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HK wows Japanese viewers in TV love story

A television love story set in Hong Kong is capturing the hearts of millions of Japanese viewers in a soap opera hit that SAR tourism chiefs hope will boost the number of visitors to the territory.

Let's Meet In Kowloon, or Kowloon de Aimasho, which airs on Friday evenings, is a drama about two love-struck Tokyo travel company employees based in Hong Kong.

But the real stars of the show are not the Japanese actors but the sights and sounds of Hong Kong.

The first episode was screened on April 12 and grabbed an audience share of 10.6 per cent in Tokyo and 10.7 per cent in Hokkaido, which means more than one million people tuned in to watch in each location.

Hong Kong Tourism Board spokesman Simon Clennell said the board had been as accommodating as possible to the show's producers when they filmed in the SAR in March.

'Viewing figures of over eight per cent are considered a huge success in Tokyo, and the travel trade is already showing an interest. There is no doubt the success of a popular TV series can stimulate interest in coming to a particular location,' he said.

The series is the product of a growing relationship between the HK Tourist office in Tokyo and Japanese TV producers. The office has cooled its long-standing affair with traditional food and travel programmes to woo audiences with the popular TV soap format instead.

'When the US movie Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing was released [in 1955] it did wonders for Hong Kong's image,' Yuji Hitahara, assistant manager of the HK tourist office in Tokyo, said.

'But for a longer-lasting effect, I think dramas are the answer.'

The series, which airs at 11.50pm, targets two particular audiences - single women in their 30s and men in their 50s, population segments that have the largest disposable income in Japan and travel frequently by Japanese standards.

The series takes an unusual approach for a Japanese drama, depicting Hong Kong women as more honest and open than their Japanese counterparts.

The role of women is a favourite theme of popoluar manga artist Fumi Shimon who created the comic upon which the series is set.

A massive advertising campaign on the Tokyo train network has coincided with the launch of the series.

Hong Kong is popular with Japanese tourists and about 1.5 million visit annually.