I have travelled to Japan a number of times, most recently back in October but after watching Joanna Lumley’s journey through Japan I realised just how much I was yet to learn about the country’s culture and landscape.
If you don’t know Joanna Lumley (who you might recognise from hit TV series Absolutely Fabulous) recently embarked on a 3,000 km+ trip through Japan from north to south all of which can be watched in a 3 part documentary series.
While I won’t cover everything, her journey starts from the very top of Japan, on an icebreaker ship making its way through ice that has floated down from Russia. That was my first surprise – just how close Russia actually is to Japan which Joanna points out on a map. Soon enough though she sets foot in “the Land of the Rising Sun” – in the Hokkaido region.I quickly realised just how beautiful Japan really is with some quite incredible shots of the landscape, including some which seem to have been shot from a drone. We are treated to one of the rarest native birds of Japan – the red-crowned crane, then there is the snow festival in Sapporo, and a trip to a 700-year-old pagoda hidden in a forest. While this seems all fun and games there is a dark past of the Hokkaido region, which certainly changes the pace of the document.
At times I was left shocked and sad, and that couldn’t be any more apparent when Joanna travels inside the nuclear exclusion zone which followed from the deadly 2011 earthquake and tsunami. An abandoned town, restaurants and shops still left in the exact state when people evacuated is a haunting and confronting moment in the documentary. Yet despite this there is something positive out of it when Joanna meets Naoto Matsumura, a Japanese man who refuses to leave the zone to look after over a hundred animals all while flattened buildings still remain around him – he is described as a “hero” risking his own health.
One of the reasons I love this series so much is the fun-witted yet sometimes confronting road trip journey feel to it. Several times including at the beginning Joanna opens a map on the bonnet of the car and points to the next destination followed by jumping in the car and driving off. This certainly brings a personal feel to it as if it is just Joanna and I (despite the fact she has a small camera crew with her.)
If you want to learn more about Japan and see the unique culture of Japan, which has been developed over hundreds of years, I highly recommend watching the series. There is everything from the traditional “Shinto Festival”, making of Sake (Japan’s national drink), Mascots, hot springs, and more.
Episode one ends with a “Hello, Tokyo!” from Joanna in what quickly becomes a change of pace in the documentary by arriving in a city of 38 million people. The 3-part series can be watched around the world in a number of countries including Australia where you can stream it free right now on ABC’s iView – however for a limited time only.