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Sunday, Nov. 4, 2001


And that's all she wrote, folks

In addition to being the author of the oldest novel in the world, Murasaki Shikibu has the distinction of being the first woman whose image has ever graced Japanese currency. You can be forgiven if you've never noticed her, since she's on the back of the relatively new 2,000 yen note, which seems to be as rare as the crested ibis.

Even if you do possess the bill, the rendering of the writer of "The Tale of Genji" is purposely indirect, showing Murasaki from the back. The lack of detail is understandable, given that she was born in the 10th century during the Heian Period. Her famously long novel, which is about the numerous romantic liaisons of its titular prince, Hikaru Genji, was for years more widely read among foreigners, thanks to Arthur Whaley's English translation. It wasn't until the book was "translated" into modern Japanese that most native speakers were able to understand it.

In conjunction with the release of "Genji -- A Thousand Year Love," Toei's big-budget recreation of Murasaki's life and work, TV Asahi will present a special program this afternoon (4-5:25 p.m.) featuring the three female stars of the movie visiting locations in Kyoto that are connected to Murasaki and Genji.

Yuki Amami, the former Takarazuka actress who specialized in male roles and who plays the prince in the movie, pays a visit to Nonomiya Shrine in the Arashiyama district. In the novel, one of Genji's lovers holes up in the shrine to cleanse her spirit and forget about the Shining Prince.

Takako Tokiwa, who plays Murasakinoue, another of Genji's lovers, goes to Shoseien, a famous garden, and the temple of Rokujo Kawaraen, which has been preserved since the Heian Period. There, she talks about the concept of love and romance presented in the novel.

Murasaki Shikibu herself is played by Sayuri Yoshinaga, who visits Rozanji, a temple built on the site of the writer's house. The veteran actress talks about how she set about "looking for" the appropriate image of Murasaki.

A nother famous historical figure, Prince Shotoku, used to be featured prominently on the 10,000 yen bill before his position was usurped sometime in the '80s by Yukichi Fukuzawa, the founder of Keio University. Shotoku's milieu was the complete opposite of Murasaki's, which was characterized by peace and leisurely contemplation. Born in A.D. 574, Shotoku lived through one of the most unstable periods of Japan, which, at the time, was called Wakoku and covered a much smaller area than it does today.

The capital of Wakoku was Nara, and in the sixth century, war raged on the Korean Peninsula, a war that involved interests in Wakoku. Born Prince Umayato to the emperor of the time, Shotoku became involved in a fierce battle for dominance with Sogano Umako, the leader of a rival family. After a great deal of civil strife and the deaths of many of his loved ones, Shotoku emerged as a major stabilizing influence, creating the country's first constitution and establishing good relations with China.

To commemorate the opening of its new Osaka broadcast center, NHK-G will broadcast an epic, two-part drama about Prince Shotoku next Saturday night (Part 1: 7:30-9 p.m.; Part 2: 9:15-10:45 p.m.) with Masahiro Motoki in the title role and Ken Ogata as Sogano Umako.

'T amori Club" (TV Asahi, Friday, 12:15 a.m.), the irreverent late-night comedy show hosted by sunglass-sporting comic Tamori, celebrated its 20th anniversary last month, making it one of Japan's longest-running TV series. Having emerged at a time when late-night Japanese TV was filled with seminaked (and later, completely naked) women and lasciviously adolescent-minded men, the show is something of a dinosaur, though it has replaced its famous opening shot of the backsides of real, live dancing women with an equivalent image created by computer graphics.

The show's success, however, has less to do with lewdness (though it still stoops to that level) than with the totally off-the-wall comic concepts that drive the show, best exemplified by its only regular feature, the "Soramimi Hour," in which lyrics of foreign pop songs are purposely "misheard" as being in Japanese.

This week, showbiz personalities who also happen to be fans of the Japan Series champs, the Yakult Swallows, vie for the title of Greatest Swallows Fan by relating ridiculous stories (they are allowed to lie) that demonstrate their loyalty to and love for their heroes.

Another top comedian, Beat Takeshi, also hosts a late-night comedy show, but it has only been on the air since 1997, the year that the comic, under his real name Takeshi Kitano, won the top award at the Venice Film Festival for "Hanabi." Since then, Takeshi has become an international figure, but "Adachi-ku no Takeshi" (Fuji; Thursday, 1:10 a.m.) shows off his low-comedy side. Adachi Ward is where Takeshi grew up and developed his vulgar, burlesque-inspired comic style.

The show is essentially a half hour of Takeshi rapping on the topic at hand in the company of a handful of minions and comedy writer Fumio Takada. This week, the topic is, "Is it really true that adults are superior to children?"

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