It’s spring and renewal is in the air


English teachers will definitely want to check out Sunday’s two-hour “SmaStation Spring Berabera Festival” (TV Asahi, 6:56 p.m.). “SmaStation” is the latest SMAP-related hit variety series, normally broadcast Saturday nights at 11 p.m. Taking its name from TV Asahi’s influential nightly news program, “NewsStation,” “SmaStation” features wide-eyed SMAP member Shingo Katori and celebrity guests going over the previous week’s news and quizzing each other on current events.

The most popular segment is the “berabera quiz.” Berabera is an onomatopoeic word normally used to describe someone who is fluent in a foreign language. Katori has been studying English, and each week he and a celebrity challenger face off by translating Japanese phrases into colloquial English.

Tonight’s “Berabera Festival” will feature some “super celebrities,” including actor Hiroshi Tachi, the comedy duo Kyaiin, actress/talent Yuka, the girl-group Morning Musume and even Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who will discuss the issue of Japan’s English-language education policy with Katori (though, unfortunately, not in English).

Katori will also take the quiz out of the studio and into the streets. In addition, there will be a “business trip” English quiz and a visit from the panelists of the popular current affairs variety show “TV Tackle.” A humiliating time is guaranteed for all.

The same night at 10 p.m., TV Tokyo will premiere a documentary series called “Gaia no Yoake (New Dawn for the Earth).” TV Tokyo, which has close links to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, is the only commercial broadcast network with a nightly news program, “World Business Satellite” (Monday-Friday, 11 p.m.), that is devoted solely to financial news. “Gaia no Yoake” will focus on important financial topics, mainly industries that are undergoing large-scale changes and companies or individuals who have new ideas. The navigator is popular actor Koji Yakusho.

Tonight’s program looks at the presidents of Asahi Bank and Daiwa Bank, prior to the banks’ merger on March 1. The main theme is corporate restructuring. The report will follow both men in parallel over a period of 108 days leading up to the merger and will concentrate on their decisions regarding bad loans, which are seen as the major reason for Japan’s crippled economy.

This week’s “TV Champion” (TV Tokyo, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) will touch on a financial matter that affects the average person more directly: home improvement. Japan is currently going through a “reform boom” that is not entirely to the government’s liking. New home sales are considered better for the economy, but many homeowners possess properties that are worth decidedly less now than when they bought them. Consequently, they feel it’s more economical to reform what they have into something more comfortable.

Three “reform specialists” will compete for the title of Reform Champion. All three will be set the same task on virtually identical residences, though the needs of the residents themselves will differ. The structures are nagaya: old tenement row houses that can be found in almost any city in Japan. In this case, all are two-room abodes, not counting kitchen and bathroom. One is occupied by a middle-aged couple whose children have grown up and left the nest. Another is owned by a family with four children. The third is the home of an elderly person living alone. Each of the three experts will be limited to a budget of 3.5 million yen and a time frame of five days.

Nippon TV will premiere a new drama series Saturday night at 9 p.m. called “Golden Bowl.” No, it’s not the Henry James novel, but rather a semi-trendy drama set in a crumbling bowling alley.

Japanese-Taiwanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro stars as Akutagawa, a securities analyst who relieves the stress of sitting at a computer screen all day with nightly sessions at the local bowling alley. The young salaryman is so good, in fact, that the alley’s elderly owner tells him he’s pro material and bequeaths him his own “golden ball,” since he won’t need it anymore. It turns out a local developer is trying to convince the owner to sell the bowling alley, whose business has never been the same since the end of Japan’s huge “bowling boom” of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The developer wants to tear it down and build a love hotel.

Of course, the longtime employees of the alley, as well as the manager of the planetarium that’s located on the roof and a former pro who frequents the establishment, oppose the sale and try to convince the owner not to cave in. The developer comes up with an idea: He and the owner will bowl for the building.

There is also a romantic subplot involving an upper-middle-class housewife (Hitomi Kuroki) who uses the same locker that Akutagawa does, but in the daytime.