Thursday, 27 November 2014

My experience with NHK cool Japan

In the last two weeks, I've had students coming up to me from all 5 of the high schools I teach at referencing "zip", a morning TV show here in Japan. Why have they been doing this? Because I was on it.

This all started about 8 months ago, when my dear pal Freddie suggested I should apply to be on the NHK show Cool Japan. So I found some time and sent in an application form.

About 4/3 months ago, I was invited to attend an interview for the show. This was pretty exciting, so I travelled down to Tokyo one evening after school (something I hadn't done yet on a week night). In my interview, which was based in a small, basement meeting room in Roppongi, there was me and two Americans. We sat around a table discussing Japan-life related topics for an hour. As there were only three of us, I was able to talk quite a lot, being nervous, I actually spoke way too much, which is a bad habit I really need to kick.

I had arrived with loads of topics ready to talk about, hoping they would ask some broad questions; unfortunately, they had already decided on 2 rather mundane topics. These were "Japan at night", which is pretty difficult as Japan is pretty much dead at night.... and "men's fashion", which, being a woman, isn't something I have too much of an opinion about. Anyway, I thought it had gone OK, not great, not terrible.

After 2/3 months and not hearing anything, I assumed I hadn't been chosen. This was until about 3 weeks ago, when I received an email asking for my availability. I replied pretty quickly and was invited to attend a "location shoot" that weekend.

The day of the big shoot was on a Saturday (the 13th November). I woke up early and took an express train down to Tokyo. I took the super expensive high speed train, as their email said I would be paid 10,000 yen (which I think was total bullshit as I was given nothing in the end). I arrived at Harajuku early, in order to meet the translator whose name I've already forgotten....hmmm....maybe it was Jin?

I really didn't know what to expect on the day. I was told nothing about the shoot, only what time to get there, and that I would be finished around 6. To my surprise, the other foreigner who was selected for the shoot was one of the Americans from my interview; a guy called Sergio, a fellow JET based in Saitama.

We asked the translator about the shoot, and he claimed to know nothing, only where to go, and that he would be translating for the day. I did think it was kind of odd that he wasn't given more information, but I just went along with it.

We were herded into a mini-van and driven for 45 minutes to Yokohama with the director and camera crew of 3 with us. In the van, the director explained that we would be tasting some Japanese dessert food, and asked us about what we had tried so far. I faked excitement, as Japanese dessert food is the worst part of Japanese food, but I was still excited to be filmed whilst eating it.

When we arrived we were told to wait in the van for 20 minutes, whilst the camera crew went to set up. When they came back, they attached microphones to us, and started to lead us to the  location. On the way, the director received a phone call, supposedly from the people at the "sweet shop", claiming that they weren't ready yet, and that we would need to wait for a further hour and a half. By this point it was around lunch, and we happened to be passing by a big ramen museum. The director apologised, and said that we should go to the museum and have lunch whilst we wait, he also gave us 1000 yen each for our meals.

The ramen museum had 3 floors of small ramen restaurants, it was rather large, so we were asked to pick a restaurant from the bottom floor, that way they would be able to find us when they needed us. Fine, whatever. I didn't really feel like hanging out in the basement of a ramen museum, as it happened to be a very nice day outside and I had been excitedly waiting the filming from early that morning... but I guess its tv, so you just pretend to be cool with everything, bow and say yes, and be thankful for anything and everything.

On the floor we were told to stay, there were around 7 or 8 shops. Half of them had large queues, and half had no queues at all. Neither of us were that bothered about which restaurant we went to, as we weren't expecting to be fed. As I was feeling nervous, I had lost my appetite and hadn't been able to eat up to that point, so I really didn't mind. Sergio suggested we try one of the restaurants with a large queue, as they probably have the better ramen. We looked around, and almost started lining up, until I changed my mind. I told Sergio that I really didn't care about what type of ramen I ate as I wasn't that hungry, and if we were going to be filmed trying Japanese dessert food, I would prefer to eat quickly and give myself some time to become a little hungry again, rather than eat cake on a full stomach. He agreed with my point of view, and we picked an empty restaurant.
 If you are wondering why I am delving into such detail over something as mundane as picking a restaurant, be assured, this is all relevant.

Half way through our mediocre ramen lunch, we looked up and saw the director and translator filming us with a small handcam. They were waving and smiling and asking about our meals, "why did you pick this restaurant?".... ..."umm, there was no queue..munch munch splutter, slurp"... god, what a moronic response. Although little did we know we were playing right into their hands.

when we finished our meals, the translator came to tell us we were ready and should head upstairs when we were done. When we got to the top of the stairs, the film crew was set up, and they were recording us. The translator explained that the whole shoot had been a trick. It was all an experiment testing the stereotype that Japanese people love to queue (which they do, and very patiently too) , they wanted to see if a couple of foreigners would do the same. So they had been filming us the whole time, to see which restaurant we would pick.

They filmed our "shock" reactions, and asked us a couple of questions, then told us we were done for the day, so actually the whole thing wrapped up rather early. Not knowing what to do for the rest of the day, and feeling rather disappointed, I took the train to Shibuya.

I was disappointed because it felt as though the whole experience was over before it began. Sort of like queuing up for a ride at disney for hours, finally getting to the end of the line, and then being told the queue was the ride, and now its over. I managed to talk about it a little bit with Sergio afterwards, we both hoped to have a decent amount of "exposure", something we could look forward to watching on tv. Something about the way things worked out made me feel like a mug. I spent a lot of time and money dedicated to trying to get on Cool Japan, and I'm not sure if it was really worth it. Somehow I doubt I'll be asked to participate again.

So what happened with Zip? Well, afterwards  I had messaged everyone in my very small base of Tokyo friends to see if anyone was free to hang out; the thought of heading back up to Ibaraki after the disappointing shoot seemed way too crappy to fathom. I managed to get hold of Taka, who said he could spare a few hours. I took the train to Shibuya and hung around the big famous crossing waiting for him.
As I waited outside of Starbucks, just in range to access their free wifi, I was approached by another Japanese television station. A woman asked  (in japanese) if I spoke Japanese, I answered " a little", she was delighted and asked if I could do a TV interview. I happened to be dressed and ready for it, what a coincidence. In the interview, I was asked a few questions about Japanese pop stars, none of which I heard of, I was also asked a question about Benedict Cumberbatch, which I didn't really understand.... and a couple more questions in Japanese too difficult for my incredibly basic comprehension... and we left it there. I assumed that I had given them nothing they could use as I hadn't heard of anything they were referencing, but apparently I was wrong in this assumption.

Probably a few seconds from this interview was on TV early last Tuesday morning (Ive looked into it, and can't find the clip)...... it wasn't much, but enough for some of my students to have caught it and make me feel a little special.....so I feel pretty good.

Was it worth going all the way down to Tokyo for one quick lousy tv shoot? no. But it was certainly worth it for two!


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