The Strange World of Japanese Commercials: Tommy Lee Jones, Talking Dogs and other weird things

Spend any time watching television in Japan and you’ll quickly come to realize just how strange the commercials there are. Something as mundane as a Coca-Cola commercial is taken to extremes in the “Land of the Rising Sun” not to mention the countless ramen commercials that have surprisingly high production values. Japanese commercials are often a mixture of pop culture references, commercial icons, film and music stars or just sheer random weirdness but of course any combination of those can and are found in ads.

This is a ramen commercial

To be fair yes there is a share of relatively boring “normal” ads but a disproportionate amount are some of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen, so they fit perfectly well with the theme of this blog. Unlike the U.S. where advertisements are often a way to explain and introduce products, ads in Japan are geared towards capturing the attention of people and this is done through sheer randomness that is often unrelated to the commercial.

Tommy Lee Jones in a Boss Coffee ad

Some U.S. celebrities even have a sort of cult following in Japan and have become synonymous with products that they advertise such as Tommy Lee Jones’ grumpy character for Suntory Boss Coffee or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appearances in dozens of ads in the 1990s. Its always really random to see big name stars in these kind of commercials but they seem to be having fun with it.

One of the many appearances of the SoftBank dog

With some products, mascots become icons in themselves, kind of like the Geico gecko here in the U.S. In Japan the SoftBank dog otou-san (grandpa) is one of the most beloved mascots and many commercials seem to follow a story-line to some degree if you watch them right after another. There is never a shortage of strange and sometimes emotionally captivating ads in Japan, all of which are successful in their goal of grabbing your attention. Whether they play out like a movie drama or bombard you with stunning visuals or use the artistry of hand-drawn animation to emulate an anime style, Japan has transformed the art of commercial creation. It is one of the best and most memorable parts of any visit to Japan.


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