TV Tokyo bangumi: “Why did you come to Japan?” interviews NJ arrivals at Narita, reifies mainstream media discourse of NJ as tourists, not residents


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Hi Blog. Check this out, courtesy of Japan Today:


Submitter JDG argues:
Saw this story on Japan Today (link): It’s a story about a poster campaign to advertise a TV show where NJ straight off the plane are asked why they came to Japan. In the poster, ‘talent(less)’ J-celebs, and a variety of caricatured NJ are proffering answers (‘maid’ cafes, lolitas, etc).

“I think that there are two ways of looking at this.

“The first is that they are proceeding from the false assumption that all NJ in Japan are visitors who must be here for some uniquely crazy ‘Japanese’ experience that they can’t get at home, and plays into the myth that there are no NJ long term residents who are here because of their jobs, or family connections. Whilst ignorant and not very helpful for understanding the wide variety of NJ identities, it is a common enough mistake for the Japanese to make.

“However, my second thought is that this poster is an inadvertent and unintended insight into a darker aspect of Japanese psychology on the NJ issue. What if we suppose that this poster is not the product of some ignoramus who genuinely knows nothing of NJ realities in Japan, and believes the myth totally? What if this poster simply reflects a more widespread and deep rooted opinion that NJ shouldn’t be living in Japan because they have families or business here? What if the poster is deliberately not offering reasons such as ‘I’m here because I’m on the board or directors of (insert J-company here)’, or ‘I’m here to get my children back’, or ‘I’m here with the IAEA to inspect your reactors’?

“These are exaggerations, of course, but the point that I am making is that this poster in itself is a tool of devision, disenfranchisement, exclusion, subjugation, and othering. All that, and created with a lack of self-awareness in the process? A frightening indicator of the extent to which discrimination is normalized in japanese society.”

I would concur in particular with the aspect of maintaining the dominant discourse in Japan of NJ as “guests”, i.e., “temporary visitors, not residents”, mixed in with the shades of “Cool Japan” that helps Japanese society revalidate and even fetishize itself through foreigners.

But it’s essential (by definition) that this revalidation message remain positive — as in, “Japan is a nice place that is polite to everyone, especially its guests”. That is one of the positive aspects of “guestism” — hosts don’t get their status quo challenged. After all, why would somebody spend so much money and fly in just to come and bad-mouth the place? It’s a pretty safe and not-at-all-random sampling that will probably match the TV network’s editorial and entertainment conceit.  (And on the off-chance if not, no need to broadcast the views of quite clearly rude people.)

Media enforcement of Guestism has a long history, really. Back in 2009, caught NHK asking specifically for NJ guests on its “COOL JAPAN” program “who have lived in Japan for less than one year”, as if they would have more insights on Japan than somebody who has lived in Japan longer. Like, say, for example, participants in the reviled and acclaimed bangumiKOKO GA HEN DA YO, NIHONJIN” (1998-2002; even my fellow plaintiffs and I were allowed to appear regarding the Otaru Onsens Case), which featured diversity of opinion in all its screaming glory, but still allowed NJs to speak in their own words in Japanese.  KKGHDYN was probably the high water mark of Japan’s assimilation of NJ viewpoints into Japan’s generally foreign-resident-free media (one that shuts itself off so effectively from NJ voices in Japan that nearly HALF, i.e., 46%, of all respondents (Japanese, natch) to a recent Cabinet survey didn’t even know that Nikkei Brazilians have been living in Japan on a special visa status for the past two decades!), but after the “foreigner as criminal” GOJ and media blitz of the 2000s, we’re right back to Bubble-Era-and-before attitudes towards NJ in the domestic media.

So in the end, asking people, “So how do you like Japan?” mere minutes after landing is probably within character.  But it’s awful media representation.  Arudou Debito

41 comments on “TV Tokyo bangumi: “Why did you come to Japan?” interviews NJ arrivals at Narita, reifies mainstream media discourse of NJ as tourists, not residents

  • Why does it say it starts on April 15? It is already on TV! I was one who was stopped recently, and they told me it was a day/time change, not a new thing.

    I didn’t care being on film, but I agree that what they show is sometimes pretty stupid. I wouldn’t call it dark or denigrating. The people in front of the camera make it whatever they do. If they choose to juggle or sing or say something stupid, that’s their prerogative. Not everyone who gets put on the TV final cut is made out that way, either. Watch a few episodes and see.

    The only really annoying thing in my own experience in front of the camera was that the interviewer asked me more than once what food I like best in Japan. I could see the interpreter standing behind him grimace the second and third time, so neither of us really knew what he was getting at.

    Overall, unless the Bananaman comments are insulting, I’d say it’s interesting (at the least) and SELF-denigrating (at the worst) to see why various people are in the airports. If they give a sensible reason (and many that I have seen did just that) for coming to Japan, then Bananaman can’t really give any sort of negative image to these people. As for the people who insist on portraying themselves in a bad light, you only attract fire. Reap what you sow. However, after being on a flight for 10-20 hours and having an energetic interviewer throw a mike in your face and say, “Japanese TV, ok?” anything is possible. Some people like being celebrities, so it’s up to how they react that gives Bananaman fuel for ribbing or not. I actually found a few stories quite interesting.

  • Debito here. One person on Facebook replied (no doubt sardonically) that he would say to the TV interviewer at Narita:

    “I come to bury Japan, not to praise it.”

    Heh. Other smart-ass replies out there, Readers?

  • Oh, it’s all so immature. Like children, the people involved in this probably haven’t even once pondered the idea that there might be a problem with portraying foreigners this way.

  • I think the sinister reading of it is a stretch in my opinion. Just more Japanese blissfully non-reflective ignorance and tasteless comedy rather than conscious discrimination. Nothing new or surprising here, just more of the same…

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    This is just plain dumb–TV Tokyo? That’s the crappiest media broadcast I’ve had in my life. The caption in the upper middle is striking their attitude. Typical of J-media.

  • I still think they are shooting themselves in the foot if they want to interview foreigners at random.

    Most people come and go quite often, and as far as I know, most “long-ish term” stayers are less likely to have a positive view about Japan in general. I’d say that unless they pick the happy-go-lucky first timers, it would be a rather depressing program on how foreigners perceive Japan as an “alternate-reality” place where you basically have to change your whole way or behaving just so you are not as singled-out as you’d normally be.

    Maybe it’s just me, but first time it’s “yay, exotic place” and subsequent times it’s “oh god, this again…” every time landing at Narita….

  • As long as the trains run on time and j-TV turns out shows that keeps the general populace infantile, docile and ignorant.
    These programmes usually highlight the “inferiority complex ” aspect of Japanese society and need for outside validation.

    I’m sure we have all been asked ” so what do you think about blah blah blah…”. I enjoy seeing my questioners’ shoulders visibly slump and their eyes droop with disappointment when I tell them I have been here for over 10 years, or a newly met Japanese friend who asks you in a slightly leery tone ” do you like Japanese girls?”
    to which I always give a look of mild disgust and a neutral ” maaa (so so) and anyway I’m married “.

    As I mentioned before these type of programmes are nothing more than navel gazing tripe for a puerile audience.

  • I agree it is awful… but if the show continues what if they actually do talk to people here who live here long term despite the image of the poster?

    — Well, what if…? An exercise in hopeful hypotheticals is of limited use, especially when they are not substantiated in the historical record of TV shows on NJ in Japan.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Loverilakkuma #6

    ‘The caption in the upper middle is striking their attitude.’

    Yep. When I read the ‘Why did you come to Japan?’ I thought it sounded accusatory and typically insular. I actually checked to make sure that the poster didn’t have ‘You’ve seen Japan, please p*ss off home now’ written on it. I honestly thought that it was a TV program about J-immigration at first glance.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Debito,

    I think that you are correct in your analysis that this poster represents a facet of self fetishism; it’s the way the Japanese want to think that NJ see Japan. No other opinions are conceivable, let alone tolerable (much like your critics). In that respect, the poster is an extension of the ‘can you use chopsticks?’ micro-aggression made manifest, and legitimized, and also represents a facet of being told how you are expected to reply for the sake of tatemae, thus extinguishing genuine discourse, and continuing the system of abuse.

    @ Johnnie #5

    ‘Just more Japanese blissfully non-reflective ignorance and tasteless comedy rather than conscious discrimination.’
    Of course Johnnie! Racists never actually think they are racist. You are displaying the kind of reasoning that kept black-face on the stage.

    ‘Nothing new or surprising here, just more of the same…’
    And that’s the shame of it. Shame on them for doing it, shame on all NJ for not joining the effort to push back against racism.

  • Bitter Valley says:

    Rather than writing off the garbage media, and this particular garbage as funny or not worth getting exercised about, it’s actually a major battleground, one of the key battlegrounds.
    One question might be, is this garbage of a program relatively harmless; something that should not have been dumped into the public sphere and left there to rot, causing a bit of a stink, with a few flies landing on it.

    Or is it more toxic and needs to be dealt with and properly buried?
    Many on this blog would argue the second. I’d agree with them. The program is infantile but make no mistake. It’s othering.
    Japan is separated from the rest of the world. It’s special, unique and somehow attractive. Why would “gaijin” come to visit? Gaijin are boxed up and wrapped as visitors.

    “The only really annoying thing in my own experience in front of the camera was that the interviewer asked me more than once what food I like best in Japan. I could see the interpreter standing behind him grimace the second and third time, so neither of us really knew what he was getting at.”

    OK folks, food diversion time!
    This is precisely the point.
    Does anyone remember the girl who lived in China a few years back who plays ping pong (and is quite good at it, it seems is used by the media as a poster story for girls who are a bit chubby and don’t look like fashion models to encourage them to ganbare). I remember she came back from China one day and was interrogated about food, the rather menacing meme being that it would be regarded as unpatriotic not to say how much she ate and loved Japanese food. Behind that, I sensed the idea of Japanese reaffirming that despite her trip to “Sina” and her friends there, and learning from their superior ping pong coaches, she was still solidly Japanese and not polluted by her experience.

    Japanese food is one of the new battlegrounds. It always has, actually, through the chopsticks idea (but, bafflingly, amazingly, with so many gaijin able to use chopsticks, how adaptable these alien monkey are!) becoming sadly less usable, the atavistic retreat is to the main island…

    Food should be something that unites people, I think. We can all get together and enjoy it.
    While framed as something that is cross cultural, in fact I feel food is is being subverted into another us and them trope.

    It’s unique. Delicious. It has wondrous properties. It’s different. Why are Japanese so healthy and slim and live longer than anyone else? It’s eaten with chopsticks. Can you use chopsticks? The media and METI for example love using the odd gaijin who prepares Japanese dishes (there is one entertainer in Nagano with appealing blonde hair who is often ruled out) to reinforce the divisive stereotypes. I heard that there is some move to try to have Japanese restaurants licensed abroad as authentic (what this actually means I am not sure) with another whole bunch of negative and divisive elements in it. I suspect that Japanese restaurants with gaijin cooks (even when those restaurants are in New York or Paris, and the Japanese people working there are the foreigners (not “gaijin”) would be OK as long as they have a Japanese in charge! You know to make sure they don’t add mayonnaise to the ikura or something.

    It’s a complete regurgitation of the same old prejudices and memes (Japan is unique and different, gaijin are wacky and for entertainment) all tied up with an extremely garish and nasty media package.

    As far as I watch TV, I have noticed recently the absence of people of color solely put on for entertainment. But I think this show is a significant step backwards. This toxic trash enters the minds of millions of viewers (many of the people I suspect not the sharpest knives in the drawer) and reinforces and sets up the subtle, deep-rooted and divisive nippon/gaikoku, nipponjin/gaijin paradigm.

    — Regarding your point about the “Japanese restaurants licensed abroad as authentic”, here’s something from 2006 about the “Sushi Police” from

    Wash Post/MSNBC on GOJ moves against fake J food abroad (with update)

    BTW, whenever I have a sushi hankering, off I go to the nearest Safeway supermarket. Every bit as good as I had it from my favorite kaiten zushi in Sapporo, and much cheaper too.

  • Regarding Japanese food and using chopsticks

    The next time anyone goes out for dinner at a restaurant with Japanese acquaintances and there are waribashi provided on the table,gently make a remark to the effect they are exactly the same shape as Chinese chopsticks.
    Chinese chopsticks are tapered and flat at the end…. traditional Japanese chopsticks are usually tapered and pointed at the end…the reaction and comments are always interesting .

    I’m sure that the comparison would make a “wonderfully entertaining” TV program leading to better
    “cross cultural understanding ”

    — Yawn.

  • @Bitter Valley (#13) Ah, the food on Japanese TV. A global laughing stock for anyone who ever had the misfortune to watch J-TV. Something that I don’t fully understand yet. Has there ever been done some research on what says about this society? Japan sees itself (wrongfully so I believe) as a nation of gourmets, but even that cannot justify the time spent in every single TV show presenting and tasting food. Is food maybe considered a safe topic to disagree about? No, that can’t be it, because nobody ever dislikes any of the food. It’s oishii and umai all the way, never mazui.
    Or maybe it is the only way to fill the time available, without ever having to think about grown up things like politics and culture.

    — Cheap production values too. No plot of SFX necessary. Just wasabi.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Karjh12 #14

    I was once told by a J-university professor that Chinese people don’t use chopsticks properly- ‘you shouldn’t use chopsticks for stabbing food!’. I told him that I thought chopsticks were a cultural import via Korea, from China. He went mental!

  • Japanese TV is by in large nothing but shallow nonsense and irrelevent banter. Why would a show about foreigners be any different? It’s unfortunate that in this instance it’s going to be shallow nonsense that reinforces the ‘foreigners as guests’ narrative.

    I’m curious, what do people think of the show sekai banzuke? If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a show where they have a panel of NJ who are presented with international rankings in random topics such as “countries that love practical jokes” and then comment about these “issues”.
    Personally, I’ve found it slightly more entertaining than the normal variety show fare, although it’s still pretty shallow. In my own estimation, it has positives and negatives. Positives are that it presents to TV audiences a group of NJ who speak good Japanese and the country comparisons they make seem relatively fair in the sense that it’s not set up as “Japan vs rest of the world”.
    Negatives…I think it’s weird that the Japanese guests sit apart from the NJ, and it tends to emphasize differences between countries rather than similarities. And they keep their topics very light. I don’t forsee any “worldwide treatment of foreigners ranking” coming up on the show anytime soon.

  • Bitter Valley says:

    Regarding the sushi police, when we lived in New York we did have the misfortune of eating in a couple of “Japanese” restaurants, and I should have known better by the decor and front and menu straight away – where was my common sense – where the food was bloody awful, particularly the tempura, because the cooks didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t care.

    There is a dreadful slop shop in London called “Wagamama” that when I went there served what I can only describe as chewy strands of yuck in dishwater. It was revolting.

    So I think there is a case for adjudging authentic Japanese food and cuisines and certifying it for some sort of quality control. It would enable people to make better decisions, differentiate those offering good food from those who don’t, etc. etc.

    As long as it’s not some sort of atavistic rigid and narrow interpretation.

    Just having come back from Ishigakijima and eaten tons of excellent local stuff, some of it obviously original ryukyuan cuisine (and watching Taiwanese tourists liberally lace their bowls with the local awamori soaked chili-pepper sauces before enthusiastically chowing down on food that has absolutely no connection with some kaiseki snob joint in Ayoyama) if there is a liberal interpretation that takes into account the huge diversity of Japanese food and the ethnic cuisine that survives, then that would be great. Something along the lines of judging pornography vs art. You know it when you see it?

    The second point is that that the delicious maki you pick up in a Waitrose in North London or a Safeway on Hawaii, and food that is made by gaijin also gets a sensible evaluation.

    Hold on…I think we are already in trouble then!

    — I think the best attitude to take is that a bad restaurant is a bad restaurant — your experiences in NY and London were not because they were inauthentic but because they were simply mazui, regardless of origin or recipe. The bluenoses (like Professional Grouch Ishihara’s rant last August against chocolatizing norimaki; try it — you might like it!) who concentrate on authenticity actually stifle culinary innovation. Case in point: the wonderful California Roll. And it’s a good thing Nagoya came up with misokatsu, because it somebody outside of Japan had done so it would be roundly denounced as “inauthentic” and dismissed.

  • #14 Karjh12

    Chinese chopsticks are actually longer than Japanese ones. Placing them side by side it becomes very obvious. Korean chopsticks are the ones with flat ends, and usually of metal rather than wood.

    A friend of mine used to work in the J-TV industry. She told me that the reason for so many food programs, as noted, is that they are cheap to produce. Nothing required, and the money “spent” by the program makers is handsomely compensated by the advertisers. Ergo….free, quick TV programs and easy to do. That’s it.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Bitter Valley said “Japanese food is one of the new battlegrounds.”

    Yes, this is a rebranding of “JAPANESE food” as 1. Safe after Fukushima and 2. something culturally unique from the rest of the world
    3. A non political topic, perfect for NHK, something that cannot offend people.

    but I am offended.

    Because 1. it is not safe 2. It is not culturally unique; Japanese food is in fact foreign food (e.g. Tempura is Portuguese) and it is only the postmodern media myth that is is of Japanese origin.

    3 Fukushima has politicized food. And that is why kids in Fukushima who refuse to drink local milk etc are being demonized and singled out as “not fit to live in Fukushima”. Well, yes, Fukushima is not fit to live in.

    NHK and the LDP are also using food uniqueness as J propaganda.Japanese food is not Korean food, or Chinese food (though quite often, it is!).

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim and the mental professor #16.

    He sounds like a good little neo nationalist, peddling propaganda as education.Your use of forbidden labels (Korea, China) did not compute with his programming, so his logic circuits blew a fuse.

    But I think his main displeasure was that he, the esteemed “Sensei” lost control of The J-NARRATIVE”, at the hands of a gaijin, no less.

    Several taboos were broken in one sentence…well done, but watch your back.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Debito called for other smartass replies to “Why did you come to Japan?”, I cannot resist

    1. Why did you come to Japan? (as asked to me by immigration after 9/11)
    Me: “I just came to get my stuff then leave forever”

    2 Me: “San bun no ichi Nihonjin desu”

    3.” do you like Japanese girls?”
    Me; “I am gay”

    4. “Do you like Japan?”
    Yes, they are my favorite band (done that one before, but still)…

  • There are episodes online already.

    Some long timers were questioned, so I’ll give them that. And -some- stories were
    actually interesting. But overall, given the lack of respect for privacy (following
    people to their places and see what they do) and ridiculousness of the main theme
    (as if coming to Japan is somehow different than going elsewhere) are unfortunate
    trademarks of J-media. I m beginning to think that TV stations over there are just
    designed to brainwash the general populace and make them more dumb. It’s amazing how
    TV remains popular there given it’s general decline in the rest of the world (people
    are switching to on-demand/ online content).

  • Bangumi: why did you come to japan?
    Me: well, I’m a producer for a TV game show called “The cutest little xenophobes In the world” and came here lookong to recruit contestants (-; why do you ask?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Markus #15

    Yeah, good point about the poor quality of J-TV.
    I was discussing this with the J-wife earlier, and she thinks that it’s all about the fact that Japanese people work so much, and have less attachment to ideas of homeownership and improvement than in the west.
    She pointed out that my relatives finish work earlier than most Japanese workers, go home, relax on the sofa, and watch something good on TV (I did point out to her that being a coach potato is not a widely accepted aspiration, but…), and at weekends are more likely to visit someone at their home, or have people over to visit. In short, she thinks that westerners maybe spend a lot more time at home watching TV. This maybe because in part that programming is better than in Japan, or it maybe that programming plays a more prominent role in ‘the spectacle’ to control the masses, whereas in Japan there is little incentive to spend money on improving programming since most Japanese people would rather be outside living the ‘dreamy day’ fantasy than watching the TV in a one room home, on their day off.
    More research is required…

    — I’ll say. Speculative impressions do not bear out statistically:

    Study: Americans, Japanese watch the most TV
    In survey of television-viewing habits, Motorola also finds Americans prefer subscription services over free-to-air services. by Don Reisinger November 17, 2010

    Americans and Japanese watch more television than residents of any other country in the world, a new study from Motorola has found.

    According to Motorola’s Mobility’s Global 2010 Media Engagement Barometer study, American and Japanese viewers spend 21 hours per week watching television and video content. South Koreans watch the least TV–just 13 hours a week. The average amount of time spent watching TV each week around the world is 17 hours. Motorola said most television viewers watch scheduled programming, but 34 percent watch scheduled content in addition to online video and on-demand shows.

    The study, which looked at responses from 7,500 consumers in 13 international markets, also found that consumers prefer “subscription-only” TV services from providers, rather than free over-the-air content. However, subscription services are available to only 57 percent of worldwide television viewers, while 67 percent of people around the globe can access over-the-air content.

    Much of that viewing has been or will soon be done on HDTVs, Motorola also found. Some 75 percent of people around the globe either own an HDTV or plan to buy one “in the next 18 months.” The company said 25 percent of global television viewers plan to get their hands on a 3D TV at some point in the next year and a half.

    Although global viewers prefer paid services on their televisions, more than 66 percent of respondents said that it’s “quite or very important” to have free access to content on devices other than the television. Just 39 percent of folks said that they would want to pay for access to video content available on products other than a TV.

    One more interesting tidbit from Motorola’s study: 20 percent of respondents said they would like to see a recommendation engine made available on their televisions that “tracked viewing habits and suggested content based on viewer preference.”

  • @Jim #25. I read statistics that Japan is the country in the world with highest hours in front of TV pro capita, 5 hrs a day avg. USA comes second with 4 something.

    It is a mass control mean in a country where masses love/need to be controlled. Tailored made powerful tool. Oligarchies keep it under control, that’s why Horie got thrown in jain when he tried to buy Fuji TV.

    No comment on another of many in these years TV shows about us, foreigners. J-TV is pornography based TV, such as food programs and shows with young talento everywhere. It is pornography of decency and ideas, like this new show.

    Said that if they catch me in the interviews, of course, I would reply I am here in Japan because I love manga, sushi and discriminaton.

  • Well, let’s take a look at Japanese TV for a second.

    Unless you subscribe to satelite or extended cable, you most likely have only 3-5 channels that you watch.

    This means that the majority of the population is watching those channels, so the programs on those channels msut be suited for a majority of the population. (ages 0 to 120)

    Can’t show too much controversial stuff, because “Think of the children!” and old people who were raised in a simpler time just want to watch simple TV shows (old people are now, of course, a very large demograpghic in Japan, and steadily getting larger)

    This elements combine to create the kinds of programs that we see on TV: Bright colors, simple jokes explained, very simple themes and ideas, being “surprised” by everything. (this, by the way, is for the viewers: if the viewer knows something and the actors “don’t”, the viewer feels smart. If they viewer doesn’t know something, they don’t feel dumb because the actors also “don’t”… although most of them do know, actually).

    The people in the middle (ages 20 to 60-ish) are left with nothing. Most of them turn to western TV shows, because they offer more stimulation and though-provoking ideas.

    JTV knows this, and they know that they can’t ever really compete with ‘Murican TV, so they stick to what they know: family shows (aka: shows for Junior and Granny Tanaka)

    As for food, someone in JTV explained it to me like this: post war Japan was poor, so people could only eat like rice and okayu and simple stuff.

    Eleborate fancy meals were things that most people could only dream of. So, on radio and TV years later, they would show fancy food and be like “wow, look at this! It’s so good!”. This mentality was engrained into the viewers minds and it became expected. Now, every single TV show has food. Fancy, expensive food.

    The idea of “Let’s go somewhere to eat something good” comes from old people who grew up eating rocks and dirt.

  • Hey you..

    Q:”Why did you come to Japan?”
    A:”To see if the voices wanting the US bases removed are getting louder as the rhetoric from No.Korea increase!”

    Q:”Why did you come to Japan?”
    A:”To see if Japan is as racist, xenophobic, corrupt and mentally backward as every tells me!”

    Q:”Why did you come to Japan?”
    A:”To see you can use knives and forks!”

    Q:”Why did you come to Japan?”
    A:”To be treated like a second class slave”

    Q:”Why did you come to Japan?”
    A:”I’m a journalist and I wish to interview the Govt./military about why they deny the rape of Nanjing!”

    Q:”Why did you come to Japan?”
    A:”To find out why you have 98 airports!”

    Ahh..I could go on 🙂

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    TBH the best suggested answer was one of the comments of the Japan Today thread;

    ‘Why did you come to Japan?’
    ‘To get my kids back’.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I’ve mentioned on before (somewhere) about some of the hidden themes in anime, that reinforce and perpetuate a narrow minded world view. the original Macross was a classic; giant alien invaders enslaving every culture in their path (who do you think they could be?), the plucky heroes who use their ‘unity’ to adapt the alien technology to use against the aliens (Meiji-era adaptation of western industry anyone?), and finally defeat the enemy because of the heroes attachment to the value of ‘loving each other’ (ahh, Japanese peace and ‘wa’ wins the day), which the aliens had never experienced until the Japanese, I mean ‘humans’, showed it to them. And don’t even get me started on the abandoned Super Dimensional Fortress talking up valuable space in the center of Macross City.

    In such a way are young minds indoctrinated.

    Not having the time to follow anime very closely (I draw the line at ‘Girls and Panzers’), I note this anime with some interest;

    Take a quick look at the opening;

    Plucky young brooding heroes defending their (N.B. triple walled!) city (sakoku, anyone?) from lumbering (blonde!) giants!

    Yes, all the seeds of the idea that Japan is an outpost of human culture that must be closed off from the outside world and protected patriotically from the giant NJ hordes that seek to mindlessly destroy it. This is how deeply ingrained and normalized the ‘we Japanese are unique/NJ are are a threat’ discourse is.

  • I found the program in some respects to be a tad bit cringe-worthy and slightly insensitive/obnoxious at times, but overall I think it portrays those interviewed in a positive light. Before watching it I wholly expected to be appalled, but came away feeling that it has some redeeming qualities.

    On the negative side, I don’t like this concept of conveying that it is in any way in the realm of acceptable behavior to accost unsuspecting foreigners (along with a few unsuspecting Japanese nationals), just for the sake of their ‘foreigness’, and then asking complete strangers inappropriate questions, and casually proffering up rude remarks (the usual age, weight, girlfriend/boyfriend, ad nausea) if your target happens to be non-Japanese. That I abhor.

    Still, the non-Japanese interviewees almost without exception came across as likeable, intelligent, gracious, adventurous and motivated (the interviewers not so much). Some had quite interesting goals and aspirations, which I found inspirational. Also, they represented a broad swath of the international community in Japan, long term and short term (albeit with a notable absence of Asian residents/visitors) — lifers, non-Japanese people with family ties in Japan, business people, engineers, fanboys/girls, academics, you name it. Also, Japanese was the default language with the large proportion of the interviewees who spoke Japanese.

    Yes, the program delivers a large degree of low brow entertainment. No, the program doesn’t provide a hard-hitting look into Japan’s weighty ethnic and race-related issues. Still, and many participating in this thread will disagree, I think the program attaches a positive human narrative to Japan’s international community of residents and visitors. For once I am somewhat pleasantly surprised.

  • Debito – re: your comment on Japan vs US TV viewing, I’d be careful about using that data. First of all, surveys done by corporations (in this case, Motorola Mobility) should always be looked at carefully. Motorola Mobility is a telecoms equipment maker. Every year, it publishes a report on ‘media engagement’ – basically reporting on how content viewing is shifting from the TV to mobile devices. You can see the potential conflicts of interest here.

    Secondly, it is extremely dangerous to only rely on quotes from a news article that only gives a short summary of the report. The article you quoted says: ‘American and Japanese viewers spend 21 hours per week watching television and video content’. But that is rather misleading, because it includes both TV *and* video content viewing.

    If you read the actual press release from the company, it’s quite clear: The US sees the highest TV consumption in the world, at 23 hours of TV a week. Lowest in the world? Japan (and Sweden) at 15 hours a week.

    We could quibble with Jim Di Griz’s wife’s surmising that ‘Westerners’ spend a lot more time at home watching TV vs Japanese (since Sweden is obviously part of ‘the West’), but she’s spot-on when she notes that Japanese in general watch less TV, particularly compared to the US.

    We could debate the reasons for this – programming quality could definitely be a factor; the sun will go supernova on us before we see a program of The Wire or Breaking Bad quality in Japan – but it doesn’t change the basic fact that the US does watch more TV.

    — All points taken, thanks. That said, define “watch”. I have the feeling that people leave the TV on in the background all day (like my family did with the radio) as background noise in Japan more without necessarily couch potatoing. That would still inflate figures. Anyway, I agree, the data set I quoted is pretty suss, sorry.

  • Winning Gold in Dressage Doesn't Count says:

    As to TV watching habits, I don’t know if you can really let “stats” speak for themselves either. Unless the kids are watching cartoons, the Japanese families I know like to have the box on in the background, kind of like the radio, which, if typical behavior, would explain much of the content of Japanese TV. You’d have to do a reception study to make any accurate comparison, and you’d have to find someone who would think it is an interesting enough question to do so. Until then, a measure of how much the telly is on is not really revealing.

    Regarding the content of the program, the episode I watched was fluff, but it was essentially innocuous, and there were indeed a lot of stories that contradicted what seems to be seen here as the “common sense” in Japan that foreigners only ever stay for a while. Fair few of the interviewees were “just” tourists. Many if not most had lasting relationships in Japan.

    Of the tourists there were a few in search of “Cool Japan.” But what of it? When I go to Paris as a tourist with few connections there, I go to see the Eiffel Tower and munch baguettes on cafe terraces with a glass of red wine. I don’t go to hang out in immigrant slums to contemplate the plight of les étrangers. Is it really all that surprising that a show dedicated to finding out the opinions of foreign arrivals or returnees to Japan might bump into a few tourists who might be attracted to Japan by its (rather light handed, one has to say) cultural diplomacy?

    — Whoops, I commented on the “TV as radio” point before reading your comment. Sorry if I stole any thunder.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Its at times like this I have an attack of “sympathy” or “apology”, especially with the Manga etc and can imagine what the response would be, something like “We Japanese have a right to our own culture/manga etc” or “its just a harmless TV program etc”.Or, in response to Jim above, “maybe the Japanese should defend themselves from Americanization”

    but then I remember the war.
    to which J apologists/the Japanese Govt would say “postwar Japan has changed alot”

    but then, why the hate speech/lack of Nj rights/rights of women/etc etc that still persists, in fact is now in resurgence?

    No, Japan has not changed all that much. Except the labeling.For western consumption. Hence programs like these which desperately seek “approval” of J identity, uniqueness, and Nj participation in a dumb show, i.e. legitimacy.

    ps. Saw an exhibition of Shintaro Kago the manga artist. Call me over sensitive but it scared me shitless as it seemed to resemble Unit 731 and other J imperial vivisection. On teenage women.I repeat, has anything changed at all, under the labels?

    — I shudder to ask, and at the risk of really derailing this conversation, but any links you want to provide to this artist?

  • I dont believe Japan will change unless there is an event that forces it want to keep from losing face with the rest of the world. Perhaps further decline in population will force gradual, controlled immigration, but I think that is far into the future.We hoped that the generations learning English and studying abroad would bring back an openess and acceptance of foriegn culture view, but I see little change from those experiences; it seems to have little if any influence. Many people during the 80s and 90s went abroad and learned English, but its had little effect, if any, on society here. What sustains Japan is its “uniqueness” Being unique gives it appeal and an excuse to behave as it does. The only changes that take place are changes required to adapt outside ideas to fit the unique Japan image If this uniqueness disappeared, then what does Japan have? There is nothing in place to allow for assimilation or progressive ideas. How many times have you heard “its not Japanese” or “he is not Japanese” when a Japanese person is confronted with something they dont feel comfortable with? Anything outside (gai) must be changed and sanitized, many times losing the originality of the idea in the process in order to become uniquely Japanese. I think this is why so much behavior here is percieved as weird to outsiders.

  • Winning Gold In Dressage Doesn't Count says:

    Debito: Great minds think alike.

    “I’ve mentioned on before (somewhere) about some of the hidden themes in anime, that reinforce and perpetuate a narrow minded world view.”

    This is a rather odd statement, if you ask me. Anime and manga are not examples of “genres” with common themes. Each is a medium. It’s a bit like me having seing “A Good Day to Die Hard” and then declaring this “film thing” something that is not really worth my time. Sure, there is a lot of fluff in anime and manga, and also, yes, works which are softly (and even blatently) nationalistic. But I’d say most of the “messages” in the two media are actually quite progressive. Read any of Osamu Tezuka’s “dark” period? The progressive political criticism of the Japanese government corruption, the U.S.-Japan alliance, offical support for the Korean and Vietnam wars, discrimination against minorities and (in one book – MW) homosexuals are blatent. “Spirited Away” whose success arguably made the government sit up an notice popular culture, was a movie about the evils of excessive consumption in post-modern Japan. The Ghibli movie before it featured in the lead role a boy from an ethnic minority in a multicultural Japan that was being wiped out by the oppressive, homogenous and evil forces of the Japanese state directed by the Emperor.

    To tie it back to the current thread, this is directly related to the strategies of the government with its “Cool Japan” policy. The Japan Pop phenomenon took off without the assistance of the government, and the government’s policy is now to facilitate access to overseas audiences of more popular cultural products. As opposed to the pre-2000s when Japan’s cultural diplomacy relied more on selecting “sublime” forms of Japanese culture and presenting it to an overseas audience as representing the austere and inscrutable society that Japanese conservatives liked to see as their own. Because of more readily available translations overseas fans of anime and manga can now make up their own minds about what Japanese cultural exports “mean.”

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I was just thinking about even more cynical question people might ask in the future:

    “Why did you come back to Japan?”

    “To take care of my family.”
    “To forclose my morgage.”
    “To close my bank accounts.”
    “To get my abducted kids back from estranged spouse.”
    “To attend family funeral.”

  • “Why did you come back to Japan?”

    To reconfirm my experiences here and final assessment that nothing has changed except for the superficial gloss , that the underlying insular thinking is stronger than ever .

  • Karjh12, you read my mind.

    Q: “why did you come to Japan?”
    A: “To go to a hashi juku in Hokkaido.”

    (I had a co-worker, a fellow junior high school one-shot AET in the late ’80s, who told people who admired his chopstick use that he’d gone to a hashi juku in Hokkaido. All too often, they believed him.)

    Responding to this post:
    “Food should be something that unites people, I think. We can all get together and enjoy it.
    While framed as something that is cross cultural, in fact I feel food is is being subverted into another us and them trope.

    It’s unique. Delicious. It has wondrous properties. It’s different. Why are Japanese so healthy and slim and live longer than anyone else? It’s eaten with chopsticks. Can you use chopsticks? The media and METI for example love using the odd gaijin who prepares Japanese dishes (there is one entertainer in Nagano with appealing blonde hair who is often ruled out) to reinforce the divisive stereotypes. I heard that there is some move to try to have Japanese restaurants licensed abroad as authentic (what this actually means I am not sure) with another whole bunch of negative and divisive elements in it. I suspect that Japanese restaurants with gaijin cooks (even when those restaurants are in New York or Paris, and the Japanese people working there are the foreigners (not “gaijin”) would be OK as long as they have a Japanese in charge! You know to make sure they don’t add mayonnaise to the ikura or something.”

    As for the restaurant police, here in Paris we found the best Japanese restaurant…better than all the expensive ones, the “recommended by Japanese people” ones. The chef is Chinese. I didn’t put that part in my Yelp review, because I knew it would turn people off.

    There’s already a rating system of sorts in place: if it’s expensive and recommended and run by Japanese people, it must be good. Otherwise, it’s not.

    I guesstimate that 85% of Japanese restaurants in Paris are run by Chinese people. Same menus, same food, same supplier. One down the block has a fantastic picture menu with the yakiniku and tonkatsu pictures reversed. When we pointed it out, the waiter said, “no one ever orders those anyway.”

    We did. They were delicious.

    Q: “Why did you come to Japan?”
    A: “I missed being stared at and having people assume I’m American and only speak English”.


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