Ok, so it's a commonplace -- not a vituperation or encomium proper, but more an expression of bafflement best represented by the ubiquitous "wtf" of IM/SMS shorthand -- to observe that the Japanese are some sick, twisted, sons of bitches.
Evidence goes well beyond the phallus festivals and the panty vending machines and the bizarre soft drinks like eel soda, BILK (a mixture of beer and milk), wine for kids, and PLACENTA 400000.
No, exhibit A has got to be The Japanese Game Show, a heartless institution that owes its hilarity almost entirely to the pain and humiliation suffered by contestants.
Not that we don't relish suffering here in the US, but the nipponic-schadenfreudic riffs employed in The Japanese Game Show rarely find counterparts in the comic tropes of US Americans. Consequently they strike us as silly and cruel, but not terribly funny.
Then again, most Americans don't get Kafka either, and for similar reasons. (If you read just one piece by the late savant/prophet David Foster Wallace make it this. And yes, btw, my "prose" is an unconscious imitation, pale and/or slavish, of Mr. Wallace's own.)
My own view on the Japanese is that they're no more twisted than we are, only more repressed about some things and less repressed about others.
That may also explain why they have magical robot toilets and we don't. Not only do these wondrous machines delicately caress and de-foul your hind parts with gently heated and precisely choreographed pulses of water, they now store mp3 files as well.
Dear American manufacturers of plumbing fixtures / electronics: where's my mp3-playing robot toilet?!
Anyway, one of these popular game shows, Denpa Shonen, I actually kind of get.
One season, a comedian named Nasubi was locked in a completely unfurnished apartment and told to live solely off his winnings from sweepstakes contests. Nasubi nearly starved while lounging about the place naked, filling out forms all day, going as long as two weeks without any food.
Hidden cameras allowed fans to watch him online 24/7, teams of censors constantly tracking his naughty bits and covering them with an image of an eggplant.
After a year of isolation without so much as a bed or a pillow, the producer told Nasubi he had reached his goal. Finally revealed, naked in front of a live studio audience, Nasubi was informed that he was the star of a full-time reality show, wildly popular, and rich from the proceeds of his website and bestselling diary.
Yes, The Truman Show really happened, folks. In Japan, where else?
Ladies and gentlemen, that is television! Arresting, voyeurous, unsparing commentary on capitalism and stoicism, on our own inability to look away. It's performance art that puts our insufferable critics and NEA leeches to shame.
The season that gripped me most, though, featured a winningly unattractive and gingivically gifted woman named Funako, pictured above.
Each morning, Funako drew a recipe from a box. Her task was to scan all of the advertising flyers for bargains, finding the cheapest price for each ingredient and then riding her bike to all of the requisite shops, purchasing the items one-by-one and bringing them home. If she completed the task, she was allowed to prepare and eat her dinner, saving leftovers for the next day's breakfast and on-bike snack. If she failed to complete the assignment, no dinner for Funako and no leftovers the next day either. Funako had to survive like this until she'd saved enough money to fund a trip to Disneyland, thereby inspiring housewives everywhere to thrifty shopping.
The catch was that the flyers came from grocery stores all over the province, forcing Funako to pedal sometimes hundreds of kilometers on her 3-speed city bike before the shops closed or the items sold out.
Pushing on, late into the darkness, she'd often reach the last shop after closing. Once, she cycled through a typhoon. Once, a leek dropped from her basket on the way home. Once, she overlooked the best deal in the fliers that morning and paid a couple of extra yen for an item at the wrong shop.
Whenever she failed, Funako not only went hungry that night, but also the next day, decreasing her chance of success yet again. Sometimes she went three days without food before finally assembling a meal.
I eat before, during, and after rides. And even then I bitch like a little girl. Funako just H-edTFU.
You've just got to see this cheery woman laugh at pain and hunger.
All you MABRA wimps... I give you... FUNAKO!!!!
BONZAI! BONZAI! BONZAI!