Return to Homepage
 
... Dedicated to the TV Addict in All of Us

   The place to be....for the Characters, Places & Things on Television

What's New at TV Acres  
 
  Home > IndexArchives > Contents > Ethnic - November 2001  
 
TV Acres Newsletter

This month TV ACRES looks at: 

...The Japanese

    With the advent of Television coming so soon after the Second World War, it was obvious that Japanese characters would not have been given prominent roles on television, but with the flow of time Japanese characters have made head ways into television. In the years of the 1950s, Japanese roles on TV were either stereotypical evil WWII soldiers, or minor laborers (maids, house servants, gardeners) or the occasional war orphan. In the 1960's the flower power generation moved beyond prejudice to depict a starship helmsman on the futuristic space drama Star Trek. In the 1980s and 1990s, TV roles expanded to doctors, lawyers and other respected members of society. Today, the Japanese presence on TV is much better than it was in the 1950s but still the number of Asian roles are few and far between compared to the numerous Caucasian actors or other minorities such as the African-Americans and Hispanic. The following is a random sampling of programs featuring Japanese characters. Enjoy

BARNEY MILLER/ABC/1975-82
    (Jack Soo) Detective Nick Yemana, a sleepy-eyed Japanese-American police detective who worked at the 12 precinct located in New York's Greenwich Village area. Jack Soo's last episode was in October of 1978. He died in January, 1979 and later in May of that year a special episode was filmed, dedicated to the memory of his character Det. Yemana. At the end of the tribute all officers raised their coffee mugs in a final toast and tender gesture of farewell. (Det. Yemana was known for making terrible coffee). In real life, Jack Soo had spent most of WWII in a Japanese internment camp.
BEVERLY HILLS 90210/FOX/1990-2000
    (Lindsay Price) Janet Sosna, the Japanese-American wife of Steve Sanders, the adopted white son of TV actress Samantha Sanders, the star of "Hartley House. On episode #224 "Ready or Not" Janet first appears in the recurring role as Janet Sosna when she is hired as an assistant for Brandon and Steve. who run a magazine called The Beat. Janet officially joined the cast on episode #242. Janet and Steve investigate a "haunted house," get locked inside a refrigerator and have sex. On episode #258 "Slipping Away, Janet hides her relationship with Steve from her father, who only wants her to date Japanese men. After Steve professes his love, Janet tells her father the truth and gets thrown out of the house. Although her Japanese parents Ben (James Shigeta) and Michelle Sosna (Leslie Ishii) at first did not approve of her marrying a Caucasian, their hearts melted when they saw their interracial grandchild, Madeline "Maddy." Janet later turns down a job at the magazine Nouveau and agrees to start a new magazine with her husband [so she could spend more time with her baby girl]. Note: Lindsay Price also appeared as Michael Lai on the 1995-97 season of The Bold and the Beautiful and as An Li Chen during the 1991-1993 seasons of All My Children. Born in Arcadia, California, Lindsay’s family roots include a Korean mother and a German Irish father.
BOSTON COMMON/NBC/1996-97
    (Amy Hill) Mrs. Sakini, plump, middle-aged Japanese-American executive secretary working for Harrison Cross, a British-accented President of Harrington College in Boston, Massachusetts. During "The Occidental Purists" episode to satisfy the multicultural casting needs of the school play "The Tea Ceremony," Mrs. Sakini, was reluctantly recruited to play the role of a 16-year-old Japanese girl named Lotus Flower.
THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER/ABC/1969-72
    (Miyoshi Umeki/costar) Mrs. Livingston, a soft-spoken, philosophical Japanese housekeeper who cared for Thomas Corbett, a widower publisher and his small son, Eddie. Sometimes confused by American customs she asked advice from "Mr. Eddie's father" as she called her employer. In her spare time Mrs. Livingston attended night classes to improve her English.
DAVIS RULES!/ABC/1991-92
    (Tamayo Otsuki) Mrs. Elaine Yamagami, a Japanese assistant principal working for Pomahoc Elementary School near Seattle, Washington. Mrs. Yamagami's had thick accent and was always talking about the differences between people in Japan and America. Kristi Murakami played her daughter, Nickki.
DICK TRACY/SYN/1961
    (Cartoon Character) Joe Jitsu (voice of Mel Blanc/Paul Frees) an oriental policeman working with Dick Tracy nabbing such crooks as Sketch Paree, the Mole, Itchy, Flat Top and Prune Face. His wrist radio call sign was "six, two and even... over and out". This character was an extreme stereotype of an Asian with large protruding teeth, heavy black-rimmed glasses and a derby hat. His slurred vocabulary was filled with "Rots of Ruk" type phrases.
GUNG HO/ABC/1986
    (Gedde Watanabe) "Kaz" Kazuhiro, a Japanese manager stationed at the Assan Motors automotive plant in Hadleyville, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Other cast included Patti Yasutake as Kaz's wife, Umeki; Sab Shimono as Kaz's assistant, Saito; Emily K. Kuroda as Saito's wife, Yukiko; Rodney Kageyama as Ito; and Scott Atari as Kenji. The series was based on the Ron Howard film "Gung Ho" (1985) about a group of Japanese businessman who participated in a joint American-Japanese automotive plant venture.
HAPPY DAYS/ABC/1974-84
    (Noriyuki Pat Morita) Matsuo Takahashi, a.k.a. "Arnold," a Japanese-American owner of a 1950s Milwaukee Drive-in hamburger joint called "Arnold's, the after school hang-out for the teenagers of Jefferson High School. When he bought the restaurant it was called Arnold's and so to save money, this Japanese-American entrepreneur decided not to rename the restaurant to save on the cost of buying a new sign. Arnold later sold the restaurant to a jovial, easy-going Italian-American named Al Delvecchio who also retained the name of the restaurant. Note: Pat Morita was also the star of his own series including the sitcom MR. T & TINA/ABC/1976; the detective drama OHARA/ABC/1987-88; and action cartoon THE KARATE KID/NBC/1989-90 (an animated spin-off of the 1984 movie The Karate Kid, where Morita as Mr. Miyagi spoke the now famous line ""Wax On, Wax Off."
MCHALE'S NAVY/ABC/1962-66
    (Yoshio Yoda) Fuji Kobiaji, an AWOL Japanese soldier living with the American navy crew of the PT Boat # 73 near the Island of Taratupa in the South Pacific during World War II. Fuji, a Seaman Third Calss in the Imperial Japanese navy, was the opposite of his zealot kamakazi countrymen. Choosing not to be sent to a POW camp, he befriended his American captors and became their chief cook and bottle washer, living in constant threat of being discovered by outsiders. When Lt. Cdr. McHale and his men were transferred to the European Front (Italy), Fuji followed, incognito, of course.
QUINCY, M.E./NBC/1976-83
    (Robert Ito/costar) Sam Fujiyama, Japanese-American medical assistant to Dr. R. Quincy, medical examiner for the Los Angeles Coroners Office. The series was inspired by the exploits of Dr. Thomas Noguchi, former L.A. Coroner who investigated the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and John Belushi among others. He was often called "Coroner to the Stars."
RAGS TO RICHES/NBC/1987-88
    (Kimiko Gelman) Rose, one of five orphaned girls adopted by Nick Foley, a West Coast self-made millionaire who lived in a Bel Air mansion with an aging but hip English butler during the days of 1961. Rose's mother was a Japanese-American imprisoned in an American concentration camp during World War II. While interned she fell in love with an U.S. Army soldier and became pregnant. When the baby's father shipped out, Rose's grandfather gave the baby (Rose) up for adoption. Disheartened, the next day Rose's mother walked in front of a moving train.
ST. ELSEWHERE/NBC/1982-88
    (Kim Miyori) Dr. Wendy Armstrong, Japanese-American medical resident working at Boston's St. Eligius Hospital (aka "St. Elsewhere"). During the 1982-84 season, Dr. Armstrong's character was written out of the series via suicide brought on by her demanding hospital responsibilities and her depression over her anorexia nervosa problem.
SARGE/NBC/1971-72
    (Harold Sakata) Kenji Takichi, a rectory cook and athletic coach for the parish of St. Aloysius in San Diego. His boss, Father Samuel Cavanaugh was a former cop turned priest. Perhaps, Harold Sakata's most memorable role was that of the evil enemy agent "Oddjob" in the James Bond spy thriller Goldfinger (1964).
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE/NBC/1975+
    (John Belushi/costar) Samurai Warrior, a grunting Japanese Samurai with a ponytail and kimono in skits like "Samurai Tailor," "Samurai Night Fever" and "Samurai Hotel." Sid Caesar was the first to do a wild takeoff of a Samurai in the 1950s when he spoofed Japanese films in a sketch called "Ubetchu." 
SHOGUN/NBC/1980
    (Toshiro Mifune/costar) Toranaga, a powerful warlord who lived in feudal Japan in the 1600s. Also featured are Yoko Shimada as Lady Mariko, who interpreted for a shipwrecked English navigator named John Blackthorne (referred to as "Anjin-san"); Frankie Sabai as Yabu; and Nobuo Kaneko as Ishido, Toranaga’s nemesis. The five-part, twelve hour miniseries is based on James Clavell’s epic novel of the same name. 
STAR TREK/NBC/1966-69
    (George Takei) Hikaru Sulu, a highly efficient Chief Helmsman of Japanese descent stationed aboard the USS Enterprise, a futuristic starship whose mission was to "...seek out new life...to boldly go where no man has gone before." Born in San Francisco in 2237, Sulu's hobbies included collecting old Earth style weapons, fencing and botany. He later assumed command of the Starship Excelsior in the year 2290. In real life George Takei spent part of WWII in a Japanese internment camp.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION/SYN/1987-94
    (Rosalind Chao) Keiko Ishikawa O'Brien, a Starfleet botanist of Japanese descent who married Miles O'Brien, the transporter chief aboard the starship USS Enterprise-D. Also featured were Patti Yatsutake as Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, a member of the Enterprise-D medical staff; Benjamin W. S. Lum as Jim Shimoda, an assistant chief engineer featured on episode No. 3 "The Naked Now"; Robert Ito as Tac Officer Chang in charge of Starfleet Academy examinations on the episode No. 19 "Coming of Age"; and Keone Young as Buck Bokai (a.k.a. Harmon Bokai), one of professional baseball's greatest player who broke Joe DiMaggio's record for consecutive hits in the year 2026 as mentioned on episode No. 13 "The Big Goodbye." The Bokai character was integrated into a holographic program used by the African-American commander Benjamin Sisko to play baseball on board the Enterprise on episode No. 14 "The Storyteller,"; and his holographic image came to life and escaped the confines of his holographic programming on episode No. 16 "If Wishes Were Horses." 
21 JUMP STREET/FOX/1987-90
    (Dustin Nguyen/costar) Harry Truman "H. T." Ioki, a young Japanese-American police officer (with erratic driving skills) who was assigned to an elite squad of baby-faced cops posing as high school students to battle juvenile crime. (A sort of MOD SQUAD of the 1980's.) His parents moved to the U.S.A. after World War II. Once Ioki commented he was "named after the guy who dropped an atom bomb on my house". He learned to speak English by watching old DRAGNET reruns and once thought a "Stake-out" was what you did to get a "Sirloin-to-go." Later in the series (12/20/87 episode) it was revealed that Ioki was actually a Vietnamese refugee. In real life Nguyen had escaped Saigon in 1975 by boat to Guam and later arrived in the U.S.A. His character was in many ways autobiographical.
Bonus:

MR. NISSAN (TV Commercial)
    (Dale Ishimoto) Mr. Nissan, a mysterious man with the terrier dog, glasses, baseball cap and a big grin featured on a series of Nissan automobile TV commercials in 1997. The mystic Mr. Nissan character was based on the former Nissan president Yutaka Katayama who reportedly represented "honor, integrity and fun." The 60-ish actor Dale Ishimoto who played Mr. Nissan was born in Delta, Colorado and served as a veteran of the US Army. Before playing Mr. Nissan, Ishimoto's acting credits included parts on MCHALE'S NAVY, KUNG FU and other TV commercials.


Back to Top

 
           
Home | Site Map | Search | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Archive
Copyright © TV Acres. 2000-2013 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. All photos are the property of their respective companies.