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Japanese TV teaches Bush-bashing

Japan's public television network, NHK, airs an English-teaching program Monday nights called "Eigo de Shaberanaito".

The name is a reasonably clever pun, because it sounds like both "eigo de shaberanai to" ("We must speak English)", and "eigo de shaberu naito" ("English-speaking night").

Last night's episode featured a rather unusual learning exercise: One of the guests, Japanese comedian Yoku Hata, wrote a song bashing George W. Bush, and the American host, Patrick Harlan, helped him translate it, rather freely, into English:

I am George Bush

I got reelected, man!

I am a two-term President.

It's all thanks to the American people.
He says, you know?

But yo, man, it's really all thanks to your daddy!! Too bad!!

Daddy's coattails "giri"!
The last line, for some reason, leaves the word "giri" untranslated; it can mean "murder" or "beheading", but in this context it's more along the lines of "verbally attacking" or "mocking". I'd say the whole phrase means something like "It's time to quit riding your daddy's coattails."

First off, these lyrics are nonsensical — since Dubya, a two-term President, can hardly be said to be coasting by on the reputation of his father, who was booted out of office after four years. But they're also utterly banal. They lack any poetry, cleverness, rhyme, or meter, in Japanese or in English. And they sounded just as bad when Yoku sang them, tunelessly strumming his guitar, as they look in print.

But let's put factual accuracy and artistic merit to one side for the time being, and ask this question: Why did NHK think this was an interesting, helpful, or appropriate way of helping Japanese people learn English?

Well, the show typically features celebrities who speak, or need to speak, some English, and it seems Yoku is taking his Bush-bashing ditty to America. The following is my own translation of his chat with the show's hosts:
YOKU:   I’m going to go to America and point out the flaws in their attitudes and culture.

FEMALE HOST:   Your vision is so dynamic!

MALE HOST:   Will you be making fun of America?

FEMALE HOST:   But that’s all right, isn’t it?

YOKU:   Yeah, the whole world’s doing it these days.

MALE HOST:   That sounds pretty strong.

YOKU:   Well, my comedy is all about taking shots at the high and mighty.

PATRICK:   That’s a really good choice. Attacking politicians and famous people is the American comedy style, so you should win the audience over right away.
I hope he sticks to the blue states.

When we Japan bloggers team up, we're a force to be reckoned with. A Guy in Pajamas points out in the comments that InakaYabanjin has a post about the same episode with some additional information.

For example, apparently Yoku's songs always follow the same tuneless pattern and always are about some famous person — it's kind of his gimmick. And they always end in "giri", which in this usage refers to the slashing strike of a samurai sword. It's a catchphrase that fits Yoku's "guitar samurai" comic persona.

Most importantly, InakaYabanjin notes that it was Patrick, not Yoku, who actually came up with the idea for the anti-Bush song. Way to help boost America's image overseas, Pat.

InakaYabanjin now says Yoku apparently came up with the anti-Bush song on his own.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the translations! I missed this episode. Well, I miss most of them...

Oh, and next time let me in on it when you guys do a Japan blog theme night , eh? ;-) 

Posted by a guy in pajamas

Anonymous said...

Just reading this again this morning,

"YOKU: I’m going to go to America and point out the flaws in their attitudes and culture."

Yeah, that's  an original idea. It's not like any American comedians are doing it, right?

I dunno, but I have a feeling that maybe a kimono-clad foreigner coming over and poking fun at us might not go over too well with the general populace. Just my opinion, of course.

For all I know, we are ripe for foreigners to tour the US exposing our foibles, laughing at us, and he'll make millions. That's what he's saying, right? But it's really just Patrick's fantasy -- TOO BAD! Patrick's fantasy -- SLASH!

That's kinda fun. This could turn into a regular gig ... 

Posted by a guy in pajamas

Anonymous said...

I don't want to get into an argument about politics, but here's an alternate way of looking at it: people like Patrick -are- boosting the US' image overseas, because they are demonstrating that there are Americans who disagree with Bush and his policies, just like many other people around the world (for example most of my Japanese acquaintances.)

In other words, they remind (for example) Japanese people not to generalise their anti-Bush feelings into anti-US feelings, by acting as living proof that US does not equal Bush.

Whether these anti-Bush feelings are justified or not is a whole other story, and one I don't want to get into, but you have to admit they are there.

As for interesting, helpful and appropriate, well, they probably thought it would be interesting because the Guitar Samurai is quite a popular comic persona now, to the extent that people use his catchphrases, imitate his routine at enkai, etc. As for helpful, it doesn't sound any -less- helpful than what usually goes on on Eigo de shaberanaito. "Appropriate", I can't speak to, cause I don't know what NHK's position is or should be on politicised content. Whew. 

Posted by Matt

Anonymous said...

Hey, if you can't argue politics on a blog, where can you argue politics?

Anyway, apart from any consideration of Dubya's policies, Yoku's song explicitly claims that Bush's election is not "thanks to the American people", but rather due only to "Daddy's coattails". Such a statement implies that American democracy is a sham. This is an anti-American sentiment no matter what party you belong to.

Also, I don't think it's a secret in Japan that Americans are split over Bush. Patrick was not telling anyone anything they hadn't heard before. His message was glib and superfluous, not educational. In fact, I think his comments, if anything, obscured the issue by presenting an inaccurate caricature of Bush that will leave Japanese viewers less, not more, informed about American politics.

Granted, you can't fully address complex political issues in a five-line song, but maybe that's a sign that you shouldn't try — unless you're really, really, witty.

On the basis of this particular song, Patrick is not.  

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you happened across Pakkun's rant, too. The above commenter Matt has a point, but I think (OK, maybe I want) Pakkun's job to be presenting his country (for "Eigo de Shaberanaito" is mainly about US English) to keep people interested in it as one more vital source of motivation to keep them studying English. Sometimes I watch NHK’s German program (for both German and Japanese preactice), and I don’t hear them voice political views or dump on Schroeder or former bomb-thrower FIscher. Girolamo (sp?), the delightful host of the entertaining Italian program doesn’t trash Italy or even Berlusconi. I don’t watch the Russian, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, French, and Arabic programs (are there others?), but I bet they avoid topics like this, especially since they are often teaching business or travel language.

I mean, how useful to the Russian program listener would it be to learn, “Putin is a conniving secret agent stifling democracy and freedom”? As if they’d be thinking, I’ll keep that one in mind for my next trip to l’Hermitage!

Now I’m all antsy to see the program again in case I misinterpreted it, because your initial take on Guitar Samurai’s role is different from mine. And I didn’t catch the guests’ exchanges.

On an unrelated point, I’ve started using your RSS feed. Very convenient, especially as something about your site causes my quirky old OS9 Mac browser to crash. 

Posted by Comrade_Tovarich

Anonymous said...

OK, I've consulted with my on this. Her memory of the episode is that Guitar Samurai was the starting point, that he said that this is what people say and while he's not sure if it's true, here goes. Then everyone added on.

Yes, I'll just have to wait for NHK to repeat it so I can check myself. 

Posted by Comrade_Tovarich

Anonymous said...

Wow, I made sure my site works on Explorer and Firefox, but I haven't tested it on Mac. Does it work on OSX/Safari? Something to look into...

Also, I missed the beginning of Yoku's segment on the show, so your view that Patrick proposed the song to Yoku is probably correct.

However, my translation of Yoku's comments (about wanting to correct the "flaws" in American attitudes and culture) is straight from the actual Japanese comments as printed on NHK's own website. 

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

Yes, it works with all my OS X browsers: Omni, Safari, Firefox, Netscape, etc. However, under the old OS 9 system, iCab (version 3 beta, largely written by one German) crashes. It crashes on's homepage too, but not if I enter a link directly to a book (go figure). I've contacted the writer of iCab and my problemm with the crashing seems rather unusual, so it could all be simply me.

Unrelated bit: Given your work, are you by any chance planning a post on the ongoing LiveDoor/Bunkahousou saga? 

Posted by Comrade_Tovarich

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have a Livedoor post in the works... 

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

Given the nature of the "Guitar Samurai" schtick, I don't think it's fair to take this as an example of anti-Americanism. Hata's only joke is to use his set pattern to make fun of whomever he's using that day, and the punchline is usually something obvious and uninventive. The point is that he would have come up with something equally inane if given any other world leader as his subject.
Of course, whether the hosts of the show were being anti-American is another issue, and NHK obviously made a bad call in airing it in English where people unfamiliar with the Guitar Samurai style would see it.
But Hata is just another mostly uninventive but occasionally very funny young comedian. Especially when dealing with comedy, it's important to understand the background of the joke before condemning the poor guy. 

Posted by Big Ben

Anonymous said...

Oops. Looks like you already covered my points in your update. And I should have checked out Inaka Yabanjin's post before shooting my mouth off. Sorry. I just have a soft spot for Guitar Samurai, although his schtick is starting to get old. 

Posted by Big Ben

Anonymous said...

I freely admit to being unfamiliar with the Guitar Samurai act, and if Yoku's song had been part of a big "let's make fun of famous people" skit, I probably wouldn't have focused on it so much.

But Bush was the only subject at hand. While I can accept that lots of people don't like him, it's an entirely different matter to present Bush-mockery as the key to winning over an American audience. (A lot of us are fond of the guy. He did win the election, after all.)

I think it's the burden of the comedian to know his audience, not vice-versa. And while Yoku's skit might play well on NHK, it might not go over so well most places in the U.S.

One reason is that it's always risky to mock those outside your own "group". Chris Rock can make jokes about the N-word but white comics can't. By the same logic, I'm not sure Americans, even blue-staters, would respond well to a Japanese guy mocking their leaders and pointing out what he sees as their flaws. 

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that, when a Japanese entertainer is slated to "debut" in the US, it often means they will be performing in an obscure venue to an all-Japanese, all-fan audience. It has happened many times before.

As for the Guitar Samurai's act, give him a break. His humor may be trite and distinctly Japanese...but now he has stumbled upon the universal language of Bush-bashing. 

Posted by jessejace



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