The bij, in Australia and in Japan

The intention of this post is to make a few generalisations about TV in Japan and in Australia. This is as always based on my experience and impressions, with all limitations intact.

Free-to-air/Terrestrial TV

In Australia, if you have a TV, it’s free to watch basic channels, of which until recently there were about 6. This kind of TV is not ‘pay TV,’ but ‘free-to-air.’ I won’t write about pay TV here, because I don’t know anything about it except that it’s not uncommon not to have it in Australia. Until recently, two of Australia’s free-to-air channels had no commercial breaks (SBS now does). The national public broadcaster, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), doesn’t have ads during shows. Between shows they advertise their other programs, and CDs and DVDS etc. that you can buy at the ABC shop.

ABC logo. Image: ABC

ABC logo. Image: ABC

The ABC is publicly funded. It’s supposed to be objective, though it has been called left-wing. Australia pays for the ABC through taxes, just like health, education, and lots of things. Sometimes prime ministers don’t like the ABC. Sometimes it gets funding cuts. 

In Japan, the national broadcaster is NHK. NHK is apparently also funded with taxes, but it gets these taxes not directly from the government, but by sending people around to everyone’s house to ring your bell and sign you up to a monthly payment if possible, and just take your signature and the first bill’s worth of money, and start sending you bills if not. This is only if you have a TV, or apparently, a device capable of watching NHK, which smartphones can do. It doesn’t matter if you watch TV or not, but whether your house is capable of watching TV. Apparently it’s the law. But many people ignore the NHK man (it’s always a man?) and their bills, and I have never heard of any IMG_0650consequences other than more bills and people coming to your door.

There is a sort of community culture between foreigners in Japan that we know to warn new people about the NHK man and not to answer the door. We all know someone who was caught off-guard that one time and got sucked into paying.

Why do I use this phrase, ‘sucked into’ paying? Well, maybe not to you, but to me and a lot of people I know, it has the feel of a scam when someone comes to your door wanting something from you, especially if it requires your signature and bank details. This might be the culture I’m from. In Australia, at least one state government has made an official sticker to put on your door to dissuade potential door-knockers or bell-ringers. Another government department, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (a.k.a. ACCC ‘A-triple-C’), has made some handy videos on how to deal with them.

I don’t mind paying tax. But it feels pretty dodgy if you come to the door for it, and some Japanese people apparently also dislike this system. Why not put it with the rest of the tax? Though that being said, Britain has a similar system and maybe people just pay it as part of life.


In Australia, you usually only see subtitles on TV if the show is in a foreign language or if someone is hard to understand because of background noise or what they’re saying is unclear for some other reason. Most foreign language shows are only on SBS or the ABC, and usually not at primetime (~8pm-10pm).

Subtitles are frequently used when interviewing people. This is a news program. Image from Youtube.

Subtitles are frequently used for interviews. Image: a news program someone put on Youtube.

Japanese TV has a lot of subtitles for Japanese shows. I’m not talking about optional subtitles like teletext, although that’s also popular. In any show that’s not a fiction, you see subtitles all the time. You see them on the news, variety shows, talk shows, game shows, etc., which in my limited experience seem to make up a large part of what most of what people watch (as opposed to serial drama-type shows). In the news, subtitles are often not word for word, but highlight key points, which is useful in places like restaurants or doctors’ waiting rooms where you can’t really hear the TV. But sometimes they are word for word, especially when they’re being used to highlight a reaction or if someone is saying an important phrase like ‘We, too, will do our best!’ Different fonts are used for these sorts of effects, too.

'We, too, will do our best!' Same news program. Image: Youtube

‘We, too, will do our best!’ Same news program.
Image: Youtube

What do we watch and why?

I think people watch TV largely for information and for entertainment. We have a lot of different preferences, particularly when it comes to entertainment. Some people like to follow stories, some people want something to make them laugh, to make them feel moved, learn how to do something, learn something interesting, etc.

Popular in Australia

Going on my own habits, I was pretty sure Australians mostly liked to watch fictional series (known as ドラマ, dorama, in Japan) but according to the Internet, I was wrong. I was forgetting about ‘game shows’ like ‘My Kitchen Rules,’ ‘Australian Idol’ and ‘The Biggest Loser’ where people compete against each other to do things like cook a meal, sing a song or lose weight. They then get voted off by each other and/or by viewers who SMS votes to the TV stations.

Then there are what you’d have to call lifestyle shows like ‘The Block’ in which people renovate houses. Documentaries and current affairs programs also are quite popular, along with some other panel/trivia shows like ‘QI’ (British ‘comedy panel game show’) and ‘Spicks and Specks’ (Australian ‘music-themed comedic quiz show’ is what Wiki calls it). And what do you call something like ‘Top Gear’..? It’s not a documentary. The internet just says it’s a series about motor vehicles, mostly cars.

Cartoons are seen as for kids, with a few exceptions: The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, South Park etc.

It also seems pertinent to mention here that in Australia, there are shows from lots of English-speaking countries, mostly the US, the UK and maybe a few from Canada. We can just watch them as they are, i.e. no subtitles/dubbing necessary. I think it’s the same with books, too. You know how there’s the British edition and the American edition of Harry Potter? They changed ‘crumpet’ to ‘English muffin.’ Anyway, I digress. Foreign-language shows are dubbed if they are intended for kids, subtitled if not. We had the American dub of Pokemon.  I know some people who don’t like watching shows with subtitles – they reckon if they want to read, they’ll get a book.

Popular in Japan

When you ask Japanese teenagers (people in general?) what TV they like, they generally say variety shows, dorama and anime. For quite a while, I wasn’t sure what a variety show was.

Popular variety show SMAP x SMAP.

Popular variety show SMAP x SMAP. Image: FluentU.

They’re kind of hard to explain because there really is a bit of this and a bit of that, but in general, I think they’re supposed to be funny and they often/usually have popular comedians/celebrities on them as part of a kind of panel. There are generally quite a few people and a lot of things to look at on the screen. In other words, they can be, well, noisy.


People say reaction is an important part of comedy in Japan. Perhaps for this reason, when showing someone going off on some adventure for the show, e.g. to someone’s house or a shop, you will see a panel member’s face as they are watching the same thing live, in a little box in the corner of the screen, so you can watch their reaction like this and this. With many foreigners, Japanese TV is not very popular, and I think a large part of that may be due to the prevalence of variety shows.

Food shows and travel shows seem to often be in the same style as variety shows. Maybe they are counted as variety shows. They are quite consumerist, I think, and it has been commented that there are rarely if ever less than complimentary. The main thing you hear about food is 「おいしいー!」or 「うまい!」(oishiiiiiiii!/umai! ‘Delicious!’). Travel shows seem to be designed for people to go, have expensive, short experiences, be like 「すごーい!」(sugoi! ‘Wow!’), buy stuff and then come back home to Japan. Or maybe that’s just my impression of Japanese travel. I quite enjoyed these articles about Japanese TV.

Of course, it’s not only variety shows. Japanese drama series are popular too. They’re usually quite short, and this is apparently to do with funding. After about 12 x 45-minute episodes, if a show does really well, it gets the funding for another season. There are quite a few shows I like, and I am planning to review at least one in the near future where I write about job-hunting in Japan. Also, I think we don’t really have this culture in Australia, but it’s quite common for a drama to be made of something that already exists in the form of both a comic and an animated series, and maybe a movie. ‘Death Note‘ started as a comic, was made into a movie and an animation series and a ‘live action’ series came out last year. In my opinion, it was pretty average, but a lot of people watched it because it’s DEATH NOTE. (Highly recommend the anime, by the way.)

Politics on TV

Political views are generally openly expressed in Australia, and the ABC has a couple of shows whose main purposes include political debate/discussions. That is, a couple of primetime shows, as well as broadcasting Parliamentary meetings during the day. As kids after kindergarten we used to sometimes turn the TV on early for ‘Sesame Street’ or ‘Play School’ and see all these old people sitting around in this big green room. It seemed like the most boring thing ever.

The Chaser. Image from the Daily Review.

The Chaser. Image from the Daily Review.

Q&A is on at 9:30pm on Mondays on the ABC and is available to stream from overseas IPNs. It’s a panel discussion show with questions from the public and live tweets displayed on screen, and always has at least one politician on the panel. But there are also shows by people like ‘The Chaser,’ a satire group bold enough to make videos like this about the incredibly unpopular Tony Abbott, also known as ‘Tones’ and ‘Mr Rabbit.’ As an aside, this sort of satire/ridiculing and nicknaming is something I haven’t seen in Japan. People enjoy laughing about politicians making themselves ridiculous, but you don’t see as many things sending them up as you do in Australia, especially not on normal TV.

Well, that’s all I’ve got to say about that for now. As always, is there something you would like to read about? How was this post? Let me know, and thanks for reading.


5 thoughts on “The bij, in Australia and in Japan

  1. unfortunately in Australia drama is restricted these days to soaps (you know the two) and short miniseries that are often 2 or three episodes only. Yes theres a little police drama, and there are a few comedies (for example the new ‘Here Come the Habibs’ which I cant see lasting long) but essentially Australian made content is limited almost entirely to reality TV shows about cooking, building or generally being horrible to people.
    Japanese TV to me was even worse! Their staple was the variety show as you call it – its a mixture of talk, cooking and who knows what else but the shows seemed to run for three hours of an evening and as you said, be focussed on celebrities reactions. and there is NO politics that I saw on Japanese TV. Nothing to encourage people to think about issues etc. Dramas in the most part seemed to feature in the day time and usually were period pieces. But these seemed to be shot in an almost ‘documentary’ way without colour correction etc. which gave them, for me at least, a very odd feel.


  2. I disagree about Australian drama. How about Offspring, or Underbelly, or The Code? Time of Our Lives was quite popular, and The Beautiful Lie was good. But I know what you mean about ‘reality’ shows and being horrible to people.


  3. It’s about time you commented on the bij, when it is the name of your blog.

    It is such an important cultural phenomenon here, and I think in Japan, too. It is very interesting to see the differences between its form here and there. Does it have a different purpose there (i.e. any purpose?)?

    Good one, Cath. Dad


    • Well, maybe it reminds us how great Japan is – see the below comment from Watanabe-sensei, Dad!
      I’m going to comment some more on the bij – will do a review or two, I think.


  4. Amazing that you noticed the paying system NHK. As you may know, even in the novel, 1Q84, Murakami Haruki wrote a father who works for it, visiting the door asking NHK payment, as disliked job. I think most of young people do not watch TV very often like the aged, but PC. Besides due to the economic recession, TV companies are not able to gather enough money to make valuable program. As a result there are only similar variety programs appearing only the cheap comedians.

    One thing I notice in these couple of years is that most programs show that the Japanese are great unlike others, while once we had a humble attitude to learn more from others to become better. It means, I think, actually recently that we feel inferior or weak. We need to develop and encourage ourselves.
    On the other hand, a very few programs are precious high value dramas, reflecting the real social problems, mainly ironically, in NHK.

    The recent controversy is that one of the ministers pointed that they can stop broadcasting if the program does not suit to the government. The critical three casters are going to leave the different news programs in the end of this March. It is said because of the pressure from the government.

    As long as the diet is open, we can see the live meeting in(on?) NHK from 9-5. They repeat the same thing all day long even though our institution is going to be changed.

    Liked by 1 person

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