For two years I lived in Iwate in a small apartment with just my laptop for entertainment. I could choose what I watched and the like and the world of Japanese TV was far away, as I didn’t have one. But for the last two weeks I have been with the in-laws in Yokohama, and although I’ve done my best to avoid watching TV, during the evening hours it is on when have dinner and sit and chat and the like and well, I’ve seen ENOUGH!
Japanese TV is a strange beast, to say the least (ooh! Little rhyme). Dramas exist, but I haven’t got to see many. The dramas here appear to be shot a little like documentaries, with a sort static use of the camera. The actors do SEEM to be over acting, quite a bit but that I think comes from Kabuki Theatre and the style that has been used for centuries on the stage in Japan.
Come the evening though, it’s a kind of talk show / game show thing that is hard to describe. Well, no easy to describe, harder to define. What seems quite common is a story being told, and a group of maybe 15 Japanese celebrities watching and commenting. They stop the story, chat, go back to it. Usually there’s a little screen in the top right corner of the main picture showing the celebrities’ reactions.
These stories vary greatly – two nights ago they were talking and watching a story about a famous actress who threw herself off a building, last night it was about a guy who ghost-writ a famous song. Other times they have had stories about mystery illnesses and so forth. The sets are garish and packed with colour, the sort of thing that would go do well as a backdrop for a drag show. Sometimes the celebrities answer quiz-like questions. They had a show all about the top 50 most influential people on the world – interestingly, half or more were Japanese. They seemed to dumb it down a little. The most interesting thing about Mozart was apparently that he wrote a song about ‘poo’. A man conducted the celebrities as they sang this song in Japanese.
Then there’s food shows. It’s not like My Kitchen Rules, which to me is equally as appalling but in different ways, but they love to eat food, show food and remark on how delicious something is as part of the show. Then there was the show when they had to guess how much each dish cost! This reminded me of a show back in January I saw where celebrities went into rich people’s houses and had to guess how much their valuables cost. And these shows go on for like 2-3 HOURS!
Other times it turns into a full-on game show with strange challenges. For example, on Saturday there was a show where celebrities had a sort of stick attached around their stomachs with a giant baseball glove on the end and they had to pass balls along a line and get them into a bucket.
The days starts with typical breakfast shows as you get in Australia, the US or UK, and when it hits prime time it’s the same kind of show pumped to the max with speed. The celebrities’ opinions are clearly very important, despite them just being, you know, celebrities.
So. Imagine you want to be on Japanese TV. What are the boxes you need to tick to get on?
1/ Don’t be a woman.
This isn’t quite fair, there are women on Japanese TV. Usually hip youngsters. The number of middle-aged to older women is even less. You’d better have been a famous actress in the day. I would say 70% or maybe more of the people on Prime Time talk/game/whatever shows are male. It’s ok to be an older male, and wear a tie. That seems to help.
2/ If you are a woman, be young, be very cute and don’t have much to say.
Usually in a panel of 15 or so, I’ve noticed one of the co-hosts will be a cute girl who is less than thirty and is good at laughing. Then there will maybe another young, cute girl in the panel, who almost never, ever gets called on to pass a comment. The men are usually pretty loud and over bearing.
3/ If you aren’t young and cute, you can be a woman if you are really a man.
Ummm what can I say? Japanese TV is fertile ground for career opportunities if you are a transvestite. There really are quite a number of them on TV here. Last week a show had no less than 3 transvestites on its panel, and no it was not a panel about transvestites, changing your sex or anything like that. In Tokyo it’s not that uncommon to be a transvestite, so this is something society is able to accept. In fact, at one of my schools several boys dressed up as girls for the school festival and did a number on stage. It’s not seen as weird or strange as it might be in western society, although being gay is not nearly as accepted outside Tokyo as in the west.
The most famous transvestite is ‘Matsuko Deluxe’. She is a little portly, shall we say, and gets her face on every show she can. She seems to be regarded as an expert on everything and appears in quite a few commercials as well.
4/ There are two kinds of men on Japanese TV. You are respected and revered, or you are a clown.
This here is Yuki Himura, half of the Japanese comedy duo ‘Bananaman’. I don’t know if they’ve heard of the TV show from the UK voiced by ‘The Goodies’ or not. He has a strange haircut as if they used a bowl and acts as dumb as possible for laughs. Well hey, it worked for Adam Sandler, right? No, I don’t like him either.
There’s always a comedian or two on the shows, and usually they speak funny and act stupid. Balanced by a straight, sensible and knowledgeable guy. That’s your other option.
5/Be this guy.
This is Takeshi Kitano. So revered is he my spell check recognises his name and doesn’t underline with red. He has done it all – acted, directed, written, he is basically the ultimate heavy-weight in Japanese entertainment. As such, he appears in so many shows on TV. His views are widely respected and agreed with.
In Japan, age is respected, regardless of the individual. So you see a number of elderly (usually) gentleman asked for their opinions on stuff. I don’t speak Japanese, but I am guessing that they are not experts on most of the stuff they comment on. But they’ve made it past 60 or 70 and their opinion is important.
And so, if you can push yourself into one of those categories, you have a good chance of making onto Japanese Prime Time TV to sit on a panel and comment on stuff you know little to nothing about. I am off to get a bowl hair cut and wander the city saying ‘wakarimasen’ in a low, slow voice. If that fails, I’m going to have to see if there’s a shop that sells dresses that fit me. In Japan, that’s probably unlikely. Wait – where does Matsuko Deluxe shop?