One night in Japan the three of us found ourselves at a ryokan in rural Gunma Prefecture. We'd explored the street, we'd soaked in the inn's hot baths, we'd had dinner, we'd even hung around on the deserted top floor of the ryokan buying strange beverages from the omnipresent vending machines and giving ourselves foot massages with the three weird massagers (one masterfully good, two weirdly bumpy) up there. And we headed back to our enormous room, and it was maybe 9 p.m., dark outside, and we were tired in a good way, but not tired enough to sleep.
So we did what true Americans of our generations do for company and distraction and background noise, we flipped on the TV. There was no World Cup that night (Japan's 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Brazil was yet to come), though past games were certainly being rehashed on at least one channel. We found an English lesson on one channel -- all you have to do now is repeat that night's teachable phrase -- "Can you DO me a favor? Can you do ME a favor? Can you do me a FAVOR?" -- to send one of us into conniptions. But then we hit the jackpot: We found "Attention, Please."
We didn't know that's what it was called at first. Rob and I actually thought it might have been called "Pretty Woman" since that was the theme song (audio/video of closing credits here). But it was a show -- a nighttime soap operay drama/comedy, apparently -- about a Japan Air Lines hostess and her co-workers. We couldn't understand more than an occasional word, since it was in Japanese with no subtitles, but that just made it all the more fun. We're Americans, we know how TV shows in general, and soap operas specifically, work. We can figure out a generic soapy plot (she thinks she's pregnant! she loves that guy, but he loves that girl! he's retiring and he never told his assistant he loved her!) better than any nationality on earth, certainly better than we understand soccer.
Anyway, for the next hour or half-hour, we had the most hilarious time watching the show, supplying our own dialogue, making up backstory about the different characters, etc. It helped that the main plot of the episode, as best we could tell, involved a heart-pounding incident on the plane that was fixed by our hero, the studly young mechanic (played by J-pop heartthrob Ryo Nishikido). Kind of like Grey's Anatomy and the bomb in the guy's chest cavity, except that the crisis in question was a little less exciting. Well, OK, they couldn't get a door on the plane to shut. But it was treated with all the seriousness of a Bomb! On! Board! Masterly stud mechanic grabbed his jumpsuit and wrench and went racing out to rescue our heroines, which made much more sense when we realized that THE PLANE HADN'T EVEN TAKEN OFF YET. When we saw that, we about dissolved into helpless laughter. So no one's lives were in danger, the big trauma was that the passengers were going to be late, so they were snapping at our dear flight attendants. ("I can relate," said our friend the airline gate agent.)
It got even better when our heroine soothed the passengers' nerves by realizing it was an infant's first birthday and singing "Happy Birthday" (in English) to the baby. That calmed the passengers so much, apparently, that she got the other attendants to help her sing it again, this time to one of the attendants. I don't know how exactly it turned out to be both a random baby and an attendant's birthday, but suffice to say it was far from the least believable moment of the show.
I'm making it sound like we hated it. To the contrary! We LOVED it. It was so geniunely goofy, aided by the fact that we didn't understand a word, aided by the Mary Tyler Moore/Lucille Ball/That Girl-esque star quality of our heroine. We loved it so much we used our limited Japanese to pore over TV listings to see if it was a nightly or a weekly show, hoping we'd get to see another episode before leaving the country. We didn't, but it has now passed into Trip Legend, and I'm even at this moment trying to get a subtitled version of an episode to play on YouTube. (Success! It worked!) Come fly with me, indeed.