My thoughtful co-workers had a surprise waiting for me one afternoon. Extolling the virtues of Zuiikin English now is like jumping from the pier after the ship had left but on the off chance you’ve never been blessed by a viewing, here’s a couple choice clips.

The premise of the show, as gleaned from repeated viewings and the aid of wikipedia is pretty simple. The best time to attempt learning a foreign language is five in the morning but to engage distracted or sleep-deprived viewers short skits were developed utilizing real-life situations and multi-lingual exchanges. The narrator breaks the new English phrase down in Japanese. Then three women wearing spandex appear and begin to perform aerobic exercises set to a pulsating synth-pop soundtrack; the idea is that repeating the phrase in conjunction with movements help the viewer remember what they’ve just learned.

What’s interesting to me about this show, beyond the snickering, is that the producers had to decide that these situations were important enough to highlight. Considering the time when the show was originally produced (early 90’s), when Japan was an economic powerhouse and the yen rode the high-water mark over the dollar, there would be a lot of interest in traveling to the States. The subject matter of these lessons would suggest that we were not viewed as a particularly safe place and that one should be prepared for any contingency. Bless their plucky little hearts– even the threat of violence and sickness couldn’t keep them away.

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