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Sunday, May 19, 2002


The inns and outs in the life of okami

One of the subsections of TV Tokyo's large selection of food-travel programs is the "Bijin Okami" special. Bijin okami, which translates as "beautiful mistress of the house," are women who run inns and hotels in resort and hot-spring areas. They are usually married to the owners of the establishments where they work.

The "beautiful" aspect may be more subjective, but the okami's importance to such establishments goes beyond planning menus and making sure the help isn't stealing sake from the cupboards. She is also the face that an inn shows to the world, since in most cases, the owner remains behind the scenes.

"Sunday Big Variety" (TV Tokyo, 7 p.m.) will present yet another selection of okami from all over Japan doing what they do best: greeting guests, berating the staff, and being gorgeous and gracious.

Among the eight women profiled tonight is the 42-year-old okami of the Naruko Hotel in Miyagi, which can accommodate 600 guests, making it one of the largest resort hotels in Japan. The mistress was once a well-known TV announcer for Tohoku Broadcasting, and while performing some freelance MC work at the hotel, she met the owner. Consequently, her announcing skills come in very handy.

The 32-year-old okami of Hotel Kawachiya at the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula has a smaller place to run, but she is no less busy. Not only does she act as front-desk receptionist, but she delivers all meals herself to every room.

Not all okami get to where they are through marriage. One segment is about a former flight attendant and sommelier who is now running a huge hotel for her father.

If you can't get enough of the resort life, this week's "Friday Entertainment" (Fuji TV, 9 p.m.) presents a two-hour mystery drama set at one. The mystery-solver, in fact, is an okami.

Nana Kinomi plays Kuniko, the mistress of a hotel in the Asama hot-spring resort area of Gunma Prefecture. Kuniko's much older husband is dead, and she runs the hotel pretty much on behalf of her stepdaughter. With business not so good, she promotes super-cheap tour packages with all the crab you can eat.

One of the tour groups that takes advantage of the package deal contains a man whom Kuniko had a crush on when she was a girl. She's very excited to see him again, even though he is coming with his wife.

On the first night of the tour, however, a guest is found murdered: the wife of Kuniko's old friend. The mistress and her trusty banto (a kind of butler-attendant), who is, conveniently, a retired police detective, start investigating the murder when they learn that the dead woman and her husband were planning on getting a divorce.

Part 5 of NHK's six-part occasional series on "Ancient Capitals of the World" will explore the legendary city of Isfahan in Iran (NHK-G, Sunday, 9 p.m.).

At the end of the 16th century, Isfahan was the seat of the kingdom of Shah Abbas I, the greatest of the Safavid rulers who established the Shiite doctrine as Iran's official religion. The city consequently became one of the main trading centers on the Silk Road, and its ascendance coincides with what many scholars believe is the Golden Age of Islam.

The Safavid were basically a nomadic people, and they built Isfahan around a river that started in the mountains and vanished somewhere in the desert. They created a city oasis in the middle of rock and sand, much the same way the Mormons carved Salt Lake City out of the barren West.

NHK will utilize computer graphics to re-create the city in its heyday, and Isfahan as it exists today will be explored through the lives of two individuals: a mosaic tile craftsman who is repairing a mosque and a 10-year-old refugee boy from Afghanistan.

Anew media-related malady emerged in the past year. It is called "NN sickness," and its sufferers are female, mostly -- but not exclusively -- young women. The illness was first diagnosed in the spring of 2001 following the last episode of the TBS trendy drama, "Shiroi Kage" (White Shadow).

The star of the series was Masahiro Nakai, the de facto leader of SMAP, who portrays Dr. Naoe, a physician slowly dying of some wasting disease. Nakai played the part cool and aloof, and apparently female viewers couldn't get enough of it. When the series ended in March 2001, many women viewers complained of withdrawal symptoms. The term "NN sickness" -- N for Nakai, N for Naoe -- was thus coined. Women who suffer from it get the shakes if they don't see Nakai at least once in a 24-hour period.

Those afflicted with NN sickness can get a full fix through May 31, since TBS is rebroadcasting the entire series, with one installment each weekday afternoon at 4:55 p.m. The first episode was broadcast May 15. View at your own risk.

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