Japan (日本) is an island country located in the Pacific Ocean, off the eastern coast of China. The capital city is Tokyo.
Geography and Government
Japan is an archipelago that encompasses over 3,000 islands, most of which are mountainous. Archaeological research indicates that people were living on the islands of Japan as early as the upper paleolithic period.
Arts and Sciences
Japan is a leading nation in scientific research and the production of innovative technological products. Some of the most important industrial contributions include chemicals, metals, and in particular, robotics. The nation is also making headway in space exploration.
In art, the nation is particularly known for its specific styles of comic book art and film animation, known as manga and anime respectively. In the 1980s especially, Japan's animation industry was often used by US companies, who outsourced TV projects such as Muppet Babies; while pre-production (storyboards, character designs, etc.) was done in the states, Toei Animation Co. produced the actual animation for the first three seasons.
Origami, the traditional Japanese folk art of paper folding, began in the 17th century and found a resurgence in the 19th century. The most widely recognized pattern in origami, the paper crane, was taught to Big Bird during his visit to the Sesame Street Library.
Japanese music is eclectic, having borrowed instruments, scales and styles from neighboring cultures. Western music, introduced in the late 19th century, now forms an integral part of the culture, and many American talents have become popular idols in Japan. One such example is Bob McGrath, who in 1966, following the cancellation of his series, embarked on a pre-arranged Japanese tour. As McGrath recalled, "Our audience here (in the United States) was mostly people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. In Japan, all the teen-agers watched Mitchee-Millu because it was a great way of learning English. We sang clearly. All the words were printed on the screen. We'd have thousands of teen-agers at every show screaming: 'Bob-O! Bob-O!'"
The Muppets and Japan
As with Western culture in general, the Muppets have often engaged in an open exchange with Japan, perhaps best exemplified by the nation's economic and cultural embrace of Sesame Street. The most high-profile example was Big Bird and Barkley's ambasadorial visit, only slightly hampered by the hyper-organization of Japanese package tours, in Big Bird in Japan, which premiered on the NHK network in the fall of 1988. From 1971 until 2004, the network also aired Sesame Street, with Japanese dubbed portions but retaining a substantial amount of the original dialogue, as an aid to learning English. This was succeeded by the somewhat controversial, fully Japanese co-production of the series, which launched on TV Tokyo in October, 2004, and ran until September 2007. In the states, meanwhile, multiple Season 3 inserts portrayed an American view of Japanese folklore, through three fables told by an oral storyteller, tales of an ancient Japan whose royal family (including the Emperor, his young son, and a princess) are plagued by the schemes of an evil prime minister.
Universal Studios Japan features Sesame Street-based attractions, including Sesame Street 4-D Movie Magic, which ran an ad campaign on Kyoto's subway cars. Sesame Street characters have also been featured in the Tokyo's subway systems' Metro Manners campaign. Tokyo had its own Sesame Place theme park from 1990 to 2006.
Not to be outdone by their pedagogical brethren, The Muppet Show cast presented a salute to Japan in episode 505, highlighted by a "Japanese Square Dance" by James Coburn, Animal, a group of cowboys and The Japanese Tai-Chi, Karate, and Chowder Society. Previously in episode 317, Fozzie assisted a group of Samurai Mutations for the musical number, "Yokahama." In 1990, Janice dressed as a Japanese geisha during a song montage from The Muppets at Walt Disney World in Epcot's Pavilions in the World Showcase. Apart from The Swedish Chef's assault on a Japanese Cake, the cultural exchange between Japan and the Muppets has generally been mutually beneficial.
The Japanese have been receptive to the more serious Henson works alongside the traditional Muppets. In 1983, The Dark Crystal became the highest-grossing film in the nation for the year, as well as winning the 1983 Seiun Award media prize for the best sci-fi or fantasy media work (movies or TV) of the year.
- Miller, Melinda. "Bob McGrath's Life Beyond Sesame Street." The Buffalo News, April 23, 1997.