Why Foreign People?
By James Winovich
On January 2, 2016
Last month I was at a friend’s house party when a typical Japanese “variety” show came on the television. You know the kind: a group of 15 famous people were watching YouTube videos with a little box for their reactions in the corner. After watching a 4-year-old video of one cat pushing another cat down the stairs (and the laughter that followed), Atsugiri Jason walked onto the screen.
(Atsugiri Jason is a 28-year-old American who originally came to Japan while working for an IT firm. In the last year or so, he has become a popular gag comedian who pokes fun at the weirdness of the Japanese language.)
A sampling of the reactions from the people around the room follows.
“Oh god, why is this guy still on TV?”
“This guy again? Who laughs at this?”
“He’s only famous because he’s a foreigner.”
While you can debate how funny it is to watch him break down some of the quirks of the Japanese language and then scream, “WHY JAPANESE PEOPLE,” this reaction got me thinking. Do people react this way because his act isn’t funny, or is there more to this?
After the TV moved on to a commercial of a foreign kid singing about air freshener, I noticed that the conversation continued regarding the quality or lack of quality of Atsugiri Jason’s act.
While Atsugiri Jason might not be everyone’s cup of tea, what about other foreign comedians? Singers? Dancers? Newscasters? Baseball players?
That line of thinking led me to conduct a very unofficial survey of all of the foreign people with whom I came in contact over the past week. I asked each of them one simple question:
“Who’s your favorite non-Japanese talent in Japan?”
While I realize it’s a bit different than asking someone outright whether or not they like Atsugiri Jason, I wanted to see if there was any foreign talent that foreign people actually did like. At first blush, Atsugiri Jason seemed to have few fans among the 30 or so people who were fellow attendants of the party where the conversation started.
A graph of the results are as follows:
As you can see, though admittedly my sample size is small, the vast majority of people said they didn’t have a favorite gaijin talent.
For completeness, I did the same survey with the same number of Japanese people and the results are as follows.
In contrast to the foreigners, the majority of Japanese people had a favorite while the majority of foreigners did not. (Rora was answered twice as well but I made them choose again, no mudbloods!)
The question to ask now is why?
In Atsugiri Jason’s case, I think he probably has few foreign fans because most seem him as just playing the big, loud foreigner role that some Japanese people might expect from an American. With foreign talent on the whole, I would guess the biggest reason is that foreigners in Japan watch far less Japanese TV than the natives, meaning they just don’t know the names as well. Jealousy of their “famous” life might have a minor part to play as well.
But what about you?
Are you a “fan” of any fellow foreign person in Japan? Do foreigners in Japan just not like seeing other foreigners succeed? Is it because Japanese TV just isn’t worth watching? Is it just because the successful foreigners aren’t actually that great at whatever they do? Is it because you know some student in the future is going to say that you look like him/her? Is it jealousy?
Lots of questions, but rather than try to posit an answer, I’ll leave the discussion to you.