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Sunday, March 9, 2003

CHANNEL SURF

Hitting close to home

In Japan, a landlord really is a lord, and though laws exist to protect renters they are easily circumvented by property owners who don't like them. The three classic no-nos of rental properties -- no pets, no pianos, no employees of the "water trade" -- have recently been augmented with "no old people." If you're a single woman, you'd also better be ready for a fight. And we're talking about Japanese citizens here.

On this week's "Sunday Big Variety" (TV Tokyo; Mar. 9, 7 p.m.), video crews tag along with various families as they try to secure new rental housing. The difficulties they encounter transcend the usual landlord meanness, but in all cases the problems are linked to an institutional ambivalence toward the needs and wants of renters.

In one segment, a newly married couple is forced to live apart from each other. The husband lives with his parents in Meguro, Tokyo, while the wife and the couple's infant daughter live with her parents in Saitama. Because the husband works irregular hours at a publishing firm in central Tokyo, he wants to live in the middle of the city, however, they cannot find a place that matches both their budget and their needs.

Another report focuses on a middle-aged couple who many years ago began taking in abandoned dogs and cats. Though their main activity is to find homes for these neglected pets, they mostly get calls from people who want to give up their animals. They now have eight dogs and 30 cats, and while the neighbors and management of the Nishinomiya public housing complex where they live have looked the other way for years, they are now being forced to move. The couple searches in vain for an affordable house in the area.

A family in Saitama starts looking for a new rental house when the one they live in becomes too expensive. The 28-year-old father quits his job after his employer disappears with the company's assets and takes a new job that pays much less. Meanwhile, his wife is involved in a traffic accident a month after she returns to work following childbirth. And they still have to pay off a huge wedding reception bill.


One of the most enduring themes of Japanese television dramas is the conflicts between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law. Traditionally,the conflict is represented by a long-suffering yome (bride) and an insufferable mother-in-law.

Fuji TV's winter drama series, "Okaasan to Issho" (With Mother; Tues., 9 p.m.), takes a slightly different, perhaps more realistic approach. Tamayo (Miki Mizuno) and her mother-in-law, Yoshie (Kyoko Suizenji, who was famous for playing daughters-in-law in the '70s), are equally difficult women who battle each other with claws exposed and no holds barred. Both are from impoverished backgrounds, and Tamayo and her husband ran a small mobile catering business. After the husband dies halfway through the series, however, the two women are thrown on each other's resources to make ends meet.

In the series' final episode to be broadcast this week, Tamayo leaves Yoshie and the large extended family of her late husband without telling her mother-in-law that she is pregnant. The family, suddenly deprived of Tamayo's blunt humor and frank talk, misses her deeply, and Yoshie is told by someone else of Tamayo's condition. She seeks a reconciliation.


Japan's convenience store industry represents a 7 trillion yen market, comprising 41 different chains and about 50,000 separate stores throughout the country. The undisputed king is Seven-Eleven, which is not only the No. 1 convenience store chain in Japan, with 30 percent of the market, but the No. 1 chain in the world as well.

The No. 4 chain is Circle K, mainly because it has a virtual monopoly in the Shizuoka-Aichi region. For years, Circle K successfully defended its bailiwick against the encroachment of other convenience store chains, but last year its defenses started to crumble.

This week's "Super TV" special (Nihon TV; Monday, 9 p.m.) looks at Seven-Eleven's juggernaut move into Circle K's hitherto impenetrable domain. Last July, the chain opened its first outlet in the region, a single store in Toyohashi. Then, on Dec. 4, a Seven-Eleven was opened in Nagoya, the heart of the area, and it received a great deal of media coverage. The company plans to open 80 more stores in the region over the next three months.

The program looks behind the scenes of Seven-Eleven's push in order to uncover the secret of the company's success and in the process and becomes witness to some "astonishing events."



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