It could be said that modern Japanese comedy doesn’t exactly make extensive use of satire for its material. For the most part, comedians center their acts on physical and verbal gags, one-off jokes that can be incorporated into a variety of different circumstances.
April Fool’s Day, however, seems to have created a space in which it is acceptable to satirize to a certain extent. The event isn’t celebrated widely in Japan; although, multinational companies with Japanese divisions take advantage of the occasion to let their hair down and show their lighter side. Google debuted their unique Japanese keyboard, and YouTube introduced TEXTp, the latest video mode unique to Japan’s text-centric cell phone culture.
This year some smaller Japanese companies used the day to raise their profile virally through the mad linkfest spawned by April Fool’s Day. The craft beer company Sankt Gallen introduced its new brew Toriaezu Beer, making fun of the Japanese custom of ordering “whatever the hell you have on tap for now” as the first drink at a restaurant. Sankt Gallen sold the beer for 24 hours on April 1, alone or bundled with their standard selection of beers.
The brewer’s creative efforts earned it 15th place in the April Fool’s Awards 2010, a Japanese Web site where the public could vote for their favorite site. Another site, April Fool’s Japan 2010, provided a list of all the April Fool’s Jokes and, a few days before April 1, organized Twitter hash tags to help spot new Web sites with jokes.
A number of large Japanese companies joined in the fun. Chintai, a provide of rental housing information, expanded their coverage of apartments to outer space. Japanese massively multiplayer online role-playing game The Tower of AION advertised their skyscraper condominium named after the game. While tours of “power spots” have attracted hordes of women, Travel.jp offered men a chance to visit a power spot that would make them popular.
Probably the most ambitious April Fool’s effort was that of comedians Beat Takeshi and Tokoro George, who released the third issue of their satire magazine Famoso. They first released the magazine for April Fool’s Day 2009. Reportedly the result of an excess of creative material from when the two hung out at Tokoro’s home and office, the magazine was so popular that it was reprinted, and the pair released a second issue last August.
While the cover of the latest issue clearly references Time magazine, the font of the title inside spoofs that of Weekly Playboy, and the contents poke fun at Japanese weekly magazines in general, which generally feature four main things: sexy pin-ups, golf lessons, dialogues between politicians and information about sports cars.
Takeshi, the editor, and Tokoro, the assistant editor, cover all the bases. The inside cover is an ad for the new Porusche 979 Comanecini, a combination of a Lamborghini and Takeshi’s famous Comaneci gag. There is a sexy spread of Mitsuko Mori (盛り光子), but the date of birth and other details given match with 89-year-old actress and singer Mitsuko Mori (森光子), famous for her eternal youth, possibly achieved through artificial means.
The duo go on to spoof current events and pop culture. For example the magazine claims to have uncovered Tiger Woods’ 21st illicit lover – actress Eri Watanabe, not known as the most attractive woman in Japan.
There is also a spread on the band EXILE, which last year doubled its members from seven to 14, adding seven additional background dancers (two of whom also add vocals). To show how unnecessary the additional members are, the article claims that the band recently added U.S. President Barack Obama and rakugo performer Shōzō Hayashiya IX. The article is not written especially well and mostly features strings of casual exclamatory phrases (“Amazing, right?!”), but the conclusion is funny: In 10 years, half of Japan will be a member of the band (including Bruce Willis and the Kameda boxing brothers, who are supposedly slated to join the group in the near future).
The appearance of Famoso reveals Takeshi and Tokoro’s influence and personal senses of humor more than any cultural sea change; the back cover is a photo of Beat Takeshi in a mustache with Barbie Dolls behind him: an advertisement for a Bond spoof – “008: Tomorrow Die Again and Again.” While the humor may be typically juvenile and only occasionally insightful, it’s clear that April Fool’s has gone mainstream in Japan.