50 Years of NHK Television

50' Discovering TV's Potential

TV resembles cinema in that both involve the presentation of images. But as a broadcasting medium, TV also resembles radio. So how does TV differ from cinema and radio? Various prototype formats took shape over a period of about 10 years.

Live relays and documentary features

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Liberal Democratic Party formed Socialist unification Japan admitted to United Nations
Japan-Soviet joint declaration
Showa Base constructed in Antarctic
Soviet satellite launched
Tokyo Tower/10,000 yen bill
"Three sacred treasures": washing machine, refrigerator and television
Crown Prince Akihito (present Emperor) marries Shoda Michiko
Ise Bay Typhoon
1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
  NHK Broadcasting Museum NHK breakfast broadcasting NHK TV reception contracts reach one million HK Educational TV begins
Major revision of broadcast law

The first live TV news relay
The first TV news relay showed the departure of Crown Prince Akihito (the present Emperor) from the Port of Yokohama on March 30, 1953. He was going to Britain to The first live TV newsrepresent the Emperor at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and his departure came just two months after TV broadcasting began. NHK's engineers set up a temporary relay station on Mt. Tsurumi, halfway between Yokohama and Tokyo, to attempt their first two-step relay broadcast.
On this occasion, the crew used a 600-mm telescopic lens for the first time to capture close-ups of the Crown Prince as he stood on the deck of the President Wilson. This provided a closer view than would have been possible even for people actually present. It became an 85-minute live relay that showed everyone the power of TV.

The power of TV
Live news coverage with images was something that only television could achieve. The discovery of a broadcasting format that underlined TV's potential boosted the confidence of people working in the industry.

Sharing the experience
In 1959, the betrothal of the Crown Prince to Shoda Michiko, a commoner, sparked the so-called "Michi boom," and generated an eagerness to watch the royal wedding that significantly accelerated the spread of TV in Japan. Coverage on the wedding day was Japan's largest-ever live relay, mobilizing a total of 100 cameras and 1,000 personnel from both NHK and commercial broadcasting companies.


Around 15 million Japanese are said to have watched the royal wedding, making this the first occasion on which the entire nation was able to share an experience through television.

Jirocho and the Japanese
Japan Unveiled:
Jirocho and the Japanese

Developing TV journalism
When TV broadcasting began, every-thing was shot on film, since VTRs had not yet been developed. Cinema used 35-mm film, but TV relied on the more mobile and efficient 16-mm cameras to offer its own film-based coverage. This gave birth to a new type of program, the TV documentary. One especially notable series was Japan Unveiled, the first of a genre that came to be called the social documentary. It marked a departure from the conventional role of the news broadcasting media, which was simply to relay facts and events. By offering a clear perspective and opinions, these early documentaries pioneered today's approach to the presentation of news and current affairs.
The concept of Japan Unveiled (1957-64) was carried on by subsequent series such as Images of Contemporary Society (1964-71), Documentary (1971-76), and NHK Tokushu (1976-89). Documentaries came to be seen as a key element of TV journalism.

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