Ideas for documentaries about Japan

1. Japanese Baths

What is the first thing that comes into mind when you think of baths and bathrooms? A simple daily activity that involves cleaning yourself, or just another room in the house?

In Japan, it is more than a place to bathe. The Japanese bathroom is considered to be one of the most important rooms in the house. It is traditionally a place of calm contemplation and deep relaxation.

Most people spend about half an hour in the bath every night. Most children take their baths with their father or mother until they are in the upper grades of elementary school. The family tub is an important place for parent-child communication.

Large public baths are fixtures in many urban neighborhoods. Men and women used the same bath in the mid-eighth century. Modern public baths have separate facilities for men and women.

Japan is one of the few places in the world where groups of people bathe together. Many people with baths in their own homes still visit the public bath in search of a place to socialize with their neighbors.

The main objective of the documentary will be to discuss this unique culture of Japan. Their emphasis on bath etiquettes public baths and why did Japan develop its particular style of bathing will be explored. There will also be a comparison in the various ways in which different societies relax and their means of parent-child communication.

2. Aging population in Japan

The issue of an aging population is of great importance to Japan. Our documentary can explore the main causes of that individualism (marry later/ not want children), rising standard of living (expensive to bring up a child) etc. This problem of aging population gives rise to many issues some being uniquely Japanese. One of which is the observation that many old couples are getting divorces when the husband retires. This is with an understanding of the typical “salary man” family where the husband spends most of his prime working and ends up disconnected to his family. Eventually when he retires, he feels awkward in the family and in return his family may even find him a nuisance.

On the other hand, with an understanding of the “ie” household system which is rooted in Confucianism, we see how the younger generation is expected to respect the elders and care for them. Looking at one of their public holiday “respect for the aged Day”, we can see how this ideology is perpetuated.

With the rising proportion of elderly, they have their own brand of leisure activities. Here, we can look at some and also interview the elderly about how they feel society views them. We will have some views of the younger generation as well showing how the mindset of the Japanese is shifting to some extent and welfare may really be an issue not to be ignored.

Possible scenes to include:
• Voice over of content
• Filming how a family (video will generally follow through with this family) celebrate or remember September 15th which is “Respect-for-the-Aged Day”, a national holiday in Japan.
• Includes interviews about views from elderly about how they feel society views them and how the younger generation views the elderly.
• Interesting cartoons/ comics depicting the elderly.

3. Japanese Popular Music: More than just notes?

Japanese pop music isn’t just plain music; it has involved many more other factors. Moreover, it is also a reflection of how Japanese society has evolved.

We can look into:
• Types of music genres (rock, hiphop), music groups (solo artistes, boybands etc).
• What influences them? (consumer preferences? Foreign/western influences?)
• Who do they influence? (young, students, working… across nations)
• What do they reflect?
• Beyond music: dancing, dramas, hosting… (possibilities of branching out)
• Power-relations involved in the music industry (red white singing contest, record sales competition)
• Marketing strategies used by record companies
• Gender division (Utada, Hamasaki, Amuro or Ken Hirai, SMAP)

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Possible scenes to include
• Voice-overs
• Interviews on public views
• Interviews from professors about the social syndrome that jpop culture is showing
• A collage of what are the types of things that popular music have to do
• Using fans or ‘stars-to-be’ as the ‘soul’ of the entire documentary and see what has jpop done to their lives

4. Japanese Food

Laksa, Bak Kut The, Rojak, Haiinanese Chicken Rice, Cha Kway Teow, Hokkien noodles, Popiah, Satay, Mee Siam, Nasi Lemak and the list goes on and on. Singapore is famously known as a food paradise. Eating is one of our “national pastime”. Singapore’s various cultural influences and a readiness to take on the latest cooking trends make for a unique blend of top-notch restaurants, cosy cafes, local style hawker stalls and kopi tiams (coffee shops)

Restaurants abound and the choice appears to be limitless wherever you are. Japanese restaurants are one of the numerous choices. Delicacies like sashimi, soup, steamed egg custard (chawan mushi), Japanese green tea (matcha), tempura, nimono, yakimono and other wonderful choices can be tasted even though one is not located in Japan.

But how does Japanese food in Singapore differ from those found in Japan? And what types of food and why are they popular in Japan?

We can look into:
• Popular types of Japanese food
• Who eats what in Japan
• How have Japanese food evolved and changed with society
• How or are types of Japanese food part of their culture
• Japanese food in other countries, e.g. in Singapore

5. Cherry Blossoms

It is early spring in Japan. The television weatherman stands before a map of the country crossed by familiar undulating lines. But these aren’t isobars delineating high and low pressure systems, and they don’t measure temperatures either.
The cherry blossom tree is Japan’s most celebrated flower. It is the official national flower of Japan and the blooming of cherry blossoms signifies the arrival of spring. In second week of April every year, the cherry blossom festival is held to celebrate the new season and people participate in “hana-mi” or flower viewing.

The significance of the cherry blossom flower in Japan

We’ll start off by looking at the origins and history of hanami viewing and the founding of cherry blossom as Japan’s national flower. Then, we’ll explore the relevance between cherry blossoms and nationalism?

The influence of the cherry blossoms can be seen everywhere as the flower and motifs are depicted on everything from Japanese art, crafts to Japanese clothing and household items. Louis Vuitton Murakami cherry blossom series (an example of the significance of cherry blossoms to the Japanese identity) is specially catered to the Japanese consumers.

‘Cherry blossoms’ are often in poems, books songs, movies, both local and foreign. Is there a disparity between how the locals and foreigners view cherry blossoms
What makes cherry blossoms so significant? Idea of ‘mono no aware’ – that things in life are transient, fleeting, fragile, and short-lived. That is why Japanese feel the need to enjoy and admire these fleeting things when there is a chance to. Cherry blossoms symbolise this concept because the blossoms only last a few weeks each year. Therefore, sakura is important because it serves as a way to admire short-lived beauty and keenly feel the fragility of life.
“Japanese watch the sakura zensen with the same fervent anticipation with which Indians await the monsoon. Once the dates are announced people prepare with the same intensity people in the northern hemisphere prepare for a major blizzard.”

Festivals and ‘hanami parties’ Why the popularity with ‘hanami parties’? Also, we can use the ‘Cherry Blossom Festival’ in USA as an example and look into the social, economic and political ideologies

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Possible scenes: collages of sakura print goods and services. Snippets from poems, songs, movies or dramas about cherry blossoms. Interviews with Japanese and non-Japanese on their idea of cherry blossoms. Hanami party recordings (if possible)

6. Temples and Buddhism in Japan and Other Countries

In this documentary, I will like to explore the topic of the Buddhism religion in Japan and its influence on the Japanese culture. We first begin with the origins of the Buddhist religion and trace its developments throughout history. Also, we are interested in any changes and deviations in the practice of Buddhism both culturally and socially. In particular, we will like to do cross cultural comparisons of Buddhism in other geographically nearby cultures, for instance China and Korea.
Temples in Japan are a huge part of their preserved historical sites and a rich source of national heritage and values. Japanese schools organize annual field trips to temples all over Japan to expose young children and teenagers to the temples as well as familiarize them with the Buddhist teachings. As we can see, understanding the origins of the temples is essential to understanding Japanese history and its culture. Hence we can take a tour of the temples in various parts of Japan and observe its varied structures.

In the second part of the documentary, we will discuss any changes and deviations from the pre-modern Japan to current modern day Japan. Society undergoes transient evolution, and along with it the other social institutions including religion and family change. These changes and deviations undoubtedly have long-lasting implications on members of the society. In this section, we will observe the varied ways which Japanese have practiced Buddhism and how the religion’s teaching is inculcated and deeply embedded in their culture.

In the last part of the documentary, we focus on the cross cultural comparison the Buddhism in Japan and other cultures in Asia like China and Korea. We will like to compare their similarities and differences, suggesting reasons and theologies in explanation. Tours of temples in other countries and the ways other cultures practice Buddhism will be covered in this section.

7. Married Japanese women and their family life.

Since the post war period in Japan, the Japanese government has embarked on a series of economic programs to achieve rapid industrialization and hence economic growth. We have witnessed the increasing number of women entering the labor force with this phenomenon and also due to their higher educational level. However at the same time they are deeply constrained by their gender roles in the private sphere.

Therefore the main objective of my proposal is to research on married working women and in particular, the impact of working on their family life. My main issues will be concerned with looking at the kinds of jobs that married women take up. Are these jobs gendered by the corporate world? Also I access the seniority of their positions. It is said that women have few chances of climbing up the corporate ladder due to family burden. What are the reasons behind this belief?

I will evaluate the future prospects and flexibility of the jobs, especially in terms of the working hours. Flexible times are deemed to be more welcomed by married women so that they can manage their time more efficiently and thus be able to balance between family and work.

I will then compare their lifestyles to that of non-working married women. Are there any changes in these women’s working lifestyles? What are these changes, and what are the reasons behind them?

Also, I look at how working has altered her position in the family and her relationship with her family members. Is she on par with her husband who is the head of the household? Do her children respect her more or has working drifted them apart? All these issues will be addressed.

Lastly, I access the distribution and/or relinquish of housework in the family when these women are working. Are the domestic chores equally distributed among family members or is the working woman still in charge of doing housework even when she is working?

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My conclusion will be based on research and findings to access the extent of the impact of working on married women and their family.

8. Japanese and traditional clothing

Kimono, meaning clothing in Japanese, is perhaps one of Japan’s most beautiful treasures. It is also one of the timeless cultures that had passed through time.

• Timeline of Japanese clothing
• Japanese traditional fabric making and wearing
• Accompanying accessories for the traditional clothing (sandals, socks etc)
• Men’s clothes

Japanese traditional clothing and the Japanese identity
Difference in designs of kimonos/clothing by
• Seasons
• Marital status
• Hierarchy or seniority etc
• Ceremonies (birth, birthdays, adulthood, weddings etc)
• Festivals
• Performances (geisha, kabukis etc)

Then, we’ll explore the underlying social values and ideologies embedded in Japanese traditional clothing and whether these ideologies are parallel to those exuded by other parts of Japanese society.

Possible scenes:
• Snippets of the mentioned ceremonies, making of the cloth, how to wear them etc.
• Geisha performances? (foreign movies ‘memoirs of a geisha)
• Showcase of different types of clothing
• Japanese wedding: from preparation to the day itself. It should be able to see lots of different traditional clothing
• Interview with a Japanese traditional clothing expert

9. Japanese Gardening

Gardening and landscaping isn’t very foreign to us. But what makes the Japanese landscaping and gardening different is that they have many more intuitions behind how these are formed. The influences that they have gotten from religion, social ideologies have been reflected on how gardens are crafted.

It is also clear that a pond or lake was commonly included in early garden designs, and this element would also endure through most of the history of Japanese garden design.

• History of the Japanese gardening
• Micro level: bonsai
• The importance of ‘elements’ (bridges, stones, waterfalls, ponds, trees)
• Principles of the Japanese gardening (non-static, visual, ‘shakkei’)
• the ‘zen’ way of living

• Religious implications
There are important religious influences on early garden design as well, due to the heavy emphasis of natural objects in Shinto beliefs. Shinto’s respect for great rocks, lakes, ancient trees, and other “dignitaries of nature” has an influence.

With the entry of Buddhism into Japan, Japanese gardens also began to incorporate references to the mythical mountains, islands, and seas of Hindu-Buddhist tradition. They are often displayed in the form of stones or stone groupings. However, for current times, it is difficult to know if the positions of the stone groupings are still based on the traditional influences or are they merely designs.

• Ideologies behind Japanese gardening
• Japanese gardening then & now
• Innovations into gardening? Incorporating greenery into current urban Japan.
• Across the world?

** The challenging part to find a ‘soul’ to link the documentary. Was thinking of interviewing ‘japanese gardening’ expert.

10. Crayon Shinchan

Shinchan is the main character in the anime “Crayon Shinchan”. He is a five year old boy with Chuck Manson eyebrows and a very distinctive voice that will burn itself deep into your brain. He has very strange interests compare to the other normal kids. He like to check out beautiful girls, make his mother angry, play stupid games imitating superman, beg his mother to buy toys, and read books without buying them at the bookstore.

His bodily actions, offensive comments, and outrageous behavior consistently annoy his parents and land him in hot water. A national phenomenon in Japan, this shocking and hilarious comic celebrates the terrible power of destruction and indecency wielded by toddlers everywhere!

We can look into
• Anime in Japan
• How is Crayon Shinchan similar to and different from other anime
• The various characters in Crayon Shinchan
• Ways in which Crayon Shinchan relate to the Japanese family, gender relations, work and other social institutions

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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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