Japanese and non-Japanese train buffs believe that the most pleasurable rail experience in Japan is the Tsubame Super Express, which runs from Hakata Station to Nishi Kagoshima Station along the coast of Kyushu. On March 13, the new Tsubame Shinkansen opened, which runs between Kagoshima Chuo Station and Shin-Yatsushiro in Kumamoto. It is the first Shinkansen line that does not have an ongoing Shinkansen connection to Osaka or Tokyo. NHK will air a documentary about the history of the Tsubame Line on its "BS Special" series (NHK BS-1, Monday, 10 p.m.).
The name "Tsubame," which means swallow, was first used for the express train that connected Tokyo to Kobe in 1930. In 1950, a second-generation Tsubame was opened that shortened the travel time between Tokyo and Osaka to eight hours. A third-generation train reduced the time to six hours. In 1993, the name was used to designate the European-style express train that ran along the coast of Kyushu. The documentary will include historical footage and interviews with people whose lives have been affected by the Tsubame, which will be phased out of service as the new Shinkansen is extended to Hakata over the next 20 years.
One of the cleverer series of recent memory is "Aibo (Accomplices)" (Asahi, Wednesday, 8 p.m.), a cop show centered on an odd-couple detective duo. Ukyo (Yutaka Mizutani) is erudite and unflappable, while Kaoru (Yasufumi Terawaki) is excitable and impulsive. In a final two-hour special, the pair is faced with its most perplexing case. A death-row inmate named Asakura escapes from prison, and Kaoru eventually finds him living as a homeless person. Asakura claims he doesn't remember anything about his past, including the crime he committed. The prosecutor wants him back so he can carry out the hanging, but for some reason the justice minister won't sign the execution order. It's up to Ukyo and Kaoru to uncover the truth.
If you pay into the national-pension system, you may want to check out NHK-G's weekend marathon of special programs about the government's proposed changes to the system. On March 19 at 7:30 p.m., there will be a special report on the generational differences that are causing problems. People who now receive benefits get much more than will people who are now paying premiums, thus resulting in an increasing number of scofflaws who avoid paying because they believe they will never receive benefits. The program looks at similar pension programs in foreign countries. On March 20 at 9 p.m., NHK will explore changes being discussed in terms of women and the elderly. The system was originally based on the idea that women were housewives and men worked for the same companies their whole lives. On March 21 at 9 p.m., there will be a studio debate.