I Survived a Japanese Game Show: Cross-cultural fun perfect for summer

I admit it. I can’t help it. I love “I Survived a Japanese Game Show.” Some may say the show is an insult to intelligence. So be it. Insult away. Last year, I was drawn in by the frivolity, creativity and how wonderful people are when they are out of their element. [Here’s last year’s first episode review.]

It’s popular culture look at Japan as well. Sure, Meaghan drove me a bit nuts with her confusion about what show she was on. I think she wished she was on “Survivor” with any excuse to prance around wearing next to nothing, but in general, I was drawn in and hoped the show would return this summer.

Happily, it has. Unfortunately I missed the kick-off last week since I was in NYC eating pizza at John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street, but I did catch up by watching the beginning of the episode on the show’s Web site. I was curious how the show would handle the element of surprise when contestants had no idea that they were being set up to be on a Japanese game show. It was priceless and fresh reality show entertainment. This year’s opening was just as funny.

Rome Kanda, the exuberant host who reminds me so much of my experiences with aspects of popular culture in Asia, surprised each contestant at various places including work, at their homes or out and about–like in a hair salon, to let them know they had made it onto the show. The reactions were wonderful and it gave a glimpse into life in everyday United States.

This year the contestants are people who are excited about playing Majide which requires doing things like dressing up like pink rabbits and partaking in ridiculous antics.

Mama-San is also back, as is Judge Bob and the men in black suits.

Like last year, the show gives highlights about Japanese culture in an unusual way. This is not highbrow entertainment, but it is a way to feel as if you’re a traveler in a country you’re not familiar with. There’s that sense of being off balance but kind of liking it. The show is also a reminder to not take oneself all that seriously when one travels and that there’s fun involved when it comes to doing the unfamiliar. There’s nothing wrong with being the butt of a joke. Ask any Peace Corps volunteer who lived in a remote village somewhere.

Tonight, I’ll have to peel myself away from America’s Got Talent to tune in on ABC at 9 EST. Next week, I’m heading off to New Mexico, Colorado and Montana for a three-week road trip. It’s good to get out of the house as well.

Calypso Tumblers at Venice Beach

This past Saturday, while walking along the promenade of Venice Beach in California, I stopped at a crowd gathered around a street performance. As I craned my neck at the outer circle, unable to see, I wondered if the attraction was the man juggling chainsaws like the last time I was at Venice Beach, although, I didn’t hear any chainsaws. I elbowed my way towards the front of the crowd, politely of course, but I wanted to see. I had to see. How could I write about it, if I didn’t see? I’m glad I was pushy. What a treat. This photo by Malingering posted on Flickr is just a glimpse. Check out the others.)

The Calypso Tumblers were in the middle of their act. Think break dancing but turned up several notches. The group members show off their mettle by spinning on their heads, striking poses while balanced on their hands, and leaping through the air in various twists and turns that causes their muscles to ripple and the crowd to gasp with thoughts like, “If I tried that, I’d break my neck for sure.” The crowning glory of the act was when people were called from the audience to create a line of 10 people. There was a great deal of build up to this act with joke telling, ribbing of the crowd and money collecting.

Finally, once all ten people stood shoulder to shoulder, bent over at the waist with their backs forming a fairly straight surface, the head guy took a running leap and flipped over them. Pretty incredible. Here’s a YouTube video posted by Utopian Flower to show you what I’m talking about. This one, though, was taken in New Orleans. Be patient when the camera seems to be turned away from the action. You’ll see the flip.

Also here’s link to another video posted by silverandblack68 that shows their act on America’s Got Talent.

After the performance I talked with one of the guys who told me about these YouTube links. In my searching I came across a video of a Venice Beach meeting. Some residents weren’t too happy with the Calypso Tumblers. From what I can tell, the complaint is that they take up more than their fair share of the promenade and disrupt the business of the surrounding vendors. I can see their point, but the group is terrific and how wonderful any person who happens to be walking by can see them. Here’s the complaint video.