How I survived a Japanese tv show

Sign at the TBS tv studio entrance

Sign at the TBS tv studio entrance

Last Monday I was asked by someone from the Dutch embassy whether I would mind appearing on a Japanese tv show. The show is about Japanese women that have moved abroad and who are married to a foreigner. The show follows their lives and that of their family members and addresses things the lady in question finds strange or things she really needed to get used to.

Since the episode this week was about a woman who moved to The Netherlands and who is married to a Dutch person, they were desperate for a woman who is Dutch and who can speak Japanese to appear on their show to talk about what it is like to live in The Netherlands and whether the show portrays an accurate picture of real life in The Netherlands. Of course the show is mainly about stereo types so there really wasn’t much room to elaborate on the fact that not all Dutch people react a certain way or behave a certain way.

At first I told the embassy “no” when they asked me to do the show, but then after they told me that they were really desperate to find someone (I was not the first they had asked) and after consulting with my husband (who is Japanese) whether my Japanese speaking ability would be sufficient, I was persuaded to do it after all. My husband was the one that convinced me to do it and told me it would be a fun experience, so that was the clincher.

The next day I had a pre-interview so someone from the show could check me out and see whether my Japanese was good enough. They showed me some clips they were going to use on the show and asked me some questions what my opinion was on the subject. The guy I had the interview with called his boss to brief him on how I had done and 5 minutes later it was settled! I was going to appear on the show!

The next day I got up early. The taping of the show wasn’t going to start until late in the afternoon, but I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get ready and I wanted to take some extra travel time in case I got lost.

The studio wasn’t too difficult to find and I was actually quite a bit early even though I had really taken my time. A person was already waiting for me at the entrance and asked me whether I was Nicki. When I replied “yes” she told me she would show me around and explain some things to me.

I was first shown the set where the taping was going to be. This was quite exciting, seeing all the bright lights and all the staff that were going to be there. I noticed there were plenty of seats so I wasn’t going to be the only one there. The seats looked quite uncomfortable so I was hoping the taping wouldn’t go on too long.

Inside the dressing room

Inside the dressing room

I was then brought to the dressing rooms where all of the other girls that were going to appear on the show were preparing. There were quite a few there and most of them were really skinny and pretty and I heard some of them speaking Japanese and I was really impressed with their abilities. I talked to some of the girls and invariably they told me they were professional models and were living anywhere between 7 and 20 years in Japan already! I felt really inadequate and hoped I would not pale in comparison to all those models that spoke virtually fluent Japanese!

While we were waiting someone came over to do another ‘dry run’ and explain what would happen when and what questions were likely going to be asked. I had to practice my answers a few times before they were satisfied I would be able to answer correctly and just to be on the safe side, they placed a girl next to me that could help me if I got stuck.

After that I was brought to make-up and hair. I had already done my own make-up so they only focussed on my hair. I must admit I didn’t look half bad by the time they were done with me! No super model material, but still passable. I was hoping my Japanese would go equally well.

Inside the studio (pre taping)

Inside the studio (pre taping)

After what seemed like ages we were finally called up into the studio. All the girls piled in and seemed to know what to do. I felt akward and out of place. Fortunately one of the staff told me where to go and handed me a huge sign with my name and my nationality plastered all over. I was given a special seat, reserved only for people that are ‘in the hot seat’ so to speak and are considered the center of attention.

Then the Japanese celebrities came on that would sit at a desk oposite me. My “guardian angle” tasked with whispering in my ear whenever I was stumped, explained to me who everyone was and whether I might expect tough questions from them. When the panel members were seated, the presenters or MC‘s came on.

After the introductions the show was finally on its way. Fortunately they started the first video segment quite quickly. It started with a general overview of some of Amsterdam‘s famous sights like the Rijksmuseum, the flowermarket and of course the canals. Then the family was introduced and a back ground story about how they met was given and the family members were introduced.

The next segment was about Dutch people being frugal and using very little toilet paper or toothpaste. Actually I consider myself to use a normal amount on both accounts, but for the sake of the tv show I told them I too would use very little and that I thought using more was wasteful since that was the basis of the show. Of course everyone squeeled with delight like Japanese do, that it was rediculous to use only that little and they even wanted to know how it would work if I only used a little bit of toilet paper.

The next segments were more of the same. The husband and wife fighting over whether the lights should be on or off, whether the washingmachine could run when the cheaper rate was not yet aplicable or not and whether it was okay to have more than one kind of spread on your sandwich at the same time.

The last segment was about the freezer breaking down and the husband who (of course) wasn’t able to fix it even though he made it seem like it was something he did on a regular basis. He finally gave in and hesitantly agreed that his wife could go and look for a new one, as long as she promised not to buy anything without his consent. She agreed and a new segment started where he showed people around town a bit, telling the viewers about the many bicyclist in the Netherlands and how you have to wait 15 minutes or more if one of the many bridges opens to let a boat pass through until she finally reached the electronic store.

She took a long time browsing what was on offer, but finally settled on the cheapest on they had. It was much smaller than the current one, so after the husband was consulted he imediately told her not to buy it. The next day he came with her and after carefully weighing the pros and cons, the husbands decision was to buy something second had because all of the models available were too expensive for his taste.

In between segments I was asked for my opinion and whether I felt the segments showed off the ‘average’ Dutch mentality. Naturally I did as I was told and exagerated by saying that this video pretty much portrays the general feeling in The Netherlands even thought that is of course not true. When asked whether stores did not go bank rupt if everyone prefered to buy things second hand, I feebly replied we were not all like that, but that segment is most likely to be cut from the show.

After what seemed like an eternity, the show was finally over. We were told we had a 30 minute break to pee, do your hair and get changed (I wasn’t told to bring more than one outfit so this wasn’t exactly an option for me). After a few swigs of water and a pee break it was time to go back to the studio. Meanwhile my back was killing me from sitting on stool for hours at a time. I am used to sitting on something that has back support so it was hard for me to sit up straight without any support under the blistering heat of the stage lights while so many eyes, not to mention camera’s, followed my every move and looked at me expectantly.

The sign on our dressing room with the name of the tv show

The sign on our dressing room with the name of the tv show

Fortunately the second taping I was herded to another spot while someone else took my seat. I was out of the hot seat fortunately and was not going to be asked any questions. This segment was about a lady who had moved to  Bali after meeting a guy there during a holiday. Her life did not seem very nice although the location was pretty enough. She lived with ALL of his family (father, mother, brothers, sisters, everyone!) and she had to get up at 04:00 AM in the morning to do grocery shoppings and to prepare food for everyone. None of the family members ever saw each other during the day. The appeared to go out of their way to avoid each other and, besides the Japanese woman, no one seemed really to do anything except sleep, eat and make a mess. Meanwhile the Japanese lady was cleaning the house and taking care of everyone while her husband treated her like dirt, Leaving her stranded to go off with his friends while she thought they were shopping with the whole family. When she got to the parking area where the car was supposed to be parked, it was gone. The husband told her to get a taxi! He also promised to pick up shampoo (she was trying to bathe her kid) and then he vanished to go drinking with her buddies, leaving her there for hours without so much as a message. I really don’t know why she puts up with everyone treating her like that, but it sure was interesting to watch.

It is probably the same as in The Netherlands. I expect not all Balinese women are treated like cinderella’s (and not in a good way!) without the happy ending, but I must admit I thought it was quite shocking.

I couldn’t be more happier when they finally told us the taping was over and we were free to leave. I was really knackered and my back was killing me! I picked up one the the free bento’s left behind and someone showed me the way to the door. When I finally got to the railway station I felt more like eating something hot and was enticed by the picture of unagi don (grilled eel on rice) at Yoshinoya (a fast food place) since this is my favourite meal. Unfortunately it did not taste as good as I had tasted it at other more expensive restaurants, but I had hardly eaten anything that day so I was famished and I gobbled it all up regardless of the taste.

Inside the station I recognized some girls from the show on the platform but I was so tired I did not feel like socializing anymore and fortunately they did not appear to be bothered by this.

I was so happy when I was finally home and able to relax. It was definitely an interesting experience, but I am not sure whether I’d do it again if asked.

If you want to watch the show, it air August 13th on TBS (a Japanese tv station) and it starts 19:50 PM local time.


Categories: Japanese customs, Stories about Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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