The word processor can be described as either the savior of the Japanese language or its curse. It’s a savior in that it simplifies the process of making documents in written Japanese, which incorporates two separate syllabaries of 48 letters each and up to 50,000 Chinese characters. It’s a curse because the “wa-pro’ “s ease-of-use has rendered young people incapable of remembering how to write Chinese characters.
The Japanese word processor was once considered a pipe dream. This week’s installment of NHK’s “Project X” (NHK-G, Tuesday, 9:15 p.m.) profiles the group of young Toshiba engineers who, in the 1970s and ’80s, created Japan’s first word processor.
Convenience wasn’t the only impetus. In the 1960s, as Japan’s economy boomed and intercompany transactions increased, more contracts were needed. In the West, where they only used 26 letters, a typist could quickly draw up a contract, but in Japan “typists” were such a rare commodity considering the time needed to compose a document in Japanese, that the cost of making contracts was more than three times what it was in the West.
One of the longest-running shows on Japanese TV is “Tunnels no Minna-san no Ogake Deshita” (Fuji TV, Thursday, 9 p.m.), which stars the comic duo Tunnels. The long run can be credited to one regular segment called “Kuwazugirai,” which means “a prejudice against some kinds of foods.”
“Prejudice” is putting it mildly. Two celebrities sit at a dining table and each one is served half a dozen dishes or more. One of these dishes is something that the celebrity loathes. However, the other celebrity doesn’t know which one, and has to guess, even though his opposite will claim he likes everything.
This week’s guests are younger than usual: SMAP superstar Shingo Katori and superidol Rena Tanaka, who, for a while, held the record for appearing in the most commercial spots at one time.
Yasuo Kuniyoshi is one of those Japanese geniuses who made his fortune overseas. As chronicled on “New Sunday Art Museum” (NHK-E, Aug. 29, 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.), Kuniyoshi’s career was dictated as much by circumstance and it was by ambition. Born in Okayama in 1889, he went to the West Coast of the United States when he was 17 and worked as a laborer. In 1910, he moved to New York City and studied art, eventually joining the Art Students League where he developed his unique style.
By the 1920s he was being recognized as an important new painter and his reputation continued to grow until the outbreak of World War II, at which time the government changed his status from Foreign Resident to Enemy Foreigner. He was compelled to write propaganda speeches for broadcast to Japanese soldiers and civilians.
After the war, he returned to painting and won probably every award that a painter can win in America. He died in 1953, just before he was to become a U.S. citizen.