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James May: Our Man In…Japan – Season 1, Episode 6 – Pickled Plum – Review


In the Season One series finale of “James May: Our Man in…Japan” – entitled “Pickled Plum” – James begins his travels on the small island of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s main islands, accompanied yet again by trusty translator, Yujiro.

James elects to enter Shikoku on a 70-kilometer bicycle ride which takes him over a high and “very scary” [says Yujiro] bridge after learning that James is afraid of heights. Once on the other side of the bridge, instead of being met by a cool Asahi beer, James is greeted by a three-strong mascot welcoming committee consisting of a horseshoe crab, a dog that looks like a lemon and an orange that definitely looks like an orange [but is really manned by Rich of the production crew]. After numerous laments about there being no beer, James is off to the island’s main hotel where, presumably, there is beer and James gives a somewhat helpful traveling tip to book a Japanese-style room when traveling in Japan [but don’t confuse a tea biscuit for a hand wipe like he did].

James then visits an archery center where he is shown how to properly present himself and fire an arrow at a bullseye – but he mucks up the entry and misses the bullseye with his shot.

James soothes his rattled nerve endings by visiting a udon noodle shop and making his own noodles – which involves stamping the noodle dough with his feet and then operating the very sharp noodle chopper – after dispensing some noodle knowledge [there are three main types of noodles popular in Japan: ramen, soba and udon].

Once sated with his own noodles, James travels to Nagoro – the Village of the Scarecrows – a mostly abandoned [population: 27] Japanese village in the Iya Valley on Shikoku where one resident makes scarecrow renditions of those who have left the village over the years. James gets his own scarecrow – or kakashi, in Japanese – that will now reside in Nagoro “24/7” [says Yujiro].

It is now time to take a seaplane ride to Kyushu and that means we learn two things – Yujiro is anxious about traveling on seaplanes and James tells us there are 6,852 islands that officially make up the country of Japan.

The island of Kyushu is covered in steamy fumaroles and James and Yujiro visit a cafĂ© where the omnipresent steam is used to steam the vegetables while James foolishly engages Yujiro in a chopsticks-eating contest using the three types of chopsticks – Yujiro easily wins.

As revenge, Yujiro is left behind in the hot sand baths of Beppu Beach – their next destination – where people get buried in the superheated sand as a means of relaxation.

From here, James goes to the Honda motorcycle factory hoping that Honda will allow them to film him working on some motorcycle bits along the factory line, but, predictably, Honda says no to that request and instead allows James to only briefly work on an already-mostly-assembled motorcycle while overseen by three worrisome Honda employees.

A brief summary of Shintoism precedes a trip to a waterfall park where tourists operate rowboats amongst the waterfalls, making it a kind of combination bumper boats/Jungle Ride at Disneyland experience.

After aborted attempts at pottery and flower arranging, James finally settles into being a guest puppeteer at a puppetry show where he sums up his 11-week Japanese journey with a performance emphasizing his plight at being a big, fat, stupid foreigner who drinks too much Asahi beer.

The final segment ends at the beach at Kagashima with a montage peppered by humorous outtakes and finally, one last stab at a haiku that can accurately depict the entire adventure.

The series finale episode was not as good as the first but the continued surprise inclusion of the entertaining Yujiro as a part translator, part comic foil helped all the segments he was in and we award the episode a solid 90 out of 100.

About Alex Bean

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