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Sunday, Sept. 7, 2003

Channel surf

Three million tourists visit Tokyo every year, and a good many of them take the famous Hato Bus tour, which first began in 1948. There is a small cult of people who take the tour quite often and have all 98 routes memorized. On this week's installment of "TV Champion" (TV Tokyo; Thursday, 7:30 p.m.), 34 Hato Bus experts will vie for the title of Hato Bus Tour Champion.

In the first elimination round, everyone takes a written test of 50 multiple-choice questions, among which are "What is the color of the guide's uniform on the Night Course?" and "Which of the following is the correct logo of Roppongi Hills?" The six contestants with the highest scores go on to the next round, which takes place on the observatory floor of Tokyo Tower. Each contestant mans a coin-operated telescope. They are given hints about famous points-of-interest and have to locate and name them within a 90-second time limit. Five survivors go on to the next round in the waterfront district of Odaiba. Each contestant is given a clue about a famous spot or store in Odaiba and has to go to that place and perform a task before receiving the next clue. The first four people to reach the goal proceed to the next round, which takes place in Asakusa and involves the contestants taking a group of foreign tourists around the famous area to show off their knowledge of souvenirs and local delicacies. The final two contestants square off in a "cult quiz" about Tokyo's three new building complexes: Roppongi Hills, the Marunouchi Building, and Shiodome. With each right answer, a contestant gets a piece to a Hato Bus jigsaw puzzle. The contestant who completes his puzzle first is the champion.

On Tuesday at 9:15 p.m., NHK-G will air an encore presentation of one of its most famous "Project X" programs. "Project X" is the very popular documentary series that examines great commercial and scientific achievements in Japanese history, and this week's repeat show will be about the development of instant ramen in a cup. Though seemingly trivial, the "cup ramen" business revolutionized whole segments of the Japanese retail economy and is one of Japan's most famous and successful exports.

Cup ramen was invented by Nissin Foods in 1970 by a mostly young technical staff who had to convince the skeptical president that it was possible to turn dried noodles in a styrofoam cup into a meal that people would buy. The research involved was extremely labor-intensive, ranging from the correct shape of the cup to the exact volume of noodles. Some days the team would conduct as many as 20 different experiments, and all the while vendors kept telling them, "This is not food." They are now eating those words.

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