Take a ride on the travel food choo-choo

TBS withdrew from the morning wide-show sweepstakes in 1996 after it was revealed that a wide-show producer had secretly shown members of Aum Shinrikyo a tape of an interview with anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto in 1989 as a means of gaining favor with the cult. Sakamoto was subsequently murdered by Aum followers. Since the wide show’s cancellation was a form of penance, media watchers assumed that it would eventually return.

But the show that replaced it, “Hanamaru Market” (Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m.), became, unexpectedly, a hit. Mixing household tips, consumer advice and casual interviews, the program’s main attraction is its two lively hosts, former idol Hirohide Yakumaru and actress Kumiko Okae.

On Monday, “Hanamaru” begins its sixth season, and Thursday night at 1:20 a.m., a spinoff, “Uramaru Cafe,” will be resurrected. The weekly program borrows the interview portion from “Hanamaru” and reconfigures it for late-night viewing. Yakumaru is the host, and as on the morning “Hanamaru Cafe” segment, guests are asked to bring recent photographs to provide topics for discussion. On the morning show, guests and hosts partake of an omeza (eye-opener) dish, while on the evening show Yakumaru and his guest eat an onemu (midnight snack).

This week’s guest is Sho Aikawa, the undisputed “king of V-cinema,” shorthand for straight-to-video movies, which in Japan are invariably yakuza flicks. Aikawa, who started out as a rock musician in the ’80s, has appeared in 126 straight-to-video movies since 1988.

Tonight’s “NHK Special” (NHK-G, 9 p.m.) will look at Tokyo’s “heat island” phenomenon. Heat islands are masses of hot air that cover urban areas. The phenomenon is caused by concrete and asphalt, which absorb the sun’s energy, as well as heat given off by automobiles and air conditioners.

According to studies, Tokyo’s average temperature has risen 3 C over the past 100 years, which is five times faster than the average global temperature increase. This enormous concentration of heat has altered the ecological balance in the city, causing intense rain squalls and creating an environment where plants and animals normally found in tropical regions can thrive.

The documentary looks at research that was carried out this summer by 20 experts from a wide range of disciplines, including meteorology, architecture and oceanography. Their conclusion was that the heat-island phenomenon has had a much more powerful effect on the city’s ecology than previously thought. It will not be long before the peak summer temperature in Tokyo surpasses 40 C.

Later tonight, Nihon TV’s “NNN Document ’01” (12:25 a.m.) will travel to Nepal with 17-year-old Rena Tanabe, a high school student from Tottori Prefecture whose dream is to become a volunteer nurse in developing countries.

Tanabe has had this dream ever since she was a middle-school student and traveled to Katmandu with a study group. There, she met Masako Yamane, a nurse who had been treating the local population for 14 years. Tanabe was impressed by Yamane’s selfless dedication to her patients and decided she wanted to do the same when she grew up.

Last year, Tanabe won a prefectural speech competition. The topic of her presentation was her dream of becoming a nurse like Yamane. However, she felt that she needed to reaffirm her commitment to her dream and so worked part-time over the winter to save money for a second trip to Katmandu.

This time, however, she was less starry-eyed. She noticed the filthy rivers and streets, the ever-present dust, the crushing poverty. Yamane’s work, though no less noble, loses its romantic sheen when observed on a day-to-day basis. The 64-year-old nurse understands the teenager’s disillusionment and explains to her that this kind of work requires not only courage and compassion but also patience.

This week’s installment of “TV Champion” (TV Tokyo, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) takes the ultimate journey into the rarefied world of travel-food fetishism as five contestants vie for the title of Ekiben King. Ekiben are train station bento (lunchboxes), which are often unique to their respective regions.

Round 1 will be about the ekiben sold on the Chuo Honsen, which extends from Shinjuku to Nagano. The contestants will be presented with 10 ekiben salespeople, nine of whom are fakes. They must figure out which one is the real one.

Round 2 takes place on the Shinano Railroad, a relatively small stretch of track in Nagano that is famous for its ekiben. The contestants will have to answer questions correctly to proceed from one station to the next. The first three to reach Komuro Station go on to the final round.

In the final round, the contestants answer trivia questions about ekiben whose difficulty is directly related to the length of the railway on which they are sold. Each correct question earns the contestant a number of points equivalent to the railway’s length in kilometers. The contestants must use all five senses. For example, they will sniff the breath of a person and figure out which station’s lunchbox the person just ate.