Let's forget about elections, rising unemployment and United States President Bill Clinton's visit this summer and talk about what really matters to young people in Hong Kong: Japanese mini-soap operas. Being totally un-hip (I thought Hanson was an ugly girls' band), it was only last month I accidentally stumbled across this mega-television phenomenon during a trip to a packed shopping arcade in Mongkok. Most of the wardrobe-size shops were selling not only Category Five video compact discs (VCDs), but other non-pornographic Japanese titles such as Long Vacation, Love Generation, Beach Boys and High School Teacher. When I asked my colleagues whether they had heard about these Japanese soaps, they said: 'A year ago. Where have you been, Kevin?' I assured them they did not really want to know. But to illustrate Hong Kong's obsession with these Japanese imports (the mini-soaps, not Category Five VCDs), here is a piece of disturbing news I spotted in the newspapers this week. Headline: Noriko Sakai Fan Attempted Suicide. A 20-year-old girl (yes, 20, not 12) attempted suicide after she heard rumours her 'idol', Sakai, a singer and mini-soap starlet, was dead. The young woman reportedly said: 'Noriko Sakai is dead! I must [die] with her!' before trying to hurl herself off a Tuen Mun public-housing block. Luckily, she was stopped and saved by shocked neighbours. I have never watched any Japanese TV soaps for one good and simple reason: I do not understand Japanese. Though most are subtitled, that does not really help because by the time I finish reading the subtitles and digesting what they mean, the episode is over. When a couple of friends heard I had not seen any of these soaps, they were appalled. One talked me into buying the entire set of Long Vacation (which cost more than $200) so I could 'submerge' myself in this form of popular culture. 'Don't knock it until you have seen one,' he said. 'And make sure you have plenty of time to spare before watching the first episode. Once you start one you will not be able to stop yourself watching the rest. 'I stayed up overnight to finish the entire series.' But why? These soaps sounded like drugs. So on the following day, I popped the first Long Vacation disc into my VCD player with trepidation just before dinner time. Having watched five minutes of it, I realised I did not have to understand what the characters were saying to know what was going on. Like TV soaps around the world, people watch them because they don't have to use their brains, and each episode simply fills up an hour of their lives. I could foresee the next 12 hours of my life being filled up by the bizarre happenings of five very good-looking Japanese characters who spend most of their time chatting over a cup of coffee. About what? I did not really know (or care), since having a storyline is not the point of soaps. The point is that my brain needed a rest, and watching Long Vacation is like giving it five-star hotel treatment. In fact, according to one idol magazine I bought for research purposes (which cost $22), this mini-series has overtaken Under the Same Roof for the top spot on the 'Top 10 Japanese TV Soap Classics Chart'. The magazine explains the series is a hit because it features the popular 25-year-old screen idol Kimura Takuya. So Long Vacation has all the elements of a successful soap: great-looking actors and actresses, great music, great costumes, great settings . . . and pathetic storylines. By the time dinner was announced, my father was glued to the set. Since then, I have put away the discs, which I shall view during my holidays. But in the meantime I have become addicted to Japanese movies instead. That is because: 1) you can buy them cheaply at bargain basements; 2) they usually run for, at the most, two hours; and 3) I can therefore go to the bathroom in between. So last Sunday I 'submerged' myself in pop culture by spending half a day watching Japanese films. There was a time when I could not understand how people could sit in front of the telly and watch videos all day. But now I know. And it has to do with our mind-numbing pop culture, a topic I shall continue to discuss next week.