Photo/Illutration People watch on TV as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announces the new imperial era name “Reiwa” at an electronic appliance store in Kagoshima’s Chuo Ward on April 1, 2019. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

In the beginning of the television age, an actor was cast as a ninja in a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) period drama.

Right before the cameras began rolling, he was given his performance fee in an envelope, which he slipped into his kimono collar.

Back then, all TV dramas were aired live. There were no retakes.

In the scene being filmed, the ninja character is mortally slashed by a sword, and a fellow ninja rushes to his side. The dying ninja takes a piece of paper from his bosom and whispers to his colleague, “Take this secret missive to the lord.”

The camera zooms in on the paper and a closeup reveals it is the fee envelope.

Without missing a beat, the ninja actor ad-libs: “That is my pay. The secret missive is hidden deeper down.”

Famed actress and author Tetsuko Kuroyanagi recalled the anecdote in her collection of autobiographical essays titled “Totto Channel.”

Back in those days, everyone took their work seriously, but the outcome somehow verged on the slapstick, and that’s how TV was born and evolved over time in the nation.

TV broadcasting in Japan kicked off on Feb. 1 exactly 70 years ago.

One’s 70th birthday is called “koki” in Japanese and is considered to be auspicious. I suppose that this calls for a celebration, but there are also numbers that need to be looked at.

Teenagers watch TV for less than an hour, on average, on weekdays, according to a survey by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute. Even more surprisingly, half of the teens surveyed do not watch TV at all, while their online video consumption grows.

When I was in that age group, I would not consider skipping TV for even a day. I relied on the newspaper TV program schedule to check the day of the week. It worked like, “Tomorrow is Thursday because the ‘Best Ten’ music program will be on.”

But whenever there was a baseball game on, I invariably had to give up my favorite program for my baseball-addicted family members.

Still, an entire family hanging out together in front of a TV set must have presented a classic scene of family life back then.

With online videos, everyone can watch what they want at any time on their smartphone respectively, not looking at each other even when the entire family is in the same room.

The situation poses a tough dilemma for TV show producers.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 2

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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.