40 ways foreign and Japanese TV dramas are different

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

If you’ve watched a lot of Japanese TV dramas, odds are you’ve seen certain situations, character types, or other tropes show up again and again. Some of the most time-honored staples are the clumsy but earnest new company employee with a stern but caring boss, madly in-love teens whose romance is abruptly ended by a mysterious illness, and parents slapping their disobedient kids and following the strike up with a tearful embrace, because that’s how much they love them.

But what if we flipped the perspective? What do Japanese viewers think are the most common tropes of foreign, particularly American, TV series? To find out, we asked out Japanese-language reporter, and television fan, Takashi Harada, and he gave us a list of 40 things he keeps noticing in foreign TV dramas.

  1. They really go all-out on the production values.

  2. The opening sequences are really cool.

  3. The characters face a never-ending series of crises.

  4. You can be almost certain someone who’s addicted to hard drugs will be part of the story.

  5. The characters go to group therapy sessions.

  6. There’s always one heavy-set character.

  7. The foreshadowing is pretty heavy-handed.

  8. The episode endings are really strong, so you can’t wait to see what’ll happen in the next one.

  9. People can steal cars really, really easily.

  10. If someone’s starting a car, the engine will turn over whenever the timing is most dramatic.

  11. The pyrotechnic teams don’t mess around. The explosions are huge!

  12. The first season usually ends up being the best.

  13. The series finale feels anticlimactic.

  14. People can bust down doors like they’re made of plywood.

  15. The characters who’re supposed to be students look way too old.

  16. If something good happens, the characters stop what they’re doing and have a party right then and there.

  17. When someone eats a hamburger, it’s gigantic.

  18. Actually, all of the food is gigantic.

  19. Everyone keeps their medicine in a cabinet.

  20. People have affairs at the drop of a hat.

Let’s take a quick breather and look at some of Takashi’s observations so far. Japanese TV dramas almost always include a pop song from a popular recording artist as an opening theme, and marketing also leans pretty heavily on the fame and star power of the leading cast members. Because of that, you really don’t see a lot of dramatic opening sequences for Japanese dramas, which usually just go with some lingering shots of the cast as the theme song plays.

As for having one crisis after another, the overwhelming majority of Japanese TV dramas only run for roughly 12 episodes, which doesn’t really give them time for multiple conflicts and story arcs. If a show is a big hit, it might get a sequel a few seasons later, but even then, each season is meant to be enjoyable even as a self-contained story, so the intense piling on of challenges and ever-rising stakes that are popular features of American TV dramas don’t happen.

And that comment about keeping medicine in a cupboard? Japanese bathroom fixtures don’t always have much storage space, so they often don’t have the big medicine cabinets common in American homes. Instead, the norm is for people to keep their medicine in a box in a closet.

OK, let’s dive into the rest of Takashi’s list.

  1. When characters kiss, they really use the tongue.

  2. And the kisses are so long.

  3. Like, they seriously get into it.

  4. The female characters’ outfits show a ton of cleavage.

  5. Friends end up dating each other.

  6. Characters who you thought were dead miraculously come back to life.

  7. Friendships get busted up pretty easily.

  8. There’s always one character who’s got a screw loose, and you never know what sort of crazy thing he’s going to do.

  9. And he usually ends up being critical to the plot.

  10. People drink beer out of bottles instead of cans.

  11. If someone is rich, then they’re super-rich.

  12. The gunfights have you on the edge of your seat.

  13. The scriptwriters always balance out good things happening for the characters with bad things happening for them too.

  14. Everyone just sort of gruffly hangs up the phone when they’re done talking.

  15. If characters are in love, they never miss a chance to say “I love you.”

  16. Someone is going to tell their pet “That’s a good boy!”

  17. When kids get punished by their parents, they can’t leave the house.

  18. The subtitled version and dubbed versions of the dialogue feel different.

  19. Watching it with subtitles is best, but the dub has its own flavor too.

  20. After you watch the first episode, you’re hooked and want to see the whole series.

Considering the fact that Japan has a number of late-night TV shows that are little more than thinly veiled excuses to show models in bikinis, it might seem a little strange for Takashi to be startled by some cleavage. However, Japanese TV dramas usually reflect everyday fashion trends, and while wearing a short skirt or shorts isn’t especially scandalous in Japan, even moderately low-cut tops are considered a bold choice, especially in a workplace environment.

Kids getting grounded by their parents is another thing you won’t see too often in Japanese TV dramas. Kids are generally portrayed as earnest and pure, and those with rebellious streaks almost always are shown to come from homes with little parental involvement.

And last, all that kissing really is a pretty stark contrast. With only about 12 episodes to work with, Japanese TV dramas with a romantic element tend to put their primary focus on the buildup to two characters realizing they love each other. Once they’ve both confessed their love, the season is just about done, and a fairly tame smooch is often all the audience gets to see, with the implication that the couple’s more intimate, established-couple-level displays of physical affection will be happening off-screen.

But like Takashi mentions with the final point on his list, the longer-term storylines of foreign dramas give them a very different feel from Japanese ones, and, in the case of their fans, a compelling reason to keep watching.

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- New “Love Dance” takes Japan by storm, thanks to a Japanese drama and a handsome J-Pop star

-- The key to loving Japanese TV as a foreigner

-- Large portion of Japanese fans are willing to drop an anime after one bad episode, survey says

© SoraNews24

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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He forgot to mention that most Japanese movies and TV shows:

1.) Have terrible overacting or just crap acting in general.

2.) Usually crap production values.

3.) Reinforce the older generations stereotypes and values onto youth.

4.) Barely ever touch on real issues in a meaningful way, (drug addiction, overwork, workplace harassment, crime etc)

5.) Often point out differences in minority groups and emphasize how they are so much different than Japanese people (variety shows do this all the time)

6.) Approach the concepts of sex, talking about feelings openly and basic human emotions the same way a 1800s puritanical preacher would.

7.) Seems to ostracize adultery on one hand whilst frequently making it appealing on the other. (Which is dumb in a country where its illegal but everyone does it)

Yes i have a negative view on most Japanese TV because a lot it is boring uptight garbage.

32 ( +34 / -2 )

If you’ve watched a lot of Japanese TV dramas, odds are you’ve seen certain situations

The only situation I see every time is how awful the actors are.

24 ( +25 / -1 )

I can only with the 2 comments above. Acting is really bad.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Was I supposed to read those FORTY points??? Someone watched too much telly...

Due to very very bad acting and life cliche's being deemed as incredible, I usually cannot watch tv, movies, or series here.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Another post on how terrible Japanese dramas are. The overacting, the facial expressions, the weird unbelievable characters and situations.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

Stereotypical nonsense, as usual. If you watch formulaic American dramas you'll see many of the above. If you watch top quality American drama, of which there is plenty now, you won't and if you watch European drama you'll hardly see any.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

I don't see the acting as bad. It's different.

In the west, the ideal is to preserve the idea that the audience are seeing something true, so actors are expected to perform accordingly, making use of subtle hints to convey their feelings.

Asian theatre, film and TV don't attempt this subterfuge; they admit "this is a story told by actors; it's not reality." So a character who's supposed to be, say, evil, will really lay it on thick (a bit like the moustache-twirling villains in the earliest black-and-white films).

It's just tradition, and audience expectations....

3 ( +9 / -6 )

Alfie, fully agree.

Like the series that don't take themselves seriously. But got to say too much police dramas here and not enough sci-fi, etc granted due to smalller budgets than overseas series. Movies suffer from same.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Japanese dramas seem to try to emulate anime or something, because they are all so bizarre and divorced from reality and mostly unwatchable.

US dramas are easier to watch, but even they suffer from shocking acting, comically silly scripts, and storylines that are far removed from any semblance of reality and have become increasingly unwatchable. I don't think I've seen a good US series for about 1-2 years

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Japanese dramas are very pedestrian, have similar narratives, characters just the usual stereotypes, leaden direction. Reminds me of Crossroads.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I think one episode of GoT pays for a whole drama season here and they due to budget constraints had to use IKEA carpets.

Would love to see more Doctor Who, Red Dwarf or similar here.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Meh the only thing worth watching on Japanese TV is :

1: manga and/or novel derived doramas.

2: late nite anime

3: If you have cable/sat - アイドル専門チャネル

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

I think japanese dramas are not meant to be of quality, but profitable.

Which gives first the unavoidable adaptation process manga→anime→drama.

And the fact that the "actors" are not chosen depending on talent but on popularity. When talking about actors, japanese people say they are "cute", "pretty", "handsome", "cool" etc... But I don't think I ever heard the word "talented".

I very rarely watch TV, but when I do, what I see is usually someone coming to a show to talk about him/herself (favorite food mostly), and at the end the host goes "Oh, and by the way he/she appears in this drama".

Low budget+re-hashed script+popular actor=maximum cost efficiency

11 ( +12 / -1 )

I think Japanese dramas are not meant to be of quality, but profitable. thats just it , J tv stations are tight scrooges, they wont take a gamble on a big expensive production so they just keep churning out inexpensive tripe with the current talento to bring in the audiences, the acting is cringe-worthy most of the time. Throw in a couple of cap guns, weird camera angles and youve got production thatll get the viewers in so they can watch their commercials that play sometimes twice in a row. thank the lord almighty for the internet!

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Some very good comments on this thread. Like most on here I think J acting (same with HK, Korea etc tbh) is absolutely terrible, so much so that Luca's 'cultural' angle makes a lot of sense. It is 'so bad' that it has to be cultural I.e 'good acting' here isn't about making the story believable/realistic (bit like kabuki I have to say).

Vaudeville or burlesque in the west were/are a bit like that too i.e exaggerated facial expressions, costumes etc.

If you watch formulaic American dramas you'll see many of the above. If you watch top quality American drama, of which there is plenty now, you won't and if you watch European drama you'll hardly see any.

Spot on. Most of us who grew up outside of the us probably thought the same about American acting in the 80s/90s, those long blank stares, the pseudo tantrums, fake tears etc. As a kid/teen I remember thinking 'wow those yanks are really different' (or something like that). Thanks, for once, to globalism (I guess?), internet, hbo and a few others, things have changed and the us now produce some top quality drama/crime series 'for western standards'.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Don't recall Charlie's Angels, etc being good on acting, sub-standard scripts, etc the list is long!.

Never understood why Angela Lansbury got paid $100.000 per episode of Murder she wrote.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Do they really need 40 reasons? I can sum it up with one reason.

Japanese TV dramas have too much drama! Every scene is over-acted to the point of being ridiculous!

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Luddite equates the acting standard in Japanese dramas to that of 'crossroads'.

I'd go one further, to say that the acting and gurning and pratfalls I've seen in so called 'doramas', makes the cast of Rentaghost look good.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Alastair Carnell Rentaghost was original, had a eloquent script, proper experienced actors and good production values - it's like watching Edge of Darkness compared to J dramas.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Alvie Noakes

Nice one there...Europeans always gotta get one hit in on America...even if they are comparing TV shows. So are you European?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

There really are no actors in Japan. Just paid salary men (woman) types that think it's (FUN) to do some acting. Most of them have never had an acting lesson in their life.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Me... I'm sick of Super Heroes, Special Powers and Vampires. GoT, WestWorld, and House of Cards have been watchable but for the most part U.S. TV bores me. I like a lot of the programming out of the UK and Europe but Japan.... the acting is terrible. I've seen in real life Japanese people becoming emotional... be it anger, joy or sadness, and what I see on TV just does real people's emotions. Japan needs their own Marlon Brando.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

One way they re all alike is how they are full of predictive programming.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I've actually preferred some of the Brits detective shows more.

How anyone can say anything good about US TV just shows how low the standards are. Perfect example is the CSI show and spinoffs. The original Las Vegas one was great. Great writing, science, and escpecilly no useless blah blah dialog filler. The New York and Miami were pathetic with gun action over science and increased blah blah. The last Sit-Coms I enjoyed and watched regularly on TV was MASH, Welcome Back Kotter and my fav, Sanford and Son. Curb your enthusiasm was great but it was not TV. I'm amazed at how low the standards are these days.


More Commercials

And more Commercials

Japanese TV? Well it's already been said.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The better TV now are on subscription services like HBO, Netflix, Amazon, etc.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Never understood why Angela Lansbury got paid $100.000 per episode of Murder she wrote.

A hundred dollars really isn't that much.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

One Hundred Thousand Dollar per episode. Not much? How much are you making?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No, the original post does say one hundred dollars. Look at the decimal point.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

many of the tropes used in for example American police dramas would not fly in Japan. Shows like law and order svu with its subject matter would never be seen on Japanese tv or police or criminals in gun fights with each other.Even a good knock down drag out fist fight would be good.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

many of the tropes used in for example American police dramas would not fly in Japan. Shows like law and order svu with its subject matter would never be seen on Japanese tv or police or criminals in gun fights with each other.Even a good knock down drag out fist fight would be good.

Lots and lots of stabbings though on J-TV.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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