|Last year's "Stewardess training" version!|
Although the annual new year holidays this year came in quite nice with a full week of from work, the Salaryman family decided to stay put in Japan as the two small kids and the excessive price hikes from the travel agencies/airlines make vacation outside Japan a bit difficult. Instead, we braved the train crowds and packed us on the shinkansen train to Mrs. Sunshine's grandmother's place in Kobe for a traditional Japanese new year.
There's very little I actually like about the traditional Japanese new year celebration, the food is not to my liking, not much is actually done and I have no emotional attachment to any of the traditions. But at least it's a break in the pace from everyday life and Mrs. Sunshine's family were more than happy to give us a break and entertain toddler Sunshine and baby Salaryman for us.
Then there's the TV... The big Japanese TV tradition for new year is to watch the annual song contest "Kohaku" were all the biggest music start of the year gets divided into two teams and somehow "compete" against each other. Basically it's just a show with live performances one after another and as neither J-pop nor enka is anything that I listen to unless forced to it's a combination of dull, boring and uninteresting.
However... At the same time as Kohaku is going on, there is another TV show that also traditionally runs every new year... The show is, roughly translated, called "This is no kid's play - You're not allowed to laugh". It is pre-recorded, runs for about six hours and does not in the slightest acknowledge the strike of twelve and the start of the new year, just carries on. The show is hosted by the comedy duo "Downtown" and features them and four other comedians. The basic concept is that the group is put in absurd situations around them for a period of a full 24 hours and are not allowed to laugh, the location and theme varies each year. If anyone in the group laughs, a loud "OUT!" is announced and a bunch of guys dressed in fatigues, berets and black balaclavas armed with rubber batons run in and proceeds to give each of those who laughed a hard spanking after which they quickly run out of picture again.
The show is definitely an acquired taste, it is extremely stupid, however to dismiss it on the grounds of being "stupid" is a huge mistake as the whole point of the show is to revel in stupidity. I admit to mistakenly taking this stance for quite a few years until I realized that the level and intensiveness of the stupidity somehow creates comedic brilliance! The amount of effort put into it and level of people the producers manage to recruit into doing some extremely stupid character with the only purpose of making the group laugh so they can get a spanking is amazing. It does help to have a decent knowledge of Japanese celebrities, pop stars, comedians and actors as well known and respected people turn up in the most absurd roles. On occasion they have even roped in well known politicians to participate in the absurdity. Of course, to fully appreciate the show, a certain level of Japanese knowledge is required, but even without it some of the brilliance can glimpse through.
So, I sit through the Kohaku on new year's eve but take comfort in that the big TV event of the year is recorded at home. Me and Mrs. Sunshine, not having the comfort of being able to sit through 6 hours of TV in one sitting, work our way through it in bite sized chumps over January. Toddler Sunshine watches us laughing perplexed but sometimes join in just for the sake of it.
It might be hard to get an image of what this really is about and what's so great about the show from reading my poor synopsis above, but here you can find the whole of this year's show streaming. Skip through the studio talk and straight into it and you just might understand what I am talking about!