In February this year Channel 5 in the UK had a short three-part series under the overly-used ‘Turning Japanese’ name. Back in 2007 ITV2 had Kelly Osbourne Turning Japanese and this one featured comedian Justin Lee Collins throwing himself deep into the culture of this country.
Inevitably these programmes about Japan focus mainly on the weird and unusual things which I kind of understand as thats what gets the attention of the overseas public. However, when the focus is on things like bra for men, love-dolls, Kubukicho hosts, themed restaurants etc it’s not exactly showing what life is like for the average Japanese person! Needless to say, this probably won’t stop many people back home thinking that these things are common place in Japan!
I am a fan of JLC and particularly liked his ‘Bring back…’ Channel 4 series and this was also interesting to me for obvious reasons. To his credit he did throw himself in at the deep end without too much prejudice and stayed away from making the usual stereotypical comments. Of course he had difficulty getting his head around some things (but so did the translator Mai) but he wasn’t too judgmental and didn’t revert to the comparison-to-back-home analysis which most of us have been guilty of in the past.
At the outset he did say that he wanted to get beyond the cliches and find a connection with the country. He said he didn’t have an interest in robots or manga which I was relieved about as those areas have been covered many times. The second episode was the one I enjoyed the most as it was mostly about ‘manzai’ in Osaka which is a fast and furious type of comedy featuring double acts consisting of a straight man and a funny man. This really showed the differences in humour between our two nations. British humour is based on what we hear whereas Japanese is on what they see and that is slapstick comedy which is considered a bit old fashioned in Britain.
The most entertaining part had to be the bar which has a monkey for a waiter which JLC said was the “most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen in my life” to which he added that it wasn’t right. You can see that part here in a five minute youtube video. Trust me, its worth watching and saves me the hassle of describing it to you.
Other things to be included in the programmes were crowded trains, vending machines, capsule hotels, hiring a dog, finding partners, karaoke for pensioners, Tokyo apartments, weird ice-cream flavours and particular focus on stressed out salarymen (business-men) who cope with it in different ways. For those who can’t handle it there is Aokigahara Forest at the foot of Mount Fuji which is more commonly known as suicide forest. This provided some of the series’ more serious and shocking parts.