After my ranting about the isolation of Japanese men from their families and the archaic attitude toward parental roles, I thought it might be nice for a little levity…
My wife and I resisted the impulse to show videos and expose our daughter to TV, but ultimately we had little choice once she became able to crawl around…and especially once she got into the “clinging stage” of never letting go of our legs. We seem to have stumbled upon the real reason for kids’ TV shows: to give parents a chance to eat breakfast and to do the household chores.
I’ve personally been interested to see the differences between my own memories of U.S. kids’ shows and Japanese kids’ shows. It’s not really a fair comparison, of course, because the memories I have are of TV shows from the mid to late 1970s, only one of which still exists (Sesame Street). Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and Captain Kangaroo of course stopped a long time ago (because the main character of each died of old age), as did Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, and a host of others.
While doing the laundry, washing the dishes, and generally trying to keep my daughter entertained while I scarf down my coffee and cereal, I’ve gotten pretty familiar with most of the NHK kids’ shows. One of the most well-known and currently longest-running in Japan is called Okaasan to isshou (“Together with Mommy”…because Daddy, of course, is never around in the morning). A typical show starts with a group of kids ages 3 to 5 in the NHK studio, singing random kids’ songs and clapping their hands or dancing with the four main hosts. In quick succession the show then usually has clips of the hosts singing about how great musicals are, playing guessing games with the studio kids, or performing a “construction” dance, pretending that arm and leg movement make the sounds of heavy moving equipment.
There is also a short segment called Monoran-monoran featuring three actors dressed up in baseball mascot costumes, living in Mono-mono-rando (which I suppose could best be translated as “Never-never-land.”) with talking mail boxes and lamp posts. This is the only part of any of the kids’ shows in Japan I have seen so far that have “neighborhood” characters and relationships, along with short skits to teach kids ethical behavior such as apologizing for being mean, stealing someone’s objects, etc.
The final segment is always an aerobics-exercise song for kids called Pawaa appu taiso (“Power-up exercise”). The song is led by someone who looks like a former gymnastics team member, who also does back-flips and walks on his hands during live stage performances. The song includes “wash your face,” “brush your teeth,” “say ‘I’m going out now,'” along with plenty of odd gestures. (You can check out a short video clip here; sorry, looks like my current blog provider doesn’t allow Flash-embedded vids.)
A newer show (only its second year) is called Miitsuketa (“I found it,” or maybe “We found it,” or maybe “Look what we found”). This show is truly bizarre. The main character, Kosshi, is a talking chair. In fact, most of the characters are talking chairs whose scenes alternate between animated versions and live stop-action dolls. The second main character is called Sabo-san, and looks like a walking cactus (“saboten” means “cactus” in Japanese). The third main character is a little girl who is there for the “cute” factor, I suppose.
Another character is a guy dressed up like a cow who shows up at random times pretending to take a bath (very odd). He seems to have no connection whatsoever to the other characters, and never even appears together with them in any scenes. The show has a very quirky sense of humor, which I have to wonder whether its intended viewers understand half the time (unless they mean for parents to watch along as well). The actors clearly seem to enjoy making the show. There is no storyline. Totally random scenes at time. Odd show. Have to wonder what the writers were smoking when they came up with it (or what the producers were smoking, maybe).
The animated video “Ko-ko-kosshi” has became somewhat of a viral hit with kids in Japan. Very catchy tune. Check it out.
Finally, the show Inai-inai-ba (“Peekaboo”) is clearly aimed at younger kids the age of my daughter (15 months old). This show has apparently been around for a few years and also features someone dressed up in a costume (“Wan-wan,” which means “puppy dog” in Japanese). There is also a little girl who leads most of the songs and sometimes has her own short segments showing younger children how to make random toys. This show is well-known in Japan for the song “Guru-guru-guru-guru-dokkan!” (it’s onomatopoeic, but basically, “rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, kaboom!”).
So, what’s the final verdict?
My first impression is that, especially compared to what I watched as a kid, the Japanese shows have a lot more energy in them. They actively encourage kids to be physically active, to dance and to sing and generally have a good time being kids. While there are occasionally bits about good manners and being nice to people, for the most part there is very little time spent being serious or moral. No skits about what to do when someone dies, or how to treat people of different ethnic or religious background, no make-believe neighborhoods of characters who try to deal with a new social dilemma on a weekly basis. Japanese kids’ shows barely have a story line or plot at all. Most of the shows consist of the same routines over and over again.
Actually, that does sort of make sense. Most kids prefer the same thing over and over again, and they’re probably too young to understand moralistic stories anyway. And they love songs and dancing. My daughter practically bounces across the room every time the kids on TV start clapping their hands and dancing.
One aspect does bother me a bit: the Japanese seeming obsession with the rear-end. A while ago, there was an unbelievably popular short video called Oshiri-kajiri-mushi, which translated as “bum-biting bug.” It featured, you guessed it, an animated make-believe bug that ran around randomly biting people on the bum. I haven’t the foggiest clue why this was so popular in Japan. Maybe Japanese parents wanted to encourage their children to bite each other on the bum? No idea. But I can’t help feeling slightly disturbed at the frequent close-up shots of bum-shaking in the dances of Okaasan to isshou and Miitsuketa. Even the costumed characters in Monoran-monoran have enormous keisters.
And, of course, there was the famous “bum-shaking dance” of the animated character Crayon Shin-chan (who thankfully is off my TV set finally).
Chalk it up to my Northeast American prudery, but IMHO bum-shaking has too much of a sexual connotation to be showing it up close in kids’ TV shows and videos.
Then again, the U.S. has “Sponge-Bob Square pants.”
Of course, there may well be other kids’ shows in Japan that I don’t know about. If you do, by all means please comment and let me know.