Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My New Year's

Here I am, freshly back from spending New Year's in Yamaguchi prefecture (山口県) with Yoshie's family. They were really nice - fed me, took me sightseeing, ferried me back and forth to the train station. Yamaguchi is the western-most prefecture in the Chugoku region, and according to this map I found, the only pink part of Japan.

Image from Wikipedia
It was my first "Japanese" New Year's, as my first year was spent at home, probably sleeping, and last year I went to Tokyo and hung around with foreigners (whee!). It was pretty much what I had heard it would be. On New Year's Eve, we sat down at the kotatsu table and ate a variety of stuff - salad, soba soup, sashimi, etc. It was pretty tasty. Then we watched TV for about five hours. This was my least favorite part of the trip.

See, in Japan there is a popular kind of TV show called "batsu game." I believe the Simpsons parodied it once - the family traveled to Japan and in order to get home again they had to appear on a game show to try to win some money. But once there, the host explained to them that while American gameshows reward success, Japanese ones punish failure. These penalty games are shows in which contestants, who are usually comedians, must try to avoid messing up and being punished. As you can imagine, they fail frequently, and most of the penalties are physical. There's one popular kind, which is what we watched for about five hours, in which the contestants must participate in some tasks without laughing, or they are punished. Sometimes they just sit around and talk, trying to make each other laugh. I kid you not, there were some segments of this show where the comedians were sitting around a table playing with what looked like a Japanese Ken doll, trying to make each other laugh. When they inevitably did, some guys wearing ski masks and fatigues would run in and hit them in the butt with what looked like a hard rubber bat. This was funny for about 30 minutes for me, then got old quickly. 

There was also one part of the show were some guys in black bodysuits would run after them, and if caught they would have to undergo some kind of physical abuse. One penalty was standing under a window and having them put some blunt fish-hook looking implements in their nose while some guy on the second floor reeled. Another was a machine that kicked them in the balls.

I know slap-stick humor is big in Japan, but after a certain point it gets to be a little disgusting. You'd think getting hit in the groin (or even the butt) a few times could cause some permanent damage. But still, people laugh. Maybe if you know the comedians you can better appreciate their reactions (or their punishment). I know I'd like to see SMAP on a batsu game.

Around 11:30 we walked to a nearby shrine and Yoshie and her parents said a prayer and got their fortunes once midnight hit. It was cold, but they had a big bonfire going outside the shrine.
It was a good trip overall - nice experience to have. I think the coolest part of the trip was when we visited this little town where hawks were hanging around waiting for food. Friggin hawks, sitting around like crows or seagulls. People would buy bread at nearby stores and throw pieces into the air, and the hawks would swoop by and grab them. That's where I saw the most badass thing, possibly ever: Yoshie's father ripped off a piece of bread, held it above his head, and just looked at us cooly as a hawk flew by and grabbed it out of his hand.

So it was a good experience, but man, Japanese-style New Year's can be a challenge if you're either not big on Japanese food or not big on Japanese TV.


  1. Ahhh, Gaki no Tsukai and the 笑っちゃいけない罰ゲーム. You're right, it's only funny for a few rounds, but the New Year's event goes on and on and on and on.
    Look up Gaki no Tsukai, Silent Library on You Tube. Pretty funny classic episode.

  2. Yeah...I've seen Silent Library - I think that one is pretty good. But then again, if it lasted for hours I'd probably change my mind.

  3. I wonder, do these comedians do comedy other than this kind?