If you were in Japan in the 1990s, you might remember a pair of TV personalities named Kin-san and Gin-san -- Gold and Silver. Kin Narita and Gin Kanie, identical twin sisters from Nagoya, were born on Aug 1, 1892, which made them perhaps television's sole centenarian entertainers. Spry, cute and sometimes almost funny, their lovably toothless grins were frequently featured on NHK and other networks until the sisters passed away about a year apart.
On April 1, 2001, Tokyo Shimbun startled its readers by announcing that the two old gals were not twins, but actually triplets. Their third sister, whose name was "Do" (Bronze), had been adopted by a relative and taken to Brazil while an infant.
When Tokyo Shimbun's convincingly written article was revealed to be an April Fools' gag, many of the newspaper's readers reacted to the story with irritation bordering on outrage. Fake news stories on the 1st of April is something for foreigners, but Japanese shouldn't go there, they argued. Or as a 59-year-old Tokyo woman told the Asahi Shimbun, "Japanese, whose 'warai no tsubo' (funnybone) is in a different place from foreigners, are better off not getting involved in this custom."
Among Japan's foreign residents, Chicago-born TV personality Dave Spector is certainly most closely associated with the practice.
"The term (word) April Fool has definitely made it into the Japanese vernacular, albeit in the singular katakana form, as 'eepuriru fuuru,'" Spector wrote in an email. "It's even used as a common expression on the day in question, if it can relate to something close to a prank or joke or something that's too unbelievable to fathom.
"About 10 years ago, I might have been the first one to introduce a locally-written April Fools' article (in English, from The Japan Times) on the Fuji TV morning program 'Tokudane.' They have asked me to do it many times since, and I've discussed the subject on other programs as well. Sometimes, the gags are a bit too hard to translate or relate to, depending on the topic, so it doesn’t always make it to air."
Spector pointed out that many Japanese are aware of the rich tradition of April Fools' Day as it relates to television when the BBC started to show phony stories starting with the still-famous “report" in 1957 ("Back when TV was still black and white," he recalled.)
"They reported that spaghetti was growing on trees. Perhaps one could claim it was the beginning of fake news as we know it today."
Thanks to the wide coverage of Donald Trump, Spector has noticed that Japanese have been exposed to a great deal of satire and parody, which is relayed from the U.S. and presented in the media here.
"While there's very little political humor in Japan, they seem to recognize the importance of humor in politics more and more, and I've even seen exchanges as to why the genre isn’t more widely practiced here, despite an overabundance of comedians in this country," he remarked.
In its March 25 Saturday supplement, the Asahi Shimbun showed the results of a survey of 1,595 Japanese adults, which asked "Have you ever been the butt of an April Fools' gag?" Only 17% gave positive replies. It also asked them, "Have you yourself ever played an April Fool's gag on someone?" The positive replies were 20%, with the rest saying no.
The reactions of the targets to the respondents' pranks, in descending order, included "laughed heartily" (114 responses), followed by "made a pained expression" (112); "took it good naturedly" (93); "praised me for my good sense of humor (37); "appeared upset" (26); "became angry" (18); and "appeared embarrassed" (14).
"Perhaps the 80% who said they've never been on the giving or receiving end of an April Fools' gag have no interest in the custom, or else there's no one in their circle of acquaintances who's inclined to make up stories," suggested Mejiro University professor Shozo Shibuya, a social psychologist and author of "The Psychology of Lying," among numerous other works. "This may indicate that their personal relationships may be somewhat on the superficial side."
The Asahi also polled its subjects as to their feelings toward the custom of "Shigatsu Baka" (as April Fool is also called). While only 4% said they'd like to see more, 54% replied they're comfortable with the current situation, and another 24% said they're willing to go along if it's "done in moderation." And 15% would prefer for it to be abolished.
"Perhaps because of the problem with those 'It's me, send money' scams, I get the impression that society has become oversensitized to lying," the aforementioned professor Shibuya was quoted as saying. "So in that sense, the reactions to April Fool gags can be seen as a kind of litmus test.
"How will the person who's the butt of the joke react? Depending on how he or she responds, I suppose it can also serve to enhance personal relationships."© Japan Today