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Television Audiences and National Identity in Postwar Japan
April 25, 2001 / 6.30 P.M.
Jayson Chun, University of Oregon
The year 1953 marked the beginning of television broadcasting in Japan. As the number of sets grew, events such as the 1959 royal wedding of the Japanese crown prince and spectacles such as the nationalistic pro wrestling matches of Rikidozan became the basis of a TV-centered national media culture. During the early years of television, Japanese of all stripes, from politicians to mothers, debated televisions effect on society. Some argued that television was exposing Japanese to the wider world outside of their national borders; others argued that it was turning them into a nation of one hundred million idiots; and still others worried aloud that it was creating a new generation of terebikko (television kids) more comfortable with mass consumerism than with the traditional cultural values cherished by their parents. By the early 1970s, as television became a central part of everyday life, the public debate began to ebb. However, the volumes of writings left over from this debate unknowingly exposed the values underlying the rebirth of postwar Japan.
In fact, the public discourse surrounding the growth of television revealed televisions role in forming the identity of postwar Japanese during the era of high-speed growth (1955-1973) that saw Japan transformed into an economic power. In this study, I ask how the formation of the postwar Japanese nation-state was affected by the emergence of a national television audience. Specifically, I examine the role that television played in promoting a postwar national culture centered on Tokyo and laced with American cultural ideals. At the national level, the rapid diffusion of a Tokyo-based national television culture further strengthened Tokyo’s prominence in postwar Japan. At the international level, the presence of American programs, like westerns during the early years of Japanese television furthered the adoption of American cultural ideals.