The Reithian principle – that television exists not simply to entertain, but to inform and serve the public good – was just popular in Japanese TV of the 1960s and 1970s and at the BBC in London. Hitachi and NTV came together to make a longrunning travel documentary along these lines: an epic educational odyssey. 1,010 30-minute episodes were broadcast on Sunday evenings between 9 October 1966 and 16 September 1990. They were shot on film until 1980, when videotape took over. Click here to see a screengrab of the opening credits from the 1980s.
When producer Junichi Ushiyama began work on Hitachi Wonderful World Travel, passports and overseas trips were open to only a few Japanese – and had only been available at all since 1964. The world beyond their islands was still a place of mystery and wonder for most Japanese viewers. Ushiyama made the show at NTV for eight years before going independent in December 1972. Unsurprisingly, Japan Airlines was an early sponsor, keen to grow the market for international travel.
In order to ensure both educational and entertainment value, Ushiyama drew on a wide range of contacts. Academic heavyweights such as Professor Masao Oka of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and University of Tokyo cultural anthropologist Yasushi Izumi were brought on board. Directors like Yoshimitsu Banno (then a rising star at Toho) were hired. Cinematographers included Yoshitaka Sakamoto. Voice actor Akira Kume – later renowned as the voice of both Crusher Joe‘s stern father Dan and the gentle daddy in Doraemon, as well as the Japanese voice of a host of big names including Humphrey Bogart, Alec Guinness and Christopher Lee – provided the narration.
The series also featured three “special edition” anime shows. Its serious documentary credentials didn’t prevent the producers and sponsors from realising that the young TV audience loved animation, and that they could be hooked on fact through the cunning use of science fiction.
Fifth Ice Age: A Trip To Alaska was screened as two half hour episodes on 29 January and 5 February 1967 . Taking the theme of global warming, Sasaki Kimori’s script asked whether man should use cutting-edge technology to survive the coming ice age, or absorb the wisdom of ancient civilisations and tribal peoples to deal with the cold in time-honoured ways forgotten by modern urban man. Staff claimed to have visited the northernmost tip of Alaska in midwinter to add realism to the show.
Masahiro Mori and former Mushi Pro staffer Renzo Kinoshita directed, with Hiroshi Manabe as animation director. The show was successful enough to be followed in followed in 1968 by The Story of the Year 2000: Computopia – Journey to New York. After a ten-year gap there was a further animated segment, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaur Kingdom. You can find out more about these in The Anime Encyclopedia.