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Japan: People live longer, so do TV shows

Japan may be known for the longevity of its people, but the TV programs have a rich and long history as its population. There are some series that have been on air for more than half a century. What's interesting is its variety: everything from talk shows, news, and sports to shows on cooking, music, anime and even a program about the Imperial Family. This article takes a look at Japanese Choju Bangumi (長寿番組), which literally means “long living program”. Definitions for Choju programs range from as young as 10 years or as old as 50.

お台場の夕日 Odaiba sunset Image uploaded by Flickr user kamoda and used under a Creative Commons license

An image of the Fuji TV building by Flickr user kamoda

Oricon, which published a survey-based popularity ranking, defines Choju programs as shows that have aired longer than 10 years. The various genres of these Choju programs are certainly represented in their top 10 most favorites ranking based on the questionnaire in October, 2009.

オリコンでは『好きな長寿番組』についてアンケートを実施したところ、1位は1982年に放送がスタートした昼のバラエティ番組【森田一義アワー 笑っていいとも!】(フジテレビ系)が選ばれた。番組の企画構成やレギュラー出演者の豪華さはもちろんだが、主な支持の理由として、司会のタモリを称える意見が圧倒的。

According to the Oricon questionaire about “Favorite Choju Programs,” “Waratte Iitomo”, a lunchtime variety show from Fuji TV that started broadcasting in 1982, has been selected as No. 1. In addition to the show's structures/programming and the celebrity cast, an overwhleming number of responders listed the praise for MC “Tamori” as their reason for the top ranking favorite Choju program.

3位に「数少ない正統派の歌番組」(埼玉県/30代/女性)と【ミュージックステーション】(テレビ朝日系)がランクイン。「生放送独特の緊張感やハプニングがいい。さらにミュージシャンの素が垣間見えて面白い」(長野県/30代/女性)と、音楽番組として放送開始時から変わらないスタンスと真摯な番組作り、さらに音楽番組として今では数少ない“生放送”という番組形態が高い支持を獲得。

なお、2位には国民的アニメ【サザエさん】(フジテレビ系)、4位に【笑点】(日本テレビ系)と日曜夕方の定番番組が挙がり、いずれも「家族団らんの時間の象徴になっているから」(埼玉県/10代/女性)と家族揃って観ても安心できる番組として親しまれているようだ。

TV Asahi's “Music Station” came in third place. A female responder in her 30's from Saitama Prefecture describes it as ‘one of the few old school music programs.’ As another female responder from Nagano Prefecture, also in her 30's, says: ‘the tension that is unique to live broadcast and happenings are great. Also, it's interesting because I can see the real personality of musicians from time to time”. The show captured a lot of support based on its style, which hasn't changed since its inception as a musuc program, the earnest production, and the programming that is one of the few music shows today broadcasting live.

Fuji TV's “Sazaesan”, which is considered an iconic anime show, came in second. The fourth was “Shoten” by Nippon TV. Both are regulars on Sunday evenings which seem to indicate the popularity of programs that family can watch safely together. As a teenage female responder from Saitama summed it up, they are “the symbols of the time spent together with family.”

Project planner Shuji Nakamura says that the ratings of long-running anime show Sazaesan reflect the state of the economy in Japan:

アニメ『サザエさん』の第1回放送は1969年10月5日。今年で41年目を迎える長寿番組である。ゴールデンタイムのドラマの視聴率が20%あれば御の字という時代になっても、平均視聴率が20%前後という非常に高い数字をはじき出す国民的アニメだ。きっとキャラクターも、認知率は100%に近いだろう。
 日曜18時30分から放送という国民的アニメであるため、その視聴率は景気と連動していると言われている。景気の良いときは、日曜18時30分になっても家に帰らず、外食やレジャーを楽しむ家族が多いため、視聴率が下がる。しかし、不景気の時は日曜に外へ出かけないで家にこもり、みんなで夕食を食べながら『サザエさん』を見るというスタイルになるため、視聴率が上がるというわけだ。

The first broadcast of the anime “Sazaesan” was on October 5th, 1969. It's a long running show that marked its 41st year this year. In an age where 20% ratings for prime time dramas have become rare, “Sazaesan” averages a solid 20%. This is extremely high for an anime show and has established the show as a national icon. The characters are probably recognized by 100% of the public.

It has been said that the ratings corelate to the economic climate in Japan because of its broadcast time of 6:30 on Sunday evenings. With a booming economy, the ratings decline because many families are still out enjoying dining or leisure activities at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. However, during recession, the ratings go up as more families stay home on Sundays and watch “Sazaesan” together during family supper.

For comparison, I looked up the longest running TV shows in the U.S. which is de facto the longest in the world. This would be “Meet the Press” on NBC, the Sunday morning political talk show that debuted in 1947. Next is “CBS Evening News” and NBC's morning news program “Today.” No. 4 is CBS Daytime drama “Guiding Light.”

What stands out in the list of Japanese Choju programs is the dominance of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), especially when you look at the shows with more than half a century of history. A wide range of genres are represented here as well, including the singing contest “Nodojiman” (which can be said to resemble American Idol), and Kohaku Uta Gassen (= an annual music show), and limited to news programs like in the American list.

PBS, which could be considered the U.S. equivalent as another public broadcasting company that pioneered the industry in their respective countries, barely makes in a top 10.

While asking more than 1.75 million fellow users of the Japanese message board called “Oshiete! Goo” for their favorite shows, many listed one of the Choju programs as favorites.

After watched an episode of “Sazae-san“, blogger Zakiyama Yumeko explained its plot and pondered:

こういうところが、長寿番組の秘訣でしょうか。ほのぼのした、いい話が多いですよね。
気がつけば、物心ついたころからサザエさんを見ていると思います。

I wonder if the atmosphere of “feeling good” is the secret of Choju programs? There are so many heart warming stories.
For most people, I think they'll find that they've watched Sazae-san for as long as they can remember.

What kind of shows do you like? Do you enjoy watching the shows your parents and your grandparents also enjoyed or are they outdated and boring? Do you think shows with decades of history will be around 20 years from now?

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