The Tabi channel

One of the nice things about living in a different culture instead of just visiting it is that you don’t feel like every moment has to be filled with something culturally signifigant. Some days you simply come home from work, make a pot of tea, turn on the TV and flip until something catches your eye.

Depending on the channel you land on, that is often when you stumble across cultural suprises you would have otherwise never seen. I do not know what all of the channels on my TV are, and while technically I do have the background of a rocket scientist, I have yet to figure out how to update the programmed channels on the TV to skip over the hundreds I apparently am not subscribed to (though the lack of a manual and all buttons and on-screen menus being in Japanese are major contributors to that issue). Thanks to a label in the upper left corner of the screen, though, I do know that channel C657 is the “Tabi Channel.”

I don’t know the best way to describe what it is. It is, I think, primarily a travel channel, and is full of visual content. Perhaps the best description is a televised coffee table book. There is a narrator, and every once in a while the people in the picture speak, but primarily it is pictures of places with a soft musical background and narration while the camera slowly pans and zooms it’s way through landscapes.

The majority of the time seems to be spent promoting local tourism in Japan. As such, it is an interesting and easy way to virtually travel around the country and see it as it is being presented by Japanese for Japanese. This makes it a very easy choice to land on when flipping and only looking for a bit of visual distraction. Typical shows are

• A person walking through the countryside and stopping off at traditional workshops to watch straw sandals being made, or cloth dyed, or noodles made.

• Half an hour of watching the scenery go by outside a train window.

• A 12 part documentary from 1997 of a road trip by a Japanese camera crew along Route 66 (featuring lots of unscripted interviews with hotel owners, waitresses, and barbers along the way) – probably more coverage of the Missouri portion of Route 66 than has ever been on US television.

• A show with a serene woman in a kimono exploring the traditional spas and restaurants of an area – quite a feat of hot tub soaking ability, as she will be shown in 5 or 6 different soaking tubs in the course of a half hour episode – and at the end they show a map of how to get to the spas shown.

• What seems to be the Japanese equivalent of Rick Steve’s “Europe through the back door”

All told, an interesting window in how the Japanese are being shown their country and the rest of the world.

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