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Sunday, July 8, 2001

CHANNEL SURF

Corporate warriors suit up for revolution

With the Upper House elections looming and the previously overlooked "urban salaryman" vote attracting special attention, NHK has decided to address the issue with a special 21/2-hour discussion Saturday titled "Japan's Salaryman Revolution" (NHK-G, 7:30 p.m.).

According to the program's producers, there are 65 million salarymen in Japan "who want to change their companies." These companies, as we have heard over and over again for decades, made the miraculous Japanese postwar recovery possible, but for the past decade the Japanese economy has been in a slump, suffering from what is sometimes referred to as "regional affliction." In most countries, this affliction is natural: diseases and environmental problems brought on by unfortunate conditions unique to the area.

Similarly, Japan's economic troubles are seen to be a result of culturally bound business characteristics, namely a reliance on precedent, seniority, sectionalism and secretiveness. Unless these cultural impediments are overcome by salarymen themselves, the economy will never return to its past glories.

These and other related matters will be discussed at length by Hiroshi Motomiya, a cartoonist whose work depicts salarymen's lives; Akihiro Fujiwara, the editor in chief of President, a business philosophy magazine; and Junko Kawano, editor in chief of the job-search magazine Travail. They will be joined by a studio full of salarymen and women of various ages who will discuss their own experiences and what they hope to accomplish in their companies.

Salarymen who find themselves short of cash often utilize consumer credit services, which offer easy terms but extremely high interest, often up to 29 percent. In the past, when consumer credit companies were not so easy (and were often associated with gangsters), people who needed quick cash went to pawn shops (shichiya), which paid good money for their valuables and later sold them back at relatively low interest, usually around 7 percent.

Shichiya still exist, but they are often difficult to find; tucked away on side streets and marked by inconspicuous signs. Pawnbrokers enjoy a kind of double reputation: either they're very nice men who will often let a borrower slide a day or two, or they're mean cheapskates.

The pawnbroker played by former Drifters leader Chosuke Ikariya on this week's "Monday Night Mystery" (TBS, 9 p.m.) is a softy who prides himself on being "an expert appraiser of character." His daughter Mari (Kimiko Yo), however, is a professional appraiser of gems who, following her second divorce, returns home to her father's pawn shop.

A colleague of Mari's gives her a very expensive diamond ring for safekeeping -- and commits suicide the next day. Mari suspects that her friend's death was not a suicide, and her inquiries lead her to one of those gekiyasu (extremely cheap) jewelry tours so popular right now among housewives. She uncovers a racket that passes off cheap jewelry as expensive jewelry that has been marked way down. As she investigates further, the bodies pile up and Dad's human appraisal skills come in handy.

Another kind of tour provides the dramatic impetus behind the new comedy series "Dekichatta Kekkon" (Fuji, Monday, 9 p.m.). The title is a kind of buzz phrase right now, referring to marriages that result from unexpected pregnancies.

Though unplanned pregnancies don't sound like the stuff of sidesplitting comedy, this particular series treats love itself as more or less an accident -- which is more or less true.

Number one idol Ryoko Hirosue plays Chiyo, a young woman who joins two other women and three men on a kind of group date tour. Two of the members are already a couple, and after some awkward maneuvering, Chiyo ends up with Ryunosuke (Yutaka Takenouchi), who was not her target when the evening started, but one thing leads to another and . . . well, a month or so later Chiyo discovers she's with child.

In this week's episode, after much soul-searching, Ryunosuke agrees to marry Chiyo, but then he is told by a friend that Chiyo's father, who is played by action star Sonny Chiba, is a retired police chief and something of a hardhead. He and Chiyo try to devise a story to tell her father so that the baby doesn't appear to be the product of a one-night stand.

Though it may sound like yesterday's fad, the animated adventure series "Pocket Monsters" is still a hugely popular show; so much so that you can watch it twice a week. The new episodes are shown on Thursday night at 7 p.m. (they are presently up to episode 211), and the "encore" episodes are shown on Tuesday nights, also at 7 p.m. (both on TV Tokyo). What's more, the encore programs are bilingual, and come with a "one-point lesson" for Japanese viewers studying English.



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