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Sunday, Dec. 15, 2002


From jobs to robots it's all about chance

It's that time of year again, when hundreds of people can be seen lining up in front of the shopping arcades in Ginza and Shinjuku. No, we're not talking about Christmas. We're talking about the big Yearend Lottery.

As it is elsewhere in the world, the lottery -- takarakuji -- is big business in Japan. Last year, the Japanese spent more than 1 trillion yen on lottery tickets, and it's estimated that 70 percent of the citizens buy some form of takarakuji at least once a year. As the recession continues, these numbers have increased.

This week's installment of Nihon TV's weekly documentary show, "Super TV" (Dec. 16, 9 p.m.), will take a lighthearted look at lottery mania as the country gears up for the year's biggest jackpot -- 300 million yen -- the winners of which will be chosen around New Year's. There are a possible 504 winners of this top prize, but you probably won't hear anything about them since, unlike in the United States or Europe, the names of lottery winners are not announced by Mizuho Bank, which oversees the administration of the lottery. In Japan, it's considered gauche to trumpet one's winnings.

But that doesn't stop the "Super TV" crew from trying to find a few past winners. Working from "rumors," they scour the nation for "lottery millionaires" and, when they find them, feel absolutely no compunction about going right up to their doors and knocking.

The program will also profile people who spend an inordinate amount of money and effort on the lottery. Among this select group are five men who every year show up two days before the big yearend lottery tickets go on sale at the Nishi-Ginza Chance Center and camp out. One of these men estimates he's spent more than 50 million yen on lottery tickets in his life.

With the collapse of the lifetime employment system and more Japanese questioning the worth of a full-time job in a large company, people have begun thinking differently about the concept of "careers."

Some people even seek work overseas. The broadcast company TBS, which lists overseas employment opportunities on its Web site, will air a two-hour special on Friday (9 p.m.) about people who have found employment through the site, as well as other Japanese working overseas.

Presented as a variety show complete with an MC (comedian Shinsuke Shimada) and celebrity guests, the program is titled "First Overseas Employment, 'Hello Work' Anywhere in the World." "Hello Work" is the euphemism that usually describes public job-search services for unemployed people trying to re-enter the workforce. However, the people profiled on the show most likely went overseas mainly because they wanted to go overseas, and not just because they needed a job.

Among the people that will appear on the program is a man who is working as a Japanese itamae cook in Brazil; a Japanese cowboy in Arizona who teaches Japanese tourists how to ride horses; and a Japanese elementary school teacher working in the mountains of Thailand.

The program will also publicize want ads for overseas jobs, in case you happen to be looking for one.

Another end-of-the-year tradition that will be aired this week is NHK's annual high school robot-making competition. "Gekitotsu! Hakunetsu! Robokon Tosen Zenkoku Taikai 2002 ( Crash! Fight! National Technical High School Robot Competition 2002)" (NHK-G, Friday, 7:30 p.m.) will mark the 15th anniversary of the tournament, which this year will feature 62 students representing 24 technical high schools from throughout Japan.

This year's contest will involve a flight of stairs that the robots must ascend and then descend. The machines must also stack a series of boxes, one on top of another. Points for this second task are given to the robot that is the last one to place a box successfully on the top of the stack. The competition takes place, appropriately enough, at the Kokugikan in Ryokoku, where half of the professional sumo basho are held.

In addition to the competition itself, the special will also air minidocumentaries about students working on their robots. Many of the competitors have been designing and building their machines for more than six months, and had to compete in regional tournaments before qualifying for the national championship. Among the ideas the students came up with were a robot that hops instead of walks and one that rolls everywhere, even up and down stairs.

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