Often, when I watch television in Japan I feel I must be missing something. Surely, I think, there must be more to that chap’s act than shouting an annoying slogan with an apparently humorous gesture as accompaniment. After all, I’m sure he did that one last night. And a couple of times last Sunday. And just this morning on this very channel. The audience seems to enjoy it immensely, though, and I think maybe something has got lost in translation. I check my comprehension with my wife, she explains the joke, and I sit there stony-faced and say, ‘And then what happens?’
In Japan, like everywhere, there is good television and bad television, but having watched programmes here for a number of years, I find that overall I am pretty disappointed. I think the area that irritates me most is that of the game show, and not only because it often gives even more exposure to the one-trick-pony, flavour-of-the-month, gesture-loving gimmick kings of comedy that so irritate almost anybody who wasn’t born here. No, those people do make me shout rabidly at the screen, but it’s more than just that.
What annoys me most about the game shows I have seen in Japan is quite simply the stunning ignorance that is sometimes shown by the celebrities taking part and the accompanying lack of any kind of embarrassment at being so woefully uninformed about matters. My wife watches a quiz show called Nep-League most Monday evenings. This is a show in which teams of five celebrities compete against each other in answering a variety of questions. Sometimes, the first section of the show is a thing they call Brain Tower. Granted, it is not intended to be a high-brow show, but the name does suggest that some kind of cerebral exercise might be required. Mastermind, however, it is not. Rather, the contestants are shown pictures of things and simply have to say what they are. But the objects are not obscure household items at whose use one could only hazard a guess. No, the things I have seen shown on this section include, but are by no means limited in simplicity to, a corkscrew, former President Bush, and a giraffe. Sometimes they have to name these things in English, which would make things a bit harder, but no, these were in Japanese. Can you imagine that on a game show aimed at adults in Britain? Being shown a picture of a giraffe and being asked ‘What’s this?’ and then seeing contestants whooping with joy when they correctly identify it as being a giraffe? Now I myself have huge areas in which I remain woefully uninformed, and I fully agree that Britain is as full of ignorant people as anywhere else – you only have to go on YouTube to find plenty of laughable examples of intellectual paucity – but come on: A giraffe!
At a time when pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar were in the news, a team of five celebrities were asked which country used to be known as Burma. Not one of them knew the correct answer. I don’t recall their exact answers but I think one thought it was the Philippines and one said Malaysia. I fear another said Oceania but I am going to have to assume I really did mishear that. In another section of the show one celebrity failed to name the capital of Iraq. For heaven’s sake, in this day and age how can an adult not know the capital of Iraq! Quite frankly I was astounded, almost as much as when a team of five newsreaders were asked the capital of Lebanon and only one of them had any idea. Newsreaders!