I would be remiss if I didn’t turn a sharp eye on them and on the major missteps taken
‘Queer Eye Japan’ Doesn’t Bat an Eye at Japanese Culture
I would like to preface this review by saying that I was, prior to watching Queer Eye: We’re in Japan! a major fan of the Fab Five. That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t turn a sharp eye on them and on the major missteps taken.
The five hosts head to Japan in order to help reinvent the lives of four individuals that are seen as misfits by their loved ones or by society as a whole. This is a familiar, comfortable premise for fans. However, it seems that the Fab Five, while well-equipped with a translator nearby, did not come prepared with any hint of knowledge about Japanese culture or customs.
This was glaringly apparent within the first episode, which features a hospice nurse named Yoko. In Japan, a group-over-the-individual mentality has, for better or worse, been entrenched in society for centuries, and Yoko is a walking, breathing example.
After hearing Yoko’s painful tale of losing her sister to illness and the guilt she carries, Karamo, the self-help guru of the gang, simply responds, “You have to live for yourself.” Yoko gives a confused response, saying, “I don’t know…”. He continues to assert his point until asking her to say out loud: “I forgive myself”, insisting she let go of any painful regrets, on the spot and with cameras rolling. She acquiesces, but not before looking visibly uncomfortable, and then breaks down into tears.
A great TV moment, maybe, but a very manufactured one that came at the cost of glossing over a major, complex part of Japanese society that could have been examined: the individual is taught to place the group first. Had Karamo, the “culture expert”, known this, maybe he would have been a little less pushy with his Western me-first approach.
Another majorly squeamish moment came in the form of food and wine specialist Antoni’s sit-down with Kae, a formerly-bullied manga artist, and her mother, during which he focuses on them not verbally expressing their love for one another.
Japanese family members (and members of many Asian families) typically don’t express their love for each other verbally, but rather through actions—thoughtful gestures, cooked meals, kind encouragement. Kae and her mother awkwardly try to explain this to Antoni, who brushes aside what could have been a culturally-educating moment and says, “Everybody needs to be told that they’re special”.
Again, a Western ideology is pushed upon people from a completely different background, making for a painfully ignorant moment on television.
Another glaring stumble was the casting of Kiko Mizuhara as an honorary member of the Fab Five. This was a painfully neglected opportunity to cast a queer Japanese person, someone from a vastly underrepresented group in Japan. Instead, the production team decided to cast a straight heterosexual woman, who at one point, is asked her opinion on the difficulties of being gay in Japan. Predictably, she’s unable to give any sort of in-depth, thoughtful answer because—surprise!—she’s straight.
Other cringe-worthy moments include Antoni teaching Yoko how to bake an apple pie (most Japanese kitchens are small and do not come with an oven with which she could replicate this), as well as him teaching one episode’s hero, Kan, a gay Japanese man, how to cook yakitori in order to educate him about “his homeland”.
Unfortunately, the average Western viewer won’t be familiar with the intricacies of Japanese culture and may walk away from the special feeling affirmed in their sense of correctness when it comes to a Western mindset.
My advice? Skip this mini-series, crack open a bottle of wine, and binge-watch Terrace House, instead.