This Johnny’s Journey series was the predecessor to the current one with Takaki and Chinen, and it featured Kitayama Hiromitsu-kun of Kis-My-Ft2 backpacking across India. I probably wouldn’t have reviewed it if not for jounetsu-8 at livejournal subtitling the entire series, so thanks to jounetsu-8 for all the hard work. I didn’t really have much of an appreciation for Kitayama-kun (even after six months of covering HamaKisu) until I saw him in this.

The full title of the series is “J’J Kis-My-Ft2 北山宏光 ひとりぼっちインド横断バックパックの旅” (Kitayama Hiromitsu Hitoribocchi Indo Oudan Bakkupakku no Tabi – Kitayama Hiromitsu’s trip backpacking alone across India). Always nice to have the entire premise of the series packed into the title.

I’m going to review it in four three-episode chunks. This review will cover the episodes that aired on July 2nd, 9th and 16th.

It begins with Kitayama-kun arriving at the airport and explaining the reason for his journey – the realization that his world is very narrow, and he needs to broaden his horizons to become a man. Right away, my respect for him went up a notch.

He goes through what he’s packed, which includes a sleeping bag, a shaver (taking Yamapi’s example and realizing that someone in Johnny’s shouldn’t have a beard), a soccer ball to play with the local children, sanitary tissues + refill (good call there), and other essentials. I liked the forethought shown – especially by the bringing of the soccer ball.

As an added challenge, he is only given 10,000 yen for eight days’ worth of food, transportation, and accommodations. It looks like this was a real surprise for him.

And so he launches:

There’s a studio segment in each episode, and in this one, Kitayama-kun explains in even greater detail his reason for going on this trip, and why it had to be India.

Kitayama-kun keeps insisting that he’s a shy person, but I have to say that he doesn’t act like it at all. The rest of what he has to say rings true, though.

Then a man famous for his travels – Naoto Inti Raymi-san – walks in. Unlike the other fellow, Naoto-san will be able to relate to Kitayama-kun’s experiences, having traveled through 28 countries. He’s also a fellow soccer fanatic.

Back to India, Kitayama-kun finds out how many rupees 10,000 yen will buy him – 6350.

He quickly finds out what everybody already knows about India in May – it’s bloody hot. And every time he mentions how hot it is in these episodes, they’ll put the temperature in the bottom right corner. Emerging from the airport, it was 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

He needs to get to Delhi, and repeats “Delhi, New Delhi, Bus,” until the janitor figures out what he’s trying to say. He also has an amusing way of saying “thank you.”

Even the bus is a bit of a puzzle, as no one makes him pay as he boards, but then, after they get underway, a fellow asks him for 75 rupees. I don’t know how far the airport was from the destination (and he didn’t really specify where in Delhi/New Delhi he wanted to go), but this seems a bit expensive for a bus in India. The guy seemed to come up with the figure off the top of his head, but maybe I’m just naturally suspicious. Kitayama-kun was just glad the guy wasn’t angry with him.

After the bus ride, Kitayama-kun finds himself in a random corner of the city – a city where attempting to cross the street is a perilous adventure.

On a whim, he decides to buy a stole. When the shopkeeper decides the wrap the stole around his head like a turban, he’s sold on it. Sensing an opportunity, the shopkeeper tries to pile on another one for a bargain price – 2 for 700 rupees. By Indian standards this is probably a rip-off, but that’s what tourists are for.

To his credit, Kitayama-kun doesn’t bite, and tries to negotiate the price of the single stole down to 300 rupees (unsuccessfully). The shopkeeper tries to get him to buy the second one “for your girlfriend” but Kitayama-kun snaps back in his most fluent line of English “I have no girlfriend.”

So, he got a single stole for 400 rupees, and knows immediately that it was an unwise purchase. It’s destined not to be his worst blunder of the episode, though, as he hunts for curry. Unfortunately, sanitary conditions aren’t confidence inspiring.

He ends up asking a cabbie where he can get “delicious curry. No.1 curry.” The ride itself costs him 100 rupees, and you can be sure since he asked for the best, they’ll bring him to a restaurant that caters to (and overcharges) tourists.

Of course, he can’t read the menu, but since all he wants is chicken curry, that’s not much of a problem.

What is a problem is his insistence on having a beer with his meal. Has he no sense of budgeting? Seriously, Tamamori-kun should have a word with him (recalling that Tamamori-kun managed to survive on 10000 yen for a month in Japan – a much more expensive country – though admittedly without needing to cross the country).

Episode 2 starts with another studio scene, where Kitayama-kun and Naoto-san talk over the time they met, and their shared philosophy about what a trip to another country should be about.

Zooming to India, Kitayama-kun tells us that he’s heading to Jaisalmer, a frontier town in the middle of the Thar Desert. Aiming for the train station, Kitayama-kun tells the cab to stop when he sees a massive monument.

It’s dedicated to those who lost their lives in World War I, and inscribed with their names.

He takes the time to appreciate it, and to comment on its significance. I hesitate to make the contrast to Takaki-kun and Chinen-kun, but feel that it is instructive. You see, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris includes a similar monument – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, also a memorial to those who died in World War I, but Takaki-kun and Chinen-kun didn’t reflect at all about Napoleon’s Arc or the Tomb. This moment spoke volumes about Kitayama-kun’s character.

Kitayama-kun sees some kids playing in a nearby pool, and joins them, bringing out the soccer ball.

Again, it’s a priceless moment, and gives insight into his personality. Naturally, he gives them the soccer ball as he had planned.

Finally, he reaches the train station, and finds it a maze. Even the locals aren’t exactly sure which line you have to get into to buy tickets for a particular destination, and he ends up going from one line to another.

In the end, it turns out that the line he needs is outside the building!

The trains are . . . well . . . they don’t look like they’ve been replaced since the British left India, to be honest. I’m sure first class accommodations would be better, but Kitayama-kun has to settle for a berth that is both uncomfortable and improperly ventilated. The temperature is 43 Celsius (109 Fahrenheit). Air conditioning? What’s that?

He also finds himself short on water as he settles in. This doesn’t stop him from trying to strike up a conversation, though (I thought he was supposed to be shy?). It ends up being the most embarrassing moment so far, he tries to explain what an idol is, that he’s famous in Japan, and attempts to sing “Everybody Go” and “She! Her! Her!”.

As the train leaves the station, Kitayama-kun reflects that this is exactly the trip he wanted. His weaknesses are laid bare, and he struggles to do even basic things in this new environment. He appreciates how little he really knows, and that excites him.

When night falls, he decides it’s finally time to take stock and figure out his budget. He’s managed to use thirty percent of his money in one day, with seven days left.

He ends the day by summing it up with a phrase, which he writes in calligraphy (which is apparently one of his hobbies).

At the end of episode two, he reaches the desert and Jaisalmer. Once again, he makes note of the heat, but that’s already getting old.

Episode three once again begins in comfort. The discussion is interesting, revolving around how to deal with the children who ask you for money. Naoto-san’s solution was a good one (tell them you don’t have any, play them a song and then turn the tables by asking them for money, calling it even when they don’t give him any), but I think Kitayama-kun should think twice about his (tell them you don’t have any, then tell them that they’re kawaii and ask them, if they’re a girl, whether they have a boyfriend to embarrass them), since it might be misinterpreted in different cultures.

Back in the desert, Kitayama-kun first secures the most basic of essentials – water.

He notices that Jaisalmer is a fort town.

Then he aims for the next essential – food. But this time, he’s adamant about not overpaying. He finds a vendor, and says “hungry – No.1 volume.”  I guess that’s his equivalent of “supersize me.”

This results in great success, as he procures curry bread with toppings for the low price of 10 rupees. Now that’s more like it! I think he’ll have a better idea about what constitutes a good price for food in India after this (as long as it doesn’t upset his stomach).

As he munches on his breakfast, he spots a mango stand. India is known for good mangoes, so he decides to give that reputation a test. He gets a robust mango juice at a cost of 30 rupees.

He notes that he spent 700 rupees on lunch the day before, and now he’s getting a good meal for 40, so he’s tightened the purse-strings.

Time to venture into the desert. First, he needs to find a jeep-for-hire because the regular cabs can’t go into the desert. The price for the ride is 200 rupees. Kitayama-kun again tries to get a lower price (and I think it’s good that he tries – even if it’s frustrating and embarrassing, you learn a lot by trying to negotiate prices), but the driver insists that there’s no discount.

On top of that, he’s not the only passenger. One of the other passengers asks him what he likes most about India, and after the briefest second, he answers mango juice.

That was a great answer. I think they understood completely, and were quite surprised to get an answer so easy to relate to.

I don’t know what’s so great about a desert (maybe because Japan doesn’t have one?), but Kitayama-kun is absolutely fascinated by it, and embraces it.

To conclude the Jaisalmer phase, he decides to splurge a bit, spotting a camel that he’s like to ride (a six year-old camel named Michael). It costs him 50 rupees.

I think it was probably worth it.

After that, it was just a matter of getting on a train heading east, toward his ultimate destination of Calcutta.

So far, this show was riveting. I mean, there wasn’t a dull moment. Kitayama-kun conveyed his excitement right through the screen, and truly brought the viewers along for the ride. Even the studio discussions were substantive.

Before this, my impression of Kitayama-kun (mainly from HamaKisu) was that he was quiet and moody, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show rewrite my impression of a television personality as much as this one already has. He really needs to spread this spirit around Johnny’s as much as possible – a lot of his kouhai would benefit from catching this bug.