Tom Daley Goes Global – Japan

Having seen the opening episode on Thailand I have to admit I wasn’t expecting too much excitement in episode 2 in Japan. Both episodes were mildly interesting for me but I imagine they weren’t too captivating for whoever was tuning in on ITV2 to see them……..if they wanted to see in-depth travel-related matter! However, if they just wanted to see some mindless entertainment and a very pleasant, mild mannered and humble young man experience a bit of actual living then this was the perfect showcase for it!

You can watch the episode here on YouTube

Not much really happened in either the Thailand or Japan episodes and Tom didn’t really have too many words of wisdom to add to the pictures we saw. Of course he’s been training to dive since a very young age so hasn’t had the kind of normal life that most people have had. He’s never been backpacking so this style of travel is all new to him and he can’t be blamed for taking up the opportunity to make this series as ITV continue to do their best to promote him as a TV personality. He wasn’t alone though as he had best friend Sophie with him for support. Of course they’re not an item given Daly’s announcement back in December last year that he was in a relationship with a man. Who knows what everyone was thinking last Summer though when it was filmed!

Beforehand I was expecting yet another typical UK television programme following the same old tired format and while its not wildly different or life-changing at least this programme did feature a few things I’ve not seen on TV in the past and amazingly the ‘Turning Japanese‘ song never featured once!!

Kumamoto appears in the final half which took me greatly surprise, and as we’re going there next month I was delighted to see some scenes of a place I know very little about. Tom and Sophie went there to join in with a lantern festival where Tom held the mikoshi(portable shrine) during a parade which to be fair wasn’t particularly interesting to watch and almost makes you realise why producers crave the crazy stuff most of the time.

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In episode one we had tension supposedly building up ahead of Tom’s big charity skydive in Bangkok and the threat of whether he would or wouldn’t be able to do it due to the quite dramatic thunderstorms. What symmetry in this Japan episode then as a very similar situation occurred at Mount Kuratake (originally intended to be at Mount Aso but changed due to the weather) with his paragliding venture. Can’t say I was on the edge of my seat! With a bungy jump coming up in New Zealand for episode 3 this series is perhaps closer to Jack Osbourne’s ‘Adrenaline Junkie series than his sister Kelly’s ‘Turning Japanese‘ one, both of which were also on ITV2!

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Long before that, the pair arrived in Tokyo and started off in the electric town of Akihabara where they spent the night at a manga cafe. These places are everywhere in Tokyo and used as hotels by some people who want cheap shelter for the night….and some wi-fi action. There are also usually manga comics galore, video games, drinks, snacks and communal bathrooms but there are no beds! This seemed to bemuse Tom and his trusted companion who seemed to think they were staying at some kind of hostel. It’s basically just a place to crash for the night and once realised they start to embrace the idea a bit more.

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What followed thereafter was more of the usual tried and tested formula of portraying the whacky side of Tokyo as they did some cosplay and karaoke supposedly with some people they just met. Actually there were quite a few obviously set-up situations throughout which were made to appear like they were just chance encounters.

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I really ought to make a Bingo game of stereotypical Japan references on UK TV (sushi, robots, toilets, sumo, maid cafes, sumo etc) for viewers to play whilst watching these shows and this one included the ubiquitous mention of bullet trains and geisha!

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Tom and Sophie take the former from Tokyo station to the Gion district of Kyoto where they meet a maiko and get invited to a teahouse for some traditional food and a dance.

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Tom Daley is of course a bit of a British icon and for someone who is only 19 he has a wise head on such young shoulders. He’s nothing but likeable and it’s not his fault that the programme comes across, in terms of content, as being a little grey at times. It’s just that its yet more typically tacky fodder from ITV2 where little thought has really gone into the show beyond the “oh lets just send this popular young celebrity to some far flung places and see what happens” type attitude.

Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire Episode 4: Japan

This four part series, which was recently repeated on BBC4 whilst I was back home, saw enthusiastic presenter Dr Iain Stewart travel around the Pacific Rim visiting some of the world’s most volatile places. The shows journeyed through the perilous landscapes of Indonesia, the geological booby-traps of California and the hostile peaks of the Andes before concluding in Japan which has had more than its fair share of volcanic disasters.

Geologist Stewart’s passion shined through and he explained and demonstrated everything with relative ease in the name of telling how the rocks beneath our feet have played a fundamental role in shaping human history in this country which has turned geological adversity to its advantage.

To be fair, I only really watched this as I wanted to take advantage of BBC iPlayer downloads to give me something half decent to watch back here in the land of awful dumbed down TV. I never realised at the time of watching that it was a repeat until the end where a feature on miniaturised electrical items seemed a bit dated and I was suspicious as to why the big earthquake of 2011 was never mentioned.

Unlike the usual documentaries on Japan, which tend to just focus on the weird and wonderful, this one was a bit more unique and showed how the country’s culture has been inescapably defined by the rocks. That is the everlasting message of this show and to be honest it did become a bit tenuous at times, particularly the latter part of this documentary where he focused on pachinko, haikyu poetry, walkman’s and miniaturised technology. Of course it was geology that played a starring role in these things.

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Around 75% of Japan is mountainous and with these area’s being less sympathetic to urban settlement it has forced its inhabitants into some of the most densely populated places on earth where space is scarce and every square centimetre is at a premium as the places are 20% smaller than in Western Europe.

I guess the one particular place which shows how overcrowded Tokyo is (due to the rocks remember!), is the morning commuter trains and naturally they feature here as indeed they did only a few days before (August 9th) on the Channel 5 documentary ‘World’s Busiest Train Station’ which showed the ridiculous nature of how pushers are used to cram people in like sardines.

One of the highlights for me was seeing the Nakagin Capsule Tower which actuallydoubled up as love hotel in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013). Stewart visits an international lawyer who has been living in these 5 square metre rooms for 15 years with no kitchen and a fold out desk and bed to really optimise the rooms tiny amount of space.

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Rather than the perennial regular haunts like Tokyo and Kyoto, Stewart did at least travel the length of the country where he visited the U-shaped river valleys (formed by glacial sculpting) of Kamikochi which is a really wonderful part of central Honshu that I visited back in October 2005 during the Autumn leaves season. He also went to Kyushu and in particular to Mount Aso which is almost constantly active as the toxic gases bubble away down below and if it ever gets to the surface there’ll be one hell of a big bang.

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Further south is Mount Sakurajima; another perilous environment where the locals have to be ready for eruption at any moment. Furthermore, these hostile mountains have landslides, the soil is thin, stoney and unstable and heavy rains leech them of nutrients and its this kind of inhospitable terrain which has forced Japan’s 127 million people to live in huge urban sprawls.

So basically the rocks have caused overcrowding resulting in people craving personal space which led to the invention of the walkman (and its more recent incarnations) giving them their own personal cosmos. All this is in stark contrast to contemplating zen through meditation! The show, originally shown in 2006, concludes with how a big earthquake would not only affect Japan but the rest of the world who have invested here. Not even Stewart’s trip to a Tokyo earthquake prevention centre to experience a simulated quake could have prepared him or any of us for what happened two and a half years ago.