Potential Yarase on TV’s Tokudane next Weds Nov 22 re “Comedy About Japan” (with update)


Hello Blog. What follows is a post forwarded with the permission of the author from The Community, and Life In Japan mailing lists. About potential “yarase” (i.e. staging a story for journalistic sensationalism) in one of my favorite Japanese TV shows, “Tokudane”, on for two hours from 8AM every weekday. Read on. Comment from me follows:


From: martin@autotelic.com
Subject: [Community] Potentially annoying piece about comedy on Tokudane Wide
Date: November 15, 2006 12:16:53 PM JST

Community, Lifers In Japan,

As some already know, I organize and perform at some comedy shows around Tokyo with a group called “The Tokyo Comedy Store”. Last night our group did one of our regular stand up comedy shows at The Fiddler in Takadanobaba.

A film crew from Fuji TV came down to film us for a segment on the show “Tokudane Wide”. It will air at about 9:15 AM on Wednesday, November 22.

The reason they wanted to film us was because some Japanese researcher type person (didn’t catch the name), has written a book called “Sekai No Nihonjin Joke Syuu” (世界の日本人ジョーク集, “A collection of the world’s jokes about Japanese”). So for at least part of their segment, they wanted to see foreigners doing comedy on or about Japan, and talk
to us about what we find funny about Japanese culture and so on.

Up to that point, it’s no big deal. But, where it gets possibly annoying is where they clearly had an agenda for the piece. No surprise there, of course, as I’ve learned reporters always create their news as much as find it.

They specifically asked of our comedians before the show if we could bring our pieces that “made fun of Japan”. Afterwards, they came up and asked us if we could think up some new jokes about Japan. We were confused about why the entire hour and twenty minutes of material about Japan we had just done on stage was not enough for them to work with. But it became apparent that there were two reasons for this:

1. The woman they had on hand who was there to translate our jokes into Japanese was mediocre at best, and clearly did not understand most, if any, of the jokes. I mean, she probably understood the literal meanings, but not the humour. So they are probably unsure if anything we said matches the criteria of what they are looking for.

2. They wanted us to have jokes about things that Japanese people care about, like crimes against otaku in Akihabara, or about “Neets”, and other items of current interest within Japan. We tried to explain that what might be of interest for Japanese people within Japan is not necessarily of interest for foreigners observing Japan from their perspective. But that point may have been lost.

So instead of discovering what it is that we talk about when we do comedy about Japan, they were fishing for certain kinds of aspects.

What was really annoying was that they asked us to sit at a table after the show and do a bit of a jam session to come up with some jokes about Japan, and film the creative process. (Most stand ups don’t work collaboratively, but whatever). They kept asking us things like “well, what first surprised you when you first arrived?”, “What happens here that doesn’t happen anywhere else”, “What is difficult about living in Japan for a foreigner?”. You know, all the same tired old topics which are A) not funny at all after you’ve lived here any amount of time, and aren’t a wide eyed babe in the woods anymore, and B) all based on the premise that Japan is a super special unique place that is so totally different from anything anywhere else. Yes, it is different. Just as every place is different. So what?

Sorry, I’m starting to rant a bit. The point I fear most that will get perpetuated is this whole concept of “Japanese vs Western” humour, which I think is crap, and within that the idea that any joke about Japan is a criticism about all of Japan. There was a little talk about how “Western” humour is more cynical and relies on making fun of someone, and “Japanese” humour is always just childish silliness. Ugh.

One of our comedians does a few jokes about a magazine called “Ramen” magazine. And the whole bit is about how he can’t believe that there’s a whole magazine devoted to ramen. Back in his home country, it would be understood that he’s making fun of the readers and makers of such a magazine. But here it gets automatically interpreted as being a criticism of Japanese culture in general, as if “the Japanese” are crazy for having such a magazine.

Bottom line, I fear this segment is going to parade around some tired out old stereotypes about how foreigners find Japan so weird and unique, and we make fun of it, and Japanese and western humour don’t overlap, and at the end of the day “our” humour is basically kind of mean. Or hopefully not. We’ll see next Wednesday.

Oh, and last thing… maybe the most annoying thing was that after the show, they found two audience members who said everything the producer wanted to hear. I almost wanted to strangle them.

Dave M G


Fascinating post, Dave. Thanks for it. Comment:

On Nov 15, 2006, at 12:16 PM, Dave M G wrote:
> So instead of discovering what it is that we talk about when we do
> comedy about Japan, they were fishing for certain kinds of aspects.

Welcome to my world. Whenever I’ve dealt with reporters, especially those in TV, there has always been an angle, a preconception they were assigned to present before they even showed up–because the story had to be sold on a certain “peg” for it to be hung on for audience interest anyway. “Discovery” is very rare (unless you’re talking about those car crash and funny home video thingies) in essay media like what you see on Tokudane, unless you have the time to develop it like a real essay (in documentary format). These people are in a hurry to write an essay the show wants to show, not depict what actually goes on with any subtlety as a documentary.

Dave again:
> Oh, and last thing… maybe the most annoying thing was that after the
> show, they found two audience members who said everything the producer
> wanted to hear. I almost wanted to strangle them.

Yes, and that is a primary weakness in image control that people had better learn about fast if they’re being portrayed thusly. People who live under the magnifying glass constantly (as most non-Japanese do when they come and live in Japan) should know better. But few seem to learn (and like even less being advised about it), even when it clearly works to their disadvantage. I’ve found that very few people overseas have much awareness (aside from celebrities, diplomats, and those “trained” *specifically* in image self-control) about how they’re coming off in public, especially when asked pointed questions with a smile and no sarcasm.

You do that with people here, however, and voila, people wonder why you’re asking that, and look around carefully and measure how what they’re saying is being taken by the people around them. Image control here is pretty much second-nature. You’re not going to get nearly the same candor from an audience in this society. Especially if you’re talking in front of a television camera, for pete’s sake!

That phenomenon is going to give Tokudane plenty to work with, I bet, to fulfill every single fear you’re raising here. Or hopefully not, as you say. We’ll see next Wednesday.

I’ve given Dave Spector a heads-up about this, as Weds is his day on Tokudane. Maybe he can ground and temper the yarase. Debito in Sapporo



>Dave, how did the Tokudane show turn out last Weds, re your Comedy
>Story portrayal of Japan in as humor and potential “yarase”?

Happily, it turned out not so bad. Basically harmless.

Actually, you can see it for yourself on YouTube. My friend Kevin, who
does a regular video blog thing, put it into one of his entries. He
chatters (a bit aimlessly) about it for a minute, and then you can see
the clip from the show:

For all my whining about the impression I got from when they filmed it,
I think it turned out to be kind of a non-issue. Dave M G

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