‘I’m be­witched by Ja­pan’

TV Times - - Travel Special - TRAVELOGUE Joanna Lum­ley’s Ja­pan FRI­DAY / ITV / 9.00Pm Sarah Sel­wood

Joanna Lum­ley tells TV Times about her life-chang­ing trip to the land of danc­ing cranes, 6,800 is­lands and end­less sur­prises

oanna Lum­ley’s the first to ad­mit how lucky she’s been to ex­plore so many of the world’s won­drous places since she be­gan her suc­cess­ful side­line in TV trav­el­ogues eight years ago.

So far, she’s searched for the North­ern Lights in Nor­way for BBC1 (2008) and, for ITV, com­pleted an epic jour­ney along the River Nile (2010), un­earthed Greece’s hid­den trea­sures (2011), tried to un­cover the truth about Noah’s Ark in Tur­key, India and Oman (2012), and trav­elled 6,000 miles across Asia and Europe on the Trans-siberian Ex­press (2015).

‘When you see such fa­mil­iar, fa­mous and thrilling things with your own eyes, that’s re­ally some­thing,’ smiles Joanna, 70, as she chats to TV Times.

‘How­ever, what I love most about these trips is meet­ing un­usual peo­ple. The great­est joy is get­ting off the beaten track and into peo­ple’s homes, see­ing how they live and eat­ing the food they cook at home – lovely.’

This week, Joanna gets to do just that again as she jets off to Ja­pan for a new three-part se­ries, to ex­plore the most un­charted cor­ners of the coun­try’s 6,800 mys­ti­cal is­lands. In most of her pre­vi­ous ad­ven­tures she had a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the place she was vis­it­ing, but this se­ries is born purely out of her cu­rios­ity to learn more about Ja­panese geog­ra­phy, his­tory and cul­ture.

‘I’ve been to Ja­pan be­fore when

JI did an ITV doc­u­men­tary called Cat­woman in 2009,’ she re­calls. ‘I was there for five days and it gave me a glimpse into the coun­try.

‘When we got there this time, though, I lit­er­ally fell back­wards be­cause I didn’t know there were 6,000-odd is­lands. I thought, I re­ally don’t know Ja­pan at all.’

Joanna ex­plores four main is­lands, start­ing in the far north with snow-cov­ered Hokkaido. With vast na­tional parks, it’s a haven for en­dan­gered species, in­clud­ing the red-crowned crane. See­ing this beau­ti­ful bird – renowned for rhyth­mic move­ment that re­sem­bles danc­ing – was the high­light of her trip.

‘I’ve longed all my life to see the danc­ing cranes,’ she says. ‘I never dreamt I would – it was like go­ing to see a uni­corn!

‘See­ing lots of them stand­ing in the frozen river and danc­ing for each other for no rea­son – there was some­thing su­per­nat­u­ral about it. It was rather like when I saw the North­ern Lights, you get a glimpse into a world that isn’t our world at all, it op­er­ates com­pletely sep­a­rately and is sub­lime.’

Af­ter Hokkaido, Joanna headed south to Hon­shu – the largest and most pop­u­lated is­land – to try her hand at mak­ing the na­tional drink, saké. Made from fer­mented rice and wa­ter, it tastes like wine, but is much stronger.

‘The heat in that room where we were rolling these great balls of rice around – I was swel­ter­ing!’ she laughs. ‘The wine was one of the finest and loveli­est I’ve tasted. I’d be an ad­dict if I worked there.’

On a sad­der note, episode one also sees Joanna visit Hon­shu’s east coast, which was dev­as­tated by a huge earth­quake and tsunami in 2011, killing more than 20,000 peo­ple. It also caused a nu­clear power plant to go into melt­down and nearby res­i­dents had to flee from ra­di­a­tion.

There’s still an ex­clu­sion zone around the plant, but Joanna meets the one man who re­fused to leave, de­vot­ing his life to look­ing af­ter aban­doned an­i­mals.

‘I knew they wouldn’t let us en­ter if it re­ally wasn’t safe,’ says Joanna. ‘There were three zones – red, amber and green. We were in amber, mean­ing we could only stay there for five hours, oth­er­wise they feared con­tam­i­na­tion.’

The next two episodes will see Joanna con­tinue wend­ing her way south, with pit stops in Tokyo, the an­cient cap­i­tal of Ky­oto, and the vol­canic Kyushu is­land, be­fore fin­ish­ing up on one of the small­est and most re­mote is­lands, Ko­hama.

Joanna filmed the se­ries over two sep­a­rate vis­its, each last­ing three weeks. She’s ob­vi­ously a sea­soned trav­eller, but does she ever get home­sick?

‘Not re­ally, but I think that’s be­cause I won’t phone my hus­band [con­duc­tor Stephen Bar­low],’ she re­veals. ‘Voices make you start sob­bing, but emails are very good as they make you sit down and de­scribe the day or the event with much more care than if you’re talk­ing. Also, if you’re speak­ing to some­body at home, they’ll al­ways say, “Do you re­mem­ber where the stop­cock is?” and you’re im­me­di­ately snatched away from the slopes of Mount Fuji!’

We’ve had the plea­sure of in­ter­view­ing the al­ways ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous Joanna about each of her far-flung ad­ven­tures, so we know she al­ways likes to pick up a sou­venir or two. Any fan­tas­tic finds this time? ‘In Ja­pan you just want to buy ev­ery­thing be­cause it’s all wrapped and pre­sented so beau­ti­fully!’ she laughs. ‘One of my best buys was a ring from Hokkaido. It looks like a gold bear’s head with di­a­monds all over and sap­phire eyes, but it cost three dol­lars be­cause it was made of tin and cov­ered in glass.

‘I wore it to a grand ball, next to my real Cartier di­a­mond ring, and it was ad­mired by one of the bosses of a Bond Street jewellers – I won’t say which one!

‘So the bear ring comes out on spe­cial oc­ca­sions. They do ev­ery­thing beau­ti­fully over there. As you can tell, I be­came be­witched

by Ja­pan.’

is pre­viewed on pages 82-83

Un­der my um­brella... Joanna poses with a tra­di­tional para­sol Joanna (back row) meets some of the sprightly OAPS Ja­pan is fa­mous for...

...and en­coun­ters macaques, also known as snow mon­keys... ...be­fore root­ing out the proud grower of a gi­ant veg­etable

I lit­er­ally fell back­wards be­cause I didn’t know there were 6,000odd is­lands. I thought, I re­ally don’t know Ja­pan at all

Ki­mono to my place... with a geisha girl in full cos­tume

Shall we dance? Two red-crowned cranes show off their moves

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