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Oddities of Japanese Television

0410

Horan Chiaki is a news anchor on Television Tokyo

The Coronavirus has shut down just about everything in Tokyo. The government has urged that everyone stay home and avoid contact with others in groups. Consequently, I have spent the last few days just watching television. I have found quite a few oddities there while doing so.

First, I was surprised to see commercials for revivals of "West Side Story" and "Once Upon a Time in America" playing in the theater district, Hibiya. It is hard to imagine how they will stage those plays with all Japanese casts. I suppose that the ethnic conflicts in "West Side Story" can be changed to juvenile delinquents (called furyo [不良] in Japan) fighting turf wars. But "Once Upon a Time in America" is a sprawling drama with dozens of characters. It is hard to imagine how it can be adapted to the Japanese stage. I suppose that others will wonder the same thing and go to see the production just to find out how the producers are doing it.

I was also amused to see American actors endorsing products in commercials. Japan has always been a lucrative market for well-known actors from abroad. They can earn large salaries without fear of having their reputations spoiled in America and internationally. After all, they want to avoid any implication that they are selling out, and few people outside of Japan will ever know anything about it.

So Tommy Lee Jones and Bruce Willis have been appearing in commercials on television here. Naturally, neither speaks Japanese, but that is not necessary for the work that they do. Jones just appears stoic as people jabber around him, although he does seem to be perplexed, too, about what is happening. Willis appears bemused as in one commercial he drops and then launches through the ceiling of a room inside a house. All in a day’s work, I suppose.

Of course, many successful Japanese cash in on their celebrity, too. The winner of last year’s baseball batting title has been appearing on talk shows to give his opinion on all sorts of subjects. He does not seem to be particularly knowledgeable about the topics, but no matter. Viewers just want to get a glimpse of their heroes in natural settings.

A member of the all male musical group, SMAP, has been making appearances in all sorts of shows. Perhaps as he gets older he wants to expand the range of his abilities to create new opportunities for himself. In case the reader wonders about the name, SMAP, it stands for Sports, Music, Assemble, People. Like a lot of Japanese invented words (Nissan is marketing a new car they call the ROOX), it seems strange to me, but the group has been around for twenty years, so it hasn’t had trouble gaining acceptance.

Horan Chiaki is another celebrity trying to transition into other spheres. She is an attractive woman with a friendly personality, so she is being welcomed on all sorts of productions. Recently she appeared on a "Battle of Karaoke Singers" program. I don’t know if she was a judge or what, since I switch channels after a few seconds. I just want to find out quickly what is going on all over in Japanese television.

I spend more time listening to what commentators have to say about current events. Of course, the Coronavirus situation is of major concern. The government has launched a study to determine the best course of action to take to deal with it. Analysts on these programs discuss the things that will likely happen. With the number of cases of infection and death increasing daily, the latest developments are important to be aware of.

China has also been dealing with the outbreaks there. This has been covered by the Japanese news programs as well. There is some skepticism about information released by the Chinese government. The sources of news in China are tightly controlled by the government, and as the severity of the pandemic has increased around the world, it has been clamping down even harder.

The latest take on the matter by the news media is to call it the "Corona Shock." This harks back to the financial crisis of 2008, which is known in Japan as the "Lehman Shock," since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers set off the whole fiasco. In regards to the Coronavirus, no one imagined that conditions would deteriorate so quickly, or that there would be so many deaths. An infant died the other day, and even young people in their twenties are falling seriously ill. The alarm throughout Japan is intensifying.

On a lighter note, one thing Japan has in abundance on television is food shows. That is to say, NOT cooking shows, although there a few of those, too. However, most of these food programs feature well-known actors and actresses going to restaurants and enjoying gourmet meals.

One such program is "Honest Walking," ("Shojiki Sanpo" = [正直散歩]). A celebrity known for his affable demeanor and humor invites actors and always at least one actress to take a trip by train to somewhere, usually in Tokyo, and they go walking around to see what they find. Invariably, they run across shops and other businesses where they drop in to chat. At the end of the show, they go to a luxurious restaurant nearby and have a sumptuous lunch.

Japan can also boast of many celebrity chefs around the country. Kobayashi Kei is the owner and chef of Restaurant Kei, which was recently awarded Three Stars by the Michelin Guide. It is very rare for this to occur. Kobayashi has worked his way up in the French restaurant world after coming to France in his twenties. He creates dishes using original combinations of ingredients, which are always the best and the freshest. And the presentation is invariably stunning. A recent program illustrated his impressive skills.

In addition, everyday Japanese food is given its own due on these programs. Ramen is a favorite theme. And yakitori, grilled chicken on skewers, gets presented quite a lot, often shown in yatai [屋台] stalls, which cater to late night customers who sit on the four or five stools in front of the food stand. Naturally, all kinds of fish, from mackerel to sea bream are featured in many varieties of preparation on other programs.

This just scratches the surface regarding food programs on Japanese television. Not to mention the many other kinds of shows, from educational productions to infomercials. But it should give a good idea of the interesting things it has to offer.

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