Stay in Japan long enough, and eventually you will be asked to appear on TV. It's practically a given. You might be approached at a festival, to be seen basking in the local culture, or perhaps cornered in the street and solicited for a reaction on some current event of which you have no knowledge; there are many paths to glory. There's just something newsworthy about a foreign face, regardless of how irrelevant the person may be to the actual topic at hand. Some have even managed to parley a handful of bit parts into moderately successful careers. I, unfortunately, did not.
But I did get the opportunity to dance like a twat. The director of the International Office sent out a mass e-mail letting us know that they'd been contacted by a television company in Oosaka, and did anybody want to appear on TV? An initial meeting was set for whoever wanted to go, and a couple of weeks later we met with two AD's in the dormitory lobby. Each was in his mid-20's, but were otherwise polar opposites; one was well-dressed, straight-laced, and clean-cut, while his partner, who seemed to be the more dominant of the two, arrived wearing a leather jacket, with several days' growth on his face, and spoke in a nonstop stream of inappropriate comments. They could have been in a buddy comedy. You could make a TV show about these guys making TV shows.
They each sat down in the tatami room and we went in for pre-interviews one-on-one, except for Anarchy in the UK and his little gang, who went in together. They refused my offer to interpret with an air of deep indignation, perhaps momentarily forgetting that none of them spoke Japanese. Whatever. Do whatever you want.
As my own interview progressed, a theme quickly became apparent. These guys were clearly not looking for swooning and adulation. They didn't want to hear about what a wonderful country we'd stumbled upon and how orgasmic our everyday lives were. They asked questions like: What problems have you faced here? What negative stereotypes have you faced from Japanese people? What do you find the weirdest or most troubling about Japan? That, and a disturbing number of uncomfortably detailed questions about my previous relationships with Japanese girls. When I translated for a grateful Australzealand (who actually does speak Japanese somewhat passably), as soon as the guy found out she has a Japanese fiancee, he took that ball and raaaaan with it. All in all, I wasn't surprised.
If you are unfamiliar with the country, you might reasonably assume that we as foreigners were consulted in order to purvey a unique viewpoint, to share an outside perspective and thus cast our surroundings in a new light for those who had grown up with them. In this case you would be mistaken. If you're from Hate Japan, you will no doubt contend that its inhabitants have long since secretly acknowledged its backwardness and inferiority, and are desperately hoping to have their shortcomings revealed by a knowledgeable and benevolently dictatorial Westerner. In this case you need to open your eyes, and perhaps also never speak ever again. On the other hand, if you imagine that foreigners in the media are used primarily for comedy purposes and absurdity value, you are hitting a little closer to the truth.
With all this in mind, let us add one more wrinkle: They were trying to make a show. Smiles and happy days are all well and good but they don't make for good TV. They needed a little tension. Something to resolve, or at least reflect on. I didn't like it, but I understood, so I gave them some of my misgivings – I think most of it hinged on my being constantly “othered” by the Japanese, even those who know me. One quote that the inappropriate guy quite liked, and asked me to use for the recording, was a very energetic, wild-eyed, “I'm not weird because I'm foreign, I'm weird because I'm me!” (「変なのは外人じゃなくて俺や！」). We got word soon after that we had been selected as one of four participating schools. Another couple of weeks later, the segments were decided upon.
*Australzealand would visit her fiancee's parents up in Aomori or wherever the hell it was, somewhere up north anyway.
*Anarchy in the UK had confessed he couldn't slurp noodles, so the Korean guy and the Spanish guy would teach him.
*Taiwan and the French girl would cosplay.
*Everyone would also do a talking segment.
Take a hard look at this list and tell me you can't figure out what's going on here. In one, we've got a Japanese guy marrying an older foreign woman. In another, we've got silly foreigners who can't comprehend our Japanese ways. And in the other, we've got hot young foreign girls dressing up. Good TV? You bet!
I was among those who made the final cut and would do the talking segment, at least, and on the day of shooting I came home after school to find the lobby now ensconced by solid temporary barriers, presumably for acoustic and lighting reasons. A crew of at least thirty PD's, AD's, set directors, costume designers, those people who stand around with clipboards looking busy while not appearing to do any actual work, and sound technicians buzzed around making final preparations. The rough AD from before caught sight of me and sent me to wait upstairs, where the Korean guy was already hanging out.
Correctly predicting that we would probably not start until at least ten or fifteen minutes after we were scheduled to, I suggested that we talk about something, anything, to warm up. He was remarkably indifferent to the whole process, but I wanted to make sure I got my Japanese up to speed, so that if I couldn't be eloquent I at least wouldn't go on television sounding shittier than I actually was. Eventually more of us floated in, and finally, they started calling us downstairs to have at it. I was first up.
AD: Ok, when I give you this signal, I want you to walk down the hallway, go in from the side, and you'll see...something there. So go up and you can start. Just answer the questions, and try to talk about the stuff we went over before. Wanting to be accepted by the Japanese, those things.
Rude Boy: I'm guessing the interviewer is going to lead me through it pretty well, anyway.
AD: That's right.
Rude Boy: Sounds good.
AD: You don't seem nervous.
Rude Boy: I've been on TV before in Canada.
After another five minutes or so, everything went deathly quiet. The AD gave me the signal, and, trying to pretend I was not surrounded by a massive crowd, I walked into the lobby, expecting to find somebody seated at one of the tables, and...was disappointed, as I seemed to have walked into an empty room. Then I noticed a big rokujizou set up against the far wall, so, trying not to appear overly confused, started to approagahhh there's a guy in there.
Oh geez, now he's talking to me.
He's awfully loud.
As I later learned, this old man was a fairly famous comedian from Oosaka, but as that's not a scene I am particularly given to follow I was not familiar with him. My friends oohed at his name, though. Anyway, harshly aware of the fact that I was holding on a conversation with an anthropomorphic rock, I gave one of the more embarrassing performances of my life, which is to say, I danced to AKB. While singing. Well, what could I do? We were discussing karaoke as a good way to break cultural barriers, he asked what I could sing, and I happened to know the dance. And I did it for a broadcast audience of 23 million.
I was also in my socks, and so slipped and fell after like five seconds. The clean-cut AD laughed audibly.
In actual fact, this entire venture was scripted, a result of me and the AD discussing different gimmicks I could bust out. The conversation didn't go exactly as planned, but I tried to weave my most important talking points in. There was a slight problem in that he used the funny voice popular with that brand of Oosaka comics, making it hard for me to understand him, and his ears were covered by his helmet, making it hard for him to understand me. We managed to work all my major points in, though. Of course there was no way to know, in the moment, whether it was going to be funny or not. There is the problem of not being able to see how it will look once edited, but there was also the fact that everybody else in the room was doing their best to remain absolutely silent, so I had no feedback. The rough AD assured with me a laugh that it had been funny, though. I certainly hoped so. I do have my pride and dignity but I'd far, far rather be ridiculous than boring.
Everybody gathered in that same lobby when the time came to watch the broadcast, but I was a little too embarrassed, so I did something else. Which turned out to be just as well, because the planned forty-minute full episode had been cannibalized into a series of ten-minute segments. The first was the main one, however. And yet nearly all of it had been cut. “But I got on,” Anarchy in the UK assured us without irony, as though we would be genuinely relieved by this news, “so that's the important part.”
So can you guess which part ended up being the focus of the programme? Come on, guess.
It was Taiwan and the French girl's cosplay thing. Of course it was. They dressed them in junior high school uniforms. You can't not use that. Over the course of the next few weeks they re-aired those parts along with chopped-up versions of the others.
Did I ever appear? I have no idea. But none of my friends mentioned seeing me, so perhaps not.