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Sunday, Jan. 30, 2005

CHANNEL SURF

TBS's "The Heart of Valentine is French Chocolate" and more

This week, TV Asahi's business documentary series, "The Dawn of Gaia" (Tue., 10 p.m.), looks at the past, present and future of automobile navigation systems, which have become an indispensable part of motoring in Japan.

"Car navi" systems are based on Global Positioning System technology using satellites, which was one of the few commercial outcomes of the so-called Star Wars development project promoted by the Reagan administration as part of the Cold War arms race. The technology was commercialized rapidly in Japan because of the country's complicated road system.

Last year 3.1 million systems were installed, and the program focuses on Pioneer, which has the largest share of the ever-growing market. Most of the new developments are in the software field, especially maps that are more detailed and accurate. To that end, Pioneer's engineers are trying to develop more usable 3D-imaging features.

Pioneer also wants to expand its market in the United States, where car navigation systems have yet to take hold. Only 3 percent of American cars have such systems. The company sends a team to an automotive parts exhibition in Las Vegas to see if they can spur interest. They run into some unexpected obstacles.


Valentine's Day is upon us, which means chocolate everywhere, especially on TV. Cocoa addicts will have plenty to obsess over on TBS's Saturday afternoon special, "The Heart of Valentine is French Chocolate" (2 p.m.), which finds talent and self-described "chocolate maniac" Michiko Haneda traveling to Paris to sample the city's sugary wares.

The narrow association of Valentine's Day and chocolate is mostly a Japanese invention, and, on her adventures, Haneda endeavors to find out why the connection is so strong. She visits all the major chocolate emporiums in Paris and learns about the now defunct French royal family's obsession with the bean, as well as the origin of such universally recognizable confections as bonbons.


The phenomenon of "freeters," which means serial part-time worker, has received negative press because it is seen as indicative of Japanese youths' apathy toward a stable career.

However, the proliferation of freeters has more to do with demand than with supply, as shown on this week's "NHK Special" (NHK-G, Sat., 9 p.m.), which looks at "drifting" freeters, meaning part-time workers who go where the work is. Many manufacturers, in a bid to cut costs, now hire only part-timers, since they don't have to pay them benefits and can lay them off at will.

For six months, NHK followed the fortunes of a group of freeters who came from all over Japan to work at a factory in Tochigi making telecommunications equipment. Contrary to media reports, these young people's values are surprisingly diverse. Many, in fact, long for full-time work, they just want their employers to be fair.



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