Every day except Sunday, when I was in primary school, I was glued to each "asadora" morning drama episode of the "renzoku TV shosetsu" serial dramas that the Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) began airing in 1961.

I ceased paying attention to the show decades ago, yet it's still a frequent conversation topic today at home and work.

The asadora currently being aired is the 100th in the series.

What's the secret of its popularity and extraordinary longevity?

"The programs have shaped Japanese perceptions of family and work," noted Wakako Tako, 46, a drama critic and the author of "Taisetsu na Koto wa Minna Asadora ga Oshiete Kureta" (Asadora have taught me every important thing I should know).

"The quality is a mixed bag, but I watch every series, religiously," she added.

Tako used an analogy of Japanese historical periods to explain the nature of each of the past 99 asadora, saying the years right after the program's 1961 launch were like the Jomon and Yayoi periods (8,000 B.C-300 A.D.).

NHK was still struggling to determine the series' direction and experimented with dramatizations of well-known novels by Japanese literary greats such as Saneatsu Mushanokoji (1885-1976) and Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972). Back then, its protagonists were elderly men.

Its ensuing "Yamato Period" arrived in 1966 with "Ohana-han," the sixth in the series.

"This established the series' direction, which boiled down to some 'tomboy' growing into a strong woman despite life's trials and tribulations," Tako explained.

In 1983, the phenomenally successful "Oshin"--the 31st in the series--became the model of excellence to be followed, and effectively ushered in the series' "Edo Period."

Then, a new approach used in "Ama-chan"--the 88th in the series aired in 2013--made an impact comparable to the Meiji Restoration in magnitude.

Many people lament how formulaic asadora have become. However, the series still have fanatical fans, who actually call NHK to complain when they find out their favorite character is about to be "killed."

And it appears that the very predictability of each story--the lively heroine from a modest background eventually achieves happiness and success--is what the viewing public ultimately wants.

"Natsuzora," which is currently airing, is about a girl who lost her parents in World War II and goes to work on a Hokkaido farm operated by her father's former comrade-in-arms.

The storyline couldn't be more formulaic. Yet, watching it day after day, viewers come to fully empathize with the heroine.

The magnetism of asadora is mysterious indeed.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 16

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.