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[©1991, The Center for New American Media, Inc.]

[Koji Nakajima, proprietor of the New Keihin Hotel] Hello! Welcome to my establishment. Very pleased to meet you.[Narrator] Old Tokyo hands like to say that understanding Japanese culture is like peeling an onion. Peel away one layer and there's a similar, but different, layer underneath. The two of us kept this in mind when we came to Japan.

As soon as we got there, we came upon the first layer of Japanese culture. All we saw was how different the Japanese seem to be. They're always doing things in groups. They take off their shoes indoors. They eat strange things. Their trains are never, ever late.
But after a couple of weeks, we discovered the next layer. Japanese people, we decided, are really a lot like us. They wear Western clothes. They like Fred and Wilma. They love Elvis.

Then we got to Layer 3. We began to realize that they weren't just like us. Even the food that wasn't strange -- was strange. For a country with a well-deserved reputation for exquisite refinement, there was also another kind of taste.

Some Westerners try to understand the contradictions of Japanese culture by studying Kabuki or Zen.

Some study the workings of the economic miracle. We took a different path. There were plenty of other things to look at-- things that went beyond the usual notions that Westerners have.

So we decided to explore what happens when Western culture comes to Japan. By looking at how Western things were copied and changed in everyday Japanese life, we figured we'd get a pretty good sense of the tastes and feelings of most Japanese people. It promised to be an unusual trip.

There were any number of places to look for Western influences, but we wanted to start with something that really expressed modern Japan and all its contradictions.

We didn't have to look very far.

They were called love hotels, and they rented rooms by the hour to amorous couples. They were very popular all over Japan, where many people live in tiny apartments and don't have much privacy.

They were as commonplace as sushi bars, and they came in every shape and fantasy.

[Shin Ami, love hotel designer] The whole thing is American. Look at this--American!
The futon is American.
You can sit here and drink with your girlfriend.
We admire white people--we admire Americans.
America is #1 in the world. World champion!
This one's called "Lincoln Center".
People are looking for what they don't have at home.
This one has a Las Vegas feeling.
[Question] Isn't it odd to mix Playboy and the Muppets?
It's eclectic, but that's what makes it interesting!
The bed's a boxing ring.
I used to design kindergartens.
To me, they're the same thing as love hotels.
Japanese have trouble expressing themselves.
They work too much. That's why they like these places.
They don't feel they're enjoying themselves unless they spend a lot of money.
This is my "excuse phone".
This is a phone I invented for people having affairs.
Pinball parlor--railroad station--coffee shop--mah-johngg parlor...
Let's try one.

"Hi, I'm at the train station. I'll be late getting home."

This is how husbands and wives trick each other![Narrator] So it looked like the fabled Japanese ability to innovate was not limited to microchips. And the more we stayed in Tokyo, the more we saw how all sorts of familiar objects were used in unexpected ways. We began to wonder if this passion for foreign things meant that the Japanese were losing their traditional culture.

[On-the-street Interviews: Man] I think there's too much American influence.

Traditional Japanese things like food are being Americanized. It's not good.

[Woman] Yes, there are a lot of American products here.

But we Japanese just choose what we want and leave the rest.[Second Woman] I feel like we're adding things to our culture, not losing things.[Donald Richie] The Japanese themselves don't think that they're westernized. They think they are modernized. They make a very great distinction between what is modern and what is Western.[Narrator] We wanted to talk to someone equally familiar with both the East and the West. Donald Richie had been studying Japan 40 years longer than we had.

[Donald Richie] Contemporary Japan does live in two worlds. The world we recognize as the Western world, and the world we identify as their world. However, that's our apprehension of this. The Japanese themselves think of all of this as Japanese. In other words, just as the Americans for example would have no hesitation about going to different countries, taking what they want and bringing it home and utilizing it, certainly, Japan has no compunctions about this at all. They've been doing this ever since the 8th century with China -- the whole language comes from China, for example. Half the architecture comes from China, Korea. And so now, having subsumed Asia, they're subsuming the world, as it were.

[Narrator] But how much foreign influence could Japan absorb and still be truly Japanese? We were quickly learning that that's what this culture was: the mixture of what's come in from the outside. As we started to brush up on Japanese history, we found out that even Western influence had been here for a long time.

It seemed that shopping around for what other cultures have to offer is as fundamental to being Japanese as eating rice.
The Japanese have always wanted to be up-to-date, and they've never missed an opportunity to bring home the best. In the 1870s they wanted to modernize their navy, so they followed the British model. But for their new army, only Prussia's would do.

But there's always been a basic paradox. Even though things may have looked more and more Western, underneath, the essentials of Japanese culture haven't changed all that much.

Take baseball, for instance. The Japanese didn't just copy it -- they adapted it to suit their own cultural needs. In a society wary of "losing face", the ideal game is one which after nine innings, ends in a tie.

And so for us, to be in Japan was to be in a place where East and West, ancient and modern, coexisted everywhere.

And once something is brought to Japan, it often stays that way forever. Japanese students still wear uniforms based on German school outfits of the 1880s. And when young Japanese take a picture, they always flash the peace sign--20 years after it has vanished from the West.[Donald Richie] Somebody once compared the Japanese to the Cuckoo. The Cuckoo, as you know, will sit in another bird's nest, having kicked out the bird, and will hatch its egg. And so this has been compared somewhat to the Cuckoo, in that things are brought from all over and then are hatched into something astonishingly Japanese. After fifty years, a hundred years, you can't tell the difference. I mean, if you want to see T'ang court dancing, 8th century Chinese court dancing, you can't see it in China. Go to the court in Japan. It's called gagaku. It's been performed for the last thousand years. I'm sure a thousand years from now there's going to be something called "The Beatle". It'll be four people with guitars, and nobody will know exactly what it is, but it will be the only place in the world that will still have it.[Narrator] We'd been told that we could find this cultural borrowing at work in even the most fundamental rituals of Japanese life. So we invited ourselves to two weddings at a suburban wedding palace.

The first was a traditional Shinto ceremony. Most couples got married this way. Shinto is a mixture of spirit beliefs and ancestor worship, and for us its rituals evoked a sense of the classic Japan. But Shinto is not exclusive -- it can and does accomodate other traditions.
The bride's kimono was from a 16th Century design. The cake was Western -- with one important modification. It's made out of rubber. The Japanese like how it looks.

Our second couple was looking for something different -- something a little more modern.
[The Jimbas -- a newlywed couple] At first I looked at those ads for wedding places.
And my mother had a discount coupon for Tamahimeden Wedding Palace.
So we decided to do it there--plus it's close.
[Man] And the building is really beautiful![Woman] Yes, it looks like a castle!
I wanted to do the wedding church style, and they could do it that way.
Wearing a white wedding dress
and a veil...
Walking the virgin road...
Every Japanese girl has that dream.
[Priest] Like Jesus' miracle at Cana... will start a glorious new life
under the protection of Jesus Christ.[Man] I've seen church weddings on TV that were really nice.
There was a foreign priest speaking English--I think that's neat.
[Question:] Are you Christian?
No. Not at all.
We have no religion.[Ian Buruma, Journalist] To say that the Japanese misunderstand Western forms, we'd assume that they'd...ahh...tried to understand it in the first place which is perhaps not entirely true. I'm not sure the Japanese are always particularly interested to understand the substance of what comes from the outside...Japan. I think that certainly, I mean, if...if Westerners look at what Western forms become in Japan, well, to a Westerner it will certainly look superficial, and it often is superficial. But it may also be true that those same Western forms then, have different associations for Japanese than they would to somebody more familiar with where it came from.[Wedding MC] Now the climax is coming.
I'm going to show you a very romantic moment.
Look at this prince and princess, straight out of a fairy tale.[Narrator] And at the end of the reception, the newlyweds' co-workers got together and sang them the company TV jingle.[Singers at Wedding] My smile is only for you...
I understand you...
I feel Coke.
I feel Coca-Cola...

[Narrator] Private rituals, public festivals. Considering that we were in a country known for its work ethic, we were surprised by the steady stream of holidays. There were traditional festivals, like this one, where kids who turned 3, 5, or 7 were blessed at the local Shinto shrine.

There were holidays that had been borrowed from overseas.
But our favorite was cherry blossom time. For two weeks in April, the whole country came out and picnicked under the trees. It gave us the opportunity to listen to what people were saying about the biggest source of imported ideas...America.
[Cherry Blossom Revelers -- The Men] Japan is the country of cherry blossoms. We're having a party under the trees.
In New York--or is it Washington?--they also have splendid cherry blossoms.
So I have the feeling that we're more than brothers with America.
We're the closest friends in the world.
We always dreamed about America. We tried to imitate it.
I guess we thought it was cool--"nowie", as they say today.
Japan is hardly imitating America at all today.
Take the number of patents--Japan is way ahead.
Japan is on top now. America is afraid.[Cherry Blossom Revelers -- Women] Over there, you just walk in the house with your shoes on and plop on the bed!

From square 1 the lifestyles are very different from ours.
We take baths. People in America take showers.
I've never actually been there. Everything we see is from movies and TV.
Americans of our class have big houses, and pools, and yards.
We're stuck in housing projects.
So they're a lot better off than us.

[Narrator] When people talked to us about the United States, we kept hearing one word over and over again  akogare, meaning a yearning for things American, a kind of Japanese version of the American dream.
Images of this fantasy America were everywhere. Japan was especially in love with the American 1950sthey called it the retro boom.
James Dean looked at us from every corner. There were new cars that looked like old Ford Fairlanes. Some people explained this by saying that Japan was now going through ITS own version of the 50s, becoming a rich world power after decades of struggle.
This was a nostalgia for somebody else's past: the 1950s in Japan had been poor and harsh. It was as if the American public had undergone a sudden yearning for the days of Louis XIV. But like everything else in Japan, first impressions could be deceptive.

[Cowboys] I'm Cal.
I'm Ben.

Doc Suzuki.[Doc] Well, I first got interested in cowboy things when I saw American movies and TV shows. Then I started listening to country & western music on armed forces radio, and hanging out with these guys.

[Tabo] I don't know...I think my life is kind of like a cowboy's. You know, I ride a train to work -- it's kinda like riding a horse; and my office is kinda like a ranch; and maybe I shouldn't say this, but roping in customers is how I make a living.[Narrator] In Tokyo, you can choose your fantasy by choosing your theme bar. There are German beer halls, Chicago speakeasies, or this one, which would have made a Texas rancher feel at home. Sitting here, we began to think that these weekend cowboys had merely captured the look and missed the essence of the cowboy myth. We just weren't thinking the Japanese way.[Doc] When you boil it all down, what's the most important thing in a cowboy's life? Pride in his work. Even though my life is comfortable in JapanI'm a dentist you knowworking in my office I have to rely on myself just like cowboys do. And I've got pride in MY work too.

[Rowdy] We all grew up watching those old TV shows like Rawhide & Laramie. What we saw was everyone getting together around the campfire. You guys have it all wrongit's not about being an individual. It's about working together. Whenever those guys had a problem, they'd get together and figure out how to solve it. That's why those shows were so popular in Japan they used teamwork.
[Narrator] For such a large city, Tokyo had the feel of a village. The streets were safe, everything was clean, and the whole place ran like clockwork. Surprisingly, we didn't see many foreigners around. But there was a lot of English in the air.

We weren't the first foreigners to be bewildered by the Japanese version of English. It often didn't make a lot of sense, but that wasn't the point. English looked good. It lent cachet. It was international.

And if being cosmopolitan was what you were after, there were other things you could do. You could go to the John Robert Powers Charm School, like we did one afternoon.[Susan Marie Holder, Etiquette Instructor] Today we'll learn how to sit properly on a Western chair.

First of all, the chair is a Western piece of furniture.
It came into our lives about a hundred years ago.[Susan Holder interview] I teach...ah, walking! How to walk in high-heeled shoes. I mean, especially Japanese women. They've been walking in zoris which are you know, the typical Japanese shoes, okay? I teach them walking and sitting in chairs, and also doors, opening and closing doors, you've seen that, okay? And...taking off coats! (laughs)...okay? And, well, that's about it![Susan teaching girls] Make sure you're at the center of the chair.

Straighten your back and slowly sit down. Adjust yourself.[Susan Marie Holder interview] We want to be Western. We want to be like a gaijin. We want to be foreigners, you know? And I think a lot of the women, they think, "Well...look, when I see a Grace Kelly movie, I see Grace Kelly looking real elegant in a seat, you know? And I want to learn...I want to learn that!" Even my mother, okay my mother is Japanese, so when she saw the Western movies she's like "Oh, I want that pair of shoes...I want to look elegant." And that whole thing, that image, Western image is still in their mind. They want to do it just like that, you know?[Second Etiquette Teacher] You should pick up the dessert fork with your left hand.

You can tell if a table setting is authentic if the dessert fork points left.[Narrator] It wasn't flower arranging or a traditional tea ceremony, but it was the classic Japanese way of learning. Every detail is equally important. Every action becomes a ritual, learned from the master.
[Etiquette Instructor] Your plates are all different distances from the table edge.

Put down three fingers--that's the right distance.[Narrator] For those who really wanted to appear international, it was posible to undergo physical alterations. We were told that every year thousands of Japanese women went to the trouble of getting surgery to Westernize their features.

Plastic Surgeon]
You'll be real pretty.
I think international women influence Japan.
This patient wanted to look like Brooke Shields.

[Donald Richie] People try on a lot of different things in order to get a flavor of the world. You know, you try on different cultures by eating different foods, or you try on different personae by wearing different clothes. One of the things that the liberated Japanese, that is since the Tokugawa period, has been working for is...endless choice. The idea of having a tremendous choice. If you go to the department stores in Tokyo for example, or any large Japanese city, I mean it's "consumerism" gone wild! It's mad, the things that you can buy. There's nothing you cannot buy. There's nothing that's made in the entire world that's not sold here, except parsnips and a few things like that. Otherwise, everything's up for sale. But the variety is astonishing. It's as though people are making up for, you know, four hundred years of only one kind of rice.

[Narrator] And it seems that as long as Japanese people have wanted foreign things, there have been Japanese entrepreneurs ready to supply them.

It was the way things were in 1853, when Commodore Perry sailed into Yokohama to force Japan to open its doors to trade. Immediately, likenesses of Perry and his crew began turning up on souvenir towels, prints and fans. Although he didn't get royalties, Perry unwittingly may have become the first in a long line of foreign celebrity salesmen in Japan.

Although there were a lot of celebrities used in Japanese advertising, what we found more interesting was that a lot of the faces weren't famous. They didn't have to be famous. They just had to be foreign.

[Young American Model]
Well, I was walking through a parking lot on my way getting off from work, when a scout found me and said that they thought I should model in Japan. Because I have the cute look which would only work here.

[Question:] "What is the 'cute look'? What do you think they mean by that?"
Just really young and happy and...cute.(laughs)

[Question:] "Why do you think they like that?"
The whole country here seems really fifties-ish. Um...they're really cute and they like really young and immature things, I guess. I'm young and immature![Ad Agency Rep] Why do we use so many foreigners in Japanese advertising?

This is my opinion:
Because in Japan we have only a few physical types.
If we used a Japanese model, let's say in a magazine ad,
...people would think, "Oh, she looks like Miss Yamada from next door."
But with a foreigner, we can look at them objectively.[Narrator] Of course, not all the ads used Westerners. Maybe seven out of ten featured Japanese performers. But even THESE often used English unexpectedly.
You could see foreign fairy tales...
Or even foreign literature.
It was like opening a series of beautiful packages. Each contained the essence of a foreign place, a particular culture, or a specific mood.

[Katsumi Takahashi, TV Director] We're making a 15-second commercial.
We're selling the "Rolling Thunder" video game.
It takes place in the New York of the 1960s.
So we're using foreigners instead of Japanese people in this scene.
If we did use Asians, they'd have to be inscrutable Chinese with ties to the Mafia.
We all grew up on Superman, 007, and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."
All that stuff from Europe and America.
Also, Japanese people think gaijin are cooler than they are.[Gary Bassin, Director] The commercial is kind of a reflection of the national mentality for that particular period. The national mentality changes every year, or every six months maybe. And so commercials will change and images will change.

I guess when I first got here about eight or ten years ago...aah, America was Los Angeles. It was Venice Beach, roller skating, bikinis and, you know, blonde...aah, blonde hair and blue eyes know. Now it's changed. Now there's a big New York thing. No one cares about the roller skating or the Venice Beach or the blonde hair and blue eyes anymore. Aaah, now it's New York, now it's business, it's high-power. You know, it's the power breakfast, the power lunch, the power meals, you know, the running from office to office kind of thing. You know, very business like.

[George Fields, Author] So long as foreigners are being used, it still does show that the Japanese have this hang-up about the outside world affecting their own culture. The essential point here is that the Japanese are a homogeneous society and they do have a purity hang-up. They do believe, and from the United States point of view you might find this offensive, but they do believe that their strength is in their racial purity. Let's be quite frank about that. So, under those circumstances, foreigners are, under that definition, always a menace or an oddity. And of course now, it's much better to treat them as a bit of an oddity than a menace.

It's Kent Gilbert!
When he talks on TV, he seems to know more about Japan than we do.
He's cool.
He's absorbed Japanese culture. He doesn't seem like a foreigner at all.

[Narrator] Among all the foreign faces on TV, three Anericans appeared to have special status. They kept popping up four or five times a day. We'd see them on commercials, game shows, talk shows...
We'd never heard of them but they were really famous in Japan. What had they done to deserve all this attention?
They seemed to be treated as informal spokesmen for American culture.

[Kent Derricott on TV] We Americans in Japan get to vote in U.S. elections too.

[Narrator] But on another program, they'd be something else entirely.

[Dave Spector on TV] It took courage for movies to show the Vietnam War as the mistake it was. Americans can be very sensitive about problems like Watergate, but in Japan...

[Dave Spector, TV Personality] Well, it's funny, you know, the few of us that are here, if you ask Japanese on the street, if you ask Japanese on the street to name ten Americans, then I'll always be one of them. Even five Americans, I'm one of them. Which is a mind-boggling thing to think about. You know, I mean, they're forgetting about Lincoln and Jefferson and Washington, and even, you know, much, much more famous people.

Kent Gilbert, TV Personality] Well, I first came to Japan as a Japanese missionary for the Mormon church, which is a two-year assignment. And after that I went back to college and I studied Japanese, because I thought it was interesting and I ended up majoring in that.
[Narrator] Kent Gilbert was from Utah and had a certain all-American quality Japanese people found appealing.
Kent Derricott was another ex-Mormon missionary making a career for himself as a gaijin tarento, or foreign talent.
And then there was Dave Spector, who had landed in Japan as a segment producer for "Ripley's Believe it or Not".

Dave Spector] The thing that Japanese have on their minds about Americans is that they're blond and blue-eyed and they're wearing sweatshirts and stuff like that. But of course, I'm not like that at all. I'm from Chicago originally and I decided to look more 'American'. I would change my hair a little bit, you know? And it looks very strange, you know, I feel weird when I go back to Los Angeles. People think I'm in a heavy metal group or something like that, and I also have like, you know, the blue contacts. And all of a sudden, 'Wow! Look how American he looks. We can use him much better now.'.

[Japanese TV Singer] When I was in Hawaii I never saw a typical American family...
...the kind you'd see on "Family Ties".
Is it true Americans just walk through the house with their shoes on?

[Dave Spector on TV] Yes, Americans don't worry about things like that.

[Male Japanese Singer] Yes, when I look at foreigners it's like they're not thinking about anything!

[Dave Spector] Making foreigners cuter takes away the threat of foreigners being more powerful, or having more know-how, or more sophistication. So definitely, they use that in a way to make themselves more comfortable. So I've done things on Japanese TV that are totally silly, or ridiculous. I mean like jumping rope with French poodles. Doing things like the lowest Bozo, circus kind of stuff. But it doesn't bother me at all. A lot of times the foreigners on TV, models and what-not, are compared to pandas. They use that term here--pandas-- because they're cuddly, you can go and have fun with them, and throw a marshmallow and that's about it. And you don't get involved any more deeper than that. But...since I'm making half a million dollars a year, I'm very happy to be a panda. I'd be a much lower animal. I'd be like a sloth, or something, or a hedgehog, you know, for that money. So it doesn't bother me at all.[Narrator] It was one thing to cut the foreigner down to acceptable size on TV. But the Japanese know that America is not a nation filled with pandas.[On-The-Street Interviews: Man] When I was little America had a good image, but lately...
...the dollar's weaker and with all of the crime,
it just doesn't have the image it used to.

[Second Man] America is big, and I think it's a good country, but in New York there's a lot of crime, and it's scary for us Japanese there.

[Woman] I dream about seeing it, but I'm afraid at the same time.[Narrator] Although more and more Japanese are overcoming their fears and traveling outside safe Japan, many will still remain armchair travelers and learn about America from what they see in the media.
We wanted to see how these images of America were created--right at the source.

So we decided to take a trip back home with the crew of one of Japan's most popular game shows. It's called Ultra Quiz, and for 12 seasons it's been filming all over America.[Ultra-Quiz MC] Since this quiz is taking place at the Gettysburg Battlefield,
we'll start off with a question about the Civil War.

Who was the 18th President of the U.S.?

[Answer]: General Grant.

Which major league team has the first opening game of the year?

[Answer]: The Baltimore Orioles.

[Susan Milano, Ultra Quiz Producer] Ultra Quiz is a program that starts in Tokyo, Japan. The program stops at maybe fifteen different locations on this marvelous journey from Tokyo to New York, and stages quiz competitions at these different selected locations. They choose usually locations that are likely to, in some way or another, really say to the viewer, this is America. This is something that does not happen in Japan, or this is something that is unique here.

[Ultra Quiz Announcer] Here we are in Las Vegas, living the American dream!
Life in the fast lane, luck and money...

[Narrator] Ultra Quiz presented America as theme park--big and exciting, with a broad canvas of stereotypical Americana. For three weeks, the contestants--and the home viewers--were whisked around the country; at each location, a new adventure or a different fantasy awaited them.[Norio Fukutome, Host] Americans always want to know what the prize is in dollars.
But we never give money.
We usually give them something worthless like an acre of land in the desert.
After all, they're getting an all-expenses paid vacation here.

[Narrator] At each location contestants who missed too many questions were taken out of the running and made to go through a penalty game.
The penalty games could get pretty elaborate. As with the rest of Ultra Quiz, they were chosen to suggest that "it could only happen in America".

[Fukutome on TV] Since you two lost, you're going to learn how to become card dealers.[Narrator] What will make this set-up so distressing for the unsuspecting Japanese contestant is that he has been put into a situation that brings to life his deepest fears about America.

{Las Vegas penalty game}
This is America presented as a Japanese nightmare--to be alone in a room filled with unpredictable, ugly Americans. It was certainly the most elaborate manipulation of American culture we had seen since we started our journey. It showed us that the Japanese can interpret anything about America in any way it suits them.
And why not? Did we in America and in the West hold the copyright to our cultural creations, or even our own stereotypes? Once they land in the hands of the Japanese, everything is fair game -- a game in which we are merely spectators.
{More quiz show; contestant wins}

We thought about all the familiar things we had seen that the Japanese had turned into something new and unexpected. These things really couldn't be called Western any more, and maybe that was the point. No matter how perplexing they might look to us, to the Japanese, all these things had become their own. It was their version.

[Fukutome on TV] Manhattan is yours--Give it a loud banzai.
The State of Liberty--it's yours too.
You're at the apex of twenty thousand contestants.
You've climbed to the top. The long fight is over.
Just for tonight, the Statue of Liberty is your lover.
She is your possession.

Produced and directed by
Coordinating Producer

Production Assistants

Supervising Editor
Japanese National Institute
of Multi-Media Education
University of IllinoisAdditional Writing
LORA MYERSOn-Line Editor
Sound Editor
Sound Mixer
Title Sequence Photographs
Cowboy Voices
Post-Production Assistants
Production Support

Program support

Thanks to
TOKYU AGENCYSource Materials
Courtesy Collectables Records
©1991 The Center for New American Media Inc.