Ab Fab star Joanna Lumley takes us on a tour of Japan

by Fiona Rae / 23 June, 2018

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

RelatedArticlesModule - Joanna Lumley Japan

Joanna Lumley’s Japan, Sunday.

There’s much more to our Pacific partner Japan than its sushi and Toyotas, as Joanna Lumley finds.

Joanna Lumley, it has to be said, looks good in fur. Fake fur, of course, which she needs for the frozen first stop on Joanna Lumley’s Japan (Prime, Sunday, 7.30pm).

She begins the three-part series in the north of Hokkaido, the least-populated of Japan’s three main islands. It’s the middle of winter and there is drift ice in the sea and heavy snow on the land: perfect conditions for viewing the rare red-crowned cranes that gather in a river before the rising sun.

It’s a 4am start, however, but worth it. “Of course, I wouldn’t get out of bed at this hour for anything less than a thousand cranes,” she jokes, before declaring the birds, as they mass in the sunlight and mist, “utterly beautiful” and, yes, “fabulous”.

As always, she is the most charming travel companion, with her excitement genuine and infectious rather than annoying. It was a real journey of discovery, she told the NZ Herald: “We all know Japanese words, we know how to say sayonara and order sushi and buy Toyota cars and so on, but I realised we don’t know much about Japan itself.”

The series, in which she will travel from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, “began like a fairy story, actually, and we were just dazzled. It was incredibly beautiful, courteous and thrilling.”

In Hokkaido, she also makes a trip to Sapporo, “of course”, to see the ice festival that doubles the city’s population to four million every year. This year, Japanese Self-Defence Forces soldiers have built a replica of St Paul’s Church in Macau, China. It’s rather extraordinary, especially with a lightshow.

“It’s very wonderful to think of soldiers building snow castles,” says Lumley. “In an old hippie dream, you’d think that’s what the world would be like.”

In Sapporo, she meets descendants of the Ainu people, whose language and culture were banned and who were only recognised as the indigenous people of Hokkaido in 2008. Sapporo is an Ainu word.

On the main island of Honshu, there’s a visit to a 327-year-old sake brewery, where there is kneading of rice and sampling. There’s not as much sake being made in Japan any more, a shame because “sake is delicious!”

Lumley tramps to the amazing five-storey, 700-year-old Shinto pagoda on Mt Haguro, meets the only resident of the 19km exclusion zone around the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and visits hot springs frequented by macaques. Next week: cherry blossom season in Tokyo. Ab fab.

This article was first published in the June 23, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Father figure: Jordan Watson on his 'How to Dad' series
93157 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Social issues

Father figure: Jordan Watson on his 'How to Dad' s…

by North & South

The breakout Youtube star talks about 'How to Dad', paternity leave, and his own dad.

Read more
With friends like Donald Trump, who needs enemies?
93834 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z World

With friends like Donald Trump, who needs enemies?…

by Paul Thomas

The US President treats his Western allies to a tongue-lashing while cosying up to Vladimir Putin, causing alarm at home and around the world.

Read more
Who Is America? is predictably alarming – and scarily relevant
93831 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Television

Who Is America? is predictably alarming – and scar…

by Diana Wichtel

Only Bernie Sanders comes out unscathed in Sacha Baron Cohen’s absurdist new series Who Is America?

Read more
Organic wine is getting bigger in New Zealand. These are our top picks
93885 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Wine

Organic wine is getting bigger in New Zealand. The…

by Michael Cooper

Quality rather than quantity drives New Zealand's organic wine producers.

Read more
Killer robots: The question of how to control lethal autonomous weapons
93876 2018-07-20 08:23:45Z Tech

Killer robots: The question of how to control leth…

by Peter Griffin

The computer scientist who has become a leading voice on the threat posed by killer robots describes himself as an “accidental activist”.

Read more
The man who's making sure performing artists are seen in the regions
93813 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Theatre

The man who's making sure performing artists are s…

by Elisabeth Easther

For 35 years, Steve Thomas has been at the helm of Arts On Tour, taking musical and theatrical acts from Kaitaia to Stewart Island.

Read more
The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sustainably
93645 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Economy

The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sus…

by Sharon Stephenson

Millenials are leading the rise of the eco economy.

Read more
Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restaurant-bar in Ponsonby
93862 2018-07-19 15:05:51Z Auckland Eats

Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restauran…

by Kate Richards

Rum, cigars and Cuban sandwiches are on the menu at new Ponsonby restaurant, Cuba Libre.

Read more