Teaching In Socks

shows where scary people chase you
November 10, 2009, 4:58 pm
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Yesterday I forgot to mention Chronos another show I really enjoy. This show is basically a high-tech version of adult, team hide-and-go-seek. Each week the show takes place in a different setting with a different theme. It could be in the heart of Shinjuku or in a small Edo period of town. The contestants try to avoid being caught by Hunters–basically Agent Smith type sentinals. If a hunter touches the contestant he is out. For every minute the contestant stays alive, they gain a certain amount of money. Throughout the show there are various missions that the contestants are alerted to via cellphone. They must complete these missions to stay alive–or sometimes just to earn extra money, or to make the Hunter’s job more difficult.

also, to add to the experience here is the most annoying commercial in Japan as of late. Also, by annoying I mean it is always stuck in my head and it subconciously makes me want to be a modern day Beatle with a speech impediment (the joke of this commercial is that they can only say the sound the spray bottle makes.)


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.

Severe Delays
October 20, 2008, 1:19 pm
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Last week, I attempted to take advantage of the holiday weekend and a JR West ticket discount by day-tripping to Nara. For those of you unfamiliar with Japanography, Nara is an ancient capital city of Japan (710 A.D.), neighboring Kyoto, and just beyond Osaka. Nara is mostly famous for it’s wealth of beautiful temples and the wild, yet tame deer that populate the city’s central park. I really wanted to feed some cheerios to deer, i feel this is an essential element to my Japan photo-album.

Nara is about three hours from Ako by train, so this was a bit of a stretch for a one-day trip. Also, since it was a holiday, the trains were a bit crowded. However, I was willing to put up with the semi-rigorous travel involved because my expectations for badass deer hijinxs were building to a crescendo. I partially blame “Tommy Boy” for this.

The train got as far as Kobe, before we started to slow down, and eventually stopping. After a few minutes,the conductor announced over the intercom that not one, but two people had thrown themselves in front of trains in separate incidents ahead of us on the line. He continued that we would be waiting at a standstill until the scene had been cleaned up.

We waited for an hour before resuming on to Osaka. By the time the train reached Osaka, where I had to transfer, my motivation for riding another train had vanished and I decided to spend the day in Osaka instead, which wasn’t a terrible consolation by any means.

I did spend a good portion of the rest of the day wondering about what had occurred earlier in the train. Following the announcement, there wasn’t a somber mood the train or even the hint of an air of compassion. I admit, this response peaked my interested in how the Japanese process these incidents.

I think it’s widely understood amongst foreigners, that Japan–like many other civilized cultures–has a history of acceptance towards “honorable suicides”. I suppose it was my initial perception, and the perception of many other foreigners, that the current trend of train/gas suicides is an extension of this. Upon further examination, while I think there may be a thread between the two, the correlation is nowhere near as strong as many of us think.

These train incidents are quite different. This is not considered an “honorable” method for executing such a purpose. The families of the victim are charged a substantial fee by the train operator to compensate for lost fares during the delay. In a society obsessed with punctuality, some see train jumpers as hoping to exact some revenge upon the society that has forced them to this decision. Also, They are increasingly common (I couldn’t locate actual specific statistics that I would feel comfortable citing) but it’s safe to say that the average Japanese commuter has encountered several delays of this variety.

Personally, I get the impression the impression that these incidents are seen as a side effect the countries economic success. It’s part of the balance of being an economic superpower and as such is treated much like the weather. If you want to live in a planet with a sky, sometimes that sky will have to rain. You can’t do much to change it, and thus there is no sense in complaining about it too much.

I don’t want to give off the impression that they take a heartless approach to this. Clearly, is is a problem they want to solve and it’s documented that Japanese society is starting to rethink and readjust the amount of pressure and stress it places on it’s constituents. Such a massive transformation is difficult for a country where many social ethics can be traced back to the virtues needed for a rice based agriculture. Growing rice is a grueling process, and requires hard work a dedication for success. This same ethic has been brought into the work place.

However, a balance must be found and Japan is aware of that. In some instances overtime is being reduced and the school week and study practices are being reforming to lighter, more manageable loads. I believe and hope this will help address the problem and reduce the frequency of this type of train delay.

And now, since it’s nearly impossible to bring this back to a high note via writing, I will end this one with some more Japanese television:

Power to the People-san
October 15, 2008, 6:31 pm
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It’s time to give the people what they want.

I realize the past week has been a little light in regards to posts.  Some of you have grown a bit testy as a result and for this I apologize.

Between an absence of embarrassing moments on a cultural front (normal embarrassing stuff is still intact) and devoting a majority of my quality time to character flash cards, I haven’t had much to write about.  However, I will try to make amends this week.

Let’s commence with a game I like to call “What’s on my Japanese Television Right Now”  Idiot Box edition; “Let’s see what’s on my television at 11pm on a Wednesday”.

Channel 3: During normal hours this is NHK news. Actually, I think NHK is the name of the channel. Clearly I’m still getting my media bearings. NHK, from what I can tell is the central channel in Japan. This is where what Republicans would call MSM (main-stream-media) lives in Japan.

Currently, we are in after-hours, slightly beyond prime time. What does the media beacon bless us with at this hour? A very inspiring weight-loss infomercial!

After a few minutes into this program, here are my main observations:

1. The background music so far has consisted of Aretha Franklin (odd choice for a weight-loss program) and Avril Lavigne (kill me).

2. There is home video, spliced with shots of women on beaches in bikinis, which is then then interspersed with footage of thousands of people working out in giant, festival/concert surrounding. The message I’m getting is weight-loss = brainwash = fun. This is a strong marketing message.  Millions of Yen will be made on this alone.

3. Product! there you are, finally. DVDS! It appears they are shilling a Billy Blane “Tai-bo” style fitness program, only they all wear sequined belts, here it is.

Coincidently, the big diet craze in Japan right now is the “banana diet” (I know the name is almost too ripe for parody). This consist of consuming 2 Bananas and water for breakfast, and nothing else.  Then the rest of the day you can eat whatever you want and continue to be lazy. I’d love ot see the science behind this.

So far, I think the  I don’t think Japan is losing weight. but this does explain why my supermarket has been out of bananas for the past month. No joke, I was really confused about the status of banana import market, also, this diet is bananas! (there, I said it)

Channel 4: I’m not sure what’s going on here. There are a several young male comedians lined up as if they are part of a panel…there appears to be some contest amongst scantily clad young women they are currently introducing to the audience.  I think this is called “Midnight Cinderella”….ah it’s the “Wednesday Midnight Variety Show” (on a little early aren’t we?) These women are mild celebrities of some sort (one girl was in a Fanta commercial!) and they are competing against each other in a beauty contest style game.

The host, another comedian, is wearing silver shoes! (that’s bananas!) I could use some silver shoes. They are in the “talk about your background” portion of the pageant. This one girl has 11 siblings! everyone is impressed. Hmmmm, everything seems to be going swimmingly for the moment, but let’s not forget this is a Japanese game show; I predict there will be some humiliation in the near future. We’ll come back to this….

Channel 6: Kellog’s Commercial:  A woman has a sloth attached to her abdomen. The sloth is really dragging her down. from behind a building a giant box of Special K appears. She eats the Special K and the sloth has vanished. Apparently, the only way to fix parasite sloths attached to your abdomen is with Special K. That’s right, Special K is so revolting that it will make a bleeping sloth move.

Actual Programming: News! People are angry about some sort of apartment zoning. A collection of elderly people are sitting across the table from each other.  They are wearing vaious sashes and have various degrees of grumpiness on their faces. The lesson here is that Zoning law changes are never favorable the elderly, not even in Japan.

In other news, a Panda was delivered to Japan today. It got a special plane and giant welcoming party on the tarmac (bleeping bananas!). People are happy, but the panda looks as grumpy as an old person from the apartment zoning meeting. This Panda looks a little heavy, maybe could use some sort of dietary regiment involving bananas.

Channel 8: This program is called Real Venus. Right now, they are following a famous Japanese figure skater around through he daily routine. There is an inordinate of crying involved. This only compounds my previous experience and subsequent assumption that Japanese female athletes are rated on the amount of times television shows can make them cry tears of joy. It might even be in their contract, either way the public seems to enjoy it. tears = television.

Channel 10: The most shocking into yet. There is man in poorly done makeup. Five other guys are sitting around the table making fun of him. I”m sure if I understood what they were saying this would be funnier than Two and a Half Men. Oh dear, now they have brought in a small army of male–>female transvestites (make your own bananas joke here)–apparently this is a laugh-riot for everyone.

It gets worse, the man in makeup and the transvestites are putting on a low-production value Victorian musical (big bleep bananas batman!).  I draw the line at musicals, the channel will be changed….

Channel 12: Japan’s version of PBS. They are following a News Producer through his daily routine. In three minutes of watching this, I have learned PBS is still kind of boring in Japan. Somebody put on Globe Trekker!

and back to Channel 4: It appears the final portion of the contest is “who can hang on to a suspended bar the longest while wearing bikini” The humiliation that I predicted has finally arrived, however I am a little disappointed in the severity. I had high hopes Japan! Where’s the mud, Velcro suits, strange sea creatures you know the stuff that really makes the crowd lose their bananas. Falling four feet on to a soft cushion isn’t that intimidating.

Still, as mild as it may be, I’m not sure why Fox hasn’t tried to adapt this show yet.

This is what I am talking about,please watch until the end.