Japan culture, art and society captured by BBC4 Japan season

If you have had the chance to watch BBC4 and their Japan season you’d have enjoyed a rich variety of documentaries profiling the soul of Japan, its culture, arts and society. From watching detailed work involved in making a traditional Kimono, the impact of the Shinto religion on this mystical country, Samurai swords, great artwork to a contemporary look at pop idols and their followers. It’s  certainly been a revelation.

For me the Storyville documentary, Tokyo Girls, highlighting the pop idol phenomenon and the Otaku (followers of pop idols) was fascinating to watch. With nothing like this happening in Europe to compare it to, this seems a purely Japanese obsession. Young women would be promoted singing catchy pop songs, performing concerts in both massive stadiums to small, bespoke venues to groups of 40 – 60 men. The rise of this phenomom is  very deep rooted in the male Japanese psyche. Sociologists explained cultural issues of certain  Japanese men finding it difficult to form relationships, while taking a salaryman career devoid of excitement has played a significant part in this industry development. Let’s not forget this type of music is a massive industry, in fact its worth over $1 billion dollars and is flourishing. Rather than being in the shadows and treated as a shady obsession, it’s now becoming more mainstream in Japanese culture.

Various sociologists would have a field day explaining this industry in depth, however for me I can only say it looked fascinating how the audience followed their idols, knew every dance move and literally spent small fortunes on following them around Japan. Here’s the trailer for Tokyo Idols, which was featured at the Sundance Film festival and is part of the BBC4 season.


Another fascinating documentary explored the work of Japanese artist, Hokusai and his work including the “Great Wave”. Published in the early 1830’s, the work is part of a series from the “36 Views of Mount Fuji”.

the wave

Looking at the artwork below, which I’d seen before, the BBC4 presentator explored the print and it was a revelation as he highlighted aspects I had never seen before. Notice on the right a small fishing boat battling the wave. From a European perspective, we look left to right, meaning the wave is the dominant feature of the piece, however in Japan they read right to left, meaning it’s not the wave that is the focal point, but the battle of the fishermen against  the sea, with Mount Fuji almost offering stability and support in the background. His explanation totally changed the vision and context of the print at once and brought it alive. The Great Wave is magnificent, almost crashing on the page, full of energy and maybe anger, however Mount Fuji stands strong against this brute…a truly magical piece of work.

To see the full range of programmes BBC4 have to show in the Japan season click here