Ushering in a New Year with New Laughs
The Christmas song goes “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Of course, Christmas is over but for fans of comedy in Japan, the New Years vacation was truly the most wonderful time to see their favorite owarai geinin on television. The Oshougatsu (New Years) season is traditionally a time when people come home to spend time with family and take part in seasonal traditions. Most shops between December 31st and January 4th are closed and television takes advantage of this with a slew of television specials featuring music, quiz shows, sports, and of course, comedians. For fans of Japanese comedy this is especially fun. In recent years the number of regular programs that have owarai geinin perform their routines, skits, etc. have become fewer and fewer. Also, with the length of these specials (some as long as four hours) television viewers get a chance to see a wider variety of performers than usual. Although there are some regular programs that feature popular geinin on Japanese television (although usually not performing their routines) there is a tendency to always have the same twenty or so on. During the New Years season, with hours to fill, performers that may not appear on television at any other time of the year get a chance to make audiences laugh. With a lot of my research dealing with comedians from the Asakusa area of Tokyo this makes me especially happy to see these talented veterans get their moment on a national stage. The specials also feature live performances in the different yose around Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, giving people in their living rooms a chance to see a kind of venue and environment that they may have never experienced.
I’m still looking little by little through the programs I recorded (family has prevented me from just sitting down and watching programs real time) but some of my favorite specials include the battle between comedians and other performers from the East and West of Japan. Another program I enjoy is the TV Tokyo special filmed at the Asakusa Engei Hall, a place near and dear to my heart, on January 2. Last year I got up early and was able to see the show live as a member of the audience and the atmosphere between the great line-up of comedians (both of manzai and rakugo) and the excitement of the New Years in Asakusa is something I won’t forget soon. I also like the broadcast of this special because they include highlights of past performers who have passed on that I’m not aware of. It’s just a pity that we have to wait until this season to see a wide variety of manzai, rakugo and other styles of comedic entertainment on television.