Television: Land of the Rising Plug

One recent evening, Japanese at their 14-inch TV screens watched breathlessly as a topknotted samurai disarmed his opponent after some ferocious swordplay. The cowering loser awaited the death thrust; instead, the victor tossed him a bottle of tranquilizer pills, shouted the manufacturer's name and advised: "If you took these regularly, you wouldn't get into such a fix!"

This method of building the commercial into the drama is the most distinctive feature of television in Japan, a nation rapidly becoming as TV-obsessed as the U.S. In a soap opera, A Comic Housemaid, the heroine...

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