Japan with Sue Perkins takes us to a country I’ve wanted to visit for so long, and it’s also the first time for this host, and the journey starts in Tokyo, the Sacred Forests of the Kii Peninsula, Kyoto and Hiroshima. However, given that she has three weeks to spend there, why do we only have two episodes?
And it makes me weep when I see how technologically-backward the UK is by comparison, and that’s partly down to all those who keep banging on about little bits of plastic litter or “man-made global warming” and wanting us to live a pastoral existence like Tom and Barbara Good in The Good Life. You’ll never progress while fucking idiots like that are allowed to breathe.
As Sue says, Japan has built itself up in the 70 years since World War II, in order to become a global powerhouse. And you don’t get that by blocking roads in the centre of Manchester with bales of hay(!)
The fact it’s just a two-parter means we only get to see snippets of her visit, whether it’s a trip to a sumo wrestling event (even though she did take part in an event a bit later), we see robots in the home, robotic hotel check-in staff, and also how there’s a strong work ethic which even extends to kids having to complete entrance exams to get into kindergarten.
Working in the same middle-management job for your entire life is the dream for many workers, sacrificing so much in your life in its place. That is not for me. I’ve tried it, and you just get crap from above as well as below. You have no power and can’t change anything, and it’s a thoroughly depressing experience. May as well just do a regular job that allows you to leave it all at the door and then you can concentrate on watching TV shows and films, and playing videogames when you get home.
And if you’re working 15 hours a day, then you DON’T get that time to enjoy the technology of the home. Plus, when you see grown men crying just because they feel that, prior to this course, they’ve failed their staff, that’s just fucking nuts!
Talking of being fucking nuts, Rina is a 20-year-old young woman who wants to marry herself, which reminds me of a sketch from Chris Morris’ Brass Eye. Rina feels she’ll never find the right partner… She’s only 20! She’s got plenty of time!
However, it’s situations like this, and Japanese businessmen obsessing over teenage girl bands like Tornado, which show that Sue Perkins isn’t just standing by and showing us what’s happening without taking any of it in, she observes and processes it, and makes sense of it all in order to present each situation from both sides.
After Tokyo, she moved on to ‘forest bathe’ (aka Mindfullness) in the Kii Mountains, and episode 2 will take in Kyoto and Hiroshima.
However, I feel if I did take a trip to Japan, I might not come back for a long time…
It’s difficult to give this programme a score out of 10. It’s essential viewing because I want to go to Japan, but I also wish there was more of it.
UPDATE: Episode 2 was just as engaging, as Sue Perkins brought us what could be one of the last generations to be brought up to be trained to be Geishas.
She also travelled to Hiroshima and met one of the last two remaining survivors of the bomb that dropped on August 6th 1945.
Add in sections about how to connect with people, a technological mini-cemetery and a ‘maid café’ (“where they’re aged about 20, but dressed like a 12-year-old and with a voice like a chipmunk on helium”).
There was also a section on how to find love in a city where the incredible progress of technology has put a block on progressing as an emotional human being. And it was painful to watch as I saw Sho completely fail to get to chat to the woman he fancied. We’ve always been there, and for me, it’s realising from the past when I’ve backed out of chatting to someone or asking them out, that’s led to me learning not to make that mistake again, so yes, I’ve made sure I’ve asked someone out.
Sometimes it works out, while more often than not, it doesn’t, but at least the latter situations help me find comfort in that I won’t be lying on my deathbed thinking, “I wonder what she would’ve said?” because it’s better to know that the answer was a ‘no’ than to have been wondering for many years afterwards.
I love how Sue Perkins sums up each of these sections with her own take on the situation, and I can’t wait to see her next travelogue series. And more episodes next time!
Japan with Sue Perkins begins Wednesday on BBC1 at 9pm. It isn’t available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD. If you missed it, you can watch the each episode on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days after transmission.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.