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Sunday, March 16, 2003

CHANNEL SURF

Sitting here in limbo

This week, commercial television networks enter that twilight zone between seasons where they trot out the same variety standbys: real-life police documentaries, musical impersonation contests, blooper shows, etc.

TV Asahi is doing something different. The network is in the middle of moving to its new digs in Roppongi and therefore has to cut back on its production schedule. Taking a page from the bargain-basement policies of TV Tokyo, Asahi is presenting prepackaged travel shows all week long. Considering the fact that Golden Week is just around the corner, travel advice may be exactly what Japanese viewers are in the mood for, even if a lot of them are afraid of going to America or Europe due to the possible outbreak of war.

Vietnam has become one of the most popular destinations for Japanese tourists in recent years: close, inexpensive and appealingly exotic. On "Mystical Vietnam: Beauty, Health & Gourmet" (Asahi; March 26, 2 p.m.), three Japanese celebrities -- two older women and one young man -- travel to the Southeast Asian country for the express purpose of finding a cure for their chronic fatigue, but it's mainly an excuse to eat, shop and sightsee.

After arriving in Hanoi, they purchase order-made ao dai, the national dress of Vietnam, and eat at a French restaurant. Then, the three travel into the mountains to visit an isolated tribe from whom they are to receive their cure, but since one of the celebrities is Nobuyo Oyama -- the woman who does the voice for the popular cartoon character Doraemon -- she is encouraged to perform a hand-puppet play, since even in this remote area the children know Doraemon.

One of the more popular travel series right now is Asahi's "Tabi no Kaori, Toki no Asobi (The Scent of Travel, The Pleasure of Time)," which is usually broadcast on Tuesday nights. This week, special versions of the program, which is aimed at women, will be broadcast on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7 p.m.

The theme of this week's trio of specials is hot-spring resorts that retain the atmosphere of the Showa Era. On Tuesday, actress Chieko Matsubara takes a train journey through the San'in region along the coast, from Amano Hashidate in Kyoto Prefecture to Kinozaki hot spring. On Wednesday, Yoko Moriguchi and some friends travel further south and west through the San'in region, from Miasa in Tottori Prefecture to Yunotsu hot spring. Then, on the last night, Chikuko Takada travels from the terminal of the San'in Line on Honshu to Kokura in Kita Kyushu, and from there embarks for Bungo Takada on the Kunisaki Peninsula, a perfectly preserved hot spring town that hasn't changed at all since the 1950s. From there, she travels to Ajimu hot spring and then to the resort town of Beppu, in Oita Prefecture.

After "Tabi no Kaori" on Tuesday, at 9 p.m., Asahi will present "Haru da! Nama desu Tabi Sarada (It's Spring! Raw Travel Salad)," a potpourri of unusual travel segments that's a special extension of Asahi's popular Saturday morning variety show. Among the destinations explored are an exclusive, high-class resort in Kenya that is connected to a vast nature reserve; Tahiti, where actress Yuko Asano fulfills her lifelong dream of communing with dolphins; and a luxurious but affordable tour of Kyoto. In addition, the program takes in-depth looks at three of Japan's most prestigious hotels: a Kagoshima hot-spring resort where every private cabin has its own open-air bath; an inn in Hyogo that's 900 years old; and a hotel in Fukui that many seasoned travelers believe has the best food in Japan.


For people who prefer to use their leisure for more profitable pursuits, this week's installment of "TV Champion" (TV Tokyo; Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) will present four three-member teams battling for the title of Professional Pachinko Champions. Despite the fact that the popular pastime does not really require any skill and, technically, is not gambling, there are professional pachinko players who make a lot of money from it.

This week's tournament will be divided into two grueling rounds: a preliminary bout that lasts four hours and a final that goes on for seven. Bring lots of cigarettes.

If that isn't enough for you, TV Tokyo's regular late night "pachinko variety show," "Supopara" (Thursday, 12:24 a.m.) will feature tarento-cartoonist Toru Yamazaki discussing the finer points of the new "calendar animals" pachinko machine with a former pro.



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