If you have ever lived in Japan, you know this man. At just about any time of the day, you can flick a few channels on the TV and there he will be. “Mino Monta” (みのもんた, who’s real name is actually Norio Minorikawa, 御法川 法男) is everywhere in Japan. You cant escape the man, who apart from seemingly living in TV studios, is also regularly on the radio, as well as being slated on huge billboards, plastered over the side of buses, not to mention his appearances in countless TV commercials. (Even as I am writing this, he just greeted me on a Tama Home TV ad).
Monta is a master of almost all genres of TV. He appears totally natural whether it be on talk shows, news programs or “variety TV” shows (as they are called in Japan). Documentaries are also in his forte, playing a great David Attenborough when he wants, and even hosts Japan’s version of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”.
Last Tuesday, the hyperactive Monta won a spot in the Guinness Book of Records, for, get this – “most hours spent on live TV”. According to Guinness, he spent 21 hours, and 42 minutes in one week, live to air!
“I’m so pleased. Talking is everything to me, I would be happy if I died talking.” he told the Guinness director Alistair Richards at a ceremony to honour his record in Tokyo last Tuesday.
Apart from his live appearances, Mino hosts a further four prerecorded programs (other than “Millionaire”), including the wildlife show “Amazing Animals” (どうぶつ奇想天外, Dōbutsu kisōtengai) and “Full Speed TV” (おもいっきりテレビ, Omoikkiri Terebi) on which he advises viewers on lifestyle, health and relationships. All up, he spends an amazing average of 34 hours and 45 minutes on the box each week!
Monta’s roller-coaster of a career started with a short stint in the conservative newspaper Sankei Newspaper, after which he was transferred to sister company, Nippon Cultural Broadcasting (NCB Radio) in 1967, where he worked as a radio news reader, covering baseball matches, and hosting the late-night program “Say! Young”.
The name Mino Monta originated in the opening to another NCB radio program he hosted, “All Japan Pop 20”, where his catch phrase was 「♪み〜のみの〜もんた み〜のもんた パッ！」or, in romaji, “Mi-nomino-monta, Mi-nomonta, Pa!” (which doesn’t mean anything at all as far as I know; think of it as his version of “goood mooorning Vietnaaam!”).
In 1979 he left NCB to work at his father’s company in Aichi Prefecture, but continued contract himself as a news reader for Aichi Broadcasting. Shortly after, in the same year, he started his television career as a freelance baseball reporter with Fuji TV.
These days, Mino Monta is known for his rare abilities on TV, where he is condescending and smarmy but at the same time authoritative and charming. He established himself as the housewives’ favorite with his daily afternoon show Omoikkiri Terebi, which has run for years on Nippon TV. The show features a call-in counseling segment, usually from middle-aged housewives who are having problems with their husband or mother-in-law. This is followed by a feature on a particular health issue. This segment has become such an institution that many irritated doctors say their patients swear by it. “If Monta says so, it must be true!”
Always tanned and immaculately groomed, he is so beloved and respected by middle-aged Japanese that he could sell them just about anything. The government of Ghana, so the story goes, enjoyed a surge in exports of cacao beans to Japan after Mino touted their health benefits on one of his shows.
He certainly seems to be able to swing his salesman charm when negotiating his own contracts too. Monta is said to be able to command a cool ¥5 million for an hour’s work (no wonder he puts in so many hours!)
Money aside, Mino loves hard work and wishes more Japanese people would share his work ethic. “Everyone has the capacity to do it, but the majority just don’t want to, and that’s a terrible waste,” he said. “Japan used to be known as a land of hard workers. Now it’s just the opposite.”
Success doesn’t come easy. Mino gets up at 3 a.m. and commutes from his home in Zushi, Kanagawa into Tokyo. Rehearsals start at 4:30 and he goes live at 5:30 for three hours. Then he travels across town for a two-hour live lunchtime program and most afternoons he tapes shows for the evening. There’s no time to relax on weekends: Mino has on-air commitments on Saturdays and Sundays too.
Amazingly, on top of all this, Monta is also the president of a company, called Nikokku (二コック株式会社), which specialises in manufacture and sales of water meters (of all things). The company however, is far from booming after being involved in a bid-rigging scandal in July 2001, when it’s headquarters in Roppongi, and Monta’s private residence were raided and searched by police. His company’s misdoing was subsequently exposed publicly, and was found guilty of several offences. This did not put a halt to the misdemeanors, and Nikkoku has come under investigation many times since, being officially warned by the authorities at least four times.
In his private life (if he has such a thing), Mino Monta is also well known as a smooth sailor on the female front. He is constantly spotted around Roppongi, with less than sober, but gorgeous girls hanging off each of his arms. When he gets time to sleep with this sort of lifestyle, god only knows.
But being the busiest man in Japanese show-business took its toll. After being brought in to help boost the flagging ratings of NHK’s annual New Year’s Eve song contest (紅白歌合戦, Kōhaku Uta Gassen), he was immediately hospitalized for surgery on his back. Days later, a tearful Mino gave a TV press conference (broadcast live of course), thanking his doctors, while relieving the worry of his fans with his mischievous smile.
Monta has been known to say (likely in jest) that he would “welcome the chance to become the Prime Minister of Japan”. For now though, no political party has dared to invite him into their ranks, because, according to him, “they know I wouldn’t take a pay cut.” For now, Monta has no plans to retire. And that’s his final answer.