Japanese Commercials

On my long list of things I love about Japan, Japanese television ranks pretty highly. While my Japanese language skills still leave much to be desired, I’ve found that Japanese television programs and commercials are entertaining even with the language barrier.

I take a particular interest in the commercials. It’s always very interesting to me to learn how goods and services are marketed to different cultures. In Japan, humor, beauty and lightheartedness seem to reign supreme. I very rarely see a scare tactic employed, as is not uncommon in the states. As you can imagine, this makes for some pleasant commercial-watching in Japan.

One evening as I was flipping through the few Japanese channels that we get, I saw a commercial that intrigued me so much, I had to look it up online for an explanation. It featured a white, talking dog that I had seen previously in print ads and promotional material for my cell phone service provider, SoftBank. While I enjoyed the dog on the print material, I fell head over heels when I found out he talked in the commercials!
The adorable face of SoftBank cell phone company

Watching the commercials in Japanese was entertaining enough, but after I found English-subtitled versions online, the enjoyment increased tenfold. The dog, named Otousan in the commercials, is a pure white Hokkaido-ken, one of the rarer Japanese dog breeds. Otousan is married to a Japanese woman and they have two children: a Japanese daughter named Aya who works at the SoftBank store, and a black son who speaks Japanese with an American accent. Coincidentally, ‘otousan’ means father in Japanese. Did I lose you yet?

The SoftBank family

How anyone ever came up with this peculiar concept, I am not sure. But its bizarreness and straightforward delivery are what make it so funny. The commercials follow Otousan and his interesting family through their otherwise normal daily life, always pitching a selling point for SoftBank in the process. I’ve included a few of my favorites for your viewing pleasure.

The Otousan phenomenon has become quite popular here. I heard the real dog that plays Otousan has had a number of requests for public appearances. He’s even now a mascot for one of the baseball teams here.  And of course, I have a talking, stuffed Otousan in my car.

American celebrities are even getting in on the action. Quentin Tarantino recently starred in a commercial with Otousan as the family’s crazy Uncle Tara. I couldn’t find a subtitled version, but basically he is jokingly proclaiming himself to be samurai warrior while the family rolls their eyes. Then his blond wife calls (on a SoftBank phone nonetheless) and yells at him to get home.

SoftBank has also attracted the likes of Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt to star in their own commercials.  I always heard American celebrities occassionally did Japanese commercials "lost-in-translation" style thinking Americans won't see them, but now I have proof.   

I have totally bought into the SoftBank commercials. Now if only their service didn't stink...

1 comment:

  1. Completely agree with you. Their commercials are GREAT. Their reception, not so good. My iPhone keeps dropping off, even in my apartment, 25 floors up in central Tokyo. Perhaps they should spend more money on improving coverage, and less on their commercials....