King Of Chair

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Abbey, John, Kate & Naomi autoethnographic investigation of the Japanese gameshow ‘King Of Chair’


As evident by a sheer number of articles and videos on the Internet, Westernised countries have interpreted Japanese game shows as “crazy” and “weird”. This is commonly due to the audience recognising the producer forcing the contestants to do strange things for the benefit of the audience. Before first-hand participating in watching a Japanese game show many of us would have agreed that this stereotype is an accurate depiction of Japanese culture.

Generally speaking Westernised game shows consist of contestants testing their knowledge, skill and ability with rewards being prizes of currency and various objects, and whilst this is true in Japanese game shows, they often add a comedic element to the shows, whilst still focusing on the ability of the contestants as they undertake various tasks that are usually painful or painfully funny for the audience.

Game shows were first broadcasted in Japan in the 1950s before becoming well-known as strange, off-the-wall, and at times a bit brutal, but always hilarious and entertaining.”

‘King of Chairs’ was first broadcasted in July 2010 on the TBS network. Its motif is a twist on the classical children’s game, musical chairs. In each episode, ten comedians/idols are released into a large environment where 1000 chairs are scattered and hidden throughout with the King of Chair logo. Out of these, there is only 3 winning chairs, with dozens of traps and surprises that are difficult to avoid as the contestants can only find out if the chair is a winner by sitting on it for 3 seconds. If the sensor on the chair sets off a winning bell, they win one of three spots in the episode’s finale.

The similarities of the Australian children’s game ‘musical chairs’ are present as players compete over chairs. However, it differentiates itself from this as it commonly takes place at parities where players compete for a decreasing number of chairs, with losers in successive rounds being those unable to find a chair to sit on when the music stops.

From what can only be described as a strange remake of the children’s game ‘musical chairs’, King of Chair seemed like a good place to start our groups authethnographical research of a Japanese game show. We started off by watching the video together and recording our initial reactions through a range of social media platforms. With the typical stereotype of Japanese game shows being strange and weird and consisting of the contestants doing odd things for the audiences benefits, we didn’t know what to expect! Yet to our surprise, this show was rather tame, it was only weird because none of us fully understood what was going on.

We were able to pick up the main theme of the show, several people competing for winning chairs and having strange and scary things happening to them as a result of sitting on an incorrect chair. The theme of the show was an easy one and little interpretation was needed to understand what was going on, further making it a good choice for us to watch. This has helped to open our view and perceptions into asian game show culture and prove that not all games are gross, weird and strange.

At the beginning of ‘King of Chairs’ we noticed the girl wearing a sailor costume and automatically began comparing it to a previous cultural experience of encountering Japanese anime at a young age stating, “Sailor Moon – is that you?” and “I like the dress ups. One is wearing rafting gear and the other is Sailor Moon”. However, when further researching into this contestants of the game all appear in uniform. The men are required to wear a school-like uniform or blazer and the women are required to wear sailor-like attire of a blazer, with a helmet. When we look at this from the perspective of Australian culture, we are able to recognise that many game shows do not have a dress code and contestant tend to dress more for comfort.

The main thing that really stood out to us through this collaborative autoethnographic investigation was the large part language plays in one’s comprehension of what is going on in one’s environment. Without dubs or subs, it was really tricky to get the gist of exactly what was going on. It took the entire 45 minute episode for the group to really get a grasp on what exactly it was we were watching, which was really interesting. I We also thought that the use of dubs and subs could further change the way we interpret the show, in a negative way. These translations are never quite perfect, so having this added into the show, would have changed our experience immensely.

For example after watching the show, we took to Reddit and found out what people were saying around the King of Chair. We found out that the participants in the show were actually celebrities in Japan, comedians in , models, actorJapans etc.. So because we missed all of what the participants were actually saying I am sure we all missed a large portion of the humour behind the show. The trap chairs were funny for us to watch visually, however we really missed out on a significant element to the show due to not knowing Japanese.

Another general comment in regards to the autoethnographic process, is that I noticed how critical we  was were when we are looking at something with fresh eyes. Perhaps the autoethnographic process just makes you notice something that is always happening naturally, but we did  I am automatically comparing it to something else, like an experience I have already had within the context of my culture.  Perhaps that was the autoethnographic process shining through??

I was having a good experience on a gameshow called “The King of Chair”. Other group mates were having different experiences because of subs or dubs. The video does not have any English subs which is challenging for them, and also provides a different environment within a language barrier. I personally study Japanese now so I partly understand the structure and the flow of the game, which I have a different experience from the gameshow.

To me, the rules of the game is quite tricky and different from the original game. Those contestants, who are mixed with comedians, idols, actors/actresses, and even athletes, are chasing for what they called “real chair” to win the game out of 1000 chairs. It just blown my mind that how creative Japanese people are and how they make the show become intense and exciting by using different items or shenanigans to trick players, and using pop-out Japanese wording to show the excitement or anger when players do not find the real chair.

Somehow, I found some of the players were overreacting. I don’t know if they did that purposely or for humour, when they fell down from a fake chair, they just kept yelled “Itai,itai, itai”, which means it hurts. The facial expression of different players are different. Seems like comedians were trying to be “Funny”, even they know the chair is shenanigan, they just sit down and get tricked. The characters of Japanese people are quite obvious, such idols need to be like an “idol”, pretty, lovely image, while actor and actress try to gain more fame by being brave in the show. The industry of tv show in Japan seems to be “Funny or Brave to win”.

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