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May 13, 2002

NHK Meets The Variety Show

SMAP are by far the most popular group of young male stars in Japan. Their appeal to a huge a TV audience is being used not only to sell hair wax and flights to Okinawa but also to educate the public. While Tsuyoshi Kusanagi has been boning up on his Korean for the "Chonan Kan" show, junior member Shingo Katori has been busy memorizing reams of English vocabulary. Katori is the main attraction on Sma Station, a TV Asahi late-night show, that combines news, features, sports and the "Bera Bera Station" (Fluent Station) section. He pits his wits in an English translation duel against different guests each week. There have been a number of news readers and TV personalities who have shown themselves to be surprisingly competent in English. Hopefully, this is helping to get rid of the old escape route of "Of course I can't speak English, I'm Japanese!" The dubious results of Katori's rote memorization are clear for any teacher or native speaker to see - on a recent show that focussed on idioms using 'get', he couldn't see the connection with the phrase he uses almost every week, "Got it!". Still, while the show may not be aiming for the pedagogical high ground, its popularity can't do any harm as far as the nation's enthusiasm for English is concerned. The last month alone has seen sales of over half a million copies of the phrase books associated with the show. Sma Station airs on Saturday at 23:00 on TV Asahi (Channel 10). The TV Asahi web site lists the show as the fifth most-accessed but ironically the Bera Bera Station segment is in Japanese only.

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