Don’t believe me? I promise you – you’re in for a surprise!
Click on the video above for a little preview of a popular Japanese game show known as Haneru No Tobira, which I believe roughly translates to ‘Human Tetris.’ Although this clip defies mere explanation, the idea is simple.
Contestants stand in front of a moving conveyor belt, which transports life-size blocks with cut-away human shapes. Unless they want to be knocked off the platform into a pool of icy water, contestants have seconds to contort their bodies into the appropriate shape so that they can pass through the block unscathed.
So now that you’ve all seen the video and are no doubt utterly confused, I suppose I should offer some sort of cultural explanation as to why Japanese TV shows seem to be anchored in another reality. Truth be told, and in light of the fact that I have an anthropology degree from a rather prestigious university, I have no freakin’ clue.
Of course, in times of confusion and doubt, I always turn to the great archive of cultural knowledge that is The Simpsons. Weaned on America’s favorite nuclear family since I was but a wee Japanophile, the early seasons of The Simpsons did more for my personal development than any other institution of higher learning.
With that said, do you remember the episode entitled Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo, which was the finale of the 10th season? After besting the Flanders by picking up the mega-saver tickets at the Springfield airport, the Simpsons fly to Tokyo for a Japanese-style family fun vacation.
Interestingly enough, Wikipedia reports that a Japanese dub of this episode never aired in Japan. Although the series was running concurrently in Japan, the TV censors banned the episode because of the scene when Homer throws the Emperor into a pile of mawashi or sumo thongs. In fact, Sanrio also objected to episode because of the depiction of the Hello Kitty factory as a giant smoke stack fueled by truck loads of stray cats.
Anyway, let’s get back to the original question at hand, namely why it is that Japanese TV shows seem to be anchored in another reality.
In the climax of the episode, the Simpsons appear as contestants on a TV game show called The Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show, hoping to win plane tickets back to Springfield. As serious Simpsons aficionados such as myself quickly recall, the show was hosted by a rude and violence-bent game show host named Wink, who was voiced by George Takei of Star Trek fame.
At the start of the show, Wink offers the Simpsons a quick and simple explanation of why Japanese TV game shows are so cruel: “Your shows reward knowledge. We punish ignorance.”
Ah – so! Hey, it’s not groundbreaking cultural commentary, but it’s the best got!
Anyway, feel free to offer your ideas as after five years of living in Japan, I still have no idea what’s going on when I turn on the TV.