Just hearing the phrase “Japanese TV” fills your mind with weirder and more disturbing images than literally rolling up John Wayne Gacy’s dog-crap art and shoving it right up your nose and into your brain. If you go by just what you can find online, you probably assume that Japanese television is all daytime borderline-porn anime, nighttime straight-up-porn anime, live-action porn, and gameshows that are porn or involve, like, a person in a bikini salmon suit having to apply makeup to a horse. So also porn, albeit a (hopefully…) niche one. The reality, though, is nowhere near as boobly, so you may want to pull your pants back up. But keep on reading because “not porn” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “totally normal and boring.” For example…

Japanese TV Can Be… Creatively Interactive

One of the most popular anime currently playing in Japan is Butt Detective, and I know I’ve just said that TV here isn’t all porn, but it’s not what you think. It’s not a show about a detective who finds clues inside suspects’ butts, using only his determination (and Vaseline) to get to the bottom of the case. It’s actually a cartoon about a detective who has a butt for a face. And farts—or would it technically be a burp?—on criminals to incapacitate them. But he always says, “Pardon me while I poot you in your place” first because it’s important for cartoons to teach kids good manners. See you in 20 minutes when you come out of the watching-this-on-loop coma:

And, yeah, this actually is aimed at children. It’s literally a Saturday morning cartoon, and it even comes with its own minigame. All modern Japanese remotes have a “Data” mode that allows you to access special features for certain shows. So every week, you can tune in to Butt Detective, push “d” on your remote, and activate an interactive menu where you press “OK” in rhythm with the super-catchy Butt Dance opening to fill your sweet potato meter, seen here on the left:

NHK

Making it officially better than 99% of AAA games.

The reason why it’s sweet potato desserts, which are also Butt Detective’s favorite snack, is because they apparently give you gas. Hence the famous Japanese rhyme “Sweet potato, the magical spud, the more you eat, the more you butt-thud.” And once you fill the meter up, at the end of the opening song, you can activate the Special Attack, where pressing OK fills the screen with sounds and images of farts.

NHK

... and now it just moved up to 100%.

It’s weird, though, that while discussing all the amazing scientific advancements that Japan has made, no one ever mentions their discovery of the only good reason to get up early on a Saturday.

It may surprise you to know that the Data function wasn’t originally invented for flatulence-related TV games (but what’s important is THAT we got here, not WHY). It’s actually pretty useful for getting the latest updates about earthquakes or typhoons because those hit TV airwaves way before they’re available online. Oh, did I not mention that? This feature has nothing to do with the internet. Our TV isn’t connected to Wi-Fi or anything like that for reasons explained in this scientific presentation:

The thing is, even now, more people in Japan have TVs than they do home internet. This is mostly due to the country’s aging population, a large percentage of which feels more comfortable operating a TV set, so the older tech got a few bells and whistles you normally don’t find in Western countries. Most shows with Data menus just allow you to answer quizzes to try and win prizes, but some make it more fun, like Mezamashi Janken, a morning segment that allows you to play rock-paper-scissors with people on the TV. Win a few times to get enough points, and you can enter into a raffle to win anything from a vacuum cleaner to a tableware set. Yeah, it’s cornier than Butt Detective’s “vomit,” but … it’s also weirdly fun.

Very Little, Very Normal Porn

Is there porn on Japanese TV? Yes, obviously. It’s also incredibly tame: stuff goes into stuff, sometimes leaves some other stuff behind, and never involves live calamari. For truly weird content, you have to go online like everyone else. That’s also where you will find all those “WTF real bizarre Japanese gameshow” videos where, I dunno, a bunch of guys stick their d (which here does NOT stand for “Data”) through holes in a sheet, then some woman does a taste test on them to determine which one slept with her mom last night?

I feel dumb even having to say this but what I’ve just described is porn. Porn made specifically for pornographic purposes, with a script that was just a Xeroxed dictionary definition of “Pornography” and a note saying, “just improvise the rest.” Everyone involved in those types of videos is a professional porn actor (well, at least the women are; the guys are probably being paid ~$7 if they’re lucky.)

But apparently, because it’s from Japan, people just assume this sort of thing plays right after the evening news like “--and interest rates are expected to go up the following year. Up next, stay tuned for the latest episode of Yummy Yummy Who Slept With My Mommy.” Now, that being said, there is one thing that I’d like to discuss in more detail.

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Some years back, the internet went wild over a video called “Orgasm Wars,” where a gay man was tasked with fellating a straight porn actor to orgasm. He suc(k)ceeded. The entire mouth hug was obscured from view, so it definitely wasn’t porn-porn, but it sure seemed to fit the definition of an erotic Japanese gameshow, meaning that they ARE real, right? It’s … complicated. The challenge was one never-again-repeated segment on Yoshimi Tokui's Let Me Unzip You, a comedy variety show that DID feature porn actors/escorts but rarely doing anything more explicit than going down on a melon. (whether this link is SFW or NSFW depends on your boss’ stance on the sexiness of fruit.)

Also, the Japanese title of the segment was Poko x Tate, clearly parodying a real TV show called Hoko x Tate that pitted people with amazing abilities/inventions against each other, like an expert falconer trying to get his bird to catch an RC car driven by a professional RC car racer. It was pretty awesome. Until it came out that the show faked a few of these challenges and it got canceled.

So… was “Orgasm Wars” just tongue-in-cheek instead of actual-d-in-mouth parody of that show? Nobody can say for sure what definitely went down (*ba-dum-tish*) during that segment but Takuya, the gay man in the video, appears to be a real escort (in Japan, non-vaginal prostitution between adults is mostly legal). He later even capitalized on the popularity of “Orgasm Wars” by releasing a Fleshlight version of his mouth.

But even if stuff really went into stuff and left some other stuff behind, Yoshimi Tokui's aired on a premium satellite subscription channel late at night. For like 1-2 times a year. It was always a rare, promotional series meant to drum up attention/controversy and definitely not something your kid could accidentally catch on regular TV. Japan actually has extremely strict laws regulating all TV content. Speaking of which…

The Anime Situation is Weird

There are many types of television in Japan: digital, cable, and satellite. But the basic seven-channel terrestrial package is probably the most common one. You still have to pay for it, though, because it includes the national broadcaster NHK. It’s a bit like the BBC TV license. If you own a TV set in Japan, you have to pay a “Receiving Fee” to the NHK. This has been challenged in the Supreme Court a bunch of times, and the verdict was always: “Empty your pockets, buddy/buddette/budde,” so there’s really no fighting it. At least you get access to so much anime in exchange, right?

Weeeell… you do get some anime with the terrestrial signal. But it’s mainly kids’ stuff, at least during the day. All shows with more adult themes are relegated to the graveyard slot, “with the rest of the weirdos.” There’s this kind of puzzling idea in Japanese TV that anime should target children first (anime movies are apparently exempt from this rule for whatever reason.) If adults also like it, then great, but that’s a secondary concern because anime for adults, young or otherwise, is considered “niche” and therefore less marketable.

Consider the mega-hit One Piece about magical pirates, which currently airs on Sunday mornings, a slot typically reserved for children's shows despite the series undeniably having tons of adult fans. And for good reason. There are some gruesome and/or adult moments in One Piece. But a lot of them were ever so slightly toned down for the anime adaptation. Not as much as when the American dub of the show by 4Kids replaced a character’s cigarettes with lollipops, but strategic decisions were made to make quadruple-extra sure that the series would air during daytime.

Not that it actually could have happened with One Piece but a spot in the nighttime 10 pm – 3 am slot often meant that a series wasn’t destined for mainstream success, though many shows disproved that. The Demon Slayer animea series that features more decapitations than a French Revolution-themed party thrown by the Headless Horseman, aired only at night but remains one of the most popular shows among elementary school kids. 

Still, despite numerous breakout successes, the nighttime, more adult anime is generally considered… specialized. “For people who’re into that kind of stuff.” That’s okay, though, because, with DVR and especially streaming (which is the best way to watch anime in Japan), it doesn’t matter when shows air. But this is more a question of public perception. Because most Japanese people primarily come into contact with family-friendly animated stuff while watching TV during the day, it reinforces the idea that this is what most anime SHOULD be. As a result, if you tell a regular Japanese person that you’re into anime and don’t specify that you mean, say, Ghibli movies, chances are they’ll hit you with a nervous “That’s nice” and ask if you want some fries with your Baconator.

It’s the Little Things That Make Japanese TV So Fun to Watch

Censorship on Japanese TV used to be wild, and, again, please pull up your pants because we’re not talking about that. It’s not as common nowadays, but with some news stories, Japanese TV stations used to blur out everythingthe background, the surrounding houses, the people. Everything. This mostly happened with breaking news when there was no time to get proper releases to use those images on air or with stories of a sensitive nature (i.e., someone being filmed entering a love hotel for a ride on the d-train with not-their-spouse. Only here, once again, the “d” doesn’t stand for “Data.”) Whatever the reason, the end result always felt like watching TV from inside of a ghost’s anus.

Fuji TV

“Breaking news: We go live to the phone that accidentally started livestreaming from our cameraman’s pocket.”

Then you would switch to a variety show about the best types of instant ramen or whatever and hear the theme from Pulp Fiction in the background because trying to understand how copyright law works in Japan is the closest the country will ever come to legalizing drugs.

But I do genuinely find Japanese TV fun, especially the gameshows and competitions. Everyone may be fully clothed, but there's still a lot to enjoy there, like all the TV challenges that test people's ability to write kanji. Without getting too technical, with computer keyboards and smartphones, you can spell Japanese words phonetically, and the OS will convert them into correct characters for you, which over time has had a… not-great effect on kanji literacy, hence these kinds of shows. The challenges are always fun and colorful and a fantastic way to test your own knowledge of Japanese.

I also love how big competitive eating has gotten in Japan and how different it is to how America does it. Japanese competitive eaters (called “food fighters”) are almost always these skinny, small people who are allowed to take their time with their food because speed-eating hasn’t really caught on here. You still need to finish first to win, but food fighters can get up to an hour to eat like, say, 20 pounds of steak or 12 grilled squids or whatever. And because it’s not about speed, it’s kind of awesome in the original meaning of the word.

Watching all that food disappear slooowly into those tiny bodies feels like gazing into the eyes of a Biblically-accurate angel. Your brain can’t make any sense of it, and you are afraid, but you don’t look away. You can’t look away.

Lastly, I wanted to quickly talk about how Japan has a… unique relationship with representation on TV. You can wake me up in the middle of the night, and after we have a quick chat about why I sleep in a functional Batsuit (answer: “None of your business, Captain Question”), even in my sleepy state, I could name like 10 Japanese trans women celebrities off the top of my head. Because they keep appearing on mainstream Japanese television as hosts and guests of all sorts of shows. Which is great. But for the life of me, I can’t remember the last time I saw a trans male celebrity. And it often feels like Japanese trans women can only get on TV by adopting loud, “outrageous” personalities, which the country’s LGBTQ community isn’t super happy about. Still, though, things are getting better in that department.

So while I do not think that Japanese TV is “weird,” I do agree that it can give you things you won’t find anywhere else … Including a show where celebrities try to figure out which parts of a specially-prepared room are real and which are extremely-realistic cake. Hopefully, none made from sweet potatoes, though, cause those will seriously trumpet your rump-et.

Follow Cezary on Twitter.

Top image: NHK

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