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From Street Corner to Living Room: Domestication of TV Culture and National Time/Narrative
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From Street Corner to Living Room:
Domestication of TV Culture and National Time/Narrative

For postwar Japanese, television was a form of media that had overwhelming influence and special symbolic significance. With rapid growth, our lives came to be surrounded with various types of new media; however, television held a particularly privileged position among them. Even now, Japanese people watch an average of more than three hours of television per day; the most time spent at home next to sleeping is spent watching television. According to a 2002 comparative international survey conducted by the Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai [NHK] Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, about 23 percent of people in Japan watch more than five hours of television a day, a rate significantly higher than in the United States and France at 14 percent. Furthermore, the rate of people who believe that the most important type of communications activity is “watching” stands at 7 or 8 percent in the United States and France, yet in Japan the rate is 28 percent. On the other hand, those who believe that “reading” is the most important type comprise more than a third of respondents in the United States and France, but only 17 percent in Japan. Compared to other countries, then, it seems that Japanese people really love television.

This pattern is more similar to results seen in Thailand than in the West, [End Page 126] but Japanese people still love TV more than Thais. In response to the question, “which would you choose if for the next several months you could have only one of the following six items: newspapers, television, cell phone, personal computer, car, or refrigerator?” most Japanese people answered “television” at 23 percent. Most Americans, however, answered “car” at 42 percent, with only 5 percent of respondents answering “television.” Among the French, “car” was also the most popular response at 31 percent; only 10 percent chose television, which rated even lower than newspapers at 14 percent. In Thailand, too, compared to the 40 percent for cars and the 23 percent for computers, television only reached 13 percent. 1 This heavy slant toward television in Japan has remained constant since the 1960s, and as I will discuss shortly, a study conducted in the early 1970s showed very similar trends. We can probably say, then, that the privileged value accorded to television has been a consistent feature of postwar Japanese society.

Moreover, the time that Japanese spend watching television has consistently increased since the end of the 1980s; the daily average at present [2003] has surpassed three and a half hours and is approaching four. 2 With all we hear about the end of the era of television, and as new media cultures swirl across borders, as seen with the spread of the Internet in Korea, Japanese society still seems to be attached to the same primary postwar medium of television. Any time a critical event occurs, from the Great Hanshin earthquake and the Aum Shinrikyō incident, to the Gulf War, to the 9/11 attacks in the United States, to the Iraq War, the first thing people do is virtually “become glued to the TV,” thus continuing to reimagine the nation through their relationship with this medium. In order for this reimagining to be carried out effectively, television today is developing advanced grammatical, visual, and technical systems that mediate the public and the private in multilayered ways. Individual viewings of information and variety shows, news, and dramas combine in complex ways with our conversations with others, sustaining this simultaneously public and private system of relating known as television.

Once, Shimizu Ikutarō predicted that the appearance of images directly before people’s eyes on TV would make it difficult for them to peel themselves away from the reality presented there. Furthermore, as the medium develops technically, the “mechanism gets stronger, so it is easy for its contents to become conservative or reactionary.” If that kind of TV-like reality is still deeply conditioning everyday consciousness in Japanese society today, it is worthwhile to go back half a century to the time when this connection began to form and retrace the history of the relationship between television...