My friends just sent me the first couple episodes of “Heroes,” a new American TV show about… well, superheroes. From what I gather, one of the fan favorites is the nerdy Japanese salaryman character, Hiro. I watched the first episode, and while I thought it was decent television (not great — seriously, a multiple personality disorder stripper mom with superpowers?), a couple things about Hiro’s portrayal and the portrayal of Japan jumped out at me. It’s nitpicky stuff, but I thought it might be interesting to point out how peoples’ opinions of Japan/Japanese people and the reality are different. So here we go!
I’ve never seen a clock like this in Japan. They all have the standard alphabet numeral system. Even in kitschy stores, I’ve never seen anything like this. Watches either. His desk clutter is about right, though. On the right is Keroro Gunso, a popular anime among kids. Then Godzilla. I don’t recognize the two women figurines, but it all fits.
2) Star Trek
Nobody I’ve talked to in Japan knows about Star Trek. Star Wars? Yes. Star Trek? No. I’m not sure how much of it they’ve even gotten over here. The main thing is that Japan has a much different view of the future and space travel than is portrayed in Western sci-fi. Like most of their animes, it is character-based, centering on one person or a small group of people, and how they relate to the universe at large. Star Wars follows (rips off) this formula, and so it’s decently popular and iconic. Most other popular depictions of space fall into giant robot territory — Ultraman, Gundam, Gunbuster, etc. Probably the most realistic space depiction I’ve seen is an old Gainax anime called Wings of Honneamise, which, unfortunately, was pretty boring, so I don’t remember it very well. It, too, was character-based, and mostly used space travel as a background for the main character’s struggles against society at large.
Star Trek, on the other hand, is a huge ensemble show that focuses more on larger-picture ideas and life on a macro level than it does with individual characters and personal growth. This changed a bit in the later series, but I don’t think those came over here. I know Enterprise didn’t, and I’m not sure about Voyager.
Anywho, it’s not out of the question for these two to be referencing Star Trek. But it would mean that they are not only extreme otaku, but they’re import otaku, which is fairly rare. Most otaku are obsessed with anime and other products of Japanese culture. People who are interested in things outside of Japan are usually talking about music or food.
3. Exercising on the roof
Maybe people do this? I don’t think so? This scene had a bunch of people at Hiro’s company doing exercises on the roof. I believe some companies do, indeed, have mandatory exercise time for the employees, but this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s on the roof of a very tall building, while Hiro’s company appears pretty small. So they’d have to share time with other companies in the same building. Also, they’re exercising in suits. Most people bring a change of clothing if they’re going to work out.
Oh yeah, and this is the only point in the episode the Japanese accents bugged me. Hiro and his friends have pitch-perfect Japanese. The crowd chanting “ichi, ni, san, shi” had icky Japanese, though. Over-accenting the syllables.
4) X-Men References
Similar to Star Trek, this is just something that didn’t make it big here. The movies are popular, but the comics are devilishly hard to find. Amazon doesn’t even list any, besides one that teaches children English. And almost EVERY store has a huge comics section. The only American comics I’ve seen at ALL have been a handful of Spider-Man and Batman comics.
5) The biggest bar in Tokyo
This bar is nuts. For one, it’s huge. For two, it wastes an obscene amount of space. For three, it’s nearly impossible to see anything. I could accept it being nearly impossible to see if, say, this was a club. But it isn’t. If it was a hugely expensive host bar, then maybe this could be the case. But Hiro and his buddy are young, low on the totem pole, and thus too poor to go to an expensive host bar. If they were old enough to have enough money to blow on something like this, they wouldn’t be talking about getting laid, they’d be talking about getting married. Lastly, it’s playing friggin Backstreet Boys. People, Japan is not that behind on music anymore. At clubs, they play Snoop Dogg and Shakira, same as American ones. Yes, their taste in J-Pop is inexplicable, but Backstreet Boys? Come on.
6) Bathroom signs
The neon bathroom signs have the kanji for “woman” and “man” (although the man one isn’t lit up correctly). Presumably the set designer did this because he/she thought it would look cool and trendy. The Japanese do not think kanji are cool and trendy. They think it is old, traditional, and kind of boring. If they wanted to make it cool and trendy, they’d write it in English. Maybe they’d have a neat picture. But they’d never leave it at just those kanji. The bathroom kanji I’ve seen have always been much more complex than that, sometimes not even using the man/woman kanji at all. This often makes it difficult to figure out which one to use.
7) Do you Yahoo?
This one I figured out the hard way. Japanese people get confused if you yell “yahoo,” because their only experience with the word is with yahoo.com. They pronounce it yafuu. It’s REALLY popular here. Every school and every web browser’s home page is yahoo.co.jp. So yeah, yelling that in a club would just confuse people. It’s like me yelling “GOOGLE” at the top of my lungs at a club. People would just look at me weird.
Besides, the way he pronounces it is more like “ya-ho,” which is a slang greeting, I believe, mangling up “ohayo.” Which you can only use early in the morning. I’ve only ever heard it used by schoolgirls and Mario. So, that just makes things weirder.
8) They could have sprung for neon
These signs are fucked up. Yes, the writing is correct (they’re advertising for soba, ramen, karaoke, and a bar), but there’s a ton of problems with them. First off, what are they, hung on laundry lines? Second, what shops are they even pointing towards? Japanese advertisements are always bolted to the side of a building, are usually electric (I don’t know how you could even see these signs in the dark), and clearly delineate where you can go for those services. Maybe they’re walking in a tunnel, and they can climb up a rope into these places. But the signs are about as bland and non-descriptive as those used on most Japanese businesses.
9) We are Japanese!
Hiro’s buddy chastises him for wanting to stand out. He says, “We are not special! We are Japanese!” Now, while the writing is about as subtle as a pork-laden punch to the face, this does echo a very real sentiment I wrote about earlier, with the Japanese hive mind. It does speak a lot about Hiro’s friend, who is obviously an outsider (especially if he knows about Star Trek), but still wants to be part of the larger culture. Hiro, however, is way on the fringe. Honestly, if it was reality, he’d probably have no friends. He acts like a special ed kid. It’s not THAT far out of the question for someone to act like that at his age, but it is weird for him not to be severely chastised for it. I’d expect him to be bitter about Japan in general and see the West as his great salvation. We get hints of that, but he’s so upbeat about it, I have to wonder if he’s not slightly mentally handicapped.
10) Super Hiro!
I just thought this one was funny because there’s a chain of discount grocery stores around Ibaraki called “Hiro.” It’s a joke, because Japanese supermarkets are just called “suupaa” (super)… so a “suupaa hiro” is a superhero. They feature a very Ultraman-esque superhero as their mascot, further confirming that the Japanese notion of a super hero has more to do with Ultraman and giant robots than X-Men. If a Japanese person said that around here, it’d be funny for different reasons. However, seeing as it’s not popular on a nation-wide scale, this is more of a personal joke.
11) The train
This is basically what a Japanese train looks like, although it’s kind of narrow. The only exception is the big LCD clock. Never seen one of those. The advertisements are all legit, though. Incidentally, Hiro is being a total douche for taking up the entire middle row. He should be facing to the side.
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