“Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo”: the Japanese comedy-drama

Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo is a Japanese comedy series that aired on YTV/NTV for one season in 2010. The protagonist Kano Haruko (Naka Riisa) is a quirky shop assistant with a dream to become a high-school teacher. She is asked by an old teacher to teach as a trainee in the school she works at. What Haruko doesn’t know is that this is a Japanese language school for foreigners. Her class consists of nine foreign students with strong personalities.

The first episode outlines her arrival at the school and the troubles that stand in her way. For instance, Haruko has no training as a Japanese language teacher, and strugggles to answer the many questions asked by her students. The biggest problem however is Ikeda Narushi (Takasu Kazuki) her surprisingly evil boss at the school that seems to be counting on Haruko to fail. At the end of the episode, Haruko and Narushi make a bet that if even one of Haruko’s pupil’s fail – she will quit her future job as a high-school teacher. This will most likely be the story that overarches the season.

Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo is very familiar as a comedy show. It is a little less than thirty minutes in length and has a vast array of quirky characters, potential love plots and direct goals for the main characters to aim for. Some cultural differences were apparent though. In the scene in which Haruko first attempts (and fails) to teach the class of foreign students Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo relies heavily on cartoons to convey her psychological state. This is highly unusual in Western television and film. The only examples I can think of are comic-book films such as Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010). I imagine it has something to do with the strong Manga culture in Japan – a medium which would rely heavily on images to convey emotional states – whereas the comic book culture in the West, though still a well-loved medium, is far less prominent.

I feel that Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo is a great example of Asian television being closely intertwined with Western television. The comedy format is almost identical and the production of the show is solid. This style of comedy didn’t personally appeal to me however. The acting was a little melodramatic and the character conflicts were somewhat oversimplified. I feel that perhaps the active – almost slap-stick style of comedy may have a little to do with comedy in Japanese culture – but I doubt this had a lot to do with it. I feel that it is more likely that Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo is a generic comedy-drama format akin to the NBC series Scrubs. These types of comedy shows aren’t exactly my cup of tea anymore – but this style of comedy show certainly appears to be appreciated “transnationally”.

In the past, it could be said that “non-Western countries – have tended to face the West ‘to interpret their position and understand the distance from Modernity.” However television, something which is loved in both affluent and developing countries, is one of the strongest tools for cultural development (both nationally and transnationally) as it is something that is appreciated by all rungs of society. It is becoming apparent that Japanese and indeed other Asian television, though consisting of clear cultural differences (which surely and hopefully won’t dissipate with growing globalization) already is or is quickly becoming equally as “modernised” or culturally dominant as Western television.

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