Like many who have developed an interest in Japan, my first exposure to the country came from anime. I didn’t become really sucked into anime until my high school days, but my transformation into a true Japanophile didn’t come until I entered the world of dramas.
Japanese dramas are a unique genre. They differ significantly from American television and soap operas, and even though many Korean dramas are re-makes of Japanese original stories (many of which start as mangas), they’re distinctly different as well.
My first Japanese drama was called Sexy Voice and Robo. It followed two rather strange characters: a girl who could mimic voices, and an awkward geek obsessed with robot toy models. Somehow, the two become a team that solve mysteries. I immediately fell in love with the Japanese drama from this first exposure. As strange as this show sounds-and it’s certainly uniquely Japanese in its sense of humor-there was a deeper layer, a maturity and sentiment that I hadn’t experienced in a tv show before. Nearly every Japanese drama I’ve watched is a perfect combination of comedy, romance, sentiment, and drama. In the course of an episode you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll often learn something about yourself, about others, about life.
Sounds too deep for a simple tv show? Let me give an example:
I’ve started re-watching an old favorite, Gokusen, which follows Yankumi, a tough heiress to a yakuza family who becomes a teacher to a class of delinquents in an all-male high school. Each episode features a sort of lesson, as Yankumi passionately works to ensure all her students stay out of trouble until they can graduate. The first episode’s lesson comes from Yankumi’s grandfather (the current yakuza boss), who tells her that “You must trust someone to gain trust from them in return”. With this in mind, she works to gain the trust and respect of her students after one is accused of stealing a bag of $5000 of the school’s money from the head teacher. Throughout the episode, the head teacher tells the student, Kuma, that he is useless trash who will do nothing but drag the school down. Yankumi attempts to defend Kuma, who says that the bag that looked like the stolen money bag he had been witnessed carrying contained his cigarettes, and that he’d thrown the bag in the river. Yankumi spends the night searching the river for the bag, brushing off the jeering taunts from her students who believe she’s just deceiving them with her kindness. Ultimately, out of guilt, Kuma confesses to her that he did in fact take the money when the head teacher dropped it, and that it was taken from him after being beat up by some thugs.
Being the yakuza heiress that she is, Yankumi tracks down the gang of thugs stereotypically hanging out in a warehouse, beats them up, and gets the money. She returns to the school where the head teacher is holding an assembly to expose Kuma as the thief. She returns the money, saying that she found it in the spot where the head teacher had dropped it, who subsequently takes the blame for the missing money.
You might think-But Kuma is a criminal? What kind of lesson is that, letting him go unpunished??
This is a different kind of lesson, however. One to show that there IS someone who is willing to believe in him, and that he should act in ways that doesn’t disappoint this trust. Often, simply trusting in others empowers them to behave better than they would if they think that all others have written them off as “useless trash”. Trust others to gain their trust in return.
Through the two dozen or so Japanese dramas that I’ve watched, each one opens my eyes to lessons in subjects such as love, friendship, family, happiness, mindfulness, suffering, respect, and just about any other aspect of life you can think of.
I certainly can’t entirely base my impression of Japan as a whole on their television shows, but I can get a good idea of the foundation of ideals that the culture is based upon, and because of this, I’ve developed a deep passion for the country and its culture.
I’m thinking of continuing this series of “lessons learned from Japanese dramas”, so if you’re interested in more, please follow!