Thickly-sliced Kanji

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

For students of Japanese, there are two big challenges:  Kanji, and humor.  Kanji are difficult for Westerners because of the complexity and memorization. Of course, there is probably nothing more difficult to understand in a foreign language than humor. Put them together and you have a real challenge. But one American from Michigan has taken that challenge and turned it into fame. 

He calls himself “Atsugiri Jason.” (厚切りジェイソン) He’s one of the very few western comedians to perform in Japanese and not only succeed, but win competitions and achieve real popularity. In the last year, Atsugiri Jason, whose real name is Jason Danielson, has gone from simple IT professional to nationally-recognized comedian.  For Jason, who is only 28 years old and has only been living in Japan for 4 years, comedy wasn’t even what he intended to do when he arrived in Japan.

When Jason, an American, came to Japan, he already spoke Japanese. He had first come to Japan in 2005 to work as a research intern on a voice recognition project in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture.  When he returned in 2011, he already loved Japanese comedy, including the show エンタの神様  – Gods of Entertainment. 

In Japan, while working full time, he decided to pursue his own comedy career. He enrolled in the Watanabe Comedy School towards the end of 2013. A year later, shortly after graduation, he appeared on TV Asahi’s December 29, 2014 broadcast of famous comedian Ariyoshi’s TV show 速報!有吉のお笑い大統領選挙  (Ariyoshi’s Comedian Presidential Election), and blew everyone away.  The TV special pitted a total of 28 comedic groups, 18 already established and 10 still up-and-coming, against each other to battle it out for the ultimate title of Comedic President. 

His skits revolve around learning Japanese kanji, and the difficulties in understanding their meaning. Usually in his act, Jason begins by appearing to be a typical, American “nice guy.” He explains that although he has been living in Japan for four years, he is still actively studying the Japanese language. Kanji in particular presents a constant challenge to him, especially when he tries to analyze the origins of them or break them down into smaller components for ease of memorization. Sometimes, breaking Kanji down doesn’t always make things easier for him – and that’s when he begins the core of his act.

Here’s an example:

(Click on the “closed caption” button if you would like English subtitles)

For example, he writes the kanji for “big” (大), a relatively simple character, on the board. He then adds a single mark to change the meaning to “fat/gain weight” (太) suggesting that this character is easy to remember because people who carry those few extra kilos/pounds around are often big. Then he writes the character for “dog” (犬)…and then suddenly shouts, “WHY, JAPANESE PEOPLE [in English]!!?? The dogs that are popular in Japan are this small! They’re not big at all!”

Or, in a fit of apparent frustration/exasperation/irritation, he violently scribbles the incredibly complex kanji 憂鬱, which means “depression.” “It takes too many strokes to write!” he yells. “Just learning it will send anyone into a depression!!”

The audiences seem to love it, and he’s already appeared on numerous television shows and at events.  He’s currently being managed by Watanabe Entertainment, an entertainment conglomerate based in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.


As for his name, he currently lives in Atsugi and the term “atsugiri” contains “Atsugi.” Also, his chest is thick and the Japanese phrase for “thick-sliced bacon” (“atsugiri-bēkon”) has a similar ring to it.

In February 2015, he made it as a finalist (as the first foreigner ever) on the R-1 Grand Prix (a major National comedy competition). He even appeared on an episode of エンタの神様, the show that originally got him interested in Japanese comedy. Since then, he’s appeared on at least 2 dozen shows, as well as an episode of “Death Note” that aired last month, in August of 2015, on Nippon TV.  

Whatever the future holds, Jason plans to stay in Japan.  His wife is Japanese and he has two daughters born in Japan.  He still works full time at a Japanese IT company, managing the operations of its U.S. office from Japan.  


Do you enjoy watching his comedy?  You can follow him on Twitter at @atsugirijason

Or, check out his profile at Watanabe Entertainment.


The Japan Times