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Sunday, Aug. 3, 2003

Channel surf

At one point about 20 years ago, the beauty pageant seemed headed for the dustbin of history as the practice of judging women mainly on their appearance became more and more difficult to defend. However, it didn't happen, and beauty pageants are as popular now as they've ever been. Some countries, like Venezuela, have elevated beauty pageants to the status of a national industry. A few weeks ago they even had a male beauty pageant, complete with thong and tuxedo competitions.

This week, Fuji TV's documentary series "The Non-Fiction" (Aug. 3, 2 p.m.) will look at the beauty pageant culture in Japan by focusing on several former Miss Japans. In many cases, beauty pageants are organized by local governments for the purposes of public relations, and women who become involved tend to end up on a roller coaster of successive contests. It's not an easy life, because maintaining one's position "in the spotlight" takes nerves of steel and extremely thick skin.

Housing in Japan is a 7 trillion yen industry because the dream of owning a home of one's own seems to be one that is held by every Japanese citizen. This dream has given rise to many television programs related to housing, including a minigenre about shoddy construction and design, both unfortunately very common in Japan owing to unscrupulous contractors and lax building codes.

On Monday at 9 p.m., TV Tokyo will present a special two-hour program called "Your House is Dangerous," which presents real-life case studies of defective housing as well as things that homeowners can do, both before and after they buy a property, to ensure that their home is a safe one.

Right now, there is a "reform boom," and one segment focuses on a family who hired a company to do some extensive remodeling work on their house. Problems arose almost immediately. The final cost was much higher than the initial estimate, and when the work was done, the roof leaked, the floors squeaked, and doors did not sit evenly in their jambs. Hidden-camera interviews with industry people reveal how many companies cut corners.

Another segment looks at the boom in expensive condominiums and shows that even these dwellings often have serious structural flaws that result in cracking concrete and condensation problems.

There's also a special investigation into "sick home syndrome," when residents of new dwellings develop chronic health problems due to harmful construction substances, the most common one being formaldehyde.

Also on Monday at 9 p.m. on NHK-G, NHK's regular English-language learning show, "Eigo de Shabera Night," will take a special trip to London. The program's resident announcer, Kazuya Matsumoto, will retrace the journey of novelist Natsume Soseki, who during the Meiji Era was the first Japanese person sent by the government overseas as a student. Before he was a novelist and journalist, Soseki was an English teacher, and he spent two years studying the language in London, though legend has it he was so intimidated by the foreign language that he spent his entire sojourn cowering in his apartment.

Matsumoto tries to find out how Soseki studied English. buthe finds that getting around town by asking directions is not easy because of the wide variety of accents.

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