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Sunday, May 12, 2002


All right, now here's the skinny . . .

People with list fetishes can get off on the new TV Asahi variety show, "Japan's Best 100" (Sunday, 6:56 p.m.), which each week runs down the Top 100 products, services or ideas related to a given topic. The premiere show covered "all you can eat" restaurants throughout Japan. Perhaps as a kind of rebuttal (or antidote), tonight's show is about dieting methods.

Given the size of the diet industry in Japan and the fact that 60 percent of Japanese women believe they are overweight, 100 is probably just a fraction of the available methods. In any case, among the more popular ways of losing weight and trimming centimeters is the famous konnyaku diet. Konnyaku is a relatively flavorless, calorie-free gelatinous food made from boiled plants. If that's not ascetic enough for you, the program also discusses various forms of fasting.

The guests run the gamut, so to speak. At the high end are the famously enhanced Kano sisters, who make most of their money shilling for a certain diet-cosmetics company. At the other end is Osaka comedian Hanako Yamada, whose short, shapeless frame would seem to indicate that she has little interest in dieting, though, apparently, she's tried quite a few methods to no avail.

TV Tokyo's "And the Music Begins . . ." (Sunday, 10:54 p.m.) each week focuses on one piece of popular music that "has touched millions of people in a unique way." The 30-minute documentary program explores the creation of this one song, concentrating on the specific time and place where it was born, as well as the history of its popularity and its cultural significance.

Tonight's song is "Hana (Flower)," which was written and recorded by the "father of Okinawan pop," Shokichi Kina, in 1980. "Hana" is not only a standard in Japan, but has been recorded in more than a dozen languages by numerous artists through Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. It is estimated that about 30 million CDs containing some form of the song have been sold worldwide.

The song's popularity can mainly be explained by its simple, gorgeous melody, which seems to transcend musical styles. As one Mongolian singer puts it: "The melody line just seems to enter straight into your body the first time you hear it. And anyone can immediately understand the sentiments behind the lyrics."

Kina, who is the son of a famous Okinawan folk singer, developed what he calls "champloose music," a high-energy mongrel mixture of Okinawan folk, Western rock and various types of "world music" that is named after a local stew.

According the the singer-songwriter, the idea for "Hana" and its theme of universal goodwill came to him in 1964, when he was still in high school. He was in a diner in Okinawa and watching the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on TV. At the time, Okinawa was still being governed by the U.S. military, and the war was a much more vivid memory for the island's inhabitants than it was for the rest of Japan. On TV, Kina observed something he had never seen before: people of different nationalities hugging each other and crying with joy. The song's main lines, "nakinasai, warainasai (go ahead and cry, go ahead and laugh)" came to him. However, it wasn't until 1980, when he was sitting in a coffee shop in Tokyo with a friend, that the melody and the rest of the lyrics appeared to him in a flash.

"I didn't write the song," he says. "It was given to me."

The commercials for Nescafe's Gold Blend coffee, which show people with unique skills doing their thing, have boosted a number of careers over the years, including those of tenor Ken Nishikiori and noh actor Motoya Izumi.

The most recent beneficiary of Nescafe's attentions is alpinist and environmental activist Ken Noguchi, who will be half the subject on the talk show "Oya no Kao ga Mite Mitai" (NHK-G, Monday, 11:15 p.m.), the other half being Noguchi's father. The show's title, which translates as "I want to see his parent's face," is usually used as a disparaging remark when someone behaves badly. For the purposes of this show, however, the meaning is straightforward.

Noguchi's main claim to fame is that he has scaled the highest peaks on all seven continents and was the youngest person in history to do so when he accomplished this feat. Even before then, he was an extraordinary young man. Because his father was a Japanese diplomat, he grew up in four different countries. In fact, his father was so busy when he was a child that they barely knew each other, and, consequently, the young Noguchi was something of a wild boy. He relates one story about how, at an embassy party in Cairo, he let the air out of the tires of the official cars in the parking lot as a joke.

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