It’s a fact that one of my lasting images of Japan came not from one of the many movies ‘set’ in Japan but Homer Simpson continuing to just walk through the paper walls when he and his family came to Tokyo (and Osaka) in season 10 of the long running animated sitcom.
Since the dysfunctional family burst onto our screens in December 1989 there have been quite a few Japan-related references throughout the seasons and Tokyo Fox has cobbled as many of them together as possible.
S01E01: ‘Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire‘ – Not long to wait as this reference appears within the first 90 seconds of the first proper full length episode. There is a Christmas Pageant being held at Springfield Elementary and as well as the german equivalent of Santa we also get to meet Hotseiosha, a Japanese priest who supposedly acts like Santa Claus and has eyes in the back of his head so that kids behave better when he’s nearby.
S02E11: ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, BlueFish‘ – In a change to the normal Friday night pork chops, the Simpsons go to a sushi bar on 2 minutes called The Happy Sumo.
Homer takes a liking to sushi and works his way through the menu before he ends up ordering fugu (blowfish); the poisonous fish which requires chefs to have a license to prepare it. However, the main chef is otherwise engaged so his apprentice has to slice the toxic fish which he tries to do carefully.
An impatient Homer is served the fugu but when the chef returns and believes it hasn’t been prepared correctly he tells Homer that he may have been poisoned. Back in February 2007 I wrote about watching a dramatic TV show in the 1990’s that brought me close to tears as I thought a much loved character was about to be killed off. If you’re following me then you’ll have probably guessed that the person in question was Homer Simpson and the reason I had a tear in my eye was because having eaten the badly prepared fugu he is told at the hospital that he has only 24 hours to live and so makes a list of things he wants to do on his last day on earth.
S04E11: ‘Homer’s Triple Bypass‘ – Homer’s health is in a bad way again and having been diagnosed with clogged arteries, he needs triple bypass heart surgery but the $40,000 operation cost is obviously a problem! Whilst in bed with Marge doing their accounts Homer reassures her not to worry as America’s health care system is second only to that in Japan…….Canada and all of Europe. At least it’s better than Paraguay is his consoling thought!
S04E17: ‘Last Exit To Springfield‘ – Mr. Burns is reminiscing about his grandfather’s old Atom Smashing Plant in 1909 when a thin-looking young worker is asked to turn out his pockets having been accused of stealing atoms. He’s taken away and protests that working men can’t be treated in such a way and in the future a union will be formed to aid equality which will go too far leading to corruption and “the Japanese will eat us alive!” In response Burns’ grandfather laughs and calls them sandal-wearing goldfish tenders! Back in the present and Mr. Burns concedes that they should’ve listened to that young man.
S04E21: ‘Marge In Chains‘ – Homer orders the Juice Loosener on 3 minutes which is packaged in Osaka by someone who has the flu resulting in over 300 cases of the “dreaded” Osaka flu spreading to the residents of Springfield according to News anchor Kent Brockman.
S08E22: ‘In Marge We Trust‘ – In a subplot to the main story, Homer discovers (4 minutes) that the mascot on the box of a Japanese dishwashing detergent bares a strong resemblance to him. Akira at The Happy Sumo restaurant tells him that it’s called ‘Mr Sparkle’ and so after making a phone call to Japan Homer thinks that the company is using his likeness without his permission. Eventually, a video arrives from Mr. Sparkle’s parent company explaining that the mascot came from combining a cartoon fish and a lightbulb.
S09E14: ‘Das Bus‘ – School bully Nelson Muntz represents Japan at the Model U.N. Club; a small group of Springfield Elementary students. After 3 minutes he is seen to be sticking his chopsticks up the nose of the Mexican representative.
S10E23: ‘Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo‘ – Naturally, this is the most famous episode relating to Japan as the family snag some mega-saver tickets at the airport and head to the capital of Japan.
This Japanese adventure starts 8 minutes in and is obviously packed with many stereotypical Japanese references like bowing, technological toilets and battling seizure robots. I’ve previously used a fairly large section of this episode in class for a lesson on stereotypes which was fun and a nice break from the book.
Homer is upset about having to go to Japan and tells Marge on the plane that they could’ve just gone to the zoo to see Japanese people…..as the guy who washes the elephants in Japanese! Marge then tells Homer that she liked “Rashomon‘ (1950) to which Homer claims that he doesn’t remember it that way. The underlying joke is that this famous Akira Kurosawa film is about people remembering different things about the same event!
On their arrival in Tokyo (where the local time is tomorrow!) they head to an American-themed restaurant named Americatown followed by some sumo which results in Homer and Bart being jailed for throwing the Emperor into a washbin for worn mawashi. Whilst in prison they learn Japanese and explore its culture until Marge uses most of their money to bail them out. Homer then stupidly loses their last bill in the wind having made an origami crane out of it prompting him to say “D’oh!” in Japanese.
To make money they get jobs in a fish-gutting factory in Osaka until one day when Marge notices a TV game show called ‘The Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show’. Appearing on the show, they tell the Japanese host Wink that what they wish for is plane tickets back home, but to get them they have to go through a series of stupid, torturous and humiliating activities which are typical of the terrible Japanese terebi variety shows.
Subsequently, Homer scolds the Japanese for their lack of ethics and makes them feel ashamed but nothing changes. Finally, as the Simpsons leave Japan, their plane is confronted by Japanese monsters Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra but Lisa goes to sleep and the monsters let the plane fly off back to Springfield.
This episode has supposedly never been aired in Japan due in part to the scene with Homer throwing the emperor into the sumo thong box being considered disrespectful.
S25E10: ‘Married To The Blob‘ – “Nerds don’t get girls” is what Comic Book guy tells his competitor Milo who is now married. On 8 minutes, Kumiko Nakamura from Osaka walks into his store to which Stan Lee tells him not to waste the opportunity.
They go on a double date with Homer and Marge and some time later Homer meets Kumiko’s father outside the comic book store and tells him that Comic Book Guy is an obese nerd thus prompting Mr Nakamura to take Kumiko away.
Wanting to fix things, Homer takes Mr Nakamura to a Japanese bar where they both drink habushu (snake rice wine) and subsequently stumble home intoxicated, where Springfield turns into a wonderland based on a host of Studio Ghibli films. Mr Nakamura learns he will be taking his daughters life away if he objects to their relationship and so they subsequently get married in Comic Book Guy’s store.
S26E03: ‘Super Franchise Me‘ – Neighbour Ned Flanders discovers that Homer has been stealing electricity (2 minutes in) from him to power a ferris wheel and a freezer full of meat. The “freezerino” actually belonged to Flanders and he takes it back but not before explaining that it was made in Okily Dokahama which is an area near Mount Fuji. Given that Ned’s catchphrase is “Okilly-dokilly” the name is an apt one!
Although the characters have been used to advertise C.C. Lemon ‘The Simpsons‘ has never really been popular in Japan. It’s not shown on a popular TV channel and probably doesn’t translate very well. Japanese people tend not to understand its sarcasm, irony and cultural references.
No doubt there have been a few other Japanese references on this long-running animated sitcom that I’ve missed so please let me know. You can either comment below, mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @tokyofox