October 25th, 2006



Oscar Wilde, who was right about almost everything, once said: "In fact the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people."

He was certainly almost right about that. And, in the absence of an objective Japan, half the world (including the Japanese) expends a great deal of effort inventing versions of the place, then trying to convince the other half that the place they're creating really exists.

Let's say you're an anglophone and you want to understand Japan. Who do you turn to? Who do you trust? Who can put it all into English for you? Forget me (I don't speak the language), forget Marxy (he thought those silly Zuiikin Japanese calisthenics language learning videos were real). No, here's your man:

The name's Woss, Jonathan Woss, and he's a British television presenter. Actually, his name is Ross, but, as he self-deprecatingly points out in Japanorama, his two-series survey of Japanese pop culture for the BBC, the Japanese are not the only ones who have trouble pronouncing their Rs. Be aware, as you YouTube through this stuff in 6 minute slices, that Woss' speech impediment once made him say (in Asian Invasion, his gory survey of Asian film) that one of his interviewees "wanks amongst the best of his genewation".

I can't bring myself to dislike Woss. As a Bowiephile and Japanophile, he's obviously a man of my own stwipe. And, by some odd quirk (mainly because I was dating a Smash Hits journalist who got free tickets) I happened to be in the studio audience for his very first television show, The Last Resort, back in 198 -- well, the date is iwwelevant, weally. Series 1 of Japanorama was made back in 2002. Series 2 is currently screening, and you can find clips here.

What interests me is just how British Japanorama's Japanophilia is. Here, the UK looks at Japan and sees its own future; gadget-driven, marketing-crazy, sex-mad, ultra-violent.

Another BBC documentary series, Sex in Japan, reminds us that there aren't just two parties involved in admiring British examinations of Japan, though. At least, not when you watch them on YouTube. YouTube, you see, is an American service. And although you can watch Part 1 of the BBC documentary -- learning, for instance, that in Japan "sex and the naked body are seen as something beautiful and to be openly enjoyed" -- you can't watch Part 2, because "the second part was rejected (content inappropriate) by YouTube". You'll also search in vain for Episode 3 of the first series of Japanorama; the Sex Episode. Although the BBC considered it appropriate to show its viewers, YouTube didn't. "Japanorama approaches the subject of Japanese sexuality in a way that only the frank British media could expose," says Pulsing Cinema in its episode guide.

This isn't, then, a simple matter of two nations admiring (and constructing) each other. A third is present, mediating the relationship, watching, listening... and, when it disapproves, silencing.