Cleaning up Japan is one tall order

Thanks to improved nutrition, the height of the average Japanese person has increased considerably since World War II. Nevertheless, many Japanese, especially those over a certain age, despair over what they believe is their short stature.

But if the Japanese on the whole seem to be less tall than the people in other countries of eastern Asia, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with genetics. In truth, almost 70 percent of the population of Japan has bowed legs to some degree. The reason, though, may have more to do with culture. The “proper” form of sitting and, for women, the “proper” form of walking (toes pointed slightly inward; small steps) can lead to bowed legs over time, which is probably why more older people than younger people have bowed legs.

On this week’s installment of the information program “Tokumei Research 200X II” (Nippon TV; Jan. 26, 7:58 p.m.), the show’s crack team of researchers will teach you how to correct your bowed legs and, thus, add centimeters to your height. All it takes is 15 minutes of simple exercise a day.

In addition, there will be a segment on the mechanism of tooth decay.

A current trend on evening news shows is to include segments where reporters confront people about their bad public behavior, such as illegal parking or littering. Viewers may derive a certain smug satisfaction from these segments, but the reporters rarely address solutions to the problems they bring up.

But that’s exactly what the reporters do on “Jikadanpan! Sekininsha Dete Koi!” (TV Tokyo; Jan. 27, 9 p.m.). Jikadanpan translates loosely as “dealing directly with something.” Sekininsha dete koi means literally “bring the person responsible here,” though a more familiar phrase might be “I want to talk to the manager.”

The producers solicit problems from viewers. Then they set out to find the person or organization who is most responsible for a given problem and work with that person to find a solution. Subsequent programs feature followups to make sure that the people concerned are doing what they promised to do.

Many of the problems they handle have to do with children. Several weeks ago, they were asked by some parents to help convince a local school board to repair broken-down school buildings and facilities. On last week’s show, they accompanied a group of parents whose children suffer from a rare and debilitating skin disease when they lobbied the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to make sufferers eligible for a special medical allowance.

On this week’s show, another group of parents is angry with its local government for breaking a promise made 10 years ago. The town, which has grown considerably in the past few decades, built an elementary school about 200 meters from an incinerator, but promised residents that they would move the incinerator by the year 2000. However, several years ago the town changed its mind because the people who live in the area where the incinerator was to be relocated have refused to allow it in their community.

Toxic fumes from the incinerator blow directly into the school when the wind is right. Many children suffer from chronic sore throats, bloody noses and asthma. What’s more, the leukemia rate in the school is 20 times the national average.

Monta Mino, who knows how to scold, is the host.

In a similar vein, but completely different tone, the weekly comedy show “Ogon Densetsu (Legend of Gold)” (TV Asahi, Thursday, 7 p.m.) includes an occasional segment in which Ryo Fukawa, half of the comedy team Cocorico that hosts the show, visits gomi yashiki, or “mansions of garbage.”

For some reason, gomi yashiki are a common sight in Japan. Their owners tend to take a perverse pleasure in annoying their neighbors with houses and gardens that are filled to overflowing with malodorous refuse and useless junk. “It’s my property and I’ll do what I want” is their usual reply when asked to clean up.

Fukawa is just as relentless, but he’s also preternaturally polite. With his tie and pageboy hairstyle, he cuts a comically boyish figure as he hounds these garbage scofflaws until their resistance breaks down and then helps them to clean up their premises.

On this week’s show, Fukawa and four “garbage ambassadors” will embark on a five-week tour of gomi yashiki throughout Japan, all of which have been pointed out to them by neighbors who requested his help in convincing these trash-masters to clean up their acts.