It’s big in Japan

8 July 2019

It’s big in Japan

Lace up your hiking boots and pack your bags – travel author Erns Grundling is exploring the Land of the Rising Sun in the travel series Elders: Japan.

The back story

A couple of years ago, Erns Grundling was in a bad space. “I’d just come out of a broken relationship, I was overweight and depressed and not sure what to do with my life.” But then he saw an old Zen proverb: “This too shall pass. Until then, fetch wood, carry water, walk the earth.”

“Walk the earth” stuck, and inspired Erns to pack his bags and hit the road. He started with the famous pilgrimage trail in Spain, the Camino de Santiago. He documented his life-changing journey in his 2017 book Elders – and this was turned into the kykNET series Elders: Camino (stream it here).

Seriously bitten by the travel bug, Erns booked his tickets for Japan – and you’re invited along for the trip in Elders: Japan. Each episode is available on Showmax on Wednesday evenings at 21:00, 24 hours after it’s aired on kykNET.

“Japan has always been on my bucket list and it’s a unique and mysterious destination,” he says.

Tea for one

Erns gets his adventure and hiking skills from his dad, André (66). “I was born and bred in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, and every year our family would visit Cape Town. Table Mountain is the one iconic place I always remember that we explored,” says Erns.

For Elders: Japan, Erns and his three-man crew continued the Elders: Camino theme by exploring pilgrimages. They tackle the Kumano Kodo (a sister pilgrimage to the Camino) and the Nakasendō, the former trade route between the cities of Kyoto and Tokyo.

“It’s not a walking and talking show. I also immerse myself in the Japanese culture,” says Erns. In episode 4 (24 July on Showmax), he climbs Mount Fuji in perfect conditions. But the mountain is steep with heavy snow and despite the feeling of euphoria, Erns was drained: “I was dehydrated after the climb, but luckily my crew found two bottles of warm tea at a local vending machine and I was back on my feet in minutes.”

Much more than just blossoms and sake

Japan is synonymous with avenues of bright pink cherry blossoms, samurai warriors, traditional sake rice wine, sumo wrestlers and sushi, but Erns found something else that South Africans can really relate to: Japan’s passion for rugby.

“Part of the aim of the show is to introduce Japan, which is the host country for the 2019 Rugby World Cup [20 September- 2 November], to viewers and show them how the Japanese have embraced the foreign sport as their own. Japan beat the Springboks in the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the fans I met can’t wait to watch a rematch live this year in their home country,” says Erns.

“Japan beat the Springboks in the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the fans I met can’t wait to watch a rematch live this year in their home country.”

In episode 2 (10 July on Showmax), the host meets up with Springbok player Duane Vermeulen in a café full of cats, he bumps into former Bok coach Ray White and he watches a league rugby match while munching on sushi and drinking beer. You can take the boy out of South Africa …

Eating sushi at a rugby match.

Learning curve

“The one thing I want viewers to learn from this series is that Japan is every traveller’s dream. It’s not expensive. The people are extremely friendly, and they will always help you if you’re lost. And of course, if you planning to travel for the Rugby World Cup, it will help if you know at least these Japanese words: kon’nichiwa (hello) and sayōnara (goodbye).”

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