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Sunday, March 10, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

All you can eat and then some

Lately, there has been a lot of news about a certain Japanese politician who profited personally from his interest in Russia. Tonight, on Nippon TV's newsmagazine "Document '02" (12:25 a.m.), we get to see the opposite: Russians who profit from their interest in Japan.

Otaru and Wakkanai, two fishing port towns in Hokkaido, have increasingly come under the influence of the Russian mafia. These two harbors take in huge hauls of crab every day, and it is estimated that most of the crab that is unloaded in the ports from Russian ships has been caught illegally.

Apparently, the customs officers in these ports are aware of this but allow it anyway because of the high demand for crab right now. According to one official, if Russian crab were kept out of the Japanese market, "the retail price of crab would double."

The fake import documentation for the crab is provided by the Russian mafia, which also controls the ships. In addition, the gangs bring Russian prostitutes into Japan and take stolen cars out.

The headquarters of these criminal elements is on Sakhalin, and the documentary travels to where most of the large businesses, such as supermarkets and restaurants, are all owned and operated by the mafia.

Monday night at 9 p.m., TV Tokyo will present a special two-hour travel show titled "Himalaya no Chiisana Hitomi (Small Eyes of the Himalayas)," which focuses on children living in three mountain countries in Asia: India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Actor Masahiro Takashima visits a school for refugee children in the northern part of India. The majority of the school's 1,600 live-in students escaped alone from Tibet, which means their parents are still back in their native country. He spends most of his time with a 4-year-old girl who not only must live alone at the school, but must work to earn her keep. Takashima also visits four children who live alone because their parents are migrant workers and are always away. That means the oldest daughter, who is 12, is raising and caring for her siblings virtually by herself.

Former tennis star Kimiko Date goes to Nepal, where she visits an elementary school and meets a 7-year-old girl who is about to undergo a local ceremony that will "marry her to a god." Because the girl's parents can afford the ceremony, she is the exception in the school, which is so poor that there is only one textbook for every four students. In fact, many children in the village do not go to school, but are forced to work in a local carpet factory or make a living through prostitution.

Talent Shunsuke Nakamura stays with a Bhutanese farmer and his family of three children. The family entertains their Japanese guest over the New Year's holiday, and Nakamura discusses life and the future with the three children of the house.

Going even farther afield, Fuji TV will present the eighth and final special in its series about the travels of Dr. Yoshiharu Sekine, who has retraced backward the so-called "Great Journey of Man" (Friday, 9:04 p.m.).

Sekine started his trip at the southernmost tip of South America in December of 1993 and traveled by any means except engine-powered vehicles (e.g., foot, bicycle, kayak, etc.). He traveled up the continent, through Central and North America, and crossed the Bering Strait into Asia in 1998. He then went across the continent of Asia diagonally, through the Arabian peninsula and into Africa. He ended his 50,000-km journey in Tanzania, believed to be the cradle of humanity, on Feb. 10.

A n accomplishment of an entirely different sort is the subject of this week's "TV Champion" (TV Tokyo, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.), which prides itself on being the "original" ogui (big eating) contest show. There are many imitators, but "TV Champion" was the first.

This week's pig-out is actually part one of a special two-part extravaganza to find a new set of "athletes" who will eventually join the veterans in this lucrative and popular "sport." Five different "primary" tournaments were held, each in a different city: Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka. In each primary, about 30 contestants competed, with the top two eaters from each city going on to the main event, which will be broadcast next week.

Unsurprisingly, the food to be gorged is selected for its particular identification with a given city. In Sapporo, it's potatoes and salmon; Tokyo is curry bread and fried eggs; Nagoya features fried shrimp in rice balls and kishimen noodles; while in Osaka, it's octopus dumplings and sweet beans; and in Fukuoka mentaiko (spicy fish eggs) and gyoza.

If you're having trouble sticking to your diet, tune in. It will surely put you off your dinner.



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