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Japanese cooking shows and the loss of sanity

71 Comments
By David Chester

The Japanese obsession with cooking shows borders on the pathological. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Well, I can… but it won’t be printed. Hence, let me break down my observations into “bite-size chunks” so they go down more easily.

Let’s start with frequency. You cannot surf Japanese TV for more than five minutes without encountering some kind of program where you are sure to witness pornographic close-ups of quivering soft-boiled eggs, wobbling mounds of custard, or in-your-face spoons of yogurt-infused God-knows-what.

These types of shows also spend inordinate amounts of time on how to properly knick your eggplants to get that prized “criss-cross” effect, how to dot your faux nouvelle cuisine with little swirls of "kawaii"-colored sauces, how to arrange and rearrange your curled carrot sticks into virtual flower arrangements, how to…

Are you getting the picture? Are you getting sick? I am.

Not only do the same types of dishes (usually Japanese) tend to get prepared ad nauseam, the experience of making them is often “enhanced” by hideous background music, the sort of cutesy crap you would only hear on ’50s American TV shows (or, I imagine, in a Japanese lobotomy ward). The “effect” is such that you will start looking around for the first sharp object you find — no doubt the very knife you’ve been brainwashed into purchasing so that you, too, can prepare the same dishes that are now driving you insane.

More than the disturbing close-ups, annoying music and blabbering commentary, however, is the “moment of truth”: all guests, usually borderline “talents,” are forced to eat the dishes they’ve been jawing on about for hours. Seeing their “honest” reaction to these morsels is clearly the most important part of the show.

To ensure we “get the message,” the cameraman inevitably zooms in on the face of the idol-who-will-be-forgotten-by-next-week as she chomps her way through some marinated octopus, followed by a mid-orgasmic shout containing the only comment acceptable: “Oishii!”

Not only does this pathetic display of “enthusiasm” take place on cooking programs, it is also considered “news.” That’s right: every morning on NHK, some super-genki “reporter” wanders through the fascinating world of “new products” (read: paid advertisements), many of which involve preparing food. One recent product was a mini-grill which would allow a family to enjoy four tiny sticks of yakitori without having to walk down the street to the nearest izakaya.

As the reporter and his cameraman stood by in the home of a “normal” Japanese family, the family, acting “normal,” prepared their little feast on their little grill, everyone’s mouths salivating to the point of foaming. When the sticks o’ flesh had been grilled to perfection, the family grabbed the grilled goodies, made their dental impressions, and shouted, on cue, “Oishii!”

Well, what if it wasn’t oishii? Do all Japanese have to put up with it and pretend they liked it? How come, on every show in which eating is involved, must everyone say “oishii?” Is it good manners? Have they been bribed? Blackmailed? I don’t get it.

Famed American comic Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Watching people eat is disgusting.” That’s right; it is. What kind of pleasure can be gained from viewing other poor souls forced to consume food with cameras in their faces, close enough to see clogged pores (or unclogged, if they’re pretty idolettes) as they masticate, swallow and robotically shout “Oishii!”?

I am aware that fine Japanese cuisine approaches the level of art. Problem: “Fine Japanese cuisine” is rarely shown on Japanese TV. I am also aware I can change the channel. Problem: I’m going to see the same thing on the next channel. Isn’t there anything else in this country that’s considered important? Are we all just couch potatoes, stuffing our faces with rice crackers, watching fake nobodies boiling, draining and inhaling noodles, gasping in ecstasy about how oishii they are? They’re noodles, for God’s sake! They might be oishii, but, so what?

I’m not here to say it’s not interesting to see how new or time-honored dishes are prepared, or that it’s not fun to watch "The Iron Chef" and enjoy the “race” to see who can make the finest dish before the clock stops ticking. But unless the daily “cooking shows” have something to offer other than squealing “tarento” or the fake reactions of bribed Joe and Jane Yamada, then they are wasting a tremendous amount of time on nothing.

David Chester is a Tokyo-based songwriter, musician and filmmaker. This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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71 Comments
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Hey as a lover of the food channel, I wish there were more such programs where I live. Maybe food based programs, lots of it, isn't everyone's cup of tea. But I'd rather watch shows on food than the usual barrage of same old same old that is on my telly, detective shows, cop shows, medical doctor shows, boring comedies, obnoxious reality shows, etc. etc., all filled with sex, violence, and stupidity.

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Don't take time to prepare food well, just boil and broil the bejesus out of it, it's so much better isn't it? To dismiss an entire culture's food preparation customs when one's own culture is a drive-thru diametric opposite just.....strikes me as comical. The 'Oishi-i~' bit I could do without, but meticulous food prep is an odd thing to knock...

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And with all this Japanese food is still (to me) the least appealing in the world!

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Maybe he should just watch less TV? Anyway, hope he turns this diatribe into a Hollywood musical.

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Those aren't cooking shows he's watching--they're just typical variety show fluff and not worth wasting more hot air complaining about. There are any number of REAL cooking and restaurant shows that showcase great food, talented chefs, and restaurants well-deserving of their reputations, with not a googly-eyed, tastebud-paralyzed "tarento" in sight. ("Kentaro's Danshi Gohan" on TV Tokyo is one, real cooking and recipies that actually reproduce marvelously in the home kitchen).

And name me anyone except Gordon Ramsey who regularly appears on television (in the US, at least)and actually has something BAD to say about the food they're presented with?

That said, I think Japan could do with one of those cooking competitions like "Top Chef"--that kind of thing would go over great here, now that "Iron Chef" has been off the airways for a few years.

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One of the reasons why I dont se TV.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

another reason I am glad I stopped watching TV here over 3yrs ago.......

But he forgot to mention it is perfectly OK! OK! OK! to scream mazuiiiii or spit out food or run around with yr hand over yr mouth IF japanese are overseas trying food, what is truly disgusting was those insipid shows of some privilaged twit staying is a 3rd world families home being treated like a bloody king & the filth that spews from their mouths bad mouthing the locals, their culture, their food while the dimwits back in the studio all laugh & guffaw, those are the truly disgusting shows in this country & I imagine they still make them

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Obviously, this is a cultural thing and this guy needs to chill. Seriously, why do people act like they HAVE to watch TV? I don't even own a TV, and I seem to be surviving :P

That said, I do feel an involuntary spasm of contempt when I do happen to see some of this stuff. There's some intangible goofiness to it that isn't cute, funny, or amusing in any way. I can't really justify it, so I generally keep it to myself, but to be honest, my gut reaction is to start slapping people.

The sheer UNIFORMITY gets to me as well:

I am also aware I can change the channel. Problem: I’m going to see the same thing on the next channel. Isn’t there anything else in this country that’s considered important?

Again, it's clearly a cultural thing, and the problem is with me, not them. But...it genuinely seems dehumanizing in some unidentifiable way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

...detective shows, cop shows, medical doctor shows, boring comedies, obnoxious reality shows, etc. etc., all filled with sex, violence, and stupidity.

Sounds just like NHK, TBS, and Fuji TV. The cooking shows all have the same script too: High pitched screech from a washed up tarento "Oishisou!"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

YAWN....i could do without the shows which is why, I TOO quit watching Japanese TV over 5 years ago....SKYPERFECT all the way!!!! dont even get me going on the variety shows......eeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhh usoooooooooooooooooooooooou

0 ( +0 / -0 )

He is just saying what pretty much every foreigner who comes here for business or to live thinks.Truly a lack of variety and things to do in this country.I agree with Jerry Seinfeld,it IS disgusting to watch people eat,moreso when they are slurping noodles,and getting it shoved in your face 24 hours a day is just an insult to your intelligence.

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I can live with the redundant squeals of “Oishii!”...at least it means something. Could you even imagine a similar gastronomically correct program in the States, where the camera zooms in on Six-pack Joe slobbering ketchup down the front of his beer belly as he chops into a corn dog that has been micro-waved to perfection?

"Yo Joe...Howz the doggie ...? good huh?" CHOMP, CHOMP, CHOMP... "Oh, its Soooo delicious!! So wonderful! I can make one in less time than it takes to drink a beer! I can enjoy these little puppies any time day or night!...they're just like mom used to make!

At least Japan still has an intact food culture beyond the Amerikan dogu, where food is elevated to an art form.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Cooking shows on TV are good for people. This will encourage them to use kitchen at home, not spending money on junk and frozen foods. However, if TV stations are overloading their programs with such shows, than bore is on air. It would be good idea to close down all junk food outlets, giving as a chance to go back to normal and old times, when we ate fresh cooked meals from our mothers. Such move will also reduce obesity.David Chester think abouit that what I said. Japan must keep 'food culture.'

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Heck, in the US they have an entire CHANNEL devoted 24/7 to food porn (and several others with heavy food-related line-ups), so I don't really see what the big deal is, except perhaps the US lacks the "tarento" factor, and there is more focus on cooking itself and less on the connection between food and travel.

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There are all kinds of programs catering to all kinds of people. If you don't like what you see, just switch it off, don't start writing obnoxious opinions, thank you.

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I loved every episode of Good Eats, and now I watch videos from Harvest Eating (dot com). I can't get enough of skilled food preparation, but when I saw those (paid advertisement) cooking segments on TV, my heart longed of the day when a talento would say (the equivalent of) "Mmph. Rather despicable, this. No more." Or even a "not bad" would have restored my faith in Japanese TV programming. OK, "restore" isn't quite accurate.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oh, the one thing that made me sick to my stomach was watching those Japanese chicks devour piles and piles of food to a time limit. They were in Hawaii eating plates of steaks, and I was starting to sweat -- thinking about all that disgusting and wasteful hubris. Had to read websites about Congo for two days to wash that feeling away.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't watch Japanese TV for this reason.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In America cooking equals heating up something in the microwave and pouring ketchup over it. And are there any other food advertisements in American TV that don't include Cheese and meat?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Had the pleasure of watching a 'chef' cook an omelet on TV once. An egg omelet. No other ingredient. No onion, green pepper, salt, pepper; no cheese. Just an egg. And the talento took a bite and said, 'Oishiiiiiii!" Hey, it's an egg, lady. I stopped watching cooking shows after that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i think that the main reason that these cooking shows are on tv is that they are easy to make and cost very little money... all it takes is a run of the mill kitchen, an egg or some piece of fish, somebody to slice it up and you have an hour filling program.. You won't win any awards with it but it fills the day. NHK is pocketing the money they save vs making a real show.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I enjoy Hanamaru Market, because they have some very good tips sometimes, but a lot of the recipes on cooking shows are simply not practical for a normal home kitchen, they involve deep frying, meticulously wrapping leaves around meat or vice versa, and other stuff that is just a waste of time (and money) when you're only cooking for your overworked salaryman husband and bratty little Taro who already ate 2 ice creams already and so obviously will not eat his vegetables. But since most women believe that it's normal to spend 2-3 hours preparing dinner every day I guess it's practical for them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

While I enjoy watching shows where they show cooking in detail, I really disliked the constant "oishiiii" and "umaaaaaaaaaaai" type segments. Sometimes they don't even show the food prep, just the tarento eating it and having a face-gasm.

I'm also glad that I'm not the only one to notice the jiggly closeup shots.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is a very funny and well written piece. Ever word of it is true, too! My thoughts put more eloquently than I could put them myself! I also gave up watching Japanese TV about 5 years ago - couldnt stomach it any more - especially the mind-numbing cookery shows, which make me want to barf. Endless repetition of the word "oishiii" is just revolting, and an insult to the intelligence. The words "delicious" and "octupus" do not go together, period.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Japanese obsession with cooking shows borders on the pathological

because Japanese new wives have no idea what so ever about how to cook because they let their mother, mother them for 28 or so years (unless in case of unmarried pregnancy). Also their husbands ate Lawsons imported from China, doria with mislabeled Chinese shrimp etc for at least the 3 months since they left home when finally found a female salarybot to knock up, and later avoid.

so therefore, since they cannot cook, they are obsessed with the TV teaching them how but just like learning something new, nothing beats the practical day to day grind of actually trying to do it yourself instead of being spoon fed everything for a quick fix result.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And the problem--Japanese new wives are obligated to cook, because they can't work now that they are married.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The proliferation of cooking shows on TV is a phenomenon that appears to be global. At least it's spreading across Europe, as well. It's a fad that started with Jamie Oliver and, enhanced by a trend called "cocooning" which basically means the focusing on your home in the face of an ever more complex and insecure world, was picked up by others. Also, such shows are cheap to produce, since you don't need writers or talented actors. And you can even let manufacturers of kitchen appliances sponsor your program.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am also aware I can change the channel. Problem: I’m going to see the same thing on the next channel. Isn’t there anything else in this country that’s considered important?

There's another solution that comes with the added bonus of not having to pay your NHK fees, Oppenheimer. Think hard...Harder...Harder...Eureka!

Could the next JT guest rant at least be original and insightful?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

We need less inane food programming.

To make way for...more inane talk show programming?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you want to see a good food show watch Anthony Bordain. All else pales in comparison.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

David Chester for PM! Then let's ban all these shows.

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Bring back Fuun!Takeshi-jo!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As stated, they are not really cooking shows just variety shows with food being the central theme. I too get peeved at the close up shots of steaming ramen. Who cares? It's really indicative of the lack of creativity in the Japanese TV industry. If in doubt just use food to pacify the masses. Oishiiiiiii

0 ( +0 / -0 )

sk4ek...in the US at least we have a choice of what to watch.Here it's sometimes 6 channels of cooking/eating crap....no satellite tv and you are trapped,and the brainwashing just consumes you....then you become Japanese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My TV has an "off" button.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I really disliked the constant "oishiiii" and "umaaaaaaaaaaai" type segments. Sometimes they don't even show the food prep, just the tarento eating it and having a face-gasm.

You only find that odd because in North America there is no reason for anyone to say "oshii" about the food.

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For the intelligensia speak what comes out after eating and behold they are sad and lonely in Japan. Long live the Cooking Show for the lonley sad posters may well leave. Ah... men.

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YangYong, this is Japan so you you really mean to say Ah... Ramen. :-) Think of those steaming, close up shots against a black background. It's a staple here, nearly as much as rice.

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In America cooking equals heating up something in the microwave and pouring ketchup over it.

Amen! I feel the same way about a slice of tasteless raw fish perched atop even more tasteless rice. Heating things up in microwaves is actually done all over the world. As is using ketchup.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Heating things up in microwaves is actually done all over the world. As is using ketchup.

Only an American can say that.

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Japan's just ahead of the curve here. I watch BBC and Japanese TV because US TV is just so diluted with tripe. There's good shows, but they're outnumbered 20:1 by junk.

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in japan they don't use ketchup that much, they use mayonnaise on everything even pizza, you ask why, Japanese style that's why!!...hehehehe but anyway what is so unique about food full of soy Sauce? that is the main ingredient on everything in japan. even pizza have it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

this is why 3,000/month for Skyperfect is money very well spent...

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North Americans complaining about quality of Japanese TV and Japanese Food - there is some irony in it!

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read the article sonnoujoui. he isn't complaining about J-tv or J-food in general. he is complaining about the absolutely ridiculous tv shows that have some no talent hack eating at some restaurant/bar/grill/house and, if it's a woman, very, very loudly and ear piercingly exclaiming OISHIIIII!!! that is ridiculous. all they need to do is say it tastes great, and describe it. the only reason that it seems the women do that is because the media tells them that it's attractive/cute to speak like they are a 6 year old girl.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

North Americans complaining about quality of Japanese TV and Japanese Food - there is some irony in it!

Agree! At least, the TV show some joy in cooking it, not just throwing the food mouth inside as a trash schreder and getting fat like pigs as americans do.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Yes, food is there to fill in the creativity void. I remember when Sophia Loren was on Bistrot Smap. It was just a whole half hour of her eating and nothing else. And all the time she just kept saying "the food is nice but am I just supposed to keep eating? Is that it?"-obviously this wasn't translated. But of course that was not it because K Shingo still had to come out and do his little impersonation act... a deeply pathetic show. And talk about creative void. What about Turibia No Izumi? I found it pretty entertaining but it was cut simply because there were no new ideas. So now instead we have to watch more commedians playing pathetic games and of course eating, eating and babbling "oishiii!" And never spicy, delicate,juicy, crispy, creamy... just oishii. I actually remember one of them once saying oishii about cold "coniac". Anyways for me now the torture is finished since after one "oishiiii" too many my tv went flying out of the window... literally.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Turn off the tv or change the channel is the easiest solution as has been already pointed out several times. However, saying the ritual "oishii" just goes to say what is acceptable in Japanese culture.

Anyway, my long awaited "Bestist" award for this thread is the, "Best Oishiist", which goes to every Japanese talento that has ever appeared or will ever appear on Japanese tv, amen!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Of all the bad tv shows, bad food/cooking shows tend to be the least bad.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sebarashii, I think you are dead-on with your comment.

Apart from that, I have never seen any TV show in any country which wasn't just a waste of time, except for the fact that you learn to know some oddities of the people more quickly when you move to a new country :-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

when you have lived here and watched these shows for many years it does becoming irritating watching overpaid over-hyped 'tarento' stuffing themselves with goodies most people could never afford.It is like a smack in the face from our 'betters'.All the Oishiis and umais would be better heard if they fed the studio audience instead. I don't mind cooking shows PER SE.Some are actually quite educational.It is the variety shows that force fancy expensive lifestyles on the majority that I have a beef with.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Nothing like these cheap set piece articles to bring out the rabble from the woodwork, eh? Geez, just the sensational title just makes 'em drool like the veritable pavlov's dog. Granted, have to agree that TV is mostly a wasteland (where is not?- enlighten me), with TV cooking shows a big culprit. But the article (and I daresay some commentators here) falls into the reductionist (or merely absurd) trap of attributing this to some loss of sanity or cultural brainwashing. The fact is, as other more level headed posters have mentioned, these shows are cheap to produce, and garner an audience among the ever-shrinking number of TV viewers. The TV programs and movies produced in Japan don't have much of a market (relatively) outside of its borders, so unlike the savvy Korean or H.K. producers, who can rely on profitable overseas distribution, Japanese media conglomerates have to make do with skimpy domestic profits. Hence the low production values. Now, as for me, I don't have satellite TV, but as an alternative to what's on TV, I just go, as do many Japanese, to the local video rental store to rent the latest Prison Break DVD or episode of "24". That's voting with your feet, and TV in Japan is hurting because of it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

sure beats watching the late Julia Child poking her fingers inside a chicken ( before she split it in halves ) cleaning out the guts..............

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You guys haven't seen Rachael Ray I take it? The food channel in the US is a joke. The only show that was any good was ironically Iron Chef Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Disclosure: I'm literally sitting here in the US, watching Japanese TV through wist.tv (subscription service for Japanese TV) on my second monitor. The most interesting channel on my physical TV is BBC.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The comments here show that all roads lead back to America, eh? Here's a thought. It's not a competition. One can discuss the shortcomings of Japan without using America as a way to elevate the weaker points of Japanese culture.

The problem with the cooking shows, as those with reading comprehension might realize, is that the cooking shows lack depth and are mainly commercials for the dishes with pretty people endorsing them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A country that eats cold raw fish on tastless rice and provides us with those mind-numbingly idiotic cartoons that my kids watch (such as Pokemon where the main character wears clothing that a trucker from the 1970's might have chosen) has little room to talk of its cultural and gastronomical superiority.

Import Gordon Ramsey. If you don't love Gordon, you have problems. Clean, simple, fresh good food, yeah?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow, I thought this article was going to be funny. How wrong I was. This guy is seriously complaining about the idiocy of crap TV? This is like being down the rabbit hole.

Why would he continue to watch crap TV, to the extent that he has to write an article about it to sufficiently vent his frustration? The real frustration, should be with himself and his lack of willpower to reach for the remote and hit the "off" button.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why would he continue to watch crap TV, to the extent that he has to write an article about it to sufficiently vent his frustration? The real frustration, should be with himself and his lack of willpower to reach for the remote and hit the "off" button.

He states that he likes cookery programmes - he would just like to see them more intelligently done and less artificial.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Now you're complaining about Japanese food and cartoons? Lots of black pots here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

for the longest time I wondered why they would always have a close up of food held in chopsticks by someone with a bad case of the nervous shakes. Now I realize that person was probably trained for god knows how long to get the effect just right.

I also can't stand to watch people eat.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

face of the idol-who-will-be-forgotten-by-next-week as she chomps her way through some marinated octopus, followed by a mid-orgasmic shout containing the only comment acceptable: “Oishii!”

What is wrong with that? "OISHIIIIII!!!!"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Highlight of the TV Schedule this week has been whether some lass can gain 10kg or not.

Watching this pitiable excuse for entertainment has lowered my estimation of Japanese TV to sub dog turd levels.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

he would just like to see them more intelligently done and less artificial.

maybe he hasn't realized the aims of commercial tv stations. ie. to make money. they will sell what sells, and not a bit more. and their basic mantra, "if crap sells, sell crap," will continue to be the norm.

if he hasn't realized this in his years in Japan up to now, i think this says more about him, than any plastic tarento could ever say about the state of cooking shows in Japan.

this article is just empty whingeing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Try to keep it all in perspective for the billion or on the planet that go to bed hungry every night. In Japan/Europe/US,at least we have enough (too much?) food to even say, "Oishii!"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In my own personal experience I only own a TV in Japan for one reason. To watch the Premier League on the weekends. I used to quite enjoy Japanese TV a few years back, but have recently boycotted it as it's complete tosh!!! I'd prefer to go online and watch clips of Japanese classics like Takeshi's 'genki ga deru terebi' and/or 'uchi-p produces'. I only wish that J:Com would put the BBC on their services to inform me of some proper news. As for tarento, the majority of them have the talent of a dead door mouse.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Did anybody see that programme a few weeks ago where a venerable senior showed us how to make rice well?

Apparently, you are supposed to wash it and then bung it in a rice cooker. Then when you eat it you have to act like you've never tasted food before.

Just rice. Nothing on it. Just plain boiled rice. It's so good it makes you do that face like you've just noticed you've wet yourself - eyes closed tight, deep sigh, nod slowly at the inexorable truth of the situation.

Then you say, in hushed awe, "Oishii" And the person you eat ot with agrees with you.

It has to be Japanese rice, though, as other kinds of rice are not unique.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's not true that they only say "Oishii" when the food is tasty. Sometimes they say "Umai" or in one particular case, "Mayuuu!"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well, I like it ;D food is wonderful. There obsession is better then the fatty obsession of fast foods we have the 'western countries'. Home cooking is fun! Loving to home-cook myself, i reckon people should do it more often ^^ I can make something out of the least likely ingredients! ;D No complaints as long as it takes good ;]

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Agree with realist. Good article. Bad Japanese TV. There are basically on two programs on 24-7: food-based shows where people are cooking, eating & saying 'oishi' and variety shows where people are laughing, chatting and/or doing something stupid (and they usually involve food too)

My first few years here, I would sometimes watch with my husband. Perhaps just out of sheer curiosity; I kept trying to figure out how any of it could be considered good, entertaining or educational. Now, I just turn around and watch something like CSI on my computer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'd say there needs to be more variety tv shows over in Canada and America! That stuff's the bomb. Love it love it. And the food looks so good.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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