Drama for Language Geeks


I’ve never been a real fan of Japanese live action drama series. I watched the Great Teacher Onizuka TV series some years back, after seeing the movie, and I keep meaning to get around to Winter Sonata – yes, I know, that’s a Korean drama – but my tastes in Japanese TV tend towards anime and tokusatsu shows.

Call me shallow.

The Japanese The Japanese Don’t Know is a bit of a departure for me, then, and it’s one that has taken me a while to get around to watching. I first found out about it when I saw a billboard for it in the Osaka subway, which probably would have been in, oh, 2008.

So, five years later, here I am.

To sum up the show briefly: the main character is a bit of a fashion plate who wants to become a high school teacher. She needs experience, though, so she takes a teaching job from an old mentor, expecting it to be a prep school sort of thing. This turns out not to be the case – rather, she finds herself in front of nine foreigners who expect her to teach them Japanese and who have a terrible habit of asking her questions about her native language that she doesn’t have answers for. Oh, and each one has a part-time job and she discovers that her responsibilities don’t end at the classroom door – she winds up having to help most of them fit in at work.

Speaking of problems with your native language, that last paragraph was terrible. Please excuse me.

Anyway, with 9 students and 12 episodes, you can probably guess how the show is structured – there’s a loose overarching plot, each character gets a spotlight episode, there’s a Big Twist in the penultimate episode and it all wraps up with plenty of room for a sequel.  The hook, that it’s sort of a reverse fish-out-of-water story, is pretty appealing, and the actual Japanese classes are fun to watch – I took four years of Japanese in college and I must admit just a little enjoyment at watching the teacher get flustered when trying to teach keigo.

It does take a bit of a thick skin to get through as a foreigner, because it isn’t shy about breaking out the gaijin stereotypes, and it is definitely tricky in places where the subtitles don’t really translate what’s being said or can’t convey the nuance of what’s being said. Worse yet, the version I downloaded had four episodes that seem to have been translated from Japanese to English by way of Chinese, because all of the characters get mysterious name changes, the names of historical periods are changed from the Japanese into ones I don’t recognize, and dialog from multiple characters was all shoved into one line, with nothing to show where one person stopped talking and the next started.

This was good in a way – I got to actually translate for myself and was pretty happy with how much I was able to understand – but it would be pretty rough if you didn’t have a couple of years of Japanese under your belt. 

So, er, if you’re comfortable with westerners being portrayed as ninja-obsessed idiots at times, and you have an interest in Japanese, I guess I’d recommend it. There probably isn’t much else like it out there. 🙂

As an aside, this is my first time posting with WordPress for Android, as I recently got a Sero 7 Pro to play around with and learn the OS. Expect a more detailed post on the topic once I’ve had time to firm up my thoughts.

This entry was posted in japanese, movies & tv, 日本語. Bookmark the permalink.

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