Cultural References and Insufficient Power Level

Based on the general consensus I watched Joshiraku for the first time expecting it to be completely cryptic like alien written in ancient tablets, too difficult and obscure to remotely understand it. Based on the general consensus Joshiraku would be incomprehensible, very much Japanese-only, providing the ultimate realization of knowing a show isn’t meant for you. In fact, they are not so wrong about that.

Comedy-wise jokes aren’t always hilarious or always remotely easy to get unless familiar with certain cultural, political, and social references. The point is getting what is supposed to be funny about them. Comedy is not something that can be found funny to everyone for we could tell the world’s best joke and it will be utterly not understood due to humor being a foreign to the audience. We’re not your audience Joshiraku, but we’ll try to make this work somehow. This is a game of trivia to find out how difficult a show like Joshiraku actually is. Yes for fully getting the reference or joke. No for being unsure or missing the point.

Ready? Good. I’m not either. It sure can’t be worse than watching raw right? Right?

“Must be annoying when your glasses fog up.”

YES. The lens of glasses are made of glass -> Glasses fog up due to vapor and such–> Therefore, glasses must fog up when they’re exposed to it. It must be annoying when that happens. A common scenario.

Wouldn’t it be weird to have the Okiyahagi and the Tokyo 03 together on a TV show?

NO. It probably would be, but I wouldn’t know. Granted, I have no idea who both of these two groups are but let’s take Joshiraku’s word for it and assume the situation must be quite weird. My guess is that they’re from two popular bands. It’ll be weird because they’ll have too many guests who wear glasses… because that’d be weird, right..?

“Why the Nobita face?!”

NO. Why indeed. Her facial structure dramatically changes upon taking off her glasses. The reason why they call it as as “Nobita” face is completely lost until I know who this Nobita person is. Who exactly is Nobita? That, is a perfectly good question, easily answered by revealing the identity of Nobita. Wait a minute, why are we assuming we all know who Nobita is? As it turns out Nobita is a hell of a popular person as it turns out we all should know this.

What They probably Meant -> Nobita Yeah, cat’s out of the bag that I don’t watch Doraemon.

“So her glasses were actually suppressing her..”

YES. In anime, usually shounen (though not limited), there is an item, accessory or the like which a character wears that suppresses his own power. Reason being that they’re so obscenely powerful they have to have handicaps for the story to move on or drag on. In this context, glasses serve the same trope, they suppress the character’s power as they should. That’s actually the joke.

What They probably Meant -> I’m 99.999% sure they did mean that. Don’t ask about the missing .1’s%, they chose to not have their identities revealed. Please, respect their wishes.

“No wonder Ushijima is so strong!”

NO. Ushijima is not strong because he’s strong. It is because of those glasses that Ushijma is super strong. I get it. It is a joke about wearing glasses and how they mysteriously give you power but there’s more to it. Before we proceed any further, it is emphasized again not knowing who these characters are. For example, I do not know who Ushijima is, (neither what Joshiraku actually means but we’re not talking about the title) and it escaped me if Ushijima is a fictional character or a real person. Not knowing who the person –> not getting what they’re famous for –> Not getting what they’re about. As we can see the author’s full intent only reaches us halfway, so that’s a no.

What they Probably Meant -> Ushijima the Loan Shark

As it turns out, it is actually a ongoing manga (surprise) from the 2004’s about Ushijima. Guess what he also is? A loan shark. The series years later gets a live-action and a movie.

Context: Somehow one of them starts to poke the others’ nipples… (Don’t ask why because I don’t know) then a middle-age man wearing glasses accidentally poke a large man’s nipple and a rocket launches from it. Exciting.

No. Is the obese man famous? Perhaps a sumo wrestler? Who was the man doing the poking? Why is this relevant? Are missiles launching from nipples a Joshiraku thing? Is anything ever not a Joshiraku thing? It is classic SZS absurdity if I’m to take a wild guess. Poking a large man’s nipple is probably a bad idea, which will certainly come in handy someday when we’re in a similar situation. Wait a minute.. is that K-

What they Probably Meant -> Exactly.

“And it’s stupid to have a manga where all three brothers wear glasses.”

YES. Could be, but we’re not here to debate that, Joshiraku. Three brothers wearing glasses is a reference to Sayonara Setsubou Sensei, which is Joshiraku’s author most famous work to this day. It’s funny because it’s a reference.

What they Probably Meant -> The amount of cultural references in Joshiraku leave me in despair.

“You’d been embarrassed to perform rakugo on a train!”

What is a Rakugo: A) Some form of glomp B) A piledriver C) Something from J-list

No. What the oni is a rakugo? And why would she be embarrassed to perform rakugo on a train? Come on, tell us what rakugo is, subs! For all we know it could be a different word for barrel roll, which we know she just did. For all we know rakugo could be an extreme juggling act. For all we know it is a special term that Joshiraku created. No, we know that it’s not but the segment does actually requires the audience to know what rakugo is.

What they probably meant –> Rakugo. Super roughly translated as a sort of ancient form of a long stand-up act which is actually just long story, which is what they do at the beginning of the episode and possibly of all episodes.

Sounds like a plan if we ever heard one

“Just write ‘person’ on your hand and swallow it!’

No. 99% Kaiji talk is lost on people not familiar with it while 1% is caught but whoever knows a bit of it. This is an example. That was about Kanji. These stats are not accurate. This was probably about how modifying certain parts of a kanji character change the meaning of a word. Joshiraku going over a minute about Kanji jokes leaves the audience wondering what was actually funny about them, that is, unless you actually know what it is so funny about it. Even so, no jokes about grammar should go over a minute if you ask me.

What they Probably Meant –> Hurray for Kanji wordplay!

YES. Reference! Self explanatory image. Let’s throw some names in here. Railgun, ZnS, Index, Kill me Baby!, Another, Toradora, and so many other J.C Staff adaptations.

What they Probably Meant –> To make a reference to their works.


No. No. Sooo no. And gesundheit to you too just in case.

What they probably meant : Oh.. that is a way too obscure term for anyone who isn’t knowledgeable in the world of Kanji or your average person. We all learn a new term on this day.

“Marii, it might be a full moon night, but it’s not the fifteenth.”

No. What exactly happens on the fifteenth? All I can come up with is Kamen Rider because every reference of a man riding a bike in anime turns out to be Kamen Rider or some type of sentai show – we are not kidding. I strongly believe this was neither of those, so again, that’s a no.

What they probably meant –> I don’t have the remotest idea.

Rabbits die when they’re alone.

“That’s right! They say rabbits die alone!”

YES. A fact I think most people know as rabbits are known to be social animals. Similarly, they’re known to be lovable furry balls who unfortunately tend to die due to loneliness, which happens because their alone. Eh, I think Joshiraku was making a reference to this (or not).

What they probably meant –> I think?

“Like a Rorschach test.”

Yes. In which ambiguous sets of drawings are presented to patients by shrinks and asked what they think they see. An effective way to see the state of mind of people.

What they probably meant –> The Rorschach test

“Why do we always use the Tokyo Dome to compare the sizes of things?”

Yes. Tokyo Dome is a famous stadium in Japan.

What they probably meant –> Yes, the Tokyo Dome The implication is that said stadium is so well known that it is easy to compare it to other buildings.

“Now all we can do is become its natural enemy, the turtle, and fight!”

No? A fox, or a similar predator would be the rabbit’s natural enemy. Turtles don’t tend to be strong predators, not a rabbit’s anyway. But there’s a old tale about the rabbit losing to the turtle, lesson being kids shouldn’t procrastinate or get cocky, or be a rabbit who loses to a turtle. Worst rabbit ever next to the Trix rabbit.

What they probably meant –> Don’t know. It’ll make more sense if it was a kappa (never mind it’d make less sense if that were the case). My final weak attempt is that this is a reference to the Chinese Zodiac animals. Wait another minute, there is no turtle in that zodiac.

“That’s not a rabbit!”

Yes. Totally, and much understandable. I don’t see a rabbit either when I stare at the moon, but I’m familiar with the story about the rabbit who sacrificed itself when the gods came to visit as he was the only one who could not provide anything to them. As a reward the gods saw that the brave rabbit would be put in the moon. Rumor has it that that rabbit is making rice cakes.

What they probably meant –> Moon rabbit

The final score is 9 No’s to 8 Yes. A surprisingly decent number as far as remotely understanding Joshiraku. On the other hand, 9 No’s is still almost more than half the time not really understanding the humor or catching the references. In my book, that’s a terrible score for it really means not even understanding half the show. If Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was about ever-so-thoroughly explaining what they meant by providing examples, explaining situations, and pictures, and going as far as spending time providing wall of text viewers wouldn’t catch unless they pause the videos, Joshiraku is the opposite. Joshiraku skips all the explanations assuming the audience already understands what they mean, humor and absurdity all included.

Joshiraku isn’t as obscure as it is made out to be but it is really one of those shows where heavy knowledge of cultural references and the like is desired. Most lack of understanding comes from a lack of actual T;L notes to explain what exactly the audience is watching and tell them why this or that is funny. But you know – something about constantly ‘explaining comedy’ seems seriously off. As they say when in doubt – google it, in this case – straight wiki it.


5 thoughts on “Cultural References and Insufficient Power Level

  1. Translator’s notes (pretty extensive ones) for the anime episodes are to be found at the Not Red Reviews blog. Extensive notes for 14 Joshiraku translated manga chapters can be found at the Suimasen blog under the Kumetan (EN) tab and under the headings for each individual chapter.

    I think that the tortoise and the hare are deadly enemies precisely because of the Aesop’s fable about the famous race to which you referred.

    Joshiraku alternates between being funny and being a teaching aid in Japanese culture. I think it is a worthwhile experience.

  2. The thing with the turtle being the rabbit natural enemy is from the fable of Jean de LaFontaine “the hare and the turtle”. I know a hare isn’t a rabbit, but since they look the same I guess the author though it would be all right…
    Well, this was an interesting post and I like your blog. Keep on the good work!

  3. This reminds me of some of the jokes in Gintama. While Gintama is awesome with jokes, there are some jokes which require certain Japanese-only cultural knowledge. Though in the fansubs I watched, they usually put a brief explanations on top too, explaining the references and parodies. Not sure if there are any ones like that for Joshiraku.

  4. If you havent got it yet, the rocket launching from nipple thing is a reference to north korea and nuclear missles. that old man is supposed to be kim jung il

  5. The one about the Kanji… you have to either know written Japanese or Chinese well enough to get that one… 人 is person, while 入 is enter. (it’s an easy-to-miss difference for people that don’t know how to write Kanji or Chinese)

    The moon is at its fullest on the fifteenth, according to the Lunar Calendar used in some Asian countries.

    Some of these jokes are very niche indeed…

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