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Sunday, July 27, 2003

Channel Surf

One would think that politicians have their plates full, what with meeting constituents, attending meetings and studying issues and bills that come before their legislatures. But politicians seem to have plenty of time for other things, such as pursuing careers as professional wrestlers.

The two most famous politician-wrestlers in Japan -- Upper House member Atsushi Onita and the infamous masked Iwate Prefecture assemblyman, the Great Sasuke -- even have time to appear on game shows where they can win prizes (though presumably they don't receive the usual fat appearance fees, since they currently hold office). The two big dumb oxen are the featured contestants this week on "Tokyo Friend Park II" (TBS, Monday, 6:55 p.m.), the game show that combines brain and brawn in challenging ways.

Some of the brawn stuff will have to be toned down this week because Onita has a bad knee. Consequently, his participation in one of the show's events, the Wall Crash, which involves dashing down a runway in a Velcro suit and hurling oneself against a wall, will not involve running at all. He'll simply hurl himself from a standing position. Or maybe the Great Sasuke will do the hurling, since he's sort of an expert.

Both men also have a chance to exercise their gray matter. In the Body and Brain event, one partner runs as fast as he can on a treadmill while the other answers trivia questions against the clock. Quiz topics are geared toward each person's particular interests, so Onita, who was once the dresser for the late pro wrestling hero Giant Baba, answers questions about his old boss, and the Great Sasuke reveals how much he knows about his favorite actor, Robert DeNiro.

Next month it will be one year since the bearded seal known as Tama-chan appeared in the Tama River to the delight of the media and the public. And while the seal, who is presumed to be male and about 2 years old, hasn't been seen much since he shed his seasonal coat of fur in the Arakawa River a few months ago, people haven't forgotten him.

This week, on NHK's nature show, "Chikyu Fushigi Daishizen" (NHK-G, Monday, 8 p.m.), a video crew travels to an island in the Arctic Sea where bearded seals like Tama-chan bear and raise their young. It is the first time these seals have ever been filmed during the cub-rearing process, and the crew members were surprised at what they discovered.

Just an hour after a bearded seal cub is born, it is swimming in the ocean, which during the birthing season is still about 1 degree below zero. A mere three hours after it is born, the cub is diving. For three weeks the mother seal nurses the cub, but at the end of this period the cub has grown to about 100 kg. At that point, mother and child separate permanently and the cub has to find its own food.

The harsh environment forces this kind of rush to self-sufficiency. Because the mild-weather season is short, females have to give birth, raise their young and then become pregnant again before the onset of winter. Also, learning to dive early is important, because the main predator of bearded seals is the polar bear and, except during mating season, bearded seals are independent animals, meaning they do not live in groups for protection.

Based on what they discovered, the crew tries to theorize why Tama-chan ended up in Tokyo Bay, so far from home.

In the late '90s, Yoshiko Mita was one of the busiest actresses in Japan, appearing often on stage, on screen and in television dramas. Then, her second son was arrested for a drug offense. Mita at first refused to apologize for his misdeed, which was understandable since the son was an adult. But the media didn't forgive her and for almost two years, she didn't get any work.

She makes a partial comeback this week in a two-hour mystery on Fuji TV's "Friday Entertainment" (Friday, 9 p.m.) where she plays Yumeko, an unconventional-minded veteran arbitrator working for the Tokyo District Court.

At the beginning of the story, Yumeko receives a new partner, a rookie named Mari (Maki Sakai). Their first case together involves Hatsue, a female boutique owner who was convicted of accidentally killing an elderly man in the park, where she was practicing her golf swing. A ball she hit struck the man in the head and he died.

Though Hatsue pays a 200,000 yen fine and does a short jail stint, the son of the victim wants her to pay 20 million yen in damages, and Yumeko and Mari are brought in to arbitrate the case. It seems fairly routine, but while the two arbitrators are out hiking on their day off, they encounter another accidental killing, this one involving a housewife and a hunter. Yumeko makes a fateful connection.

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