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Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003

Channel surf

On Monday night, TBS will present the thousandth episode of one of Japan's longest-running TV series, "Mito Komon" (8 p.m.). The series, in its 34th year, has seen five different actors portray the legendary Edo Era nobleman, who wanders around what is now Ibaraki Prefecture punishing bullies with his wisdom and official power.

Mito Komon's real name was Tokugawa Mitsukuni -- he was the eldest son of Yorifusa, the 11th child of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan's first shogun. Komon was a very powerful man but never became shogun. However, the actor currently playing him has managed to work his way to the top. Satomi Kotaro once played one of Komon's servants in the series, but with the retirement of Koji Ichizaka he was elevated to the title role.

In this week's three-hour program, Komon is in Edo helping the shogun clean up some disputes that are causing him anxiety. The episodic structure allows a lot of special guests to appear in small roles.

If you're starved for Christmas fare, this week's "TV Champion" (TV Tokyo; Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) features a contest among several high-powered cake designers. In Japan, Christmas has always been about cake because in the past it was the only time of the year when most Japanese got to eat cake. The contestants will design and create cakes based on randomly selected themes and then have them judged, first by a panel of pastry experts and then by a group of 100 people -- 50 parents and 50 children. In the program's centerpiece challenge, each contestant will create a large jigsaw puzzle cake that can be taken apart and then reassembled. They will also experiment with flavors that are not normally associated with cakes.

'Weekend Japanology" is a new series on NHK's BS1 channel and its overseas affiliate stations that aims to promote Japanese culture. During the show, music presenter Peter Barakan will host a regular segment about Japanese music. On Dec. 20 at 11:30 p.m. on NHK-BS2, Barakan will host an entire special as an introduction to "Weekend Japanology." He will visit three Japanese musicians whose work falls outside of the commercial mainstream.

One is Koichi Fujishima, a singer and guitarist who lives in the mountains of Kochi Prefecture. Fujishima wandered the world looking for a sound that matched his temperament, and eventually hit on traditional American blues, to which he sets his own Japanese lyrics. Also being profiled, Lonesome Strings is a quartet of banjo players who play any stringed instrument they can find to re-create music that was indigenous to North America in the 1920s and 30s. Finally, there's Oki, whose father was an Ainu. He went to New York to study and work in the visual arts. However, in 1992, he picked up the tonkori, a traditional Ainu stringed instrument, and moved to Hokkaido.



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