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Sunday, Sept. 21, 2008


The making of 'the world's most beautiful woman,' amatuer a capella, and house remodeling

Japanese contestants have figured prominently in recent international beauty pagents, in particular the Miss Universe contest, which endeavors to find the most gorgeous woman in the world. The runnerup in 2006 was Kurara Chibana, and last year the winner was Riyo Mori.

Much of the credit for Japan's ascendancy has gone to Ines Ligron, who is profiled in the NHK Special, "Watashi wa Koushite Sekai-ichi no Bijo wo Tsukuru (This is How I Make the World's Most Beautiful Woman)" (NHK-G, Monday, 10 p.m.). Ligron, who is French, "cultivated" both Chibana and Mori, and advises contestants in the competition that selects the Japan representative at the Miss Universe pageant. Ligron is known to be a strict and uncompromising taskmistress, with a talent for locating the particular aesthetic appeal of a country's concept of feminine beauty.

A good indication of how looks counts for more than talent in the world of J-pop is the fact that most cute boy groups can't sing in harmony. Thus, the contestants on the annual choral group contest, "Seishun Akapera Koshien Zenkoku Hamonepu (Hamonepu National Young People's A Capella Tournament)" (Fuji, Tuesday, 7 p.m.) have already accomplished more than SMAP. Hosted by the comedy trio Neptune, this special brings together some of the best amateur harmony a capella groups (harmony + Neptune = Hamonepu) from high schools and universities throughout Japan for an annual tournament.

This year, 729 groups signed up, 18 of which have survived the elimination rounds and will appear on the program. Among them is a group of "intelligent rockers" from the University of Tokyo and a quintet of high-school girls who are making their third appearance at the tournament. The last time they appeared, they made it to the semifinal round. How far will they go this time?

The house remodeling program, "Daikaizo! Gekiteki Before After (Big Reform! Amazing Before After)" (Asahi, Sept. 28, 6:56 p.m.), makes its quarterly appearance with an unusual problem.

The house that needs remodeling sits on 60 sq. meters of land in Kodaira city in Tokyo. An elderly couple lives there, but the second floor is occupied by a cram school operated by their daughter. Over the years, the school has collected more and more students, and the house can no longer accommodate them all. There is no place to leave all the bicycles that the students ride to class. Moreover, the students are always bumping into family members as they undress for the bath or use the toilet. The residents of the house want the architect to find a way to make both functions — cram school and residence — coexist in the tiny space the house occupies.

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