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Sunday, Jan. 13, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

Different strokes, different folks

Former Olympic swimmer Yasuko Tajima appears tonight on the exotic travel show, "Sekai Ururun Taizaiki (World Sojourn)" (TBS, 10 p.m.), the program on which she made her showbiz debut last year.

For that show, she went to Iceland and lived on a farm for a week. Tajima's destination this time is Nepal, specifically the Terai Plain, where the Tharu live. The Tharu are a matriarchal society that once dwelt in Rajasthan, where they belonged to one of the higher castes. In the 16th century, the Tharu fought a war and were driven from their land into Nepal. Almost all the men were killed in battle. The only remaining males were servants, but in order to perpetuate the tribe, the womenfolk married them.

As a result, the Tharu are now a matriarchy. In all marital and economic matters, women are the sole decision-makers. Women decide who will do what work and when they will do it. A woman can divorce her husband, but a man cannot divorce his wife. And if a couple does get divorced, the woman can remarry but the man cannot. During meals, men eat after the women do.

Tajima fits into this milieu, somehow, since one of the reasons she quit swimming was because the Japanese sports world thought she was too outspoken. What she doesn't fit into is the traditional clothing of the Tharu. Tajima is quite muscular, and the Tharu women are slender. They had to go to a separate village to find a gangaria that was big enough for her, not to mention an anklet that would fit around her leg.

Tajima was taken aback by Tharu society. "Men are practically nonexistent here," she tells the studio audience who watches the documentary about her sojourn, which includes a segment about an arranged marriage.

Jimmy Onishi's career vector moved in a different direction. The Osaka native started out as the driver for comedian Sanma Akashiya, but Sanma found Jimmy's stammering, clueless demeanor hilarious and often used him in his act, making Jimmy a comedy star despite himself.

About six years ago, Jimmy quit comedy to become a full-time painter. He had always had a talent for color and decided to pursue his avocation and develop his skills. He spent a year or so studying in Spain. He has since been fairly successful, attracting the attention of well-known artists such as the late Taro Okamoto, but once in a while he has to reappear on TV to maintain his name value.

On Monday morning, TV Asahi will present an hourlong special starting at 10:30 about Jimmy's participation in the Japan 2001 Festival that ran in London and other locations throughout the U.K. last year.

Jimmy worked with local artists on larger multimedia works. He and a noted flower arranger collaborated on a huge integrated installation situated in the center of the venue. He also worked with 20 schoolchildren from a nearby international school on a tapestry that he designed. Though Jimmy is noted for his bright colors, he learns about the more muted earth tones so characteristic of England and tries to incorporate them in his work.

If you are puzzled by the lack of TV coverage of the new baby princess born on Dec. 1, it's probably because the media has little to work with. Still, Nippon TV will give it a shot on Monday night's "Super TV" (9 p.m.).

The special, "Haha no Inori (A Mother's Prayer)," will attempt to give viewers some idea of how Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako will raise the baby Princess Aiko by using examples from the Crown Prince's own upbringing, as well as that of his brother and sister. The show will also gather "testimonies" from people close to the royal family in order to develop some idea of the couple's "secret" love story.

Among the other crumbs of information that the producers swept up is an interview with designer Hanae Mori, who made Masako's wedding gown and maternity clothing; quotes from classmates of the Crown Prince who will talk about his relationship with Princess Masako; an explanation of the food served during the naming ceremony for Princess Aiko; some comments from Masako's parents; a talk with former idol singer Agnes Chan, who is now a special ambassador for UNICEF and, as such, comes into contact with Masako and her sisters; and a special message from Masako to the world.

This Thursday, the "NHK Special" (NHK-G, 9:15 p.m.) will take a detailed look at Mikura-dori, one of the most vital streets in Kobe's Nagata Ward prior to the Great Hanshin Earthquake. A ramshackle neighborhood of family-owned factories and nagaya (long, horizontally arranged houses), Mikura-dori was completely wiped out in the quake and its inhabitants scattered throughout the region in various relocation centers.

Seven years later, the area has been completely rebuilt, but the neighborhood as it once existed is gone, if we define "neighborhood" as an organic system of interpersonal relationships and not just a physical place. NHK's cameras follow a 61-year-old resident of the street as he attempts to locate neighbors and regain old connections. His goal is to try to reconstruct that community in some form.



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