Japan Gets Own Version of ‘Sesame Street’

By Rhea R. Borja — October 26, 2004 1 min read
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Hoping to reach a new generation of children, a Japanese version of “Sesame Street” debuted Oct. 10 on NHK Tokyo, one of the Asian country’s major broadcasting companies.

The new half-hour show is co-produced in Tokyo and New York City, the headquarters of the Sesame Workshop, the creator of “Sesame Street,” which airs in countries around the world. (“Venerable U.S. Children’s Show Reaches Around Globe,” Oct. 2, 2002.)

The Japanese show focuses on nature, with lessons on imagination, independent thinking, and financial literacy. Each show also features a three-minute English-language lesson.

Japan now has its own version of Sesame Street.

In contrast, the American “Sesame Street” seeks to reach urban children to teach them basic math and reading skills.

“In Japan, there’s not the same kind of disparity in wealth, so we don’t have to teach Japanese children their letters and numbers,” said Karen Fowler, the creative director of Japanese “Sesame Street.”

The show has four new characters: Teena, a pigtailed, outgoing little girl; Mojabo, a “big kid who’s a little bit of a tough guy, but a real softie inside,” said Ms. Fowler; Pierre, a frog; and Arthur, a little bird who speaks in the Japanese Kansai dialect. The last two are a comedic duo modeled on a Japanese form of comedy called “Mansai,” Ms. Fowler said.

For about 20 years, the American show aired in Japan in English and was used mainly as an English-language-learning tool by high schoolers and adults.

But it wasn’t reaching the show’s target audience of 4- to 8-year olds. So the Sesame Workshop began dubbing the American show in Japanese about five years ago. That turned off Japanese viewers, however, Ms. Fowler said, and viewership declined. Talks to create a Japanese “Sesame Street” began soon after.

Coverage of cultural understanding and international issues in education is supported in part by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Coverage of cultural understanding and international issues in education is supported in part by the Atlantic Philanthropies.


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