Why You Think You Hate Japanese Variety Shows
Variety shows are a strange phenomenon in Japan, and something many foreigners refuse to accept as a pleasurable form of entertainment. Translation: Most non-Japanese don’t like variety shows. They fall on the bottom rung of the TV ladder. And yes, there is an unspoken ladder ranking of what TV usually looks like to foreigners.
It goes something like this:
Anime: Love it! Could watch it every minute of every day. Speaking of which…
Movies: While there is some strange stuff out there, there is a lot of profound and innovative work produced. Just take a look at the IMDB Top 250.
Japanese dramas (J-drama): Eh… the acting is usually overdone, too many unrealistic plots, and the budgets are low. Occasionally there are some really clever and fun series though.
Variety shows: Garbage. Cheap talk shows with bad sets, gossip, gourmet reports, and boring nonsense. There are like one or two shows that occasionally bring laughs, but this is the rare exception.
Are you like this? Or know anyone like this?
Now I’ve said before that there are 4 factors that impede your ability to appreciate Japanese TV.
1. Low Japanese level
2. Lack of cultural knowledge
3. Not trying out enough material
4. Not giving specific shows a chance
Fixing the above solves most of your problems. Except when it comes to variety shows.
Over the years as I’ve grown to love them, I’ve started to see a bigger issue.
But only in the most recent years.
People would assume that with all my heavy praise that I must’ve been enjoying them since I was born. The truth is it wasn’t up until 2 to 3 years ago that I really started to like variety shows and watch them regularly. And remember, this is a number of years after I started to rid myself of all of the above 4 problems.
I’ve met other high level foreigners, who have even lived in Japan for years, and don’t like variety shows.
So why is it that almost all Japanese people, but only a small group of foreigners, love them?
Here is an important simple test to see where you stand:
Without using Google, I want you to think deep, and name:
– 5 Japanese actors
– 5 Japanese actresses
– 5 Japanese comedians
– 5 Japanese talents
How about 10?
Can’t do it?
Can you do it for your own culture? Well of course you can.
Here in lies the variety show issue.
Variety shows reach their pinnacle of entertainment value when you are fairly familiar with the people involved.
Common sense. People like watching TV with people they know. Movies sell better when they have famous actors in them.
You will enjoy watching famous people you know giving gourmet reports, partaking in stupid game shows, or involved in weird gossip. Picture Arnold Schwartzenegger doing a gourmet report. Might be interested in watching that?
So why does this happen?
The variety show industry requires character development.
Would you start a movie or video game in the middle and expect to enjoy it? Why would you care what the characters are doing? What does it matter if they are funny, die, are triumphant or cry. You don’t know them well enough to care.
Character development is you building a relationship with the characters. You know what they’ve been through, the way they think, and where they are headed. You grow with them. This is a principal that makes novels, TV, and movies work. Try watching the series finale of a TV show without seeing a single episode.
By you jumping into variety shows and expecting to connect with them instantly is the same. You need to know the general cast and characters. And then things start to get interesting.
Don’t expect a lot in the beginning. You are developing the setting of the world and getting to know the 250+ characters that make up that world. You did it with Pokemon. You can do it with people.
Once you start getting to know them, you will finally get it. And that’s a promise.
Anyone have a similar experience with variety shows? Want to recommend some good intro variety shows to people new to the world that don’t require that much character development?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I completely agree with this. I work with another English person who has the same Japanese level as me, but who hates that kind of TV, and I think it’s mainly because there are SO many in-jokes in them. I find that when I stray out of my normal go to variety shows (mainly Ame-talk) I get lost because I don’t know who people are. I find it helps if you have a Japanese person on hand who can explain who people are!
If you want to get into them, maybe watching the same ones regularly will help, as most seem to have a core group of people that they have on a lot. And once you do know who people are enough, they can be really fun and interesting to watch, and an easy way to keep up with what is going on in Japan in general.
Ame-talk is a great example because it is extremely talent talk based. Even I took a very long time to enjoy that show because you really have to know everyone to get what they are talking about.
And I like the advice about watching variety with Japanese friends (or fluent foreigner friends who really like variety shows) in the beginning.
しゃべくり007 is a good one, especially because the history of the guest is part of the discussion.
I love しゃべくり007! It’s the first variety show I got into.
I used to watch variety shows just because they were different from American TV, but now I watch them the way this article states. I go bananas when I see stars making appearances on them.
There are a few shows (can’t think of any offhand right now) that go into history of the guest, and I think that’s a perfect intro to help you enjoy not only that show, but all shows.
i’ve noticed that ガキの使い is popular even among non-japanese-speaking people, mainly because of how crazy it can be. it’s the introduction i had to the concept.
Yeah, it does have a bit of international fame, especially on YouTube. Though at the same time, it gives the impression that that is what all Japanese TV looks like!
I LOVE watching Japanese variety on TV, even though other people around me don’t understand why!
I like all sorts, but without much character development, maybe quiz shows? Because you can have fun trying to work out the answers to questions yourself and you gain satisfaction!
So I recommend くりぃむクイズ ミラクル9 and Qさま!!
Quiz shows are also great for improving your Japanese to really new and deep levels (as you learn a lot of the confusions that even native Japanese people have).
One of my favorites recently is 日本語探Qバラエティクイズ!それマジ!?
My (highly unlikely) dream is to get on one of them.
Variety show can be fun to watch, but japanese TV is not just drama, anime and variety, there are some great documentaries too. I really enjoy プロフェッショナル 仕事の流儀 (http://www.nhk.or.jp/professional/).
Very true, so thanks for the addition. NHK does produce some excellent documentaries, learning and history shows.
Yes! This is so true! I used to not care for variety shows and wished there were more dramas on live television. Now I love them. I think knowing a lot more celebrities and Japanese pop culture really factors in. Of course, my Japanese improving also helps.
I’m still very much in the beginning phase of liking variety shows. I cannot name ones that I follow (with exception for 女子アナ罰). I just turn them on, watch and enjoy.
It will get a lot more fun from you here on out. I was the same way, and it was a major transition. But once you get to know the cast, you feel like you’re a member of the group.
The problem for me with variety shows is that some of them have been running for so long, that I don’t know where to start. Where do I begin with something like 笑っていいとも ? (“it’s okay to laugh!”).
Don’t get me wrong, I like variety shows, I really enjoy 月曜から夜ふかし (I actually recommend this, not too long, funny and easy to get into) London hearts and ガキの使い. But the episodes can be so hard to hunt down that I just give up go and listen to a podcast, or watch a drama or anime instead.
Just start at the current episode. You don’t need to see all the previous episodes to be able to enjoy a show. You’ll get adjusted on how the show works quicker than you think. And most shows have specials that look back over the show’s best moments of the past year(or years)
How interesting. Actually I can’t name five actors, comedians etc. from ANY culture, so, as in many ways, Japanese may be my way in to having a culture I can respond to.
I didn’t find Japanese humor funny, but then I don’t find Western humor funny at all. I have occasionally seen American comedy and thought “what makes THAT funny?” I am not humorless – I laugh a lot at my own jokes which most people find incomprehensible: and suddenly, just recently, I have started occasionally laughing – I mean really laughing, not just thinking “I can see why that is supposed to be funny” – at things in anime. Learning a culture is really a fascinating thing!
Then your new goal should be the ability to name all the Fives for Japanese culture. And laugh at them.
Honestly I can’t even name 5 of these for Canadians, maybe for americans since they’re more popular but definitely not that I care about haha. So I guess japanese could get me to start paying attention to that kinda stuff… maybe :p
Gotta start paying attention! It’ll be worth it.
I come back almost a year later to say that I have found a few people that I actually do enjoy, namely the regulars in Gaki no Tsukai; Downtown, Cocorico and 月亭 方正. I love all they do, so that just goes to prove the point of your entire post! Haha
Nice! Glad to hear you found your crew that keeps you entertained.
I have to disagree with this article – the order is completely backwards for me :p I LOVE variety shows. Then movies, then jdrama then anime. As with most people I watched anime first – lived rurouni kenshin and trigun – never got into it beyond that (ok – Pokemon as well – but I got used to it in English more than Japanese so it doesn’t count :p)
I started with assorted gaki no tsukai episodes first – then through my host family watched everything from knight scoop, to London hearts (and saw them filming an episode around Kyoto and got my 2 seconds of background fame ;) ) I got into Lincoln, enta no kamisama, gurunai… And so on. Definitely my preferred Japanese shows. I guess watching it with my host family was the biggest catalyst but even before that I used to flick through the channels to find a box in the top corner (filming reactions – quite a popular technique in variety shows) – I think because they tend to use a lot of kanji to reiterate what people are saying it helped me get the gist of what was being said at a point in my learning where my ears weren’t fast enough.
Glad to hear that variety shows are at the top of your entertainment list! They really should not be considered anywhere near the bottom.
You make a very good point that watching variety shows with Japanese people (especially friends or host family) is a great way to get and stay into them.
Well.. I’m still pretty sceptical. But I gotta say, you’ve certainly opened me up to the idea that I may one day like them more than I thought possible. Either way, I’m going to try to like them, but the reasons you give for why I might not like them give me a good springboard for knowing when I might be ready to give that a shot. Good article.
Thanks. It’s fine to keep a little skepticism, as long as you don’t let that hold you back from at least making a good attempt at trying to find shows you like.
I’m a bit skeptical about it because I don’t need to have enough knowledge Pop Korean culture when I first tasted Korean’s variety shows.Like, I remember my first time watching Runninf Man without knowing the cast or any knowledge about Korean variety shows. So…
7 years later and this point actually stands.
i mean still stands