James may figure out Japan… or not!

This is a trip to Japan like never before. James May, who was the tongue-in-cheek host of British car show Top Gear for years, and The Grand Tour in more recent times, is, literally, Our Man in Japan. He goes all the way from the northernmost point of Japan in Hokkaido and works his way south in the most entertaining travel documentary imaginable.

James may, amazon prime, our man in japan
Worth a watch, whether you’ve been to Japan or aspire to visit some day. Image: Courtesy Amazon Prime Video.

There’s just so much packed into this original series by Amazon Prime Video. Things you didn’t do when you went to Japan but wish you had. Things that you are thankful you didn’t have to do but are glad someone else did. Things that are lost (and found!) in translation.

May spent three months in Japan shooting this series. There was a basic plan but many of the most fun moments were unscripted, which makes for a really rollicking rollercoaster ride of a watch. The single-camera mode they’ve used, almost makes you feel you’re with him every step of the way. From being called a limp cabbage roll to accidentally calling his comical guide Yujiro ‘deodorant’. From fighting a robot duel to bathing naked in a mountain spring with a monk. From being really British and bringing biscuits to a Japanese tea ceremony to singing hilarious translations to a geisha’s very serious songs. From attempting haikus at choice moments to trying to recreate Mt Fuji on canvas. From being invited on one of the world’s most luxurious trains for a press visit to being scolded for taking a bite of his fancy plated meal on it before other media people had a chance to photograph it! From being suitably sombre in Hiroshima to giggling uncontrollably at a sumo wrestling stable in Osaka. From attending a lively penis festival in Kawasaki to the eerie town inhabited by dolls in Shikoku. From watching a Japanese boy band in action to getting a makeover from them. From grabbing a plum role in animé to meeting some passionate trainspotters.

James may, amazon prime, our man in japan
May goes serious Samurai on the viewers. Image: Courtesy Amazon Prime Video.

Like the inveterate travellers we would all like to be, he tries everything he can in Japan. Playing Pachinko, singing Karaoke, eating takoyaki (octopus balls), and trying batch beer. He even tries to sightsee shrines in Kyoto with the help of a little repetitive robot who insists on saying ‘Hey Bim, guess what?!’ and telling him about a bridge. Over and over again. A commercialised snowball fight (as mad as it sounds) is actually the most boring part of the show. And yes, he does meet some really fascinating people along the way – a master swordsmith, Haiku scholars, and Zen archery teachers.

James May, all rumpled shirts and messy hair, is a far cry from eye candy. But by the end of the six episodes of season one, you’ll feel rather attached to this irreverent guy with a yen for wry humour and risqué haiku.

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