A little Japanese girl trudges through a snowstorm to get home. Many people around the world remember this iconic television scene from the 1980s.
It was part of the drama “Oshin”, which was a success not only in its home country, Japan, but also in more than 60 countries.
Long before the advent of Korean dramas and movies like Crazy Rich Asians, was a rare and unprecedented phenomenon: an Asian global hit.
Many loved the story of Oshin, a girl who grew up in extreme poverty in rural Japan at the beginning of the 20th century.
Despite suffering numerous personal tragedies, she perseveres and eventually becomes the successful boss of a supermarket chain.
There has been renewed interest in the series after your scriptwriter, Sugako Hashida, one of Japan’s most successful television writers and recipient of the Order of Culture, died in April of lymphoma at the age of 95.
Fans around the world have paid a nostalgic tribute to the series on social media in recent weeks.
A Sri Lankan viewer tweeted a warm memory of watching “Oshin” as a child, curled up on his mother’s lap.
In China, users of the Weibo microblogging platform recalled how the drama introduced them to the world of Japanese entertainment.
One commented, “The show really touched me. I can still hum the show’s theme song.”
In Taiwan, Hashida’s death was reported as a news flash, and the China Times newspaper described her as a “national treasure.”
‘Like an invigorating salad’
“Oshin” debuted in April 1983 and was a typical asadora (“morning drama”), as family series starring women were known that aired in the morning and were aimed at housewives.
But it quickly became a huge hit in Japan, which was in the middle of an “economic bubble” at the time.
The stark story of poverty told by “Oshin” it was a very welcome “counterweight” to the “ostentation, excess and consumption” of that timewrote a Japanese journalist.
“Like an invigorating green salad served to balance the rich sauces of a heavy entrée,” he described.
“Oshin” became a successful global export thanks to its universal values of “love, sacrifice, resistance and forgiveness”Arvind Singhal, a communications professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, told the BBC.
The protagonist attracted people by her strength and tenacity in the face of difficulties. From being sold for a bag of rice as a child, to losing her son in World War II and her husband to suicide, Oshin never despaired.
“The story of Oshin taught us that no matter how difficult your life is, being brave can help us get through it.“A Hong Kong fan in her 70s, known as Ms Wong, told the BBC.
Women were the ones who most identified with her. Issues such as “the tensions between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, as well as pressures to continue the family line, resonated widely,” said Yuen Shu Min, from the department of Japanese studies at the National University of Singapore.
Much of that was due to Hashida’s writing talent. It was known for its sharp observations on family life in the many television dramas he wrote, especially when it came to female relationships.
In a 2018 interview, Hashida recounted that for “Oshin” she was partially inspired by her first encounters with her mother-in-law, with whom she had a strained relationship.
“When I cooked, my mother-in-law would complain that it was too bland. If I explained the need to reduce salt intake, she would complain to the family that her new daughter-in-law answered her. I was surprised that trying to explain something was taken as insolence, “revealed the author.
Oshin’s life as a working woman also echoed Hashida’s own story.
After World War II, she joined a major film studio as a screenwriter, but quit when the company tried to make her a secretary.
He finally succeeded as a television screenwriter after years of rejections.
In a 2019 article he wrote for the Nikkei Shimbun newspaper, he said that “Oshin” was inspired by the story of “all women in Japan who survived years of hardship. ”
From Vietnam to Peru, the worldwide obsession with this show It was such in the 1980s that it had a name: “Syndrome O”, or “Oshndrome.”
“Oshin aroused audiences’ emotions on a scale that no other television series had ever achieved before … a kind of ‘Oshin’ fever swept across the world,” Singhal said, adding that the show’s impact was “profound.” .
In Thailand it was reported that Cabinet meetings were rescheduled so that they did not collide with the transmission of episodes.
A Bangkok newspaper also saw its circulation increase by 70% after publishing a weekly synopsis of the show.
In Hong Kong, his legacy is preserved in the form of Oshin House, a retail chain that sells snacks from Japan. Its founder had said that he operated his business with “the spirit of Oshin”: being tough and hardworking.
To this day, city residents regularly use the lyrics of the Cantonese version of the main theme –“karma is your opponent, never give up”-, as an inspirational quote.
And in Iran, a word from the program, tanakura, came to be adopted into the Persian language.
Inspired by the success of “Oshin” to create a clothing stall, Iranians called their second-hand markets “Tanakura bazaars” in honor of their surname, Tanokura.
The name stuck and today second-hand clothing is simply known as tanakura.
In Vietnam, some still use the show’s title as a word to call housemaids, in reference to the first work of the heroine of the series.
In Hanoi, a whole neighborhood where many cleaners and nannies live is known as the “Oshin commune.”
In Ghana, “suffer like Oshin” It has become a common phrase to describe those who are struggling.
The image of the Japanese
Some have even argued that “Oshin” helped reverse anti-Japanese sentiments after its brutal occupation of some Southeast Asian countries during World War II.
Viewers in Thailand and Indonesia, for example, “drastically” changed their views of “cold-blooded” Japanese after watching the series, Singhal said.
Singaporean fan Kit Ow remembers watching the show religiously as a child with her mother, but not with her grandmother.
“My grandparents refused to see it; the war was too fresh on their minds, “said Ow, who is now almost 40 years old.
“But we of my generation didn’t have that kind of anger against Japan, and I think ‘Oshin’ contributed positively to that. The show made the Japanese seem less of an enemy.”
And while nearly four decades have passed since the series’ premiere, fans like Hong Kong’s Ms Wong believe the inspiring story it is timeless.
His city, for example, is now in a “difficult position” following street protests and COVID-19 challenges, and could benefit from the lessons of the program, he said.
“I think people today, especially young people, should remember and learn from ‘Oshin’. Face your problems head-on, there is nothing that cannot be solved.”
With additional reporting by Yuko Kato and Lam Cho Wai.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.