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Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009

CHANNEL SURF

Tribute to novelist Mukoda, Takeshi's World Summit, and the origin of family names

If she were alive today, novelist and teleplay writer Kuniko Mukoda, who died in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1981, would be 80 years old. Her birthday is being commemorated this week with a revival of one of her most beloved family stories, "Haha no Okurimono" (Mother's Gift; TBS, Mon., 9 p.m.).

Akiko (Yuki Shimizu) and Masaaki (Yuichi Nakamaru) are engaged to be married, and on the eve of their wedding Akiko's mother, Nobue (Hisako Manda), shows up to Masaaki's disbelief and Akiko's discomfort. Years ago, after Akiko's father died, Nobue ran off with a married man and Akiko hasn't seen her since. She told Masaaki that her mother was dead.

Masaaki's mother, Fumiko (Keiko Takeshita), is a single woman who worked hard to raise her son by herself, and she feels it is only right to invite Nobue for dinner, but Akiko is opposed to the invitation. But, another unexpected guest shows up to dinner, a certain Mr. Takeda (Koji Ishizaka), who turns out to be Fumiko's longtime boyfriend whom no one was even aware of. Anyone with a reasonably good memory might recall Beat Takeshi's pre-millennial variety show "Koko ga Hen da yo" (Now this is strange), where foreigners discussed in a very lively fashion the peculiarities of the Japanese people.

This week, Takeshi revives the format on "Kinkyu Sekai Summit" (Emergency World Summit; TV Asahi, Tues., 7 p.m.), when he hosts a "debate" between 50 non-Japanese guests and a "team" of Japanese celebrities. The theme is "How Japanese are viewed by people all over the world," and the lessons that can be drawn when you understand how you are seen in other culture's eyes.

The Japanese team is in for a shock. For example, they learn that the Chinese "bias" toward Japanese people is very different from the one they expected. There is also a heated discussion as to whether or not Japan just does anything that the United States tells it to do. Another peculiarity of Japan is its huge collection of family names. Supposedly, only the United States boasts a larger variety of surnames, but for some strange reason there has never been a serious academic study of Japanese names, so no one knows exactly how many there are. Some say 100,000, others 300,000. However, the special edition of "Anata no Myoji Show" (Your Name Show; Nihon TV, Thurs., 8:54 p.m.) limits itself to only four.

These four are the most common surnames in Japan: Sato, Suzuki, Takahashi and Tanaka. A panel of celebrities who were born with these names learn all there is to know about them — their etymology, the regions where they are concentrated, how they became so common, and stories related to their usage.



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