Meet a pianist and ‘genius’ chimpanzee on a poll-to-Pole journey

On Oct. 27, by-elections were held in seven districts throughout Japan for Diet seats that had been vacated by politicians forced to resign over scandals. If you weren’t aware of this, don’t feel bad. Not many people were. Average voter turnout was only about 33 percent. The media didn’t pay much attention either, since they were busy covering the returned abductees and their families.

A few enterprising journalists went out on the streets Monday and asked people if they had voted. People who said they didn’t vote gave various excuses, the most common being “there was no one on the ballot I liked.” And since the politicians weren’t popular among the populace, the media didn’t think it was in their interest to cover them.

TBS, however, will try. On Nov. 3 at 5:30 p.m., the network’s “Information Special” will review the by-elections in detail; not only who won and who lost, but why voter turnout was so low and how this low turnout directly affected the elections.

When turnout is low, it means that more voters belong to organized blocs, such as New Komeito supporters, many of whom belong to the religious group Soka Gakkai. Those people are told whom to vote for.

Despite the cloud of scandal hanging over the departed politicians, the winners did not represent a changing of the guard. The LDP did quite well, which is unusual since the ruling party traditionally fares poorly in by-elections — even ones not tainted by scandals. The prime minister himself was surprised. One of the issues discussed on the program is what the results of these by-elections say about the future of the LDP.

Fujiko Hemming, the Japanese-Swedish pianist who became a classical music superstar late in life after returning to Japan from Europe, will make a rare television appearance Friday on Beat Takeshi’s art variety show, “Takeshi no Dare Demo Picasso (Takeshi’s Anybody Can Be Picasso)” (TV Tokyo, 9 p.m.).

Hemming studied in Vienna in the ’60s and was set for greatness on the European concert circuit, but illness and bad luck kept her off the stage for decades. She lived a lonely life in Europe, subsisting mostly on potatoes, her only companions her beloved cats. In addition to performing Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody,” Hemming will relate some of her favorite potato recipes and tell anecdotes from her colorful life story.

In honor of Hemming’s love of animals, the other artist-guest on this week’s show is Momo-chan, the “genius chimpanzee” from the Nasu World Monkey Park in Tochigi Prefecture. Momo-chan is a superstar in her own right and will perform some of her famous “illusions,” none of which have anything to do with classical music or potatoes.

This summer, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited four nations in Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland. It was their first trip to the former socialist country. The visit brought to light a little-known humanitarian affair between Japan and Poland that happened more than 80 years ago.

Throughout its history, Poland has often been under the control of Russia. In 1772, as a civil war engulfed the country, Russian troops invaded and took control. In the 1830s, families who had lost land to the Russian invaders rebelled and it took the Russians two years to put down the uprising. They sent the rebels into exile in Siberia, where they were put in labor camps. Eventually their relatives joined them there, in the region around Vladivostok, and by the turn of the century the ethnic Polish community numbered more than 100,000 people.

In the chaos created by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, many Poles in this area lost their lives, giving rise to a large number of orphans. A humanitarian group attempted to find homes in Europe for these children but had little luck. As a last resort they turned to their neighbor to the east, Japan, and Tokyo agreed to accept some of the orphans; 765, to be exact.

This week’s installment of the historical quiz show, “Sekai Fushigi Hakken (World Mysteries”) (TBS, Saturday, 9 p.m.), will trace in detail the orphans’ journey to Japan and what happened thereafter. Most eventually left for Europe, but some were still here when World War II broke out.