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Sunday, March 17, 2002


Last wills and testaments to peace

One of the more interesting economic realities of Japan is that, despite having one of the largest per capita savings rates in the world and the fact that more than 60 percent of the nation's assets are in the hands of people over the age of 60, almost no one writes wills.

Though some people explain anti-will sentiment as proof of the stability of the Japanese family (shares of inheritances with regard to specific family members are actually stipulated in the civil code), it seems to have more to do with the fact that writing a will requires that one confronts the inevitability of his or her death.

On this week's "Monday Mystery Theatre" (TBS, 9 p.m.), the subject of wills is the premise of a two-hour drama, which, despite the series title, seems to be a family melodrama rather than a suspense thriller.

Keiko Saito plays Mariko, a lawyer who wants to specialize in wills. She is a partner in a law firm whose other partners include her sister and her mother. Mariko is convinced that wills are a good thing and tries to encourage more people to write them. Her sister is always putting down her efforts, saying that she'd be better off working on legal matters that will bring in money.

Undaunted, Mariko sets up a Web site singing the praises of wills, but it only receives a few hits a month. Eventually, however, someone solicits her help.

A man named Sawada, recently paroled after serving 14 years, wants Mariko to help him write a will. While in prison, he saved 1 million yen, and he wants to leave it to his daughter, Miyuki.

Miyuki is, in fact, the reason he was in prison. During the bubble period, Sawada's business incurred a large amount of debt, and one of the lenders hired someone to put pressure on Sawada to pay up. When the hired thug made threats regarding Miyuki, Sawada flew into a rage and killed him, as well as an innocent passerby. He was initially given the death sentence, but Mariko's mother managed to get the sentence reduced.

Miyuki, however, has written to her father saying that she is engaged and that he must never contact her again. Mariko, in addition to working on Sawada's will, tries to reconcile father and daughter.

T onight's NHK special (NHK-G, 9 p.m.) takes a close look at the most intractable problem in the world, namely the never-ending hostility between Israel and her Arab neighbors.

Last summer, 62 high school students in Israel sent a letter to the prime minister stating that they believed the Israeli military's actions against Palestinians were essentially acts of terrorism and, therefore, they refused to report for mandatory military service. In Israel, all citizens must serve in the national army from age 18 to 20, with no exception. It is considered the most important and sacred civic responsibility for an Israeli.

The letter has reportedly shaken Israeli society to the core and given rise to a heated debate as to whether the 62 signatories were courageous individuals fighting for peace or traitors to the nation.

The program mainly covers the rift that the letter has caused between some of the students and their families. As one young person puts it, the purpose of the letter is to make some kind of gesture to "stop the chain of hatred."

T hursday is a national holiday, and TBS will broadcast an HDTV (high-definition) special in the morning called "Island" (9:55 a.m.). Though everyone knows that Japan is an archipelago, few people are aware that the archipelago is made up of more than 6,000 islands, each with its own history, environment and culture. Obviously, this program can't cover all 6,000, but it tries to visit as many interesting ones as possible.

There is a report on Iriomote Island in Okinawa, where elderly women take turns as the island's god. Off the coast of Hokkaido there's an island that, for most of the summer, is covered shore to shore with wildflowers. And another island off the coast of Kyushu has been dubbed "the island of punctuality." Many years ago, the regular ferry to the mainland was late departing and got caught in a storm. Many people died. Ever since then, the ferry has departed exactly on time.

The hosts of the show are photographer Shimpei Asai, former volleyball star Naomi Masuko and singer Masashi Sada. Their discussion, in fact, takes place on Sada's own island, which he has named Utajima, meaning Island of Song.

Since there's a show about ramen almost every day of the year, Nippon TV's ramen special this Thursday (7 p.m.) doesn't seem especially "special." However, at four hours long, the show promises to be the ramen show to end all ramen shows. (If only.)

Based on a questionnaire survey of 100,000 respondents, an exhaustive search of the Internet and print media, and the producers' own "resources," the program has come up with the best 99 ramen shops in all of Japan.

As the nation's most popular food, ramen represents more than just sustenance (the word "ramen," in fact, did not come into wide use until instant packaged ramen was developed); it's something like a philosophy. In addition to the countdown, the program will present dramatic re-creations in the history of some of Japan's most notorious ramen restaurants, and a competition among four respected chefs from food disciplines outside of ramen who will fashion new, original dishes using ramen ingredients.

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