My Japanese is horrendous, so I’ve had a lot of “arigatokudesai” moments (“Thank you you’re welcome!”) which can make a native speaker freeze (I presume out of fear of saying something equally nonsensical in English).
So at 6:00 p.m. when the city’s bullhorns played a tone and then spoke what was (for me) incomprehensible Japanese, it was totally creepy:
Typhoons were on my mind, so I turned to the TV. I inexplicably don’t have the national television channel (NHK) though a man comes to my door every month and asks me to pay for it. When I turned to the TV for information about a centipede invasion, two men wearing chicken masks were dumping eggs into ornate gift boxes set to a MIDI-synthesizer version of “YMCA.”
Other channels weren’t much different. One had a kind of crazy mix-of-mini-games where a male pop idol competed against teams of men dressed in Izod shirts, a bald man in a robe and a 1970’s-looking mom and her adorable 7-year-old daughter. The really galling thing is that the pop idol kept winning all of the challenges; after bowling down an obstacle course involving a curved wall, the pop-idol got so smarmy that he even high-five the little girl.
Japanese game shows seem to be modeled after “sports days,” in which competition is stripped of losers and everyone is awarded for trying. As a result, the games end up pure “fun” with no losers (and no prizes).
Based on my experience with Japanese TV, you are far more likely to see something as stupid as a guy getting electrocuted for $1 million in America. In Japan, the exhausting majority of prime-time (“safe”) TV is all about people enjoying themselves in the most boring way possible, including eating food (and marveling at how delicious the food is).
It’s kind of like watching reruns of America’s 1970’s TV, where game shows had celebrities and people watched to see celebrities have fun. It’s still part of American TV – it’s Jay Leno, David Letterman, anything “celebrity” driven. But those things have self-awareness now. Letterman’s TV jokes are jokes about TV. There’s a reflective self-awareness that seems to have been transcended or ignored completely by mainstream Japanese TV.
So while Japanese TV is garrish and ridiculous, it seems absolutely not “post-modern” at all, even if it looks like that from abroad. If there’s irony or cynicism about TV on Japanese TV, it’s not really coming through for me (though I also don’t have a clue about what they are saying. I study visual culture so I don’t have to learn languages).
The siren, by the way, is a broadcast from town hall, warning the kids from other parts of town to scram. They play every day at 6, on the nose. The sirens are also used to tell people about town hall meetings and special garbage pickup days.