Japan, Day 8: Kyoto and Japanese TV

Dec 30 2013

Today was, in some ways, a bust.

Kyoto

Kyoto

I explored Kyoto, but found little of interest. I ended up wandering Kyoto Station, which is itself a marvel of engineering. To give you an idea of its scale: the extreme west end of the station consists of a department store that’s 13 floors high. Not just 13 floors up; it goes from floor 1 to floor 13. And that doesn’t even reach the top of the station.

No, at the very top of the station is a sky walk. I ascended, huffing and puffing, and crossed a walk that’s 230 feet above the ground, walking 1,500 feet from one side of the station to the next.

I then wandered the two adjoining shopping malls for gifts. Found some fun things I won’t spoil here.

Honestly, I felt down. I was ready to get home. It’s not that I disliked Japan; I actually felt like I had a handle on it. I only had a few more days before leaving the country. I frankly wanted it to be over with.

So I watched some Japanese television. Hotel TVs only get standard broadcast channels, so I was limited to 7 or 8 channels. Mornings are filled with programs for young children: equivalents of Sesame Street or Blue’s Clues. Even these are, of course, distinctly Japanese. The stories focus on characters making mistakes, then apologizing and re-integrating with their peers.

Afternoons see shows that have no exact American or European equivalent. A few hosts will produce short segments, usually travel-related. They’ll visit a restaurant or a temple or a workplace and see what it’s like. The other hosts are filmed while they watch these segments, and we get to see their reactions (laughing, surprise, etc.).

It shows off Japanese culture very effectively.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station

Evenings are filled with news shows and talk shows. These talk shows are also different. Each episode usually includes either a large number of guests, 10 or 15, or many hosts and a few guests (the one I saw had 7 hosts and 2 guests). Like in the afternoon shows, the guests will watch pre-taped segments and we see their reactions, then the group will discuss it for a few minutes.

These shows usually also include a game show segment, though it’s all for fun. One asked each guest a trivia question with a numerical answer (“How much did the Atlas V rocket cost?”), which the guest had to answer to the correct order of magnitude using buttons that controlled a big display of numbers.

The guests are all celebrities of various degrees. But here’s the interesting effect: because celebrities are already on television so much, they aren’t much in the news. News shows focus on actual news.

There’s a lot of news, too. I’d estimate every channel broadcasts news every 2 hours, plus a full nightly news program lasting an hour or two.

Of course, there are also occasional dramas, comedies, and (occasionally in the afternoon and late at night) anime episodes. But most of the airwaves are full of talk shows.

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