Oshin is a Japanese serialized morning television drama, airing on broadcaster NHK from April 4, 1983 to March 31, 1984. The series follows the life of Shin Tanokura (田倉 しん Tanokura Shin) during the Meiji period up to the early 1980s. Shin was called "Oshin", which is Japanese archaic Cognomen.
In total, 297 15-minute episodes were shown. In Japan, the annual average audience share was 52.6%, with a peak rating of 62.9% for a single episode. As of today, Oshin aired in 59 countries, with subtitles ranging from English to Arabic. In 1984, the earlier episodes of the drama (focused on young Oshin) was made into an animated movie by Sanrio. The movie reused Sugako Hashida's scripts and Ayako Kobayashi, who played young Oshin, did the voice of Oshin.
The story starts off in present time 1983. Instead of attending the opening festivities for the 17th store, Shin Tanokura decided to instead take a train trip. Her family is in a frenzy, not knowing where she might be. Oshin's grandson, Kei, remembers the story of the kokeshi doll she once told. Based on a hunch from the story, he goes on a trip of his own and catches up with Oshin. From there, the two of them begin a journey back, traveling through various parts of Japan she once lived years earlier, and started remembering the difficult times she faced in her life.
In 1907, Oshin, at seven years, is sent off by her father to work as a babysitter, in order to support her family. With the physical and verbal abuse by her employer, Oshin insisted on sticking it through for the sake of her family. However, when she is accused of stealing money, she runs away and for days suffers through snow blizzards as she walks back home to be with her mother. But the blizzard is so rough on her, she nearly freezes to death. She's rescued by a man who himself is a fugitive, and stays with him until the snow melts.
Upon her return to her home, Oshin is once again sent back out - this time to Kaga-ya in Sayaka to work as a babysitter. She makes good friends with the daughter, who is the same age as Oshin, and stays at the Kaga-ya until she turns 16. But even after returning home once again, her father wants her to once again go back out and work as a bar maid. Realizing that the bar maid job is a cover for prostitution, Oshin runs off to Tokyo to follow her older sister Haru's dream of becoming a hair stylist.
While as a hairstylist, she met her husband and they were married. While they survived the Great Earthquake of 1923, their house and business was destroyed and they had to return to her in-laws house. As the marriage was not approved by her mother-in-law, Oshin suffered great hardship while living with them. She broke her arm while attempting to escape and even lost her soon-to-be-born baby because of the hard labor she had to endure working in the fields. She finally left her in-laws with her child but without her husband and attempted to rebuild her life. Subsequently, she found out she could no longer be a hair stylist because of her broken arm. She found jobs as the owner of a small bar-restaurant, pastry chef and even a peddler of fresh fish. Her business boomed and with her husband's help, Oshin established a small but bustling raw seafood shop.
The story continues right up to present 1983, and follows Oshin's adult life as she becomes a wife, raises children of her own, and experiences real-life events - including earthquakes and World War II.
Behind the scenes
The story of Oshin is based on a biography of a Japanese woman, modeled after the mother of Kazuo Wada, a Japanese businessman. Mr. Wada created Yaohan, a Japanese supermarket chain. The structure of the story was developed through a collection of anonymous letters assembled by Sugako Hashida (橋田壽賀子 Hashida Sugako, May 10, 1925 - ). "It is the untellable past of a woman of the Meiji period, composed right on her deathbed," Hashida said. "I felt that telling of her hardships of serving as an apprentice and 'being sold at a brothel' was an obligation our generation needed to honor. However, the themes were so harsh and dark that the show was rejected by every [Japanese] television network. Even NHK was opposed to it. 'We can't confront Meiji issues,' I was told. But it was settled when (then) station director Mikio Kawaguchi (川口幹夫 Kawaguchi Mikio) gave his approval."
Even during the airing of the series, the NHK office in Saga Prefecture was flooded with calls of protest, such as when the drama's depiction of a war between in-laws (taking place in the prefecture), which the residents felt inflicted perceived damage to the prefecture's reputation. And, Oshin came under some criticism when Makoto Sataka (佐高信 Sataka Makoto), a critic from Sakata city, Yamagata Prefecture (the site of Oshin's apprenticeship) alleged that there were many women who experienced even tougher hardships than Oshin.
Oshin, the heroine, serves as a symbolic figure for perseverance, showing that a person should never give up - even in the most trying times. She was beloved not only by the Japanese people, but also by people from countries all over the world. In Japan, many references to Oshin were made when describing perseverance. For example, sumo wrestler Takanosato was coined the name "Oshin Yokozuna", as he fought his way up to the rank of Yokozuna (sumo), despite dealing with Diabetes. Other terms were used during the 1980s, such as "Oshin Diet", where residents were dealing with the Bubble economy and therefore were driven to eating radish and rice. And, a famous cruise line down the Mogami River was renamed "Oshin Line".
Oshin enjoyed particular popularity when broadcast in developing Asian countries. So much that even today, Ayako Kobayashi (小林綾子 Kobayashi Ayako), the actress who played Oshin from ages six through ten, experiences warm receptions when she visits such countries. In Vietnamese, the term ô-sin had become a euphemism for Domestic worker.