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Hooked on Japanese TV

Along with Extreme Makeover and American Idol, one of my favorite "guilty TV" pleasures is a Japanese soap opera on KIKU, called Making It Through. I eagerly watch the misadventures of little, ponytailed Hina, her ambitious mother and her meddling grandmother. The program is a window into daily life in Japan, but I know little about the show itself. Now, I'll be able to find out more, with The Dorama Encyclopedia, a new book that guides readers through the world of Japanese TV dramas.

Japanese television was born in 1953, with the country's first official broadcast. At that time, there were only 866 televisions in the entire country, but presumably most of those sets were tuned in for the show: a scene from a kabuki play. A mere three days later, though, a drama written especially for the new medium was shown. It was broadcast live, and a technician caused a bit of a stir when he accidentally left the camera pointing at an actress during one of her costume changes. From this shaky beginning, Japanese television has matured. It's increasingly embraced by Americans, particularly on the West Coast and here in Hawai'i, where, according to the book's authors, more than a hundred Japanese shows have been subtitled and broadcast.

The Dorama Encyclopedia covers 1,000 series, including all genres of Japanese drama: kitchen-sink dramas, infidelity dramas, home dramas, trendy dramas. Each listing includes the names of key creatives, theme songs, showtimes and cross-references. The authors have even covered such gems as I Want to Be a Shellfish, The Flipside of Naojirï the Tofu Seller and I Borrowed Money from Her.

"Many people in Hawai'i have parents or grandparents who watched this kind of programming," says Phyllis Kihara, the general manager at KIKU. "Japanese dramas are family oriented, so everyone can relate to them, no matter where you are from." Kihara says that most of her station's audience is non-Japanese-speaking. "Japanese TV is for everyone," she asserts. "Everyone should sample some."

The Dorama Encyclopedia, by Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro. Published by Stone Bridge Press; $24.95.

{clipping service}

From 1834 to 1836, Richard H. Dana Jr. sailed aboard American merchant ships plying the leather-hide trade along the coast of what was then Mexican California. There he often encountered ships with Native Hawaiian crewmembers, whom he referred to as Kanakas. Here is Dana's observation of Native Hawaiian swimming prowess, excerpted from an 1895 edition of his book about his journeys, TWO Years Before the Mast

[The Mexican ship Fazio] was floating out of the harbour when two horsemen came dashing down to the beach at full speed, and tried to find a boat to put after her; but there being none on the beach, they offered a handful of silver to any Kanaka who would swim off and take a letter on board. One of the Kanakas, a fine, active, well-made young fellow, instantly threw off everything but his duck trousers, and, putting the letter in his hat, swam off after the vessel... He went through the water, leaving a wake like a small steamboat … he swam alongside and got on board, and delivered his letter. The captain read the letter, told the Kanaka there was no answer, and giving him a glass of brandy, left him to jump overboard and find the best of his way to the shore. The Kanaka swam in for the nearest point of land, and in about an hour made his appearance at the hide-house. He did not seem at all fatigued, had made three or four dollars [about $70 in 2004 dollars], got a glass of brandy, and was in fine spirits.

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,June

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