying to spell certain Kanji in Hiragana and get farther into the game than the two competing teams (seen mocking them on a separate stage).

From a cultural standpoint, I find it fascinating that a show like this popular. I can’t imagine what is essentially a prizeless celebrity spelling contest being a ratings draw in America.  Recent trends suggest Americans would rather watch an average-joe partake in a high-stakes match of wits that requires the contestant to only have a rudimentary grasp of some basic math to succeed… and yes, I I’ll admit I was a sucker for it too, I blame Howie Mandel.


1 Comment so far
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I can’t believe someone requested you disable this embedded video. Pretty lame… but nice post.

Comment by thegreengorilla

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