Why Foreign People?

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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:

japanese-talent-1

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.

Hmm.

For completeness, I did the same survey with the same number of Japanese people and the results are as follows.

japanese-talent-2

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.

Topics:  

Refusing to be a bitter gaijin since 2007.
  • Jackson Clark says:

    Do you think any of the Japanese “talents” have any real skills that justifies their being on TV?

  • Peter says:

    To answer your question, I can only say that Australian TV does not do that. There is more diversity in the people appearing on Australian TV, but that is because Australia is a diverse society. It doesn’t reek of tokenism the way it does in Japan, where a flag indicating where a person comes from must almost always appear next to their name.

    In general, Japanese TV appears to be made very cheaply, with presenters not attempting to hide the fact they are reading from a script that is being held by someone sitting beneath the camera. I guess newsreaders use teleprompters though.

    Behind his annoying catchphrase, Jason does appear to intelligent and contributes to discussions on TV. Much better than some Japanese tarento whose only “talent” is being either especially beautiful or peculiarly ugly.

    • Hi Peter and thanks for your answer. I’m Australian myself but have been living in Japan for many years so really wasn’t quite what the case was back home as I don’t get there much.

      Yes, you are quite correct in saying that Japanese TV is cheaply made. Some of their cable stuff offers some better options, but not many though from what I’ve seen.

      And I definitely agree with you about Jason in that he is highly intelligent, but his style of humour is specifically designed for the Japanese audience. I seriously doubt his act could succeed overseas.

  • Peter says:

    It doesn’t matter what Pakkun studied at Harvard. For the purpose of Japanese television, the fact he attended Harvard makes him qualified to comment on everything.

  • NotJason says:

    I don’t like him anymore, caus Japanese ppl recognize me as him on the streets of Tokyo all the time.
    It was funny in the beginning, but after a year it gets tirying having ppl yell “why japanese ppl” from accross the street in your direction…

  • Danielle Mckewan says:

    “[A person] who goes to a foreign country and expects everything to be suited for him [or her]…”

    Unfortunately, this is an accurate description of many foreigners in Japan, and almost always westerners.

  • Mark Flanigan says:

    To be fair, the Japanese participants on TV there are not very funny, either. I guess I’m getting older, but wondering where Pakkun and Thane Camus went?

    • Zero Sonico / Natch says:

      Camus was doing some youtube clips a while ago, I think.

    • Sublight says:

      Pakkun, as far as I know, is still doing live shows, and shows up on NHK with some regularity.

      Thane had a falling out with his agency, R&A Promotions (They also handled Bobby Ologon, and there was a story in the news a while that he’d been in a physical altercation with their management over a money dispute. FWIW, R&A stiffed me for an appearance on Karakuri Terebi way back). Thane’s apparently running his own talent agency now.

  • Robb_Obi says:

    My wife and her family thought he was funny at first however there was a particular show he was on where they asked him to train as a batter for baseball. He was having some weird medical situation with circulation in his arm and numbness and asked to quit. Then later, asked if he could do it again, but they already found someone else and he was knee deep in the study. He got upset and complained, then complained more when he found out the new guy was offered a little more money. He just doesn’t seem like a likable individual. After that we all agreed he wasn’t that funny.

  • A-town says:

    When i first heard the joke it made sense, and for most Japanese people they probably have never looked twice at kanji twice which adds appeal to Jason’s joke and being foreign added flavor. However, as most Japanese comedians they end up being one-trick ponies and the joke quickly dies within the first few tellings. They really beat the joke dry and make merchandise to get as much as profit as possible. When i first heard the chotto-matte onisan, i giggled, it was catchy short and fun, but they ruined it the first week and bled that well dry for the next half year. Kinda sad, but they all get their moment of fame.

  • maulinator says:

    A lot of Japanese comedians are one joke- catchphrase comedians, along the lines of some famous characters from SNL, like the Church Lady _”isn’t That precious”, or Billy Crystals character saying-“you look mahvelous” In the US it is popular for a while but in Japan it becomes a career. Some fade away and some comedians will come up with more material. Atsugiri Jason is just following in that suit of hack comedians. Why he has some staying power is probably because he is foreign as opposed to his co-talents who are Japanese. If he wants to stay he will have to branch out at some point, and come up with more material.
    Comedy in Japan is not as “developed” as in the US, so juvenile hack physical comedy and acts that we think are beyond stupid stil get air time. Stand up comedians of the cailber of Louis CK, or Chris Rock, Patton Oswald, Mike Birbiglia, Amy Shumer, Bill Burr just don’t exist in Japan.
    Atsugiri Jason is a foreign tarento who figured out the simplicity of Japanese comedy, came up with an act and is milking it. He combined a typical Jpanese comedian’s hack act with being a foreigner and found his 15 minutes. Good for him. I don’t think he is funny, but I guess some Japanese people do.
    Dave Spector claims to be at the forefront os foreign media information, but his material is usually old. One can find out what he knows by prowling the internet for an hour.
    Watching cat videos on youtube is more entertaining that most Japanese TV, and htis is true as Japanese TV showcases these videos as television entertainment. Aside from the news, there is nothing of value on TV, and I am no more a fan of any foreign talent as I am of local tarento. THey all suck.

  • Sublight says:

    I’m personally not a fan of his, but I don’t hate him. He’s got just one joke, and it’s not very funny but that’s the case with most of the other run-of-mill Japanese comedians. I think his one joke just stands out more to Westerners because it’s in English (and loud).

    And at least Jason talks about a different situation each time he sets up his one catch phrase. Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura (“Don’t worry, I’m wearing clothes”) only repeats the same gag every time, from start to finish.

    • james says:

      Hey, to be fair he does have different poses. I’m just kidding its all the same stuff. Though he made a promise not to do that act in 2016. Let’s see if he follows through

      • Cliff Gibson says:

        Okay, I’d never heard of Atsugiri before he showed up on Japan Today (today). But, then, I’d never heard of any of the other names in this article except Dave Spector and Hakuho (my wife follows Sumo). But if the list included Japanese talento, I’m afraid it’s likely I wouldn’t have heard of any of them either (there was a female presenter on NHK news whom I had a crush on—name escapes me—but she’s gone now. Gee…. Okay, but then almost every American entertainment personality who shows up in the news today is also Joe/Jane blow to me too. So….

        TV personalities—are you supposed to know their names? Are you supposed to care?

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