A short movie created by the students from LISAA, a French Design School, which could perfectly represent my daily fight against the deadlines... Talking of this, I have to go: 15 new kanji to master for tomorrow...
Deadline というのは、英語で「期限」の意味です。この短いアニメはLISAAというフランスの学校に作られました。では、私も期限が在るんです : 明日漢字試験があるので...
Walking on Omotedanso by night, I couldn't prevent myself to take a picture of the pika-pika Louis Vuitton shop - as any single French who see it on the avenue...
But I have an excuse for my so-tourist-like attitude. My friend Nassima, who works for Louis Vuitton Paris, just shared a very nice video one half commercial, one half art, designed by the leader of Superflat concept, Murakami Takashi.
Just imagine yourself becoming this Alice in Neverland while walking down Omotesando street...
This week-end I had the pleasure to welcome my friend Yukimi, from Hiroshima, where I did a two-days homestay almost 2 years ago. Yukimi also visited me in Paris last year for a week. And finally, we met here, in Tokyo, a foreign city for the two of us - a full week-end of funny talks in spite of my hesitating Japanese, because there is something special about Yukimi : as A*** said, she can read in the minds...
- Meeting at the gate of the Shinkansen, Tokyo station
- Short tour of Waseda Campus
- Chatting at my place, having lunch sat on the tatami floor
- Purikura, shopping and tea&cake at Shibuya
- Come back and dinner at the Cafe Cotton Club with Hitoshi
- Late drink at Mejiro with Hitoshi and A***
- Asakusa with Azumi, Yukimi's friend
- Come back under the rain
- Check of my nihongo homework
- Bye-bye at Takadanobaba station
And I received the nicest omiyage !
Thank you Yukimi for coming at Tokyo !
Let's meet soon again, here or at Hiroshima !
A few pictures of our offical Opening Ceremony at the Westin Hotel, Ebisu, Tokyo; prestigious place, distinguished guests, nice ETP alumni, new-printed pamphlets, pictures, toasts, applause... around us, the 27th generation of ETP...
Thanks Francesco for your pictures !
Can't believe that I am - that we are - students at the nice Waseda University. But it's the reality !
Students restaurant and Cooperative
Tomorrow is the day I go back to school (again!). Let's discover Waseda University from the inside !
More details coming soon...
Regarder ensemble dans la même direction
Supermarket, combini and 100yen-shop at
Shopping, drinks and purikura in
Fresh air, water effects and relaxing at
Peace, silence and sunshine in
If the reader have any interest in the (long) essay I wrote about the Japanese TV drama for the validation of Paris' module, here it is !
A reflection of the Japanese society through the
Japanese TV dramas
It is my purpose in this essay to illustrate the various aspects of Japanese TV drama, and to address the issue of auto-representation of the Japanese society through this unique mass media entertainment production. The main focus of my expose will attempt to summarize how the so-called “J-drama” reflect some of the main contemporary Japanese social issues, and what image of the Japanese society they propose themselves to convey.
Anyone who has got an experience of living in Japan knows the importance of the “yearly inventory” of resources for the Japanese. In a certain extend, we can consider the whole production of J-drama as a recurrent inventory of the Japanese social resources. Beyond entertainment, the reflexive dimension of J-drama refers to the mixed heritage of Confucianism and Buddhism in Japan, which emphasizes the ability to make the best possible use of every moment of enjoyment. If we can not forget the commercial device behind the Japanese drama, nor their inequalities in terms of relevance and quality, nor the “star-system” they depend on, let us look at the social purpose which define most of them. Let us look at J-drama as a continuation of Edo period’s ukiyo (floating world), when popular entertainment also consisted in an analytic representation of emotions, passions and human relations in general.
Let us also remember that in the
Japanese mindset, the eye of the others define what is proper (heritage of Confucianism).
In this way, the drama can be considered as modern social theatres, whose protagonists
and situations are shown to the public in order to acquire the general agreement which remains the main principle
of legitimacy in the Japanese society.
DESCRIPTION AND SPECIFICITY OF J-DRAMA
To get a better understanding of the specificity of J-drama, we need to briefly explain the particularity of their format, and their differences with the TV productions which are familiar to the Westerners.
In opposite with our own TV-series which are used to go on until the TV share audience decreases and provokes the outcome of the scenario frame, Japanese drama are not made of successive “seasons”, but are characterized by a pre-determined format, called renzoku. In other words, the timing of J-drama is fixed by advance, and does not obey to the pressure of audience - even if as for the American series, the narrative frame can be biased along the way according to the objective of fostering the public’s loyalty.
Most of drama is made of ten or twelve 45-minutes episodes, with sometimes an opening or ending “special” one-hour movie (for instance, the “special” episodes of Nodame Cantabile in Europa could reach two full hours each). With one episode broadcasted every week, the full unfolding of the story usually lasts more or less three months. Furthermore, J-drama are usually not broadcasted twice on TV: only extremely popular drama, as Hana yori dango, can be considered for a second season (HanaDan 2) or, even more rarely, for a theatre movie.
Regarding to their impact, J-drama’s popularity is obvious: the normal audience for a drama is situated between 8 and 13% of TV viewers and the most successful of them can gather until 20 or even 30% of the public for the first or the last episode (the equivalent of the American TV serie Lost, for instance, only reached 10% in France). We should add that drama’s marketing packaging widely participates to their success among the Japanese public. In addition, making-off takes place only a few weeks before drama are broadcasted on TV, so the fan can enjoy promotion events as well as for any cinematographic product. The launch of famous manga adaptations into drama as GTO or Ring, for instance, was similar to highly expected movies’ releases.
Many drama’s scenarios are extracted from original popular manga, but some of them were created especially for TV use only. Drama can deal with any kind of subject : love stories (ren ai drama, like First Kiss for example), but also police investigations (Liar Game), so-called science-fiction (Sailor Moon Live Action), dramatic comedies (Nodame Cantabile), horror, and so on. However, the most appreciated category is definitively « trendy drama », which focus on daily life issues and relations, and where the protagonists are made to look credible according to the Japanese social reality. In this way, it is very easy for the Japanese public to identify to these types of “non-heroes”. For this reason, many drama’s actions take place in familiar contexts such as high school (My boss my hero), offices (Anego)… Here is the first clue of the J-drama’s aptitude to question and to represent the Japanese social issues.
 Except for the specific « tanpatsu drama », what is more alike to our TV movie (two hours “closed-end” story).
 Almost all the Japanese TV channels are used to propose various drama, but the most famous are Fuji TV, TBS, Wowow, TV Asahi, NTV and NHK (which morning drama is made of 15-minutes episodes broadcasted all year long).
FOCUS ON TRENDY DRAMA
1. less program episodes and quick rhythm;
2. appropriate roles and clear background;
3. no restrictions for playwright;
4. great promotion and causing leading fashion;
5. wide range of subjects and catching the social pulse;
6. fine production and realistic scene.
Furthermore, the author concludes that trendy drama are characterized by:
1. cultural proximity
2. cultivation theory
3. social learning theory
4. use and gratification theory
6. realism & representation of social mainstream value.
In a certain extend, trendy drama are the modern expression of the chônin dô, the “way of common people”, which is the one of the majority of the contemporary Japanese. In this way, we can say that they belong to the field of Nihonjinron, which emphasize the myth of the Japanese society as a people of “peasants”, an industrious economy where it is difficult to emerge as an individual, and where the virtues of diligence, honesty, quality of workmanship, gaman (be enduring, patient, submissive) are encouraged.
But the “normal people”, who do not follow any exceptional path, still follow a precise path. If they all walk in the same direction, they still have to make their individual way. Drama have the ability to represent this individual quest of the “normality”, of the right balance between life standards and individual integrity. It clearly refers to the concept of soul-searching (jibun-sagashi) which historically defines Japan and the Japanese spirit.
In this context of uncertainty, “Japanese must find new shields in individual resources and entourage”. Focusing on normal people‘s daily questioning and search for their place in the society, J-drama seem to open a window on the general issue of how to reinvent a national identity.
Finally, our last entry for interpretation would refer to the difficult conception of wabi-sabi aesthetic. Wabi-sabi teaches to the Japanese to find a certain beauty in imperfection, to accept the natural cycle of growth, decay and death. Trendy drama’s unfolding represents a three-month season which rhythms the life of the Japanese, refusing to deliver a closed message, which protagonists appear and disappear, carrying their burden with grace, accepting the march of time, not really triumphing, but surviving after all, going on doing their best (gambaru).
Leading on from these assumptions, we would like to present a few examples of chônin-dô issues represented by the Japanese trendy drama, through a non-exhaustive selection of j-drama which appeared particularly relevant to us.
 Lu-ping Kuo, An Analysis of Genre of Japanese TV Trendy Dramas in Taiwan and Interpretation by Taiwan Audience
 Anne-Marie Guarrigue and Sylvie Chevallier, le Japon Contemporain, Ed Fayard 2007
Ie and mura through trendy drama
One of the main features on the trendy j-drama is to demonstrate that the Japanese are definitely “contextual individuals”. Their personality does not count for itself, but for a unique convergence of traits determined by their surrounding – familial or social.
Here we find the concepts of ie (the house, the “inside” world) and mura (the close environment providing social marks) typical of the Japanese society. J-drama deals with the crisis, but also with the continuation of the ie-mura conception of the world.
The story of Brother Beat is representative of this issue. Mura’s crisis is symbolized by the three different destinies uphold by the brothers of the same family. The elder son, an obedient salary-man dedicated to his company, follows the prevalent way for Japanese men. His well-organized life contrasts with the one of the second son, the stereotype of the “freeter”, whose refusal to enter the system is a mix of rebellion and lack of confidence toward the future offered by the imperfect mura. Half part-timer, half host, he can’t prevent himself to recall the failures of the social system to his more responsible brother. Finally, the last son is totally out of the “male” path: nicer and sweeter than his brothers, his character looks like the missing daughter’s role. Because one on his classmates becomes pregnant, he decides to help her to raise the child, even if he is not the father. This unusual behavior emphasizes the appeal of ie, of the family links which resist to the crisis of mura. Moreover, the three brothers are connected by the central protagonist, the mother, whose rules predominate on everything inside the walls.
The reverse side of the Japanese way of
life portrayed by the drama Ikebukuro
West Gate Park let us discover an uncertain and threatening mura. While he investigates in the
neighborhood to understand the circumstances of a friend’s death, a young man
becomes involved in the troubles of various protagonists who haunt the area of
Daily delinquency, general insecurity, children abuse, drug, war of gangs, prostitution, yakuza: the familiar world is everything but safe. Based on a novel and a manga adaptation, the scenario challenges the stereotype of a safe and disciplined Japanese society, to propose the vision of the contemporary mura’s crisis.
On the opposite, the story of Gokusen offers a certain confidence in
the resources of the society to find the right balance between official and
underground powers, through the destiny of the heiress of a yakuza family, who
is also a teacher in a low-ranked school of boys. As she realizes that her
students, who are considered as delinquents, all have to manage with various
social and familial problems, she decides to do her best to re-establish the
harmony in the society… using also her yakusa-related personal influence.
This time, the crisis is on the side of ie: parents and families in general do not play their role anymore and trouble the social order, while the gangs of proximity take in charge their educative and corrective missions.
The focus on ie and mura as revelators of the evolution of the social schemes also emphasizes the research of the right place to be for the individuals, which depends of the space the society allows us to take.
To find the right place, to follow the appropriate way
Another psychological trait of Japanese people we can find in the j-drama is the necessity for everyone to keep oneself in the limit of the proper place. This heritage of the Tokugawa political thinking and of the principles of Confucianism can be observed in the trendy drama which mostly focused on “categories” of people (part-timers, salary-men, housewives, students…) but is also questioned and challenged through a certain number of stories.
In DragonZakura, a lawyer reconverted into a pedagogic consultant for a second-zone high-school tries to convince a group of students in difficulty that they can access to the prestigious University of Tokyo. From his point of view, the school system offers to them a unique chance to escape to a no-future destiny; in other words, the students should use the system instead of keeping being the victims of it. In front of the difficulty, the candidates for Todai have to wonder where they should be. Should they accept their present situation and renounce to any chance of social ascension without complaining? Should they do their best to climb the social gap and to justify the school system’s opportunities? The drama challenges two contradictories traits of the Japanese spirit: the emphasis on destiny’s acceptance, and the one on giving the best of you on every doing (gaman against gambaru).
The protagonists of Nobuta o Produce have to comply with
their intern conflicts between honne
and tatemae. The distortion between their
true thinking and their social being is highlighted by the revelation of their
intern monologue and their fundamental indifference to the others that they
carefully hide under a friendly-character simulation. The leader of the class,
secretly anxious that anyone discovers his fake attitude towards his
classmates, tries to improve his self-control teaching the shy and rejected
new-comer Nobuko to act in a proper way to become popular.
The fear to loose his rank, his place in his little group slightly turns into a deeper fear, the fear to never find a proper place in the society.
These two examples highlight the issue of acceptance of the society and acceptance by the society. We can refer to a drama which does not belong to the definition of “trendy drama”, but which also focuses on realistic situations, and which aims to portray the Japanese society: Kurosagi.
After the quest of the right place, this drama tends to illustrate the concept of “do”, the personal way anyone should follow, according to his true self. Kurosagi’s protagonist is a young man whose father committed suicide after loosing all his money in a swindle. Despite of his young age, he decides to fight against every swindler who dares to trouble the social harmony. Becoming a swindler himself, he dedicates his life to this quest, rejecting any relation, any situation that could distract him from his goal.
The pressure on individuals to choose and follow a precise path also leads them to the confrontation and to a certain competition with each other. Let us now turn our attention on the way that trendy drama describe these intern conflicts, especially in the professional context.
Japan Co, the theatre of social conflicts
To portray the “way of common people”, trendy drama often take place in the frame of the corporate world. This is the place where the Japanese people are supposed to find their place in the society, to determine their true identity. But instead of showing the successes of the Japanese corporate machinery, j-drama mostly focus on the creatures who remain at the fringe of the group dynamic: office ladies more or less waiting for a marriage to quit the system, part-timers considered as second-hand workers, young workers who can not wait for their age to finally allow them a bit of consideration, and already “too old” female workers fearing that the new generation would outdate them too early… Between “regulars” and “non-regulars”, tensions appear, and the protagonist must comply with the requirement of homogeneity and their own survival. Far from showing an inner Japanese unity, trendy drama demonstrate that “being Japanese” is a long negotiation between individuality and group-spirit.
The so-called Anego (elder sister) is the most competent worker of her team. Although anyone expects her to climb the hierarchy because she was just hired to be and stay an OL (office lady), her department could not work without her to overview and control the general activity of the group. But even if every man of the team is thankful to her to take care of everything, she is also despised as a woman to be 35 years old and not married yet. Her colleagues explain her professional devotion referring to the fact that she has no one else to care about in her life. Whereas she wonders if her life will remains as empty as it is now (no sake in the company, no sake outside), she observes how easily the young new-comer integrates naturally to the clan of salary-men, because he is a man, and because he was hired to have a career. While the kid becomes fascinated by this woman who concretely runs the whole department, she can not prevent herself to see him as the symbol of the inequality of their destinies.
In Haken no hinkaku, the conflict between full-time workers and part-timers is even more obvious. The drama questions the employees’ different status, the right balance to find between work and self-dignity, and the trust one should have towards his/her company. It is interesting to notice that the drama was born after the publication of an official report on the Labor conditions by the Ministry.
Because the issue of female work and the
one of professional intern competition seem to be very linked in Japan,
according to the trendy drama, the story of Magari
kado no kanojo crosses the two subjects. A 33-years old woman who fought
hard to succeed in both professional and private life realizes that her young
and innocent-looking 25 years-old colleague is directly targeting her position
in the company. Whereas the first protagonist can not accept that her co-worker
tries to jump the normal steps of the career scheme, based on time and
experience, the second one is ready to use any of her personal resources to get
rid of the insecurity generated by youth and “woman-being”. The conflict of the
generations is boosted by the fact that women are never completely “safe” in
their jobs in Japan. More than men, they can not avoid intern competition and can
hardly trust their surrounding.
This topic, very popular in j-drama, delivers an interesting vision of the gender issue in Japan, and of the specific Japanese women’s “soft power”.
Female soft power and two-speed society
Many trendy drama obviously present women as key factors of change in Japan. Considering that the main part of the usual audience of drama is consisted of women, the focus on gender issues is mostly due to the segmentation of the public. However, the female status reveals many changes in the society in general and highlights the contemporary changes in the relation between men and women. In front of emancipated Japanese women, men remain perplexed, weak or lost. For the Japanese public, drama do not represent only moekko anymore – these naïve and innocent female protagonists who lure the protective instinct of the viewer. But their new independence is also a burden for the Japanese women who carry alone the change of the society.
a female “workaholic”, career-addict and obsessed by her job in an
advertisement company, is unable to get involved in any personal relation. To
avoid the obligation to commit into a relationship that would force her to
abandon her fast-pace life, she dreams of dating her male colleague and to live
her love story at work. But instead of the highly-qualified young director, the
one to break her ice is no more than a simple part-timer dedicated to the
The classic model of couple is upside-down: the woman puts her career first and allows herself to a little “plus” (supply, sa-pu-ri) in the person of a lower colleague.
30-years-old Sumire of Kimi wa petto is also a beautiful, qualified, independent and lonely salary-woman. At the beginning of the story, she desperately observes her ex-boyfriend, an inferior salary-man of the same company, leaving her for an unexceptional girl. Sumire realizes that her model-like tall-size, her beauty, her smart and strong personality and her position in the company do not help her to succeed in life. On the opposite, her amazing qualities and her strength frighten all the men around her. Disgusted by this paradox, she remembers the only male creature who ever accepted to stay in her shadow: her former dog, Momo. Then she meets he way of a lost and no-resources dancer who accepts to be nothing more than her “pet”.
In front of these super-women, the non-hero of Densha otoko embodies the confusion of the Japanese men. This poor, pitiful and ridiculous otaku’s life suddenly changes when he meets, in the train, a beautiful young woman. By chance, he saves her from troubles and enters her life in an unexpected way. Their inequality is so obvious that the man experiences the worst difficulty to conquer a certain dignity. At the end, it seems that the conception of “man-being” is totally dependant of the one of “woman-being” the Japanese women decided to take in charge by their own.
But the four girls of Tokyo Friends remind us that it is not
so easy to follow the “new Japanese way” for women. What happens to the girls
when they can not or do not want to adopt the male-like way of life? How are
they supposed to manage with their living without competing with men? Is there
a typical “female way of life” out of the housewife destiny?
The portraits of these four art-oriented profiles (one sings, one studies art, one wants to become a theatre actress…) provides some keys to understand the challenge of the current Japanese women: establishing a new model for female emancipation.
From the point of view of a Westerner, the Japanese drama are an amazing window opened on the Japanese society self-thinking. Avoiding direct judgment, they show us the complexity of individual and collective jibun-sagashi. Far from presenting standards, they challenge the concept of human “categories” and the limit of stereotyped situations. In addition, as manga, they are at the same time the product of a popular industry and the reflection of a strong cultural identity. Through their scenario and their protagonists, they offer interpretation tools to understand at least a part of the issues which characterize the contemporary Japanese society.
Thank you for your attention
For any further details, feel free to contact the author:
List of quoted Drama
11 episodes, 2005
11 episodes,13th October 2005 – 22th December 2005
Every Thursday, 9pm on TBS
Theme song: Broken Heart by Def Tech
12 episodes, 7th July – 22th September 2005
Every Thursday, 10pm on Fuji TV
11 episodes, 7th August 2005 - 16 September 2005 onTBS
Gokusen 1 et 2
April – July 2002 (season1) ; January - Mars 2005 (season 2)
Every Saturday, 9pm on NTV
Opening theme: Feel your breeze by V6
Hana Yori Dango
9 episodes, 21st October – 16th December 2005
Every Wednesday, 10pm on TBS
Second season in 2007.
Ikebukuro West Gate Park
11 episodes, 14th April – 23th June 2003 on TBS
Opening theme: Boukyaku no Sora (SADS)
Kimi wa petto
11 episodes, 14th April – 23th June 2006 on TBS
Opening Theme: Daite Senorita by Yamashita Tomohisa
Nobuta wo produce
10 episodes, 15th October – 17th December 2005
Every Saturday, 9pm on NTV
Theme song: Seishun Amigo by Kamenashi K. and Yamashita T.
11 episodes from 10th July 2006
Every Monday 9pm on Fuji TV
Opening theme: Smile by KAT-TUN / Ending theme: Real voice by Ayaka
5 episodes from 3rd June 2005 on Fuji TV
Theme song: Friends by Otsuka Ai, To Me by Boo Bee Benz
To learn more about J-drama:
A complete listing of the production details and short summaries of j-drama since 1963.
Japanese TV drama that go beyond Japan
(Pr. Koichi Iwabuchi)