Often, a Japanese expression is simply translated straight into English, with the Japanese sentence construction unaltered. For example, an ending appended to many Japanese nouns can turn them into verbs suggesting group activity. Translating directly into English words produces such odd to our ears expressions as "Let's Sport", "Let's Healthy", and so forth, but the Japanese consumer, who knows quite a bit of English vocabulary but very little grammar, immediately understands the intent. And since the message is not intended for native English speakers, there is no need to "correct" its English.
Another characteristic language variation is the creative combination of syllables, so that personal computer becomes pasucom, or The clientele is almost entirely women, mostly middle-class, who come to brush up on their social skills. The charm school itself would be considered unusual in Japan, although the attitudes it reflects the love of self-improvement, the yearning for foreign cachet are widespread.
The standard course is sixty hours long, and includes both physical and social instruction. The physical aspects are probably similar to what might be found in the US: posture, poise, personal grooming, diet advice; the teacher, Susan Holder, is a half-Japanese, half-American model. Although American audiences may find it odd that middle-class Japanese are learning about table settings that are so elaborate they might only be found at dinners of state, the rituals of Western table setting are not unlike the classic Japanese tea ceremony.
The same precision, care, and emphasis on procedure that is found in the tea ceremony can be seen in the film. This is the preferred Japanese way of learning: an authoritative teacher, or sensei, and a lot of details to memorize. The information is new, but the cultural style is the same. Visitors to Japan often remark that the commercials or CMs, as they are known there are usually more interesting than the regular TV programs.
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Certainly Japanese commercials are among the world's most creative, partly because the directors, who have more creative freedom than their American counterparts, are able to downplay the actual product in favor of creating a mood and leaving the viewer with a specific feeling.
American companies get nervous if their product is not mentioned frequently during a second spot. For example, the commercial based on Tom Sawyer shown in the documentary only gets around to the product an instant noodle soup at the very end; the rest of the time it is content to create a feeling of adventure among its youthful target audience, and to trigger positive responses by reminding them of a favorite book. The Japanese advertising industry is massive: in , Japan spent 4, TV commercials tend to be either elegant, graceful film essays or lightning-quick, hard-hitting spots for such products as laxatives and detergent.
The use of foreigners in Japanese commercials is frequent, with the gaijin used to further the mood, whether it is "classy" British or European settings , "friendly" the American heartland , and so forth, in the same way an American spot might use a Japanese actress to suggest the exotic. The difference is in the sheer volume of foreigners used, even if nothing about the product is really "foreign".
Sometimes, of course, the foreigner is a genuine international star eager to pick up some extra money without tarnishing their stateside reputation Paul Newman, Kevin Costner, Madonna, Woody Allen, and Sylvester Stallone have all done Japanese commercials. But most gaijin in commercials are not celebrities. The public doesn't seem to mind, preferring to plug into the moods being presented: busy New York, wide-open West, or in the case of the commercial being filmed in the documentary, "New York-as-seen-in-The Man from U.
As embodied by Kent Gilbert and Dave Spector, both profiled in "The Japanese Version", the concept of the gaijin tarento, or "foreign talent", has no real equivalent in the United States. These are men, American-born, whose fluency in Japanese and ability to fit themselves into a perceived stereotype of American behavior have yielded them lucrative TV careers in Japan as professional Americans.
Gilbert, the clean-cut Utah man, and Spector, the artificially blonde energetic urbanite, are often presented as "typical Americans", and their opinions sought on a variety of subjects that they do not necessarily have any expertise in. There are two or three more gaijin tarento on TV, including a Sri Lankan and an American bodybuilder, and their friendly demeanor helps soften the edges of what many Japanese think is an aggressive American culture. They are domesticated, tamed "pandas", reassuring to the home viewer.
Perhaps this is an essential process in a culture which is essentially non-confrontational. Nippon Television's Ultra Quiz first went on the air in It airs on four successive Thursdays every November, two hours per night, and is but one of many quiz shows on Japanese TV. The quiz begins in a Tokyo stadium, where a crowd of 20, is asked a series of "yes" or "no questions "When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, was it the left foot or the right one?
Each season the quiz visits a dozen locations, eliminating one or two people at each spot, until two contestants are left; they face off in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. The quizzes mix knowledge of trivia, physical stamina, and luck; each episode takes advantage of its location, usually a "classic" American setting, which also provides the backdrop for a "penalty game" that humiliates the losers in a creative way the losing contestant in Death Valley has to play golf in what is shown to be the world's largest sand trap, for example.
American viewers expect there to be a sizable prize at the end of this gruelling marathon, but in fact the prizes are either minimal or outright jokes. To the contestants, the incentive appears to be a question of doing as well as possible, thereby not losing face and disgracing one's university or home town; that in itself is reward enough. The contestants who last do experience a fleeting fame in Japan, and Ultra Quiz is especially popular with university students with time on their hands and trivia in their brains.
The penalty or batsu game in Las Vegas that is presented in "The Japanese Version" is fairly self-explanatory. It is unlikely that an American contestant would silently accept the fear and humiliation cooked up for him by the quiz producers, who manipulate their viewers' psyches masterfully by stocking the room with a rogues' gallery of aggressive American stereotypes: the Mafioso, his voluptuous girlfriend, the black bodyguard, and, for support, Mike, the friendly poker player. While American audiences find the penalty game cruel, many Japanese viewers do not take the contestant's plight quite so seriously.
He has done well simply to reach this stage of the game, and when it is all over everyone shares a good laugh with him. It is appropriate that Ultra Quiz ends with the Statue of Liberty being offered symbolically to the winner. The Statue is the ultimate symbol of America--far more so in Japan than it is in the US itself--and her image is constantly cropping up in Japan. Despite trade wars, concern about Japan-bashing, fear of crime and yuppie flirtations with the cachet of European opulence, she seems sure to endure as a symbol of a society that is perceived as open, creative, given to wide-open spaces and friendly people, and far away from the daily grind--in other words, a suitable fantasy for the Japanese.
As the film develops its story in a light-hearted way, it focuses on scenes Westerners might consider bizarre, such as love hotels, rubber wedding cakes, and courses on how to become "westernized". In Japan, these things are really familiar to us. Although most Japanese take these scenes for granted, we do recognize that they are a little strange. As a result, many Japanese viewers of the film will find themselves chuckling at each episode, albeit with a sense of uneasiness. In these sometimes contradictory ways, "The Japanese Version" relates to important issues facing Japan today.
Japanese often use the word kokusaika internationalization to signify the desire of many Japanese to become more a part of the "world community". Yet this effort can be frustrated by two problems: the stereotyped views of Japan held by non-Japanese, and the desire by many Japanese to present only certain aspects of their culture to the larger world.
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Frankly speaking, when I saw "The Japanese Version" my reaction was mixed. On the one hand, it is a great joy to see a work that will inform many foreign friends about aspects of contemporary Japanese life. But there is also an accompanying uneasiness as I consider what the film is saying about Japanese culture. Though all the episodes presented are quite familiar to us, the film could never have been made by Japanese hands.
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In this short essay, I would like to clarify some of these contradictory feelings with the hope of providing a hint of understanding about the conflicting forces of kokusaika and the foreign stereotyping of Japanese culture. First, my feelings of joy. Needless to say, "The Japanese Version" is one of the very few works which portrays real Japanese culture without falling back on stereotyped Japanese images. We often sigh over the simplistic work done by foreign journalists.
For example, to the incredulous folks back home in the U. S, Japan is often depicted as a robot-driven, inhuman technological society. Other observers, when they focus on contemporary situations, try to connect them to such "traditional" Japanese phenomena as samurai, geisha, madly workaholic businessmen, obedient wives, etc.
Mount Fuji is frequently invoked. Enough is enough! The numbers of Japanese who go abroad are rapidly increasing, but whenever we travel in Western countries, or meet friends from abroad, we are repeatedly asked the same kinds of questions about Japanese life, always centering on the traditional ways of living that have all but disappeared from Japan today.
This happens so frequently that a short introductory book on Japanese culture, written in English and accompanied by an audiocassette featuring native English speakers, has become very popular among Japanese businessmen and students who are going to live abroad and must face a volley of questions on Japanese life. Although the presentation is very stereotyped and many of its points are rather obscure, if Japanese travelers repeat the account of Japanese culture given in the book and tape, they can satisfy the predictable questions of their foreign friends.
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In this way, the same old Japanese stereotypes are perpetuated in a vicious circle of disinformation largely divorced from reality. On the other hand, Japanese are also titillated by such traditional presentations of their society. At the same time that we complain about foreigners misunderstanding real Japanese life, we appreciate the attention.
Furthermore, it confirms our cozy insular idea that foreigners cannot possibly understand us anyway. The pinpoint accuracy of many of the scenes in "The Japanese Version" pierces this smug shell, and asks basic questions about Japanese self-image. Hence the uneasiness I and many Japanese feel when watching the film. In order to examine the self-image of the Japanese, let us first consider the self-image of the individual.
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There are basically three kinds of self-image: First, the image one presents to oneself; second, the image of what one wants to be; and third, the image of oneself that one wants others to believe. Usually, people who check their appearance by looking in the mirror every day do not necessarily see themselves in totality.
They may focus only on their favorite part, or they unconsciously see only their own "idea" of their faces. People are often surprised when they are shown candid photos of themselves, exclaiming "Do I really look like that?
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