Things you learn during a hellish 18-hour Japanese TV shoot

It has come to my attention that some people think my writing “doesn’t suck” or is even, as someone put it, “good”. You’d think I’d take that as a hint that I should write more often and consistently. (If I had an editor, they would probably tell me that often and consistently both sorta mean the same thing in this context and that a proper writer would never drop a ‘sorta’ into their work.) Hell, it’s almost been a year (the start of COVID-19!) since my last post (in which I promised to showcase some of those much ballywhoed Seventh Generation of Japanese Comedy members in my next post but then summarily never go around to it) and to tell you the truth, I don’t think I got enough riding juice in me to squirt out all over this keyboard on a consistent basis (is that how sex/writing metaphors work?).

But look out world! Stephen was on a hellishly long 18 hour shoot for a TV show segment that he’ll probably be cut out of and he’s got some things to say!


Don’t assume dudes know what they’re doing just because they’re standing around next to the monitor all official looking. The thing anyone who has ever done work in Japan (and not just in showbiz but in pretty much any non-service industry job here) comes to realize is that (a) there are usually way more people than necessary involved in any given project and (b) this excess group of random people are going to simultaneously be overworked AND have nothing to do all day.

Confusing? Consider the role of the AD (assistant director) in your typical Japanese variety show production. Generally, you’d assume the assistant director’s main task would be to assist the director (hence the name) but, in my unimpressive six years of experience in the Japanese geinōkai, I have yet to have seen a single AD either assist the director in directing or do any directing of their own. What I have seen is lots of ADs (each of these shows seems to have at least five or six of these poor overworked/underworked souls skittering around set) hurriedly tripping over wires and crap and running into people as hungover grey-haired variety show direct X shouts about something that really should have been taken care of long before cameras actually rolled.

On this particular shoot that started when it was still dark outside and ended approximately a bajillion hours later and involved hopping from location to location across the greater Tokyo area, the crew was a bit smaller than usual which made sense given the logistics of the roaming operation. Unfortunately, the crew was somehow so small that apparently no one was able to stay ahead of the curve and prep a location before the actual film crew arrived, resulting in hour after hour of a bunch of people just sorta waiting around in the cold and wind (the weather on this day was seriously among the windiest non-typhoon days I have ever experienced in my time in Japan) while three or four ADs ran around trying to cover up logos and signs and random other crap that would ruin the illusion of this thing being filmed in America rather than the Tokyo suburbs.

Whenever the subject of “What’re we doing next?” came up in discussion/after forty minutes of my face going numb in the wind, the only answers I could get were “I don’t know”, “Ask person X (who also wouldn’t know)”, and “Your Japanese is very good.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this whole day could have been a lot shorter.


The typical human sorta runs out of interesting things to talk about by hour eleven of eighteen. Let me preface this by saying I was working with a great group of guys on this gig (some of whom I know for sure read this blog. Hi Nick!) and I’d have loved to get drinks with these dudes were we not in the midst of an endless global super pandemic nightmare. BUT there is only so much you can really talk about when you’re sitting around waiting for cameras to roll so you can say your one or two things of dialog and your costume doesn’t have pockets for you to hide your phone in.

Even considering the amount of questions you can burn through when meeting someone for the first time, after a while exhaustion sets in and things become an endless conga line of non-sequiturs and people just sorta making sounds for the sake of making sound. Keep in mind that these are all people who get paid to talk for a living. Now, maybe the majority of the people on set were massive introverts and maybe the fact that the perpetual state of “STAY THE HELL HOME” has reduced the amount of interesting things to talk about by 75% (“What did you do yesterday?” “Sat around and watched Netflix. You?” “The same.” “How about yesterday and everyday before that since last year?” “The same.”), but the average human mind has got a certain capacity for human interaction and, in this particular case, it was half a day.


All catered TV show bentos sorta have the same three or four components.

Component one: Way more rice than a normal human being probably needs for one meal (They do this so that they can give you minimal amounts of anything else and still make the box heavy enough that it tricks rubes into thinking they’ve got their money’s worth.)

Component two: Soggy karaage fried chicken. Karaage is awesome. Karaage that has been sitting around in an unrefrigerated room all day to get soggy and limp, not so much.

Component three: The same sad flacid piece of daikon tsukemono (pickles). Every, and I do mean EVERY, bento I’ve ever gotten on set of something I’ve been working on has included pretty much the exact same neon yellow, offputtingly off-textured pickle. But I eat it every time because it’s the only thing included in the bento that could be considered remotely good for you.


Are Japanese people in a perpetual state of dehydration? 18 hours and not a hydration station or a bottle of water in sight. (They did give us like two bottles of tea with our bentos though.) The normal human is supposed to drink four liters of water a day. Are Japanese film crews just dehydrated all the time?

One thought on “Things you learn during a hellish 18-hour Japanese TV shoot

  1. Pingback: “What about your career in showbiz?” – Working as a low level entertainer during COVID-19 in Japan | Stephen Tetsu

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