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  • Teo

What's On TV?

It seems that many Japanese people, especially those who haven't yet traveled abroad, are curious about the differences between Japan and America. Obviously, there are simply too many to discuss in a single blog entry, so I'd like to talk about one of the differences that is interesting to me.


As someone who watches a lot of Japanese TV, specifically comedy and variety shows, I'm quite familiar with the ways in which American and Japanese TV differ. Since I don't own a TV, I often watch rebroadcasts of my favorite shows on a site called Simply scrolling through the various TV shows, the first obvious difference becomes apparent. The sets of Japanese TV shows are incredibly lavish, colorful, and intricate. While watching a show, I often find myself looking at the set and wondering how long it took to construct it. To the contrary, American TV show sets tend to be quite subdued. Late night talk shows, for example, tend to have a simple cityscape in the background.


Japanese TV shows also reveal an aspect of Japanese culture that is quite well-known: that Japan is a group-oriented society. While there are a few daytime talk shows in America with more than one host, almost all American TV shows have a single host, and they usually speak with their guests one-on-one. Japanese TV shows on the other hand, almost always feature at least two, if not three or four hosts, who are often joined by multiple guests and commentators.


Also quite different from America is the content of the programming. The first time I realized how unique Japanese TV shows were was in the summer of 2002. I was watching TV one night at my host family's house in Gifu. On the show, mothers were competing with their daughters-in-law to see who understood their sons/husbands preferences best. How they did it, though, was quite interesting. The mothers and daughters-in-law each bought a pair of underwear. When the husbands went to take a shower, their wives would put both pairs of underwear by the shower door, and when their husbands came out of the shower, they would choose a pair. So whether it was the mother or the daughter-in-law who knew their son/husband the best was based on whose underwear the man chose. That I still remember that episode nearly 20 years later is a testament to how interesting it was.


Because of Japan's rote-learning education system, it's often said that Japanese people are lacking in creativity compared to Westerners. However, watching Japanese TV has shown me that Japanese people are actually incredibly creative and possess a unique way of thinking about the world. When I was young, my parents used to tell me that watching too much TV would rot my brain. To some extent, that's true. But when trying to understand the language and culture of a foreign country, I can say based on my own experience that TV can be an invaluable tool for learning.





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