Obscure family drama, prefecture identities, national food issues

Idol-actress Aya Ueto does a serious number on her image in the new drama series “Abarenbo Mama” (Rowdy Mama; Fuji, Tuesday, 9 p.m.). Ueto plays Ayu, a tomboy from the countryside who speaks like a man and lacks feminine wiles. However, she falls for hairdresser Tetsu (Yo Oizumi), who’s 12 years her senior, divorced, and from the big city, to which they relocate after getting married.

The newlyweds decide to open a hair salon by remodeling Tetsu’s house. They are about to settle into their “honeymoon life” when Yuki, a 5-year-old boy, shows up on their doorstep. Yuki, they eventually find out, is the son that Tetsu never knew about. Ayu is understandably angry and Tetsu tries hard to explain how this came about, but for the time being, the instant family has to make the best of it.

Last week, Nihon TV promoted one of its more popular seasonal specials to weekly status. “Himitsu no Kenmin Show (Prefectural Citizens Secrets Show)” (Thursday, 9 p.m.) is a travel program in which customs, products and other features unique to a particular prefecture are explained and illustrated by celebrity guests who grew up in that prefecture. Hosted by the ubiquitous Monta Mino and comedian Masami Hisamoto, each hourlong installment of the show will look at 15 prefectures, which means each one will get no more than a few minutes of exposure.

This week’s guests include baka (stupid) model-talent Suzanne, who will explain the special language used in children’s games in her home prefecture of Kumamoto. Also, former sumo wrestler Mainoumi will explain how sembei (rice crackers) are so central to the diets of people from Aomori that they often build whole meals around them.

Speaking of diets, Japanese food culture has undergone profound changes since the end of World War II. Beef, once a rare luxury, has become an everyday staple. Even matsutake mushrooms, once considered the apex of extravagance, can be bought by anyone in a supermarket.

The main reason for these changes is imports, a development that makes food affordable to more people but also decreases Japan’s self-sufficiency. At present, Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate is about 39 percent, the lowest of all the developed countries. It has been estimated that if a proposed free-trade agreement with Australia goes into effect and tariffs are abolished, that number will drop to 12 percent. Also it would kill off 60 percent of Japan’s farming industry.

This Saturday, NHK’s public debate program, “Nihon no Kore Kara (Japan From Now On)” (NHK-G, 7:30 p.m.), will discuss Japan’s food issues. Experts and lay people will debate in the studio while viewers at home can comment via fax and e-mail.