JET Program Reflections #4–Japanese TV

Pictured: The unstoppable Gal Sone eats 40,000 calories in one day

Here is the forth part in my Tuesday mini-series of reflections on my experiences in the JET Program, lazily culled from e-mails sent to friends and family at the time. This one looks to be from November, 2003:

So! November shaped up to be one of the busiest months of my life, probably, and certainly my busiest in Japan thus far. Predictably I sometimes wonder whether I’m doing a good job or not. But then I realize that I’m teaching a total of NINE grades, six of which with teachers & students that speak little or no English and for which there is no set curriculum and for which I have to plan single-handedly. Additionally, I have absolutely no formal training, and my post-arrival training amounts to maybe a week of seminars held sporadically since I first arrived. So all things considered, I think I’m doing pretty good! But it’s definitely been a “keep my head above water” scenario. I’m juuuust starting to reach the point where I try to consider the best way to fill up the class time, rather than wonder how to fill it up at all. Ah well, the end of this month has a pretty long winter break to look forward to, so I’ll get a chance to relax then.

Moving along…

Japanese TV.
For one thing, practically every show in some way involves food. The funny thing is most of the time they don’t actually show you how to prepare it (not that the cooking show genre is by any means underrepresented). Usually these shows have a panel of guests dressed in flamboyant, bizarre costumes. The guests banter for a while, laugh, and occasionally hit each other on the head a la Three Stooges. Then there’s a taped section that shows a nuanced delicacy being prepared (but as I say, they don’t really seem to give you enough information so you could make it yourself). Oftentimes, in the top upper left or right corner, there’s a little picture-in-picture box showing the panel guests’ reaction to what they’re (and we’re) watching. Then after the taped section is over, someone wheels in some of the featured food and all the guests try it. Luckily for students of Japanese such as myself, there seem to be only two ways to say “This tastes good” in Japanese, and they use them ad nasseum. The following script translation is made up yet real!
G1: This is good!
G2: This is good!!
G1: It’s really good!
G3: Delicious!
G4: Ah! This is good!
G1: That was good!
And so on. All the while, the live studio audience is whimpering loudly, because they want to try it too.

The other night I saw a half-hour quiz show where every question was about mayonnaise. I guess you know you’ve been in Japan for a while when this doesn’t immediately strike you as bizarre. It was only later when I thought “Hey, every question on that quiz show was about mayonnaise” that it struck me as kinda queer.

Okay, granted I can’t speak much Japanese, so the situations are taken out of context. In some cases, there may be a reasonable explanation or logic to these shows that I can’t penetrate because of the language barrier. But on the other hand, I saw one show where a group of women were sent out one by one to try to seduce a man. In the meantime an older woman was watching the proceedings and feeding directions to the seducer through a radio earpiece. At any time (and seemingly for no logical reason) the older woman could push a button that made an alarm sound and a group of men dressed in camouflage would leap out and drag the seducer away kicking and screaming. The camera would pan over to a large rubber duck on wheels driving towards the camouflage guys and the screaming woman. The rubber duck would pull in front of them, and a mental tray would come out of the back of it. The woman is forced onto this tray and held down. Then, coming from the back of the rubber duck, a huge quantity of dough smothers the woman. I caught the show partway through, and witnessed this occur three different times, with different women getting “dough”ed. I’m prepared to renounce cultural relativism and proclaim that this show is intrinsically, fundamentally WEIRD.

Part Five, covering the subject of Christmas in Japan, will be up next Tuesday.

  • Wendy

    Ah, this brings back memories. Thanks for making your page RSS. I enjoy reading it with me daily dose o’news. It’s also very inspiring, in addition to being natsukashii! Good luck with publishing!

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Wendy,
    Thanks for the kind words. I read your blog entries on the Livejournal. That’s cool that you got to go back to Japan again–I envy you.
    Good luck with your publishing aspirations, too!