On Noise Bursts and Japanese Television | 電視と噪音

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.

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4 Responses to On Noise Bursts and Japanese Television | 電視と噪音

  1. Brett Sowerby says:

    The sirens reminded me of when I was living in Hawaii and they had the tsunami warning siren after earthquakes, so I can definitely understand being a bit troubled when you heard it. Why are they telling neighborhood kids to scam at six o’clock?

    I think the shows remind me more of TV from the ’50s and ’60s, where Red Skelton (who ran a variety show based on improbable scenarios) and the slapstick shenanigans of The Three Stooges and Benny Hill ruled the airwaves. I think that comparison makes more sense to me.

  2. Tanya says:

    Funny story – I was spraying a cockroach and all of a sudden heard a beeping noise and a woman speaking Japanese. I was so disoriented and freaked out for a second: ”how is this cockroach talking?!”

    Then I realized there was a carbon monoxide (or some other poison) detector on the ground right next to where I was. It talks too!

  3. Claire says:

    I turned up the volume to the maximum for the video because all I could hear was noisy cicadas- then Joey and I were both very surprised by the super loud friendly tone.

    I don’t know about you but speakers like that make me immediately think of three negative things:
    1. high school
    2. Auschwitz
    3. zombie based horror movies

    I love their garbage system. I wish we did that here.

  4. Pingback: On Sorting Garbage in Japan | 屑選別 | This Japanese Life. | 生命を外面九天です

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