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April 02, 2004

Elmo's Turning Japanese, I Really Think So

NHK is to stop its bilingual broadcasting of the Sesame Street show this Sunday, and TV Tokyo will begin a new, localized version from around October. The move is the result of three years of efforts by distributor Sesame Workshop to have the show adapted to suit Japan, as it is in 23 of the 120 countries where it is aired. NHK refused to get involved in production of the program, saying its appeal lies in the portrayal of US culture and its role in promoting the English language. Though the show was never designed for teaching English as a foreign language, NHK has used the characters in its own EFL materials. But according to Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, on a recent visit to Tokyo, "It is not up to us after all to impose a curriculum on a country with a rich culture and educational system." The focus of the show has long been the promotion of cultural diversity and the development of imagination, though the latest moves were no doubt prompted by a slip in the show's ratings and its impact on a potential multi-billion yen pre-school market in licensed products. The new 30-minute show will feature muppet characters unique to Japan, while five or six minutes will be dedicated to basic English-language skills. Sesame Street was first broadcast in Japan in 1971.

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