Seeing Red and White

The end of year Red and White Song Contest (Japanese: Kouhaku Uta Gasen) has just finished here in Japan. What it is is a competition between male and female Japanese music artists. Each side has about twenty members singing their songs and judges decide which side overall wins by vote.

Why it is called “Red and White” is because the male is White and the female team is Red. This has been the tradition and it has been going on for sometime now. This year the MCs were Yukie Nakama, a popular young actress, and Masahiro Nakai from the immensely popular group, SMAP. While Ms. Nakama was rather awkward, Mr. Nakai was the veteran that he is.

The highlight must have been DJ Ozma’s over the top caberet-style number where he had dancing girls filling the entire stage. Some were seemingly topless when in fact they were wearing bodysuits with a female anatomy print design. NHK, the government channel which produces and airs this show, got a number of phone and fax complaints from viewers, to which one of the MCs had to explain while on air (this show is live).

In the end White Team (the male side) won through a tight vote – audience and television viewers were given a chance for giving one extra vote overall.

A note on why white for men and red for women – red and white are the two colours of the Japanese national flag. So, slyly, patriotism was injected to a seemingly an innocent annual event for the family, for New Years in Japan, unlike the West, is a family affair, and not one for spending with friends.

So better luck for Red next year. But now we all know either way the real winner every year is Japan.

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