Tune in to Japanese television, and chances are that you’re likely to have come across one of the following:
- a bunch of “talents” (tarento) riding trains and buses and stopping by scenic spots, restaurants, shops, onsen, hotels, and ryokan
- a bunch of “talents” doing restaurant-hopping, eating their way across Japan or elsewhere, trying out one particular dish (ramen, gyoza, yakiniku, tonkatsu, pasta, pizza, dimsum) in different restaurants
- a camera crew following farmers or fishermen or artisans or entrepreneurs as they go about their work
- a camera crew ambushing either Japanese or foreign visitors in the street, asking them questions or else trying to convince them to let the camera crew tag along with them, in one case all the way into their homes
- a battalion of “talents” being quizzed on anything from how to write kanji characters to identifying countries by their initial letters or flags to whatever it is that the TV producers can dream up
- talk shows where a bunch of experts (some of whom have become “talentos” in their own right, with their own groupies) discuss current affairs with nice peel-off or magnet visual aids
- experts lecturing on all sorts of medical conditions, from cancer to diabetes
- cute clips of cats, dogs, plus sundry other clips collected from around the world of freak accidents, mysterious happenings, exotic practices
- house reform, “before and after”
- classical music performances and special features on art exhibitions on Sunday nights
- cooking shows
The format is often pedagogical, drawing talents and viewers back to the classroom as someone—narrator, host, expert—asks questions and, after talents and viewers exhaust themselves trying to answer them, gives out the correct answers, accompanied by explanations. Showbusiness personalities sit through two, or even four, hours of this, just so they can spend the last twenty seconds of the show plugging whatever movie, concert, or project they are performing in. There are professional “know-it-alls” whose job it is to lecture on anything and everything, whether it’s the North Korean missile test or Trump or Japan’s ageing society and inequality or the Syrian crisis.
On an average week, one learns the following from these TV shows:
- A half-teaspoon of cinnamon eaten everyday promotes blood circulation, as does soaking in a forty-centigrade hot tub for ten minutes each day.
- Sliced avocados retain their fresh-green color when they are stored with bits of sliced onions (tops are ok) in airtight tupperware.
- Boiled eggs are easily peeled when they are slightly cracked with a spoon before boiling, and after boiling, plunged into cold war and then transferred to another bowl with a few centimeters of water and gently agitated.
- Lettuce stays fresh longer in the fridge when three or four toothpicks are inserted into the base.
- For easy peeling, make a five-millimeter-deep cut all the way round the middle of a potato.
- The juices from Japanese canned tuna make good salad dressing when mixed with a tablespoon of soy sauce.
- Japanese artisans are so good at their craft that: a) an onsen owner can tell the exact temperature of the water by just dipping his hand into the hot spring; b) a train driver does not need an odometer to tell him how fast his train is running; c) a cutter can manually slice up castella sponge cakes with precision using just one long knife; d) a pâtissier can measure out the proper weight of the dough in grams, even without a baker dough scale; e) Japanese temples are still largely hand-made, can be dismantled and reassembled in the process of being repaired, and their post-and-beam structure is rigid and strong yet flexible enough to withstand earthquakes; f) the best Japanese knives—light, thin, sharp, and hard—combine the best steel technology can produce with age-old techniques of metallurgy and swordmaking; g) a chef can distinguish, with his tongue, the provenance of a matsutake mushroom, particularly a Japan-harvested one.
- Oil-stained shirts can be cleaned with a toothbrush and cleansing oil over a cup of hot water.
- One can stop coughing at night by putting an extra cushion under one’s pillow (if this still does not work, best consult a doctor!).
- Kyoto people eat more bread than rice.
- The prices of wagyu beef are going up because the farmers who supply cattle farms with feed are ageing and their numbers declining.
- There have been increasing numbers of car accidents involving senior citizens who confuse the accelerator and the brake. This is part of a larger trend of increasing senior citizen crimes, which account for nearly 20% of all crimes committed. The rate at which Japanese aged 65 and over are arrested for crimes now stands at 162 per 100,000 residents. Almost sixty percent of these crimes involve shoplifting.
- The global stock of tuna is declining due to overfishing, despite the existence of Japanese laws requiring fishermen to return tuna weighing less than 30 kilograms to the sea.
- Japan had 24.04 million visitors from abroad in 2016, and these visitors spent a total of 3.75 trillion yen (USD 33 billion). Chinese visitors accounted for about 26% of the total number of tourists (a record 6 million last year) and nearly 40% of the tourist spending. The government, though, has set the benchmark high in its hopes of 8 trillion yen in tourist spending by 2020.
- The Tsukiji fish market will not be moving to the Toyosu site yet because the Tokyo metropolitan government is still weighing the pros and cons of the move (it also doesn’t help that the groundwater samples in the Toyosu site reveal the presence of benzene and other toxic chemicals well above the safety limits).
- A former head of the parents’ association of an elementary school in Chiba Prefecture is charged with killing a nine-year-old Vietnamese schoolgirl.