For those of you who regularly watch BBC World News (come on, it can’t be just me!), you’ve probably noticed an eerily similarity between its Japan-related reports. It seems that no matter what the story, be it whaling, dolphin slaughtering or population decline, robots manage to get in there somehow. Take this story on immigration, for example.
Is there really any possibility that robots will replace human nurses? I’d say the chances are slim, to say the least. Considering that even the most advanced robots still have trouble mastering the simple act of walking down a flight of stairs, I can’t envisage them pottering around nursing homes changing soiled bedsheets and helping old chaps put on their pyjamas. And of course robots don’t pay taxes or buy goods, and they most definitely don’t have babies.
Nevertheless, a lot of BBC news reports seem to gloss over important issues in favour of portraying Japan as a nation of robot-mad, insular lunatics. I don’t know anyone who thinks the use of robots in frontline service/healthcare industry jobs is even remotely feasible, nor do I know anyone who seeks to preserve Japan’s “racial purity”. There may be a small, but vocal, minority of right-wing politicians and nutters who hold such views, but they should not be seen to represent the opinions of the majority of Japanese.
From a business standpoint there is little debate about whether or not Japan needs immigrants: the domestic car industry already relies on immigrant workers (especially Japanese-Brazilians), and the country’s most powerful business group, the Nippon Keidanren, is strongly in favour of granting more foreigners permanent resident status. When the Japanese government finally faces up to the Big Decision – increased immigration or a crippled economy – it will, I’m sure, choose the former.
Japanese TV programmes tend to fall into two broad categories: 1. celebrities eating food and 2. everything else. Usually you can find, at any time of day, at least one celeb-food show on the air. The perplexing thing is that most of these programmes are not cookery shows in the Jamie Olliver sense of the word (ie, they don’t teach you anything about how to cook), rather they involve people standing around in an insanely-coloured studio stuffing their faces. Invariably, the food is declared to be “oishii” (delicious), and the celebrities spend the next ten minutes prattling on about the time their mum made the same thing, or when they went to Osaka and saw locals putting mayonnaise (shock horror!) on the food in question.
Admittedly, now and then some TV shows do actually have celebrities eating in proper restaurants, but I really don’t care to watch them noisily slurp an enormous bowl of greasy ramen in a random Yokohaman restaurant. “What am I getting out of this experience?” I say to myself. Apart from the knowledge that that particular celebrity likes eating katsudon, or whatever, and what the food looks like, it offers me nothing. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a restaurant because I’ve seen so-and-so eating there on TV, in fact it works more as deterrent: the place would be so busy that I’d have to queue up for an hour just to get through the front door. If I’m going to eat out, I’ll either wander around and explore a few places by myself, or search online for a reasoned opinion that stretches to more than just “umai!”
Perhaps the one decent food programme I’ve seen while in Japan is, unsurprisingly, not Japanese. It’s called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and you can watch it on the Discovery Channel. Bourdain is not only a trained chef; he is also a witty, down-to-earth host who travels the world in search of new experiences. The idea is that yes, food can be nice, but it can also be bloody awful. Food is used more as a means to exploring the people, places and culture of wildly different places, rather than an end in itself. And that’s the way food programmes on TV should be.
Akebono has had many fine achievements during his forty years on earth: becoming the first foreign sumo wrestler to achieve the rank of yokozuna, winning eleven top division titles, and, err… managing to win one fight out of twelve in his career as a K-1 fighter.
Okay, so things may have gone a bit downhill after sumo, but when you’ve reached the highest echelons of one of the most famous sports in the world it’s always going to be hard to go one better. But recently the big man has roared back into the limelight thanks to a series of adverts for Fox’s latest smash hit comedy/drama thingy, Glee.
Words can’t really do the adverts justice. All you need to know is that they involve a lot of Akebono singing and dancing. The song? ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey – nothing could be more appropriate.
Check it out for yourself:
You can catch the rest of Akebono’s adverts on YouTube or one of the many Fox-related channels on Japan’s satellite TV network, Sky PerfecTV.
Imagine if the BBC created a programme called ‘Cool Britain’, in which a group of foreigners discussed the most mundane aspects of British culture, such as rambling, Sunday Lunch, making a ‘proper’ cup of tea and Shrove Tuesday. The discussion would be occasionally interrupted by snippets of one of the foreigners ‘experiencing’ that week’s cultural item: plodding through the Yorkshire Dales in drizzle wearing an impossibly-coloured Berghaus anorak and occasionally screaming ‘Oooh, isn’t this lovely!’, for example. Presenter Richard Hammond would then throw out thought-provoking questions to the multicultural horde, questions like: “So, Ordinance Survey maps, a classic British navigation tool. Are they cool?”.
At the end of the show, and after much smug, self-congratulatory back-slapping by ‘Hammy’, June Sarpong and a random cultural ‘expert’, the day’s topic would be either voted cool, or not, and… well, that’s it.
Oh, and all the foreigners speak French.
Dying to see such inventive programming? I bet you are, and luckily for you a Japanese version, ingeniously titled ‘Cool Japan’, is aired on NHK’s BShi channel every Tuesday from 10pm. Here’s a clip:
Now, what really makes Japan cool? Kurara Chibana:
Daitokai (大都会 – or ‘Big City’ in English) has to be the best cops-and-robbers programme, ever.
Starsky and Hutch may have had its fair share of action, but the producers of Daitokai went absolutely, stark-raving bonkers with cheesy – but awesome – shoot-outs, car chases and explosions. And let’s not forget the ultra-cool cast, which included Tetsuya Watari (centre) and Japan’s very own Steve McQueen, Yusaku Matsuda (bottom left), at the height of his powers. Matsuda would go on to star alongside Michael Douglas in 1989′s ‘Black Rain’, shortly before dying of cancer.
For those of you in Japan with access to Nitereplus (日テレプラス. Channel CS300 on SkyPerfecTV) you can catch the third series of Daitokai every Friday night from 9pm. As for the rest of you, well, you’ll have to make do with the following snippets:
Three months is a long time between posts, especially when you’ve got no excuse for not writing anything. So, as I still don’t have much to write about at the moment, please direct your moist little eyeballs in the direction of the following video:
Japanese stand-up show Enta no Kamisama has produced its fair share of superstar comedians. One of the most popular at present is Kameko Nobuo, who bounces around stage in a ridiculously tight spandex shirt waving gold pom-poms in the air before telling the audience some decidedly kimoi (disgusting or gross) things.
I haven’t been able to add Japanese subtitles to any of Kameko’s YouTube videos (anyone know if it’s possible?), but even if you don’t know what he’s saying I think the general kimoiness of his character shines through in this clip:
Posted 20 Aug 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo Category Events, News, TV
While “Team GB” (what’s wrong with “Great Britain”?) enjoys its best Olympics for 100 years we ex-pats in Japan have so far been unable to watch most of the action. As Chris Hoy won his third gold medal three TV channels were broadcasting the men’s parallel bars. One channel is enough, surely?
Yes yes, I understand that Japan is good at judo and gymnastics and therefore it’s natural that TV companies would focus on them, but it’s damn annoying. Plus I can’t watch the highlights on the internet due to regional licensing restrictions.
Ah well, at least I was able to watch the women’s 400m final last night.
One more thing: since when has it been okay to use the word “medal” as a verb?
Despite my moaning about the general rubbishness of Japanese TV, the internet still manages to provide the odd gem from its “prank” heyday. One of my all-time favourites is the “100 man troop”:
I can’t imagine this kind of thing would ever be able to happen in the UK: the very idea of sending 100 screaming nutters down a street towards a retirement-age salaryman (with a possible dodgy ticker) would have TV executives wetting themselves.
In what has to be the best news story of the week, a Japanese high school student was accosted by a slow loris pygmy monkey while walking home. Even more intriguingly, the student in question looks remarkably like a species of monkey himself:
The student said: “Firstly, the monkey climbed up onto my back, and after that climbed even further upwards.”
Slow lorises are not native to Japan, and are found mainly in southeast asia. The buying and selling of them was made illegal in September 2007, but they can still be bought on the thriving exotic-species black market for a cool ¥1 million (£5,000).
NHK news report:
Clip of a domesticated slow loris living somewhere in Japan: