A Very Quick, Non-Exhaustive Guide to best of “WTF Japan?” from Japanese Television
By Jade Bonus
Contrary to what the internet led me to believe before arriving in Japan, Japanese television is kinda normal, which is a gross disappointment. Thankfully, if you know where to look (well, YouTube) you can find enough “WTF Japan?” content to tickle your funny bone and soothe your latent sadism.
Roughly contributing to one quarter of all the “WTF Japan?” content on YouTube, variety television, given it’s relative cheapness to produce, is ubiquitous across Japanese TV networks. Like chat shows in the west, variety shows are primarily a promotional tool for celebrity guests to spruik their latest wares, Unlike western variety/chat style shows, Japanese variety shows revel in interspersing guest interviews with pranks, skill tests and quizzes that as often foil their guests and fellow hosts as big them up. Not surprisingly, Japanese variety shows tend to be hosted by manzai (straight man/ funny man comedy) duos or comedic groups, notable examples are the prolific, Downtown, (Hey! Hey! Hey! Music Champ! and Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!) and Cream Stew (Shabekuri-Seven) among many others.
YouTube is absolutely flush with examples of great moments from Japanese variety television… but please enjoy one of my favourites…The Ass Game.
Thankfully, it’s not all middle-aged men eager to commit indecent assault to each other in Japanese variety land. Recognising that they were missing on all important market share, since the 90s TV networks have been cashing in on the fact that people like looking at hotter people. Therefore, there is now an abundance of variety and music programs hosted by (hot) pop groups. Notable examples include Arashi (VS Arashi) and SMAP (SMAP X SMAP). Less scatalogical in nature than their manzai-led counterparts, these pop group hosted variety/music shows are definitely a more safe for work option…and they are full of hot people to look at. Everyone wins.
Please enjoy Arashi with special guest Gackt doing some challenge type things and generally being hot here:
Covering off the remaining 3/4 of “WTF Japan?” content on YouTube, Japanese game shows run the gamut of fairly recognisable quiz type programing to the more extreme WTF Japan? content we have come to know and love in the west.
Possibly the most famous example that has been exported in renamed and dubbed form is Takeshi’s Castle (you may know it as MXC). Hosted by comedian Beat Takeshi (you may know him better as Takeshi Kitano, the man who has made some of the most depressing films of all time) and running from 1986-1990, Takeshi’s Castle set the benchmark for people attempting pointless tasks for maximum injury with absolutely no prize other than remaining unvegetative in sight. In researching this I did find a clip for a children’s edition of Takeshi’s Castle on YouTube but instincts led me to believe it was a little too NSFS (Not safe for soul) for me, however, if you fear the karmic implications for watching young children hurting themselves for yucks less than I do, please, be my guest.
Please enjoy people hurting themselves here:
In also considering Japanese game show exports to the west, a special mention must be made of Iron Chef – not for it’s cataloguing of personal injury – but simply because it is the greatest television program of all time. I cannot express how disappointed I was to find that not only was Kitchen Stadium not a real place, but that Chairman Kaga is not a real person. I know I am not alone in this.
Chairman Kaga…I love you: