In Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ), Arashi member Aiba Masaki-kun explores a different side of what makes Japan special every week. Well, except that there’s one side that they like to return to repeatedly – the historical shopping districts of Tokyo. This is the third episode on that theme, and the reason they don’t mind doing sequels of it is simple – each shopping district is different, with unique treasures hidden inside. But is that really enough to make this episode feel fresh?

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The district featured this time is in Shinagawa, and this photo confirms that it is, indeed, quite old:

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And this map confirms that, just like all the other shopping districts we’ve seen, you might miss its existence entirely if you didn’t already know that it was there – it’s got plenty of competition nearby, including two big supermarkets.

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Aiba-kun’s pals for this one are Watabe Ken-san and Sawabe Yuu-san . . . again. We had the same pair on June 30th and July 7th, but got a break from them last week. Well, they’re back.

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The first place they tried to look into was a security camera shop . . .

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. . . but they were interested in what might have been there before, since they’re looking into the history of the place and there’s no way it was a security camera shop forty years ago.

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For some reason, she leads them to a laundry service – possibly because it used to be located at her shop, or maybe because it was the oldest surviving place nearby.

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There’s sure a lot of specialized equipment like a huge press that irons the clothing quickly and efficiently.

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Still, even with the 200 degree Celsius temperatures, it’s a lot of work to handle each shirt one-by-one.

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They also investigate the cleaning equipment that has survived the decades.

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If you’re puzzled about how all this stuff works, don’t worry! There are plenty of little graphics to explain.

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And sure enough, they have ways to deal with those pesky stains:

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Now, if they did this episode in the same way they did the previous shopping district episodes, they would just move on to the next store at this point. To my surprise and delight, though, Aiba-kun decided to participate by attempting a touch of ironing. Will we get more of this in the other stores?

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They head to a furniture shop next . . .

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. . . and it sure features some interesting and unexpected items (the sarcophagus is a cabinet!):

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It’s a huge place compared to the other shops – possibly because of the size of the merchandise. They ask about the most expensive item for sale . . .

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. . . and I’ll leave you to guess how much this . . . I guess it’s a dresser? . . . costs.

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Next, the trio head into the workshop where furniture is being restored or fashioned.

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The word you’re looking for here is ‘craftsmanship’.

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And yes! Aiba-kun gets in on the act by smoothing out the boards. It’s only a few seconds, but it makes all the difference because we see him actively engaged instead of just standing around being told things.

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Onwards!

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After two shops that have nothing to do with food, it was about time that they grabbed something to eat.

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But no! Instead of just chowing down like they did in the other episodes, they asked about the equipment used to make the noodles and were led to the back.

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And if you had any doubt that they were focused on doing things differently this time, here’s Aiba-kun messing around with the noodles: (again, just for a second, but it’s enough to give a very different feel to the episode)

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Don’t worry, they still got to eat and say “umai”, but I’m always alright with that as long as we got to see how the food was made (and especially if the hosts themselves played a part in preparing it).

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To close out the half-hour, the three explorers found dessert in the form of sugared red bean confections.

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Warming my heart, they again went into the back to take a look at how everything was made before taking a bite.

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As you can probably tell, I was impressed by the changes they made by focusing much more on what was in the backroom – the parts that a normal visitor to the district would never see. There was a clear effort to bounce back from the munch-fest in the July 7th episode, and I think they managed the maneuver wonderfully. If only gourmet segments in other shows spent this sort of time on how everything is made I wouldn’t be nearly so down about them.

I wouldn’t say this episode was as good as the July 14th episode – that was truly special – but by improving over what the show had done before, it serves as a sign that Aiba Manabu has a bright future ahead.

Now, if only they’d get a new batch of helpers. I can’t explain why, but I’m getting sick of seeing Watabe Ken-san.