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Origins of baumkuchen, cheap onsen trips and this week’s CM: Final Fantasy XIII

As its name indicates, the popular cake baumkuchen was not invented in Japan, though its ubiquity on store shelves may suggest otherwise. It was introduced to Japan by a German baker, whose story is told on the historical documentary series, “Rekishi Hiwa Historia” (History’s Secret Stories; NHK-G, Wed., 10 p.m.).

Karl Juchheim was in the Chinese city of Tsingtao when Germany lost World War I and since Japan was on the winning side in that conflict, the Japanese Army removed him and his wife to Japan. He started making and selling the traditional confection called baumkuchen and made quite a splash with it at a German exhibition in Hiroshima.

He eventually moved to Yokohama and opened a bakery-store, but it was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, thus forcing him to move his operations to Kobe, where he stayed until the end of World War II and the defeat of Japan and Germany. Some years later, his wife returned to help a Japanese company open a chain of bakeries under the Juchheim name that spread the gospel of baumkuchen.

Despite the weekend discounts on highway tolls enacted last year, more weekend travelers are availing themselves of the services of chokko (nonstop) bus tours, which pick up passengers in urban centers and drive them directly to specific hot spring resorts. An overview of services is provided on “Kanto Kiko! Fuyu Koso Ikitai Chokko Basu de Yuku Otokuna Onsen Yado” (Kanto Area! Inexpensive Hot Spring Resorts Accessible by Nonstop Buses and Perfect for Winter; TV Tokyo, Sat., 7 p.m.).

The appeal of such tours is that they are cheap and convenient — no transfers or stopping at multiple resorts. You just meet the bus at a major urban hub like Tokyo or Shinjuku Station and in a few hours you’re at your destination. The program samples popular hot spring resorts.

CM of the week

Final Fantasy XIII: A young elementary school teacher stands in front of his class, smiling widely if a little uncomfortably. “Just to let you know I’ll be taking a little time off,” he says.

A girl in the middle of the class stands up and asks in a defiant tone, “Why are you taking time off?”

The smile remains but the rest of the teacher’s face seems to fall as voiceover verbalizes this unspoken thought: “I’ve been waiting 3 years for this day.” Then a still from the computer game Final Fantasy XIII is shown.

Some teachers and parents have taken exception to this commercial’s implication that a molder of young minds would put his own gaming obsessions ahead of his responsibilities as an educator, but nevertheless the ad conveys that obsession handily.