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Sunday, Dec. 16, 2001


Living life to the fullest in fields of dreams

This week's "Sunday Big Special" (TV Tokyo; tonight, 7 p.m.) revisits six families it has featured in the past on its occasional "Back to Nature" specials. These programs explore the burgeoning self-sufficiency movement by profiling families that have given up the rat race and moved to isolated rural areas where they grow their own food. The main theme is "dreaming is easy, making it reality is difficult."

The greatest success story of the six is the Ohashi family, who moved to the mountains of Nagano from Tokyo in 1991. Mr. Ohashi specifically wanted to learn how to make furniture, but without an initial income in Nagano, the family also had to grow its own food.

Mr. Ohashi has not only learned his craft well, he has progressed to the point where he now has his own apprentice. In addition, the family vegetable garden has grown to include more than 30 different crops. They also make their own soy sauce and miso paste. The most interesting development, however, may be the eldest Ohashi boy, who has become the local repairman. The self-taught teenager can fix anything, from furniture to electrical household appliances.

Another episode is about a middle-aged man who quit his 15 million yen-a-year job in order to fulfill his dream of building his own house and growing his own food. After several years, however, his wife couldn't take it any more. She left him and their two young daughters, whom he has since raised by himself.

Perhaps the most extreme example of back-to-naturing is a hermit-type named Umeki, who lives deep in the wilderness of the Tango Peninsula in Kyoto Prefecture. Umeki gave up city life mainly because he wanted to live alone. His cabin is so remote that in the winter he cannot leave it because of the snow. Besides growing his own food, he has become a master bamboo craftsman and spends much of his solitude reading poetry. However, when TV Tokyo returns to see how he is doing these days, they are surprised to find that he now has a wife.

Sometimes, producers test new programs by broadcasting them during the wee hours. Though the audiences are different at that time than they are during prime time, sometimes a show will cultivate a positive reputation that draws viewers who do not normally watch late-night TV.

"Romihi," a late-night variety show that features comedian Hiromi and tarento Ai Iijima grilling celebrities on the less flattering aspects of their biographies, will get a shot at prime time this week with a special two-hour show (NTV, Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.).

There will be five guests altogether, but the main victim is baseball star Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who recently returned to Japan after a successful first year as a New York Met. Though Shinjo didn't receive any big baseball awards like Ichiro Suzuki did, he was recently chosen as one of the best-dressed men of the year by a Japanese fashion association.

Hiromi and Iijima first outline Shinjo's accomplishments this past year, which had more to do with public image than sports. At the Mets' official products store, goods featuring Shinjo's name or likeness outsell all other products by a factor of 10. The vast majority of purchasers are Japanese.

On the debit side, the ever-smiling slugger, who prides himself on his lack of English ability, was involved in eight separate automobile accidents before finishing elementary school. According to Shinjo himself, "they were all head injuries," which explains a lot. And while he was a good player as a teenager and attended a high school famous for its baseball team, the team never made it to the Koshien High School Baseball Tournament while he was there. "But that was OK," he says, "because that way I could keep my hair long." And when he signed the Mets contract he apparently mistook the number of zeros. "I thought it was for 200 million yen a year," he tells his hosts, "but later I discovered it was only 20 million."

This week's installment of the health-variety program "Kaifuku Supasupa Ningengaku (The Anthropology of Breathless Recovery)" (TBS, Thursday, 7 p.m.) will also be a special two-hour program, since it is about a subject that applies to everyone (except maybe Cher): aging. In conjunction with the yearend Japanese tradition of cleaning house from top to bottom, the special offers advice on how to carry out a "thorough housecleaning of your body and mind to reverse the aging process."

People in developed countries spend a huge portion of their income to stop and even reverse the aging process, but often the means are strictly cosmetic in nature: makeup, youthful fashions, plastic surgery, etc. Tonight's program will provide advice on how to stop the aging process from within; in other words, how to keep not only your skin, but also your blood, your organs, even your brain, youthful.

The comedy duo Bakusho Mondai and host Takero Morimoto will lead the audience through a series of instructive activities, including an age-guessing contest, which should prove popular among the celebrity guest panelists. Other topics of discussion will include how to avoid becoming depressed over the changes that will inevitably affect your body and how romance really does keep you young.

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