On Sunday 19th of November 2017, the first episode of NHK World’s comedy drama ‘Home Sweet Tokyo’ aired. NHK marketed ‘Home Sweet Tokyo’ on its terrestrial TV channel ‘NHK G’, a channel available in Japan that broadcasts news, documentaries and some drama, a kind of BBC1 or ABC for Japan. ‘Home Sweet Tokyo’ was, according to adverts, NHK World’s first foray into producing drama, a comedy drama no less, by a channel that usually produces news reports and documentaries for the ‘outside of Japan’ market. And it would include a non-Japanese person as its central character, which is a rarity for Japan, NHK G’s morning drama ‘Massan’ with Charlotte Kate Fox as ‘Ellie’, being a notable exception.
‘Home Sweet Tokyo’ offers tales of a ‘stay at home’ husband and father, Bryan Jenkins, a Londoner with a job at an advertising company who moves to Tokyo after his mother-in-law dies. Much of the drama is about Bryan adjusting to life in Tokyo with his wife Itsuki, daughter Alice, and father-in-law Tsuneo, and a kind of comedy of manners is promised with Bryan getting used to life in Japan, being shocked by different cultural mores and learning new things along the way.
As a British citizen who has been married to a Japanese citizen for ten years and has been living in Japan for five years, it would have been easy for me to adopt a cynical attitude upon hearing about ‘Home Sweet Tokyo’. On Japanese TV, non-Japanese people are often depicted in a stereotypical way. The ‘foreigner’ in both fiction or non-fiction is often depicted either as overwhelmed and amazed by how different, bizarre and cool Japan is; or they are seen as a rude if not criminal sub-strata of society who will never understand the right way to act in Japan.
Yes, it all too easy on hearing about a show like ‘Home Sweet Tokyo’, to be cynical, to think ‘here we go again another insulting depiction of us foreigners’. However, then I read something from the NHK website advertising the show said by B.J. Fox, who plays the lead, Bryan Jenkins:
“There is a lot of my actual experiences, cultural shocks in this script. I had to go back and discover the fresh outlook when you find things for the first time when you see something for the first time.”
It was upon reading this words that I made a decision. I decided to keep an open mind. Something that B.J. Fox said struck a chord with me “I had to go back and discover the fresh outlook when you find things for the first time when you see something for the first time.” It is easy to forget when you’ve been in Japan for some time, that it really can be weird, for want of a better word, and that if one had never been to Japan before, certain cultural differences would strike you as odd and could even be scary, as evidenced for example by the show’s Londoner Bryan’s shock that it was normal to let a very young child go on the train alone. Such activities would certainly not be the norm in Britain.
I suppose in a way, I want to like the idea of the show because my moving to Japan was not unlike the experience had by the fictional Bryan Jenkins. I did not (unlike Jenkins), give up a career in advertising after my Japanese spouse’s mother died, but I did move to Japan partly because circumstances meant I and my Japanese wife could not remain in Britain due to difficulties in her getting a visa to remain. It was of course, no hardship to move to Japan, and I had visited Japan twice before, both times for periods in excess of two months. So for me, there was less of a culture shock when I finally moved here. It is easy therefore, for me to forget or no longer recognize that Japan can indeed be very different, and I wondered if scoffing at a comedy drama that pokes fun at a ‘fresh off the boat’ resident of Japan is at the very least, a bit arrogant.
I decided to watch ‘Home Sweet Tokyo’ with my wife who is fluent in English. And like any good researcher I scribbled down our reactions as we watched. Notable extracts are as follows:
Minute 7. Seriously a guy from London knows about iced and hot tea.
Yes it is true. ‘Home Sweet Tokyo’ does indeed indulge in the ‘clueless gaijin’ stereotype that seems to be presented for the Japanese audience’s benefit; the show will probably be subtitled or dubbed for a primarily Japanese audience at some point. However, I feel that such humor is justified. Firstly, there are such non-Japanese residents to be found in Japan, and I have been a participant and a witness to such scenes – the hapless gaijin trying their best to communicate their wishes – again I repeat, it is easy to forget many other us foreign residents were once, and some still are, actually like that.
Minute 8. My wife laughs at husband imagining his wife’s anger at losing money.
‘Home Sweet Tokyo’ is an equal opportunities offender, for in this sequence after dropping some coinage on the floor Bryan imagines his wife Itsuki (played by Yoshino Kimura) enraged saying he will be “punished”. To me, this is clearly a joke about Japanese people, and in that way, the humor is not solely made at the hapless gaijin’s expense, and that is something new in my experience, to come from Japanese TV, that the show pokes fun at its own audience, the Japanese, slapstick comedy TV shows aside.
And for that reason, along with that it caused my wife to laugh, I shall keep watching ‘Home Sweet Tokyo’.