This Japanese Love Wagon doesn't just hitch couples - it addresses geopolitics too


There's more than one way to do a romantic reality tv show - especially when it's an opportunity to project the best and most constructive elements of your culture. 

That's what's happening with “Ainori Love Wagon: Asian Journey”. A Netflix collaboration with Fuji TV, it's taking a longstanding Japanese reality show and updating it for 2017-2018. But as the Japan Times reports, the drama in the show is as much geopolitical as it is personal. 

The format - where seven people join a bus, hoping to pair off at the end of their journey - is familiar. And as the Japanese language trailer shows below (subtitled), it's full of the giggling/frowning/scampering joys of this kind of TV. But as Japan Times notes, "'Ainori' has also always served up a healthy dollop of soft power flexing. While the participants learn plenty about the world, they also get a chance to see how Japan is (more often than not, positively) viewed globally. Entire episodes focused on how much good “Ainori” — and by proxy, Japan — did for the nations they visited, such as helping to construct a school in Kenya."

In the course of their current adventures, the Love Wagoneers don't close their eyes to politics or current affairs: 

Just as intriguing, though [says Japan Times] is the “edutainment” “Ainori” presents. These “a very special episode” moments also popped up plenty in the original run, with entire installments devoted to the cast learning about issues like global warming. The 2017 relaunch has featured long sections about the importance of family and how to be happy in the face of late capitalism (no, really). On their recent jaunt through Thailand, they even offer a comprehensive intro to LGBTQ issues, making this Netflix reality show more in-tune with the world than Japan’s most authoritative dictionary.

...Things get good when “Ainori” throws political shade. The Taiwan stretch of the show includes a segment about how much the people there love Japan. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, they donated ¥18 billion to affected areas in six months. But despite the Japanese government taking out thank you ads in newspapers in the U.S., France, Korea and elsewhere, Taiwan didn’t get one. Why? Because it isn’t recognized as a country.

“I felt ashamed,” one participant says on learning this fact. While the story prompts the team to repair a damaged bridge as a belated thank you (Japan — so kind!), the not-so-subtle message is that the real bad guy, China, is making it impossible to recognize Taiwanese decency.

These instances elevate “Ainori” from simple dating-via-travel show to one of the most interesting Japan-in-the-world programs running.

More here. Trailer below: