James May has always been my favourite of the Three Amigos. Even before they all went to The Grand Tour, watching James May travelling abroad during the Top Gear specials was a treat. Now, it seems like there’s a new show of just May doing that: travelling. I’m tentatively excited.
It’s called James May: Our Man in Japan, where he takes a trip from the north to south end of the country and exploring everything in between. “He’ll see the sights, meet the locals, and eat the noodles in a bid to truly understand the Land of the Rising Sun,” touts the trailer’s YouTube caption.
Judging from the trailer, it doesn’t look like a car-centric show, either. Which is a good thing! Car shows are great and all, but May has displayed a wealth of knowledge and interests outside the automotive world which will hopefully get highlighted here.
My favourite Top Gear episodes were always the ones where they travelled somewhere cool. I know what England looks like, so when the three got to go to places such as India, China, Botswana, Bolivia, Patagonia and Vietnam, it was a real treat.
What wasn’t so cool was how ignorant and racist the hosts could be sometimes. I have distinct memories of Richard Hammond refusing to try the local food out of fear and Jeremy Clarkson just being a general racist arse. May largely stayed silent during stuff like that and typically seemed more open-minded and pleasant about their surroundings.
Travel shows always run of the risk of exoticizing a culture. Sometimes we can’t help but to project our pre-conceived notions onto a foreign place or group of people, because it’s what we think we know. But that can falsely portray an entire culture, which becomes problematic when you broadcast your show to thousands or millions of people who also don’t know any better. As a hopefully unnecessary reminder, just because something seems weird and different to you doesn’t mean it isn’t perfectly normal to all the people who live in that country.
So I’m tentative in my excitement. But considering May seems to be good-natured guy, it’s probably going to be a lot of fun.
James May: Our Man in Japan airs on Amazon Prime Video UK on Jan. 3, 2020.