Teaching In Socks

Shows where they don’t cut off your finger
November 9, 2009, 4:17 pm
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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.

Candy and Calligraphy
October 8, 2008, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
One small fold for mankind

One small fold for mankind (via Pinktentacle)

First, I just want to say I think it’s cool that I live in a country that look up at the stars and wonders, how can we get origami up there. These ships are going to be thrown towards earth from the ISS.

Now to content:

My experience living in New York with a cleaner than usual roommate has left me damaged (read: civilized). Suddenly, it’s never clean enough any more. I even dusted the other day. In the near future, I promise to share the the details of my “apaato” with you, but in the meantime i haven’t been able to keep it up to Home & Garden photography standards (sorry, Grandma). Sadly, it constantly looks like someone lives here of something.

In the meantime, my mom went retro-summer camp style and sent me a packed stocked with Halloween candy. The amount of candy contained in this package was daunting and surpassed my best candy consuming abilities. Plus, I have a duty to instigate a little cultural exchange with my students from time to time. Apparently this is part of what they pay for.

Thus, I took potion of the stash  into school to share. Specifically, I took the jumbo bag of DOTS–sporting a ghost/”invisible mystery flavor” theme for the season. In retrospect, I see it was a bit cruel and perhaps and error of judgment on my part to try and pass along something with “mystery flavor” theme to my students. In my defense, certain items at the grocery store would convince one that nothing, let alone a :mystery theme” could inspire culinary shyness in a Japanese person.

However, this is exactly what happened. I admit was put off a bit when they approached it with the same reaction I approach Japanese candy. It was like watching Superman encounter Kryptonite for the first time.  They found the packaging a bit intimidating, and most of them cautiously took timid half-bites into the individual DOTS and reacted with a variety of faces. It was a winner with some of the students, but they all had an opinion to share. The stickiness of the candy certainly was a talking point.

I guess it was a bit ethnocentric of me to expect them to worship this as the gold standard of candy. Also, I was thrown because Japan is a gel/food culture. I think this has to do with their fish-centric diet. In this respect, DOTS are perhaps the most Japanese of the canon of classic American candies. Perhaps, the medium is the message, and that medium full of English writing, mystery flavors, and only semi-goofy pictures of cartoon ghosts says “strange” to my students.

I suppose i might end up bearing the weight of making sure this candy does not go to waste. There might be a number of nights during the next month that I end up like good ol’ Hariett . Pray for me to make it until All Saints Day.

This week I have also undertaken the task of learning Hiragana. It’s one of three Japanese systems of writing, and perhaps the easiest of the three. It’s phonetically based, which is nice. I’m enjoying the process. Today, one of my students was giving me some help when she decided she wanted to figure out a couple of ways to write my name in Kanji (a pictograph system of writing). She could only think of one symbol for “Te” which was the symbol for “Hand. The two options she gave me for “Do” (there is no ending “d” sound in Japanese”) were the symbols for “sand” or “door”.  So there you go, I am either “hand sand” or “hand door”. I think those both suit me well.

And now, “sophisticated” Britons let loose in Japan: