Monday, 24 January 2011

QI and the Unluckiest Man

I think I will weigh in on the QI "Unluckiest Man" uproar. It`s been on a lot of the news programmes here in Japan generally accompanied by scenes from a documentary of the man himself, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, standing on the riverbank in Hiroshima and explaining how after the explosion the water was full of burned people. Then they show his daughter praying for the spirit of her now-dead father at her butsudan (home shrine) and saying that although they used to joke within their family that he was indeed the unluckiest man in the world it is unnacceptable for the British, who have nuclear weapons, to do so. It`s not exactly unbiased reporting. In addition, although several Japanese people have complained to me about the show NO-ONE I have spoken to has actually been able to understand what Stephen Fry or the other contestants are saying. Their English is too just fast.

In fact, Stephen Fry explains how the man is unlucky and the other contestants joke, not about him at all, but about how the Japanese trains kept running even after the atom bomb whereas British trains have to stop if there are the wrong kind of leaves on the line. The joke was at Britain`s expense not Japan`s.

Another news programme noted that when Stephen Fry said that the man then got on a train to Nagasaki and got bombed again it got a big laugh from the studio audience and that this was not an acceptable subject for laughter. On this I take their point. Neither the bombings nor the man`s extremely unlucky experiences nor the war itself is a suitable topic for laughter but I really do not think that the audience was laughing at that or for that reason. They were laughing at the irony of the man`s situation. And after all the man lived to 93. He was in fact extremely lucky.

At the end of the news segments, the announcers say the situation is kanashii (rueful, regrettable) which is generally the sentiment that the Japanese have about their actions in the Second World War in general, including, my Chinese friends note bitterly, Nanking.

Japanese people care a great deal about how they are viewed by foreigners. I think the real issue here is not that a British quiz show seems to be making fun of one Japanese man but that Japan itself is considered a source of mirth.

Here is an extract from one of the Japanese news shows followed by the offending clip from QI:

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