Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands

There have been plenty of TV programmes about Japan over the years but they only really ever focus on Tokyo and Kyoto so it was refreshing that this three-part BBC documentary series exemplified that there is plenty of life beyond those two particular cities.

In the land of noisy, dumbed down terebi it was so nice to see this trio of one hour BBC2 episodes dedicated to showing Japan’s true wild side in it’s most simplistic form. The beautifully shot footage of Japan’s natural environment was left to speak for itself with limited voiceover from Michelle Dockery adding to the pictures. It’s all a far cry from the TV programmes that air in this country!

Originally shown in June 2015 these programmes each week featured on different regions of Japan with the last ten minutes of each episode being a very enjoyable diary feature giving behind the scenes information about how the filming was done which I found to be very interesting.

Here is a rundown and review of what was in each episode:

Episode 1: Honshu – Tokyo may be a concrete jungle stretching as far as the eye can see but the main island of Honshu where it’s located is around 75% mountainous. As explained in the ‘Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire‘ documentary this is why the cities are so crowded as people can’t live so easily in such environments.

Despite living in the most urban of places many of the residents of Honshu yearn for nature and throughout the year they sample it here and there. The seasons are very much celebrated in Japan and this episode starts and finishes with the magic of the brief cherry blossom season which shows the Japanese bond with the natural world runs deep.

About half of Honshu is forested and accordingly it’s a feast of nature here and the viewer gets a good insight into the lives of monkeys, tree frogs, giant carp, fireflies, bees, black bears, squid, tanuki and deer. There is nowhere where the paths of these animals and humans don’t cross and nowhere is that more evident than with the latter two.

However, their interaction with humans is very different. The deer of Nara spend their days hanging out with the many tourists around the temples and shrines of this famous area and are allowed to wander freely as they are believed to be messengers of the gods.Tanuki a.k.a. Japanese racoon dogs are rarely seen (apart from in this series of course!) for they roam the streets at night having been forced to adapt to urban landscapes after forests made way for concrete. They can be a nuisance but are also believed to bring good luck.

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Episode 2: The South-West Islands – As you might expect this episode was more focused on aquatic life but first up was the truly unique sight of the Japanese macaque and deer species both living side by side on Yakushima island with the former riding on the latter’s backs.

Sakurajima is next to feature and this island has the most volatile volcano which has been erupting for 60 years. It could get quite violent at anytime and covers the city in ash every few weeks. I guess the residents are more than used to taking such precautions but seeing the school kids wear protective helmets is not something you see everyday! Believe it or not there are actually some benefits of the eruptions as it means the soil is very fertile and people go here to bury themselves up to their neck in sand to help improve circulation and vitality.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this programme was the section on sea-snakes whose greatest nemesis is actually two 70 year old women divers. They have been hunting snakes on the small island of Kudaka (just east of Okinawa’s main island) for 40 years and it’s been in the family of one of them for over 500 years. They brave the cave waters at night without any protection whatsoever to just grab the venomous sea snakes by hand. Inspiring stuff!

The lost world of Yonaguni is Japan’s westernmost island lying fairly close to Taiwan and therefore the first island to feel the force of the frequent typhoons which hit the country. Only as recently as 1986 were colossal terraced sandstone pyramids discovered off the island’s southern coast. There is still debate as to how the submerged monuments originated.

Other Hokkaido highlights included seeing the worlds tiniest wild boar on Iriomote-jima island, how mozuku seaweed is grown, a caterpillar transforming into the largest moth in the world and heavy crabs that can’t swim and have to wade to a safe distance to release their precious eggs without getting swept out to sea.

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Episode 3: Hokkaido – Only 4% of Japan’s population live on Japan’s wildest island which is home to the brown bear. Way back in the past when Russia and Hokkaido were attached, their ancestors could actually walk to Japan’s most northerly island from Siberia. This episode showed a brown bear and it’s two cubs hunting for salmon which was quite possibly the highlight of the whole series for me. In the area they filmed in on the north-east coast, there are around 200 brown bears and the post-show diary part showed how the bears and fishermen integrate into society without too much fear from either species.

Other highlights included seeing two stag’s fighting, cranes doing some kind of ballet having been close to extinction last century and sika deer, the toughest in the world who are prepared for everything that’s thrown at them and have to search  for food buried deep beneath the snow.

It wasn’t just about animals though as once the harsh winter season is over, there’s a dramatic colour change and transformation which sees Hokkaido resemble rural England. The narration tells us that Hokkaido never stands still and it’s seasons rush by which is proved by it’s short Spring and Summer seasons. During July it becomes positively Mediterranean-like whilst the rest of Japan sweats it’s way through extreme hot and humid conditions.

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The landscapes of Japan’s 6000 islands are highly varied and range from volcanic mountainous terrain to subtropical warmth and throughout this wild and mysterious land. This series provided a great insight into the extraordinary relationship that’s developed between the wildlife and the people whose lives are entwined.

Click here for a list of TV shows and documentaries about Japan

Fukuyama – Kamichu! Locations

Whilst doing my research on Fukuyama I came across the 2005 Japanese animation ‘Kamichu!’ which, though mainly based on real-life locations in Onomichi, also briefly featured an episode in Fukuyama. The actual name wasn’t referenced for it was just “a nearby town” where Miko and Shoukichi run away to for mysterious reasons. This can be seen in episode 11 (though advertised as episode 10 in this YouTube link) which is titled Koi wa Yukue Fumei (Love is Missing).

No sooner had the Golden Week holidays began and I was departing Tokyo on a 7:10 am Shinkansen train to Fukuyama where I would spend the day in the area before moving on in the evening to Hiroshima to spend time with my parents-in-law before my wife joined us a day later.

At just after 11am I arrived at Fukuyama station and immediately set off in search of the Izurachojin (basically five cove fisherman) statue standing beside the south exit. Playing truant from school, Miko and Shoukichi are stood in front of it on 5 minutes trying to decide where to go exactly having arrived by train from Onomichi. Miko even suggests going home maybe but as it is they leave their school stuff in a locker before going for a burger at the fictional (presumably!) Nichibatsu Burger (NB) restaurant.

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Fukuyama-jo Castle is a stones throw from the north exit of the station and it can be seen on 20 minutes. The pair of them eat taikyaki (a kind of fish-shaped cake) from a vendor in the castle grounds. I took a brief wander around the castle grounds amid a sizeable crowd of families enjoying the holiday sun but I decided against going in the castle (¥200) as I wanted to move on to my main destination in the area of Tomonoura.

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As it gets darker, Miko and Shoukichi are sat on the swings talking in the Fukuyama-jo castle park which is a small park on the lower lot of the castle grounds. They debate the idea of going home before Yurie and friends eventually find them. I’d make fun of the pair for not doing too much in Fukuyama if it wasn’t for the fact that I did just as little whilst I was there!!

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Sadly I didn’t have enough time on this trip to get to Onomichi once again but this was a nice taster and naturally the next mission is to hunt down the many locales used in the TV series. In the meantime I will just have to settle for enjoying the following blogs which give some fantastic detailed information on the real locations in and around the city which have been faithfully depicted.

Punynari’s Island Aventures          Cardcaptor’ Blog

You can watch all 16 episodes (English dubbed) of ‘Kamichu!‘ here

Japan-Related References In The Simpsons

It’s a fact that one of my lasting images of Japan came not from one of the many movies ‘set’ in Japan but Homer Simpson continuing to just walk through the paper walls when he and his family came to Tokyo (and Osaka) in season 10 of the long running animated sitcom. Continue reading

TV Shows And Documentaries About Japan

It seems the idea of a TV station sending some kind of celebrity to the land of Japan is not going to end anytime soon with programme after programme continuing to be churned out by television networks each and every year. As well as the ‘fish out of water’ concept there have also been a wealth of documentaries covering all kinds of subject matter from the land of the rising sun…if I can use that overly used description of this country which no-one actually ever says!

Having made similar lists on ‘Songs about Japan‘ and ‘Music Videos filmed in Japan I thought it was about time to compile as many of the English-language TV shows about Japan. This is by no means an exhaustive list but if you know of something missing then please let me know and I’ll add it to this list. I have only included links for the video’s of episode’s which are on YouTube but please remember that things are taken down from there all the time so some links may not work. Others are available on other search engines (Putlocker, Sockshare etc) so if you really want to see a programme then you’ll have to look around the internet for it.

Globe Trekker (S01E08S10E01, S16E12, S17E05, Channel 4/Travel Channel (1994 – Present) – The long running adventure tourism series has called in to Japan a fair few times over the years. It’s premise is similar to the Lonely Planet guidebooks in that it often tries to go beyond popular tourist destinations in order to give viewers a more authentic look at local culture.

The Simpsons Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo (S10E23), Sky One (1999) – The dysfunctional family take a cheap last-minute flight to Tokyo. The episode references and mocks several aspects of Japanese and American culture, as well as differences between the two. More details here

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A Cook’s Tour (S01E01 & S01E02), Food Network (2001) – Short 20 minute episodes and Anthony Bourdain’s introduction to TV following the acclaim surrounding his memoir, ‘Kitchen Confidential‘.

The Tom Green Subway Monkey Hour, MTV (2002) – The Canadian comedian basically torments the Japanese people with a load of sketches including monkeys, temple tours, slurping noodles, musical performances and so much more.

Jonathan Ross’ Japanorama (3 seasons), BBC Three (2002 – 2007) – 18 episode’s from the TV and radio funny man with each one focusing on a different theme, around which he presents cultural phenomena, films, music, and art that exemplify facets of Japan. More details here

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Adam & Joe Go Tokyo (8 episodes), BBC Three (2003)  – Magazine-style show with a Japanese band, a couple of guests and funny features on each episode. More details here

Geisha GirlDocumentary, BBC1 (2005) – Documentary about a 15-year-old Japanese girl’s arduous training to become an apprentice geisha.

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (S02E01/S02E07, S04E16S07E08S08E05), Travel Channel (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012) – Similar format and content to his previous show with the host visiting worldwide cities and countries as well as places within the U.S. with an emphasis on local food and culture. Japan-based episodes didn’t just focus on the capital city but also Hokkaido, Nagano, Ishikawa and Osaka. More details here

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Jack Osbourne Adrenaline Junkie (S02E03), ITV2 (2005) – Not even a full episode was dedicated to Japan but following some white-water rafting in New Zealand, Jack comes this way and embarks on some more spiritual challenges. More details here

Kelly Osbourne Turning Japanese (S01E01S01E02S01E03), ITV2 (2006) – Kelly spends five weeks in Japan trying her hand at a number of different jobs; both weird and traditional. More details here

Journey’s Into The Ring Of Fire Japan (S01E04), BBC1 (2006) – Four part documentary series looking at how geology has shaped human history and culture in Pacific Rim regions. More details here

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Top Gear (S11E04), BBC2 (2008) – Jeremy and a Nissan race across Japan against James and Richard, who are on the shinkansen (bullet train). This challenge comes to a climax at Nokogiri-yama mountain in Chiba.

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Japan: In Search Of Wabi SabiDocumentary, BBC4 (2009) – Marcel Theroux sets off across Japan to define the elusive concept of wabi sabi; an idea at the heart of the Japanese psyche but so difficult to define. More details here

Japan: A Story Of Love And HateDocumentary, BBC4 (2009) – About a 56 year old  postal worker who had it all during the bubble era before losing it in the early 1990’s. Thrice-divorced and dating a much younger girl he has long been an outsider in Japan. They share a shoebox room with no windows, he’s a house-husband with only a part time job whilst she has three jobs to support them both. It also focuses on meeting each others families in order to save the relationship. More details here

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Fish! A Japanese Obsession, Documentary, BBC4 (2009) – Investigation into the Japanese love of fish and their need to eat so much with particular reference to whale. It details the emotional attachment to it which Japan just doesn’t have as they continue to hunt these huge specimens which may become extinct. More details here

Great Railway Journeys: Tokyo To Kagoshima, Documentary, BBC4 (2009) – Part of the Japan season on this BBC4, Fergal Keane travels through Japan, starting with the shinkansen (bullet train) in Tokyo and journeying through the countryside where he contemplates the old and the new. More details here 

Justin Lee Collins Turning Japanese (3 episodes), Channel Five (2011) – The comedian throws himself in at the deep end as he travels to Tokyo and Osaka on a cultural trip where he gets involved in a few challenges such as performing as part of a Japanese comedy duo. More details here

An Idiot Abroad (S02E07) Japan: Climbing Mount Fuji, Sky One (2011) – Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant monitor the progress of Karl Pilkington who has no interest in global travel. In series two Karl chooses activities from a general (but not his) “bucket list” with one of them being to climb Japan’s iconic mountain. More details here

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World’s Busiest Train Station, Channel 5 (2013) – Documentary detailing 24 hours in the life of the dedicated staff at Shinjuku station in Tokyo. More details here

The Moaning Of Life Kids (S01E03), Sky One (2013) – Karl sets out to learn why people have children and in Japan he attends the Kanamara Matsuri a.k.a. the penis festival where he assists other men in carrying a large portable shrine shaped like a phallus. Karl has no kids or interest in having them but he decides to have his sperm tested to see if he is capable of fathering children.

Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Tokyo (S02E08) CNN (2013) – Bourdain is back in Tokyo again and this time his aim is to seek out the city’s dark, extreme, and bizarrely fetishistic underside featuring some unique subcultures. More details here

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Hairy Bikers Asian Adventure (S01E04S01E05), BBC2 (2013) – The British duo travel around Asia on their beloved bikes with two episodes in Japan taking in Tokyo, Fuji, Kyoto and Kobe whilst trying the local cuisine, meeting local people and cooking some native dishes themselves. More details here

Tom Daley Goes Global (S01E02), ITV2 (2014) – The Olympic diver (and his best friend Sophie) takes six weeks off his training to go backpacking around the world to get life-changing experiences and to try some extreme sports to raise money for charity.  More details here

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The Charlotte Crosby Experience – The Furisode-San of Tokyo (S01E02), TLC (2014) – The English reality TV star spends time in different extreme cultures living with some of the world’s unique communities and that of course includes Japan. More detailshere

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Grand Designs (S14E09) The Japanese House: Revisited (Revisited from S13E06), Channel 4 (2014) – Presenter Kevin McCloud revisits a unique Japanese-Welsh fusion home which was completely transformed from a damp old forester’s house.

If you know of any more programmes which could be added to this list (and there are many!!) then let me know in the comments or tweet me using @tokyofox

Madame Tussaud’s Waxwork Museum

One of the things that my mother-in-law wanted to do in London was to visit this very famous and hugely popular waxworks museum. I have to say that I’d never had too much enthusiasm for going to this place which may surprise regular readers (yes, such people do actually exist!) who have witnessed me travelling wide and far just to get my picture taken with a statue of some sort. However, I have always had a slight problem with there being so many of them in one place and the rather high entry fees probably put me off a bit too!

Before we arrived in England though, I went online and was able to book the four of us some tickets for an early evening visit which were sold at 50% lower fare and I guess £15 per ticket in this day and age ain’t so bad. The first part of the museum is a red carpet affair with some of the world’s biggest and most famous movie stars on show. It certainly hits you how busy this place is which took me a little by surprise as whenever I’ve seen friends pictures on Facebook at this place it’s looked like there’s been plenty of room and space to wander freely and get your photo’s taken with the stars! However, in reality it’s a mad crush and you’ve gotta almost force your way through to the front to get that all-important picture. Luckily my wife and mother-in-law were pretty good at that and soon got into the spirit of the place whilst my father-in-law and I took a little longer to adjust to the hordes of people in attendance.

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The stars on show in this area included Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Willis, George Clooney, Dame Judi Dench, Daniel Craig, Arnold Schwarzenegger (all pictured) as well as Russell Brand, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Emma Watson, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and many more.

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We then proceeded along the walking route to the ‘Sport’ section where I got my hands on the World Cup alongside England great Bobby Moore, met David Beckham again (there’s a model of him and his wife in the ‘Party’ zone) and got to hang out with rugby and tennis legends Jonny Wilkinson and Boris Becker.

It was in this section that I realised you really have to pick and choose the ones you want to get photographed with although I’m sure there are some people who do each and every model. Global superstars of past and present like Pele, Rafael Nadal, Tiger Woods and Usain Bolt featured among British talent like Tom Daley, Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Lewis Hamilton and so on. All interesting to me but pretty much unknown by my wife and her parents!

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We passed through the royals (just too many people waiting for picture opportunities) and culture sections fairly quickly before stopping at the music section which was stocked full with models of pop queens like Madonna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Adele, Cheryl Cole, Kylie and Rihanna. Other legends like Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury, the Beatles and erm, One Direction were on display.

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In terms of the waxwork models the World Leaders zone was pretty much the last area of real interest with the likes of Barrack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Boris Johnson and David Cameron (but no Japanese politicians!) featuring among others not that my wife knew who the latter two were when she took the above photograph! We finished off things with the Spirit of London ride; a black cab ride through periods of British history such as Elizabethan and Victorian era’s, Shakespeare, the Plague, the Great Fire of London, The Industrial Revolution, the World Wars, the swinging sixties and so on

The finale was the Marvel Super Heroes and their 4D movie experience went down way better than expected having had to wait nearly twenty minutes to see it.

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Overall, we probably spent about 90 minutes in the place which in all honesty was fairly quick and proof that you could easily stay there for a few hours. Someone came up with the idea of stopping for dinner afterwards at the nearby Wetherspoon’s pub next to Baker Street Underground Station and my father-in-law finally got the chance to sample some fish and chips and a pint of Guinness.

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Tokyo Daytripper: Gojira-Koen (Godzilla Park)

In anticipation of a forthcoming Godzilla-themed cycling tour of Tokyo ahead of the very late Japan release (two months after the rest of the world!) of the 2014 movie, I was searching the internet last weekend to see if there were any other places I could use to bulk out the various Gojira-related locations. To be honest, I was only expecting to find a few shops or signs to add to the various statues, toy stores and filming locations I already know about. However, whilst searching Armand Vaquer’s blog (he is the author of ‘The Monster Movie Fan’s Guide to Japan‘) I was quite surprised to discover that there is a huge Godzilla statue in Kanagawa prefecture which also doubles up as a kids slide and from that moment I had to go and see it as soon as possible.

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Gojira-koen is just a nickname for its real name is Kurihama Hana-no-kuni (Kurihama Flower World) and in October 1999, a Godzilla slide was erected on its hilltop in the city of Yokosuka which is famed as being the home of the US Navy base and is also the gateway to the uninhabited Sarushima a.k.a. Monkey Island. The park is free to enter and is a ten minute walk from Keikyu-Kurihama Station; 40 minutes away from Yokohama. On arrival at the park’s entrance, its another 10 minute walk up a quite steep path which winds round the lush, green scenery but once you get a glimpse of the statue towering above you, all efforts taken in reaching it will be forgotten.

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Over 100,000 individuals and 200+ companies in the local community contributed to the cause of bringing this 8.75 metre statue to the area and all their names are listed at the base of the slide. It’s magnificent body is made of tempered plastic and weighs five tonnes and when I went I had the whole thing all to myself. Sadly for me (but fortunately for you dear reader!) my digital camera memory card was playing up and my phone camera colours have messed up recently so I was one of those w*nkers using a tablet as a camera! All in all that means I couldn’t use my digital camera which meant no tripod use and therefore no pictures taken with me in them on the timer.

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With the wires and pylons above the gigantic amphibious bipedal dinosaur, it actually makes the whole experience seem more authentic and similar to when he was awoken by hydrogen bomb testing and came ashore to prey on humans, tearing down the Tokyo city landscape in the process.

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So what about the actual slide I hear you ask! Well I decided to brave it in the name of my extensive research even though there’s a notice saying that it’s only for kids under 12! I saw a much, much older man go on it though so thought why not! Just ten steps take you up inside the monster and then you can slide for joy down its tail! Actually, its rather lame, even for kids as the one child I witnessed going down it moved so slowly that he instantly walked off to the far more exciting slide which lies right behind Godzilla.

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The slide can be found in an area called Adventure Land and is clearly marked on all the maps. There is a sign saying not to climb on the giant lizard.

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By the entrance/exit gate there is a small shop possessing a Godzilla picture on the wall but sadly there’s no other kaiju-related merchandise in the store.

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Back in Tokyo later that afternoon I took a quick detour to Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi where a 6.6 metre high model of Godzilla has been unveiled to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ‘Gojira’ movie in 1954. It’s a pretty cool design and is supposed to look like he’s merging from the multipurpose commercial complex’s garden. I was only there in the daytime but until August 21st there will be an evening light show every 30 minutes from 6 pm onwards featuring smoke and roaring noises.

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Just to complete the collection, below are the other two Tokyo-based Godzilla statues; the tiny statue in Yurakucho and the one outside Toho Studios in Seijogakuenmae.

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Godzilla‘ (2014) is released in Japan on July 25th.

You can read other Godzilla-related stories by clicking on the links below:

1954 film review      Tokyo filming locations      Trip to Toho Studios 

The Charlotte Crosby Experience – The Furisode-San Of Tokyo

Now, I’ve got no real idea who Charlotte is. Sure, I know she’s from an MTV programme called ‘Geordie Shore‘ and that she was on ‘Celebrity Big Brother‘ but I have never seen her on those programmes and only really knew about her and this programme because she appeared on ‘Innuendo Bingo‘ on Scott Mills’ BBC Radio One afternoon show a few months ago.

Following her appearance on that show I tried to find this episode online but all to no avail. Probably because it was on some channel called TLC that no-one’s ever heard of! Anyway, I eventually found out that it was on iTunes so decided to begrudgingly fork out £2.50 for the episode.

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As one with no knowledge about Charlotte, I went into this programme without any prejudice or preconceptions. The introduction part to the show (which I assume is shown every episode) has her parents telling the viewers that she’s loud, outrageous and a bit stupid. The latter statement becomes apparent straightaway with her terrible geographical knowledge. “Will I see the Great Wall of China?” is one such bout of her wisdom and thinking that Korea is the capital of Japan is another. She also thinks she’s in Thailand at one stage although she does self correct on that one soon after.

Foreigners are often amazed by the Japanese shower toilets and Charlotte is no exception as we hear her shrieking through the (closed) door of the hotel toilet in disbelief at this advance in technology. It was very similar to when Kelly Osbourne was in town for her ‘Turning Japanese‘ show on ITV2 back in 2007.

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The Charlotte Crosby Experience‘ series feature’s the reality TV personality (not my words!) spending time in different extreme cultures and living with some of the world’s unique communities. Her first proper experience in Tokyo is a cosplay party which she anticipates as being some kind of show with alcohol and dancing! She refuses to wear the sailor moon schoolgirls outfit as she has seen it in a porno movie! She is again shocked on arrival at the party as all the girls (for its mainly a female hobby) are dressed as boys and taking pictures of themselves as Japanese tend to do. Anyway, this goes down with her better than the more-serious parts of Japanese culture which follow.

Furisode has its name in the episode title and Charlotte meets two young girls who wear this style of kimono whilst they entertain customers, perform dance and have conversation at Japanese parties with salarymen. The programme wasn’t so clear about this part but these girls are similar in some ways to apprentice geisha but of course there are some big differences between the two.

Charlotte seems overly keen to be friends with the furisode-san but it’s all on her terms as she seemingly wants to teach them north-east England culture rather than understand and appreciate theirs. By the end of the programme she realises what a dedicated profession it is and how hard their work is. At the start though she has very little respect or patience for anything she’s taught whether it be learning a few simple Japanese phrases or learn how to walk properly in order to be elegant when all she really wants to do is have her face painted and do a strange walk on her knees whilst her legs are crossed!

One of the girls is amazed by Charlotte and talks of her rough hair, long nails (which could potentially damage the valuable materials), no concentration, poor listening and endless cursing. I guess having seen the passion and enthusiasm on previous UK TV shows in Japan this year from Hairy Bikers and Tom Daley it’s quite a step back to hear this loud-mouthed English girl look so unhappy and bored at times. Of course this is all in the edit I guess but it’s definitely a case of there being too many rules for her which I can sympathise with a bit more as this can be a frustration at times.

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Later on she’s at Senso-ji temple with the girls getting her fortune paper and complains at first that it’s all in Japanese (the English is actually on the back) and then that its bad news! I thought she was wrong and disrespectful to then screw up the paper and start nosing through all the other drawers to find a better fortune but the girls didn’t seem to mind and began to show a hint of what they’re really like beyond the formalities of their job. This is further exemplified when they are introduced to the “I have never…” drinking game on the back of one of the traditional geisha/maiko/geiko/furisode games which goes down well although it did make me feel a little uncomfortable! I’m sure I’ve done worse in my time though!!

In amongst all that she goes to a zen temple to learn some much needed concentration and calmness. I guess it’s no surprise that she’s never heard of zen though she suspects it will be boring and given that most UK TV viewers just wanna see the whacky and weird side when it comes to Japan she’s probably right in some ways.

Judging by the McDonalds drink and discarded brown bag in the background whilst she (loudly) skypes her family (where she finishes with the line “peace out bitches!”) she didn’t exactly lap up the Japanese culture in the ryokan which is a “no-compromise” Japanese-style inn where Charlotte spends the night. Though she finds the futon comfortable she’s missing the good old-fashioned English cereal at breakfast time. She was even warned by the owner on her arrival to do as Tokyo people do when in the capital city. Oh yeah and one of the rules is no porn though I don’t know why he feels the need to tell a female about this….or is there a part of her background or reputation I don’t know about?!

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We’re back on track with the zany stuff at a cuddle cafe where the tables are turned on her as she finds out its her who has to do the cuddling. Her reaction to one of the customers is the kind of thing the producers of the show love to see happen. She’s pretty grossed out by the idea of cuddling a stranger but trying to relay this message to the guy just shows how communication is difficult in Japan for many foreigners.

Throughout the programme the footage is all interspersed with Charlotte talking to the camera and offering her valuable insight into the experiences as they happen. She’s taken aback by the language barrier quite often and is often unable to communicate in a way which the Japanese, with limited English ability and knowledge, understand. Can you really expect them to know who the likes of Cheryl Cole, Alan Shearer and Ant & Dec are!!

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The stupid hashtags (#CharlotteTLC etc), captions and her tweets (whilst in Japan) appear on screen throughout which I guess are a sign of the times and how TV is becoming so dumbed down. It won’t be long before the UK catches up with the Japanese variety shows where the screen is so cluttered with this kind of cr*p!!

The conclusion of the 44 minute programme is far more optimistic than most of what preceded it as she talks of having had the most amazing time and waxes lyrical about there being nowhere like Japan with its unique cafes (a cat cafe also features) and that being there has inspired her to search English traditions. As this was the second show in a series of which I only saw this particular episode I can’t judge Charlotte too strongly as her attitude may have changed throughout but for now it seems to me that Karl Pilkington is more like Einstein when compared to this idiot abroad.