Yukki's mum started me off watching asadora, the NHK dramas that are so much a part of everyday morning life in Japan. I hugely enjoyed watching the story of Natsu in Natsuzora, about a child war orphan given a kind and loving home by a family of dairy farmers in Hokkaido, and how she pursued her dream of becoming an animation artist in Tokyo. Like many asadora, the woman protagonist is often based on someone in real life: in this case Natsu was based on pioneering female animator Reiko Okuyama.
Asa ga Kita was a wonderful story about a young ambitious girl from a wealthy family of Kyoto money-lenders growing up to successfully open one of Osaka's first banks, as well as a university for women. Asa's story was based on businesswoman Hirooka Asako, and was set during the interesting transitional period of Japan's history during the Meiji era.
Recently I've loved watching Ama-chan, and I'm currently watching Hanako to An. I learn so much from these dramas about social history, and they help my Japanese listening skills too! You can watch these dramas too, in Japanese with English subtitles, by just clicking on the links: Ama-chan and Hanako to An!
Aki dives for uni in Ama-chan!
Teenage Aki leaves Tokyo with her mother Haruko, and arrives at her mother’s family home in the Prefecture of Iwate. The traditional home of Aki’s grandmother is in the small coastal town of Kitasanrikyu, and Aki first meets her grandmother when she emerges from the sea wearing the diving gear of the ama. Ama dive for uni (sea urchins) in the cool waters of the summer months. They are a speciality, and the town’s Tourism Association is keen to promote both the ama and their sea urchin diving, and the cute local train (the Kitatetsu).
Aki of the ama!
Aki longs to become an ama just like her grandmother, and she is drawn into the close community of Kitasanrikyu.
Aki befriends a local girl, Yui, who longs to leave the quiet rural nature of the small northern town and she dreams of becoming an Idol in Tokyo. The two girls team together to create a unique entertainment partnership which is based around a nostalgic movie theme song called Shiosai no Memories. It is Aki who has the opportunity to pursue Yui’s Idol dream, but when the March 11th 2011 earthquake devastates Aki’s beloved Kitasanrikyu, she returns to the community that she loves. The drama sensitively portrays the resilience of the small community as they rebuild Aki's Ama Cafe. Aki, who has experienced the life of the Tokyo Idol that Yui longed for, echoes her seafaring grandfather when she explains to Yui, that she has returned to the place that she loves and that Kitasanrikyu is the best place in the world!
This is a gentle tale told in a heart-warming way, with characters that you grow to care for. I would recommend watching NHK asadora Ama-chan!
3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami
Released in 2013, the asadora series Ama-chan became widely popular not only for its great casting and storyline, but also it's thoughtful coverage of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which occured on March 11th, 2011. This year marks the 10th year - a full decade - since the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami. In 2015, Yukki had the opportunity to volunteer in Otsuchi, a small fishing village in Iwate Prefecture, for about a month. She wishes that she could have stayed longer and has re-visited Otsuchi on several occasions throughout the past few years. What brings her back is the kind, close-knit community of people as well as the great Japanese countryside lifestyle.
A photo that Yukki took on Horaijima, a very small island located in Otsuchi. It's considered to be the inspired location of another famous NHK TV series called Hyokkori Hyoutan Jima (ひょっこりひょうたん島). Tohoku, this area of Eastern Japan, is a beautiful place with many delightful hidden gems. Through her past works in this region, Yukki is very inspired by the people's resilience here. Due to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, people are more motivated than ever to showcase the beauty and wonders of this area. There are many exciting projects here that are not only revitalizing Tohoku, but pushing it to the forefront of innovation in Japan! We hope that watching TV dramas such as Amachan will inspire you to visit Tohoku one day :) Another very easy way to make a difference is by searching "3.11" on Yahoo (yahoo.co.jp) on March 11th. For every time you search "3.11" on Yahoo, they will donate 10 yen to various innovation + reconstruction projects that are ongoing in Tohoku. Please give it a try tomorrow!
Hanako to An
Hanako to An is loosely based on the life of the real Hanako Muraoka, who is known for her translations into Japanese of Western children's classic books. Hanako was born into a poor, devout Christian family in Kofu, in 1893. She attended a private girls' school in Tokyo run by a Canadian missionary, and went on to become a teacher, and the translator of such well-loved Western books as Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper; The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; and Ann of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
Hana is a young girl from Kofu in Yamanashi, whose home lies in view of beautiful Mount Fuji. Her family are very poor, and there is little to eat, but Hana's love of books and learning surpass her hunger. Her kindly pedlar father recognises her passion for learning, and insists on applying to a fine missionary girls' school in Tokyo, so that Hana may be taken in on a scholarship.
The students at the Tokyo girls' school are all from wealthy families, and so we see the very big divide between those with privilege and those without. As Hana becomes older, she befriends Renko, who is a nobleman's daughter. Renko's story arc is an unhappy one so far - she is forced into an arranged marriage in order to bring money to her unkind family.
Hanako carries her furoshiki when she returns home from her Tokyo school with her friend Renko-san!
The girls at the school wear beautiful kimono. I was surprised to see that part of the red kimono ‘uniform’ are red detachable over-skirts – a modified version of the white detachable trains that Heian court ladies wore nine centuries before. The girls attend a Christian school and attend Sunday school, which is their only time to meet boys. These fine, gentlemanly boys are able to post love letters to the girls by secretly placing them in the sleeves of their kimono. The letters are knotted, just like the knotted love letters of the Heian era. They may not be composed on carefully chosen coloured paper, and they may not be scented or attached to a symbolic cherry blossom branch, but they are a romantic white knotted letter nonetheless!
The beautifully kimono-wrapped girls carry beautifully colour-matched furoshiki-wrapped presents!
On finishing school, Hana returns to her poor family home in order to teach at the school she once attended. The children inspire her to write a children's story, which is her first book to be published.
Hana wraps her books in furoshiki before heading off to the school where she teaches.
This, too, is a very engaging tale of a young woman's aspiration to become a writer and translator. I'm half-way through the series, and looking forward to learning how Hanako becomes the translator of Ann of Green Gables!
Hanako carries her furoshiki through the busy streets of early twentieth century Tokyo!
We'd love to hear your recommendations too!
We hope you enjoyed our review! You can find more of our Japanese TV/movies reviews in our previous blogs: Zusetsu's Favourite Japanese Anime Zusetsu's Favourite Ghibli Films Zusetsu's Favourite Japanese TV Shows Furoshiki in Japanese Morning Drama Asa ga Kita Now it's your turn! Please message us with your recommendations - we would love to know! :)
Thank you for reading, Cathy and Yukki xxx
Photo Sources: Ama-chan Promotional Poster is from NHK.
Other stills from Hanako to An are screenshots from the NHK broadcast viewed on Dramacool.
Promotional photos are all from NHK.