Sneering at Japanese TV is easily done. The studio sets induce migraines, cameras leer up skirts and down cleavage, and the hard-hitting, late-night dramas would barely make the after-school slot back home. And then there is Japan’s cast of ubiquitous ‘celebrities’ who seem to live out a live-on-air swingers party as they turn up in each other’s studios night after night, each one cutting desperate, distorted shapes in an attempt to win the attention of the host, the camera, and the audience. You just know, when these people look in the mirror at home, they either give themselves a self-congratulatory wink, or they break down into tears.
No, the accusation of Japanese TV as cultural bankruptcy is an easy one to make. But let’s be fair, it could be levelled at TV around the world, most of which is aimed at helping bored homemakers and lazy students scrape through another day.
There is some hope though; comedy. Japanese comedy is very physical, and whilst a lot of it involves spitting out the language at high speeds, the elements of gesture, props, slapstick, and situation can make it accessible to those who don’t understand the language.
We offer no ‘quality’ guarantee for the following comedy offerings from Japan, but one doesn’t need much (if any) Japanese to ‘get’ the jokes.
イモトアヤコ (Imoto Ayako)
Best known simply as イモト, this female comedian is something of a staple on Japanese TV. You can’t miss her, she’s the one dressed in the high-school girl’s uniform, with ridiculous eyebrows. She spends most of her time traveling the world (replete with uniform and eyebrows) getting involved with local customs and festivals. Most recently she could be seen scaling some of the world’s highest mountains.
It’s taken a while for イモトto reach such lofty heights. She spent years in the soul-crushing, comedy wilderness, until in one audition it came to light that she was a fast runner. Some bright spark decided it would be funny to see her race against animals. So, she did! In doing so she became known as 珍獣ハンター / chinjuu hunter / beast hunter.
You don’t have to understand イモト’s words to appreciate her anarchic style and the situations she puts herself in. In the clip below, she’s racing against a tiger. As you do! (Skip to 2 mins).
イモト is a regular on Nippon TV’s (ch. 4)世界の果てまでいってQ / sekai no hate made itte Q (something about going to the world’s end), Sundays 20:00-21:00.
Staying with 世界の果てまでいってQ , a regular slot on the program is this little gem. Here, lovable but gullible comedian Nakaoka Soichi ( 中岡創一 ) tries to recreate some of the mad stunts performed on YouTube. As you file through the clips, Nakaoka’s unassuming manner and endearing stupidity, make him appear as a Homer Simpson type character, repeatedly stepping on a garden rake.
In this clip, our protagonist attempts to walk a maze of mouse traps. Blindfolded! No Japanese required.
とにかく明るい安村 (Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura)
The world of Japanese comedy can be brutal and unforgiving, one day you’re all over the TV, the next you’re doing Sunday afternoon appearances at this writer’s local shopping center. It seems particularly fickle for blokes who like to appear in their pants, think Hard Gay and Kojima Yoshio.
So, if ever there was an act that had short-lived fad written all over it, it must be とにかく明るい安村 aka Yasumura Shougo (安村昇剛). 33-year-old, slightly overweight Shougo has but one gag, striking poses that make him appear naked, only for him to reveal that he’s actually got some pants on. In his own words, 安心してください、パンツはいてます！/ Don’t worry! I’ve got pants on!.
Sounds weird? I suppose it is. But this is Japan, and it gets weirder. Powerhouse comedy duo Downtown had Yasumura do a piece for their show, a kind of ‘day in the life of’ in which he appeared to go through an average day, naked. A grown man hanging out in the park, apparently naked, playing baseball with some school kids would be cause for concern back home. Not so over here it seems.
とにかく明るい安村 doesn’t have a regular TV slot, so for the time being he’ll pop up on whichever channel will have him. You can find a handful of clips on YouTube, and this time next year, he could be coming to a shopping center near you!
くまだ まさし (Kumada Masashi)
For something a bit more traditional or old skool, look no further than Kumada Masashi. A mixture of traditional stand-up and kids party clown, Kumada is all about novelty glasses, and moving hair pieces. His signature gag usually involves some kind of sound or prop exploding from his backside.
Kumada is bit of a journeyman. These days you’re more likely to find him on the Internet than you are TV.
In this clip he’s sampling his brand of on-stage slapstick with a Western audience. (Skip to 6 mins 43 secs).
Gonzo, self-titled as Asia’s First Tambourine Master, has been lurking on the Internet scene for a couple of years now. Overweight and clad in Spandex, he dances along to energetic tunes, all the while banging his tambourine against any part of his body he can reach. Where’s the comedy? , I hear you ask. Well, this writer isn’t sure, but some people must be in on the joke.
This year, Gonzo had people out of their seats with his performances on Asia’s Got Talent. He went on to make the semi-finals (which doesn’t really say much for Asia’s talent), and last week, Japanese mainstream TV gave some coverage to his exploits. Might he explode in Japan? Well, you can’t help but feel he needs to expand his repertoire. Still, there’s a bit of buzz around him for now, and, funny or not, absolutely no Japanese is required.
Got your own comedy you can 'get' in Japan recommendations? Drop us a line below! Or, visit us on Twitter: @City_Cost