I occasionally hear one of these words used to describe my beloved Japanese TV programming. Usually after trashing on TV, whether it be variety shows or J-dramas, there is a followup that Japanese movies are awful and Japanese have no acting ability. I’m slightly more lenient towards outsiders (people not studying Japanese) who are just taking a peek at Japanese entertainment. But for people studying the language, the inner-me is screaming “Why the hell are you studying Japanese?!” While I restrain myself, others do not, and usually they hear the following retort which makes me slightly cringe:
I am studying Japanese because of (insert some finer cultural aspect) of Japan
I like to enjoy real modern Japan. If you are going to show me the above on TV, there better be some robots involved.
But assuming that you are just misguided, I want to help you break from this negative illusion that you suffer from. Your over generalized statements sound just as bad if you replace “Japanese” and insert any language or country in the world. But it is hard to see this. Most likely, if you feel this way about TV, you fall into one or more of the following four groups:
1. Your Japanese isn’t good enough
Having a lower level of Japanese can kill your enjoyment of anything Japanese. You miss out on a lot. And I’m not just talking to beginners. A level 35 adventurer trying to watch level 55 material is not going to enjoy the material as well as someone of higher level. You miss plot, humor, nuances, and you are forced to focus more.
Solution: Simple concept you already know. Choose native material that matches or is below your level. Japanese media guide? Regardless of your level, there is material out there that you can enjoy. Now. I know you would like to be able to understand that Edo period history piece right now:
Are they having an exciting conversation about Samurai stuff? Probably. Except the character in blue time traveled from present day Japan, is a doctor, and teaches old Japan how to make things like Penicillin and fight diseases that don’t exist anymore. JIN (this J-drama) is great. JIN is an instant classic.
Please don’t watch JIN now.
Settle with a simple (non-samurai) boy meets (non-geisha) girl story.
2. You lack cultural knowledge
Even if your level is adequate, if you are missing out on cultural aspects, your entertainment is reduced. TV is filled with cultural references and jokes, historical references, pop culture, and current events. How do you expect to enjoy variety shows, entertainers, and comedians when you can’t understand what they are talking about.
That’s like trying to appreciate Seinfeld without knowing what New York City is, or what a Jewish person is.
Solution: Keep watching, but stay positive. Accept that you won’t get it now. Don’t push it away. Consider this just another part of your studies. Don’t give up media because you couldn’t understand the culture immediately.
3. You aren’t watching enough material
Assuming your level is good, and your cultural understanding is up to par, how much media have you watched before you decided to make your claim that “all J-TV is (negative comment).” 5 TV shows? 10? 100?
Please repeat the following to yourself until it sticks:
– There is TV you won’t like in any language.
– There is garbage in any language and country.
– The amount of garbage always significantly overwhelms the good material.
First you need to find what you like. And don’t just try to convert your likes from English to Japanese. Oftentimes you like different genres in different languages. I don’t like American romantic comedies but can’t get enough of Japanese ones. I like American action movies but get bored of Japanese ones.
How many TV shows come out a year? The number is easily in the hundreds. And there are thousands of modern TV shows of the past dozen years that you can easily get access to. There is too much out there for you to make any excuses.
Solution: Please employ the 5-minute rule, and give yourself the chance to sample ridiculous amounts of media. After your brief viewing, you can legitimately, officially and with endless glee say “I hate X show.” I do this all the time. Every new season of J-dramas I go on a “what the hell were you thinking?!” spree. I can name you dozens and dozens of specific TV shows that I think are weird and terrible and suck. Without exaggeration, over the years, I’ve probably sampled hundreds if not thousands of TV and variety shows. Try some. Try some more. Try some more after that.
And when you finally come across those beautiful gems:
I can’t imagine you being disappointed.
4. You aren’t giving certain shows enough of a chance
This mainly concerns variety shows, as movies/J-dramas are usually fairly simple to know whether you like them in the early minutes. But variety shows have bad days. Even my top favorite variety shows have bad days.
I love it when you go:
I hate it when you go:
1 out of every 4 episodes of a variety show you actually like may be lackluster, and 1 out of 10 episodes may be just terrible. It’s just the nature of a variety show. Topics, locations, ideas, and guests change. Even if you like the structure, they can’t always score a home run.
This is the same with actors, entertainers, and comedians. Some of their stuff is good, some is bad.
Just because you hated a movie with the super awesome actor 阿部寛 (Abe Hiroshi) in it:
Give him a chance. He’ll personally appreciate it. Don’t judge him on the occasional mistake movie.
Or just continue to hate?
I don’t know. I’m sure you can continually enjoy pointing out some over generalization like all Japanese TV is cooking, celebrity talk, game shows, and anecdotal stories. Live in this illusion if you want. I’m not stopping you. But I’m not inviting you to any parties.
How do you feel about Japanese TV? Express your love in the comments. Or even after reading through this do you still reject Japanese TV?