This series featured Kitayama Hiromitsu-kun of Kis-My-Ft2 backpacking for 8 days across India on a 10000 yen (about $120) budget. Episodes 1-3 were reviewed here and 4-6 here. This review covers the episodes which aired on August 20th, August 27th, and September 3rd 2012.

These three episodes cover Kitayama-kun’s experiences in the city of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges river. It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in India, and a holy city to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. As such, it is very accustomed to pilgrims and tourists, with residents ready to milk anyone who looks sufficiently gullible. Will Kitayama-kun be able to keep his increasingly light wallet closed, or will his journey end here?

“Benares [Varanasi] is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” – Mark Twain, Following the Equator

At the end of the last episode, it wasn’t looking good, as he got hooked into surrendering rupees to a young snake charmer. As we begin this episode, he gets pulled aside by “a wise-looking man.”

I’ll forgo the opportunity to malign this man, because it would be too easy. In brief, he performs a brief prayer, then discusses the benefits of praying to the Ganges, including increasingly the likelihood that Kitayama-kun will sell. Kitayama-kun’s expression here is just . . . .

Of course, there is a cost to this sage advice. Clearly, this wise man has figured out how praying to the Ganges can bring a person prosperity:

Kitayama-kun navigates the back alleys of Varanasi, and finds the people very friendly. He also discovers that a number of them speak Japanese well, including one guy who could even make puns in Japanese.

Back in the debriefing restaurant, the topic is how comforting seeing elements of Japanese culture is when you’re wandering in a foreign land.

Kitayama-kun apologizes to cows for interrupting their meal . . .

. . . and then bumps into other Japanese backpackers! (At this point, I began to suspect that this is the Japanese-safe neighborhood of Varanasi.)

When he tells them that he’s in Johnny’s, they immediately ask him if he’s on a batsu game (罰ゲーム – punishment game), and he assures them that this trip was his choice.

There’s a Japanese restaurant nearby, and when he pleads that he doesn’t have money, they decide to treat him.

After the meal, they talk about their travel plans, including a potential round-the-world trip. One of them plans to be on the road for another four months, the other for eleven.

Taking his leave, he wanders on, and finds a place called Kumiko’s House, and decides to investigate. I definitely don’t believe this is a coincidence – Varanasi is a big city (nearly four million people), and the chances that he would accidentally stumble upon a Japanese-run boarding house is not worth considering.

Kumiko-san married an Indian man, and came over to India to start a new life with him. Their establishment caters to East Asian backpackers. Kitayama-kun naturally makes this his home base while in Varanasi, at a cost of 80 rupees.

After that, he decides to get a view of the city from the river, taking a boat trip on the Ganges (cost: 30 rupees). On the river, he sees kids taking a swimming class during their summer break.

Then he takes part in a common ritual – the lighting of a diya/diva as an offering to the river. Sometimes it is done to honor the dead, but other times, as in Kitayama-kun’s case, it is simply done to secure the divine goodwill of the river in order to, as Kitayama-kun put it, “sell.”

He paid ten rupees for that. When the candle drifted to the swimming class, Kitayama-kun was delighted to see a boy push it back toward the heart of the river.

With that, the story was picked up in the August 27th episode, where we begin in the debriefing restaurant, where the other two ask Kitayama-kun whether he would prefer a Japanese woman or a foreign woman. I think this somewhat referred to Kumiko-san’s choice to marry an Indian man.

Naturally, Kitayama-kun answers a Japanese woman. I would have been surprised if he had answered otherwise – not only because he wouldn’t want to disappoint fans, but also because he really hasn’t seen enough of the world to think otherwise. If, like Okamoto Keito-kun, he had spent some of his formative years in another country, he might have said that the most important thing is the personality, and not where she happened to be born.

Kitayama-kun did expand on his answer, saying that he’d like someone who was good at mornings and cheerful – common requirements unlikely to alienate anyone.

Back in Varanasi, night has fallen, and the more elaborate ceremonies begin.

No offense to Kitayama-kun, but I don’t think he was blending in just by making gestures and repeating words he doesn’t understand, and I don’t think that qualifies as “joining India for a bit” or “becoming one” with Indians, anymore than the Japanese would accept the idea that, if I mimic what they do at a shrine, I’m somehow joining Japan for a bit or becoming one with the Japanese. It’s the tourist’s illusion, and nothing specific to Kitayama-kun. Those backpackers who plan to spend months in every location do that specifically to avoid falling into the trap – it takes months to realize how little you know about a culture, and only then can you begin to appreciate it.

At Kumiko’s House, Kitayama-kun finds the place filled with Chinese. They can speak English, but he really can’t keep up, and has to back himself out of the conversation, feeling terrible that he can’t join in.

He handles the accounts for the day and finds that it was a good day, especially thanks to the guys who treated him to lunch. Between them, Kumiko-san, and the kid who pushed his candle back into the river, he decides that the message for the day is “Love is all.”

The issue for the rest of the episode is the ritual of bathing in the river. Kitayama-kun reflected on the fact that, even though it was perfectly normal for Indians to do it as an everyday thing, the guide books and his own manager said that Japanese shouldn’t do it, because they’re certain to get sick.

Having come all the way, though, Kitayama-kun has to bathe in the Ganges. The next morning, he is purified for the ritual by a priest.

There’s no set rate for compensation, but he is asked to donate something, so he decides that 20 rupees is fair. I suspect, from the fact that the amounts suggested were “100, 500, 1000, whatever you like,” that they usually get more, but there was no sign of disappointment.

He tries to make his entry into the river cool . . .

. . . but ends up stumbling in because the steps are slippery.

Then he does what he came to do:

I love this line:

You know what? I don’t think he was afraid of anything in India to begin with! (except maybe getting run over in traffic and odd curries from stalls)

That was really it for the August 27th episode, which was high on drama though low on movement. I think they meant that eighth episode to be the climax of the India trip experience. The next episode began with Kumiko-san inviting Kitayama-kun for breakfast.

She charged him 40 rupees for the meal, but as long as it doesn’t upset his stomach, it’s a bargain. Plus, he got to interview her – probably the most enlightening conversation he’s had in India:

He takes his leave from Kumiko’s House, now heading out of Varanasi.

At the restaurant, they discuss the gesture gap between India and Japan. In particular, the gesture that Indians use for “okay” is the one that Japanese use for “I’m not sure.”

Naoto-san also points out that, while Japanese (and most Americans) tend to drop the final ‘r’ when pronouncing English words, Indians emphasize it heavily.

Back to the trip, Kitayama-kun strolls the beach of Varanasi for the last time, and encounters a pair playing the sitar and tabla.

You get the feeling that most people would not disturb them, but they are extremely obliging to Kitayama-kun, even allowing him to tap and pluck their instruments:

On top of that, they didn’t charge him for the experience! This leads me to believe that these were serious practitioners of their art, and not simply peddlers trying to turn a rupee.

Next up, he bumps into his own specialty – rollerskating:

Why he’s surprised that Indians do rollerskating, too, I have no idea. Of course, their skates are not quite the same was the ones Kitayama-kun is used to:

The upshot is that he makes some friends, who he immediately dub “Kis-My-Ft2 in India.”

Uh . . . I thought dancing would at least be a requisite skill, if not singing. Kitayama-kun is sure passionate about rollerskating. Again, I don’t think he wandered into this rink by chance – the Varanasi bit of the trip was probably a bit more thought-out than the rest of it.

As a result, the Varanasi portion, while charming, went a bit slow.

The last few minutes of episode 9 focused on his attempt to leave Varanasi, bound for Buddha Gaya, and he decides that he doesn’t really have money for a 200 rupee train ride. What’s he going to do?

You’re kidding . . . .

Yes! He’s going to hitchhike!

As he gets mobile again, I expect the pace will pick up, and carry through the last three episodes. It’s interesting how the pace slowed through the climax of the journey, when in a normal story it would do the opposite.

So, in the next and final review, we’ll see in what condition Kitayama-kun reaches Calcutta, if he manages to do so at all (which I expect he will, even if it means traveling in extremely uncomfortable circumstances).

Thanks to jounetsu-8 at livejournal for the wonderful subtitles, without which I wouldn’t have decided to review the series.