Japanese TV Take it All Off!
by Paul Bacon
A YOUNG WOMAN stands on a crowded Japanese public beach with a microphone. She interviews young men, but only those with the most revealing bathing suits. As she asks them innocuous questions about water sports, a camera zooms in on their crotches.
Back in a television studio, an all-female celebrity panel is trying to guess the size of the man’s chin-chin (genitals). After reaching a consensus, they relay their estimate to the reporter view her headphones. Then she confesses to the man that while they were talking, a panel has been sizing up his manhood. She tells him their estimates and asks him for the real size in centimeters.
It’s hard to imagine such a scenario being beamed into American homes. But in Japan, programming like this is common fare. Television in the land of conformity is full of shows that would make even the most jaded American couch-potato blush.
Japanese television has only one firm, albeit rather odd, rule: no pubic hair. That’s it. Unlike their meticulous American counterparts, Japanese censors seem to be on permanent vacation (most likely in Hawaii, watching television). In their place is an elite crew of technicians who spent their days placing little black video squares over pubic hair in sex scenes. In fact, if they used little black video triangles instead, you wouldn’t even know that Japanese television had any rules at all.
Consider these unguarded moments from Japanese television, all aired during prime time:
- Open to a sultry scene that looks like a man and a woman making love. Their grunting, sweaty faces are all that can be seen. The camera pulls back slightly to show that the couple are naked in a bathtub, and the woman is writhing wildly on top of the man. As she appears to be reaching some kind of climax, the camera pulls back farther to show that another man is in the tub with them, reaching between her legs like a quarterback ready for the snap. An earth-moving shriek comes from the woman, and out pops her newborn baby, sliding underwater across the tub into the doctor’s hands. The program is a documentary about natural childbirth--the first of a month-long series.
- A young woman in a bikini stands before a panel of five male celebrity contestants on a game show. She is holding a large card below her breasts that says “Mo__” written in Japanese. The object of the game is to create a phrase starting with mo that best describes her breasts. After a few minutes of close camera shots and some poking and fondling by the host, the answers are: momo (“they look like peaches”), mosukoshi (“they could be a little bigger”), moh honto ni (“wow!”), mochidase (“let’s see ‘em”), and first prize goes to monosashi chodai (“gimme a tape measure”).
- A drunken man stumbles happily through a tourist train, bumping into passengers and tripping over luggage. Without invitation, he sits next to a young woman and asks her for a beer. After one whiff of his breath, the woman pinches her nose and says she has doesn’t have one. He stands up and continues to pester other passengers until the end of the commercial. The surprise is this isn’t a public announcement for an alcoholic support group--it’s a commercial for Kirin Beer.
- Sean Connery stars in this commercial for Suntory whiskey. He sits at an outdoor patio table on a windy day, trying to put his thoughts down on paper. His thoughts apparently turn to the full bottle of whiskey on the table. He puts down his pencil, pours a glass and take a large gulp. The Suntory logo appears on the screen. We return to Connery, now staring happily into space, his bottle nearly empty. Just like the expression for drunkenness, “three sheets to the wind,” his three blank sheets of paper blow away, and he grins.
- During the year-end special of a popular talk show, the hosts watch--and listen to--highlights of instances when one of them has broken wind on air. They have more than 30 clips.
- In a commercial for bathroom air freshener, a husband and wife entertain guests in their home. The husband excuses himself to go to the bathroom. When he has finished his business, he finds his wife trying to stall one of the guests from walking in--right after her notoriously malodorous husband--because they’ve run out of air freshener. The husband smiles devilishly at the guest and says, “Sumimasen” (Sorry.)
Scenes like this are refreshing in their honesty. But the truth hurts, and sometimes it even smells bad. For every one of these scenes, there is at least one American interest group--from feminists to moralists--whose members would dedicate their lives to seeing it banned. But why are Americans so uptight? If we are the champions of free speech, why does our most powerful tool of communication have to hide the truth?
American television commercials rarely get the chance to sell products for what they are. Case in point: a bathroom air freshener commercial showing only images of a lush pine forest. Do we really use air freshener because we want our bathrooms to smell like a pine forest? Do we miss the good ‘ol days when our bathrooms were pine forests? No, we use it because we don’t want our bathrooms to smell like . . . you know. But we can’t say it. We can’t even refer to it--we’re Americans.
Just as curious is American television’s band on promoting alcoholic beverages for their intoxicating effect. Even drinking the product on a commercial is forbidden, prompting many alcohol marketers to sell it as an all-purpose social lubricant and image enhancer. But who drinks beer to be more attractive? Of course, some people drink it to make other people seem less unattractive to them--but that only works because it makes them drunk! That’s why we drink it. Why can’t we sell it for the same reason?
It’s as if we have so much free speech in American that there’s no room left for free expression. We’re afraid of telling the truth on television for fear of being trampled by the armies of free speakers wielding their petitions, boycotts and lawsuits.
In Japan, the opposite is true. It’s no accident that there is only one lawyer in Japan for every 45 in America--the Japanese simply aren’t a finger-pointing society. And they’re not afraid to talk about the things that people do in the bedroom or bathroom. When one considers the amount of time we all spend in these places, the Japanese are head and shoulders above Americans in talking about real life. Their cultural tendency to suppress their opinions, and their freedom from moralistic, religion-based inhibitions about natural functions allows their television programming to be irreverent, honest and downright fun.
In the same way that a mirror makes a right hand look like left hand, television distorts the nature of our societies. Most Americans’ socialization does put them way ahead of the Japanese in self-expression. But in an effort to appease its diverse and outspoken audience, American television becomes like so much watered-down beer--flavorless and sorely lacking in potency. Japanese television is more like a shot of hot sake--rough going down, but it has a kick that leaves no doubt you’re drinking the real thing. # # #