By Jason P. Hyland, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Tokyo

“Bikkuripon!” I tried this expression out during a dinner with my Japanese counterparts to see how far and wide the NHK Morning Drama’s cultural influence spreads -- and was not disappointed. Everyone laughed and immediately knew the source of the expression.

Anyone who has been watching the NHK Morning Drama “Asa ga Kita” will know that Asa Hirooka, the heroine, uses that special word to express surprise. I have to say I am crazy about NHK Morning Drama. Years ago I watched it from time to time, but coming back after being away for 15 years I was hooked from the first, catching the tail end of “Hanako to Anne” but then becoming a loyal viewer of “Massan.” The combination of the endearing international love story, the amazing saga of a great Japanese entrepreneur, and the history of fine whisky making in Japan, was too much to resist. And of course Charlotte Kate Fox, whom I had the chance to meet, achieved a tour de force by delivering her lines so well and with such feeling even though she did not speak Japanese at the time.

Perhaps because I am not a cook I was not as absorbed in “Mare,” but loved the scenes of Ishikawa, the struggles of an entrepreneur in a completely different field, and the complicated family dynamic.

I tried to catch the daily segment at 8 a.m. and was disappointed when I missed it until I realized that it is also broadcast at other times of the day on different NHK channels. It is, as they say in English, “ubiquitous.” I needn’t have worried.

As a student of Japanese history, I am fascinated by the details these dramas provide – on how Japanese lived in the early 20th century and how they established such breakthrough institutions as Japan’s first women’s college, as well as the struggles in setting up pioneering industries. The fashion makes these dramas a visual feast as well, particularly the mixing of traditional Japanese and Western dress during the Meiji and Taisho eras.

What is just as interesting is the social commentary these dramas often inspire. While I am not suffering from “Godai loss,” I am fascinated by the story of Asa Hirooka as a female entrepreneur and the discussions I hear about family roles and opportunities for women to excel as leaders in the workplace.

I find these 15 minutes well spent, as a meditation on Japanese society and history and a place to pick up regional dialect I would never otherwise.

From the beginning of April I will be watching “Totone-chan” and can’t wait to see how the story unfolds.