In Japan ‘Ainori' means to ‘Ride together' and this phrase became the title of the reality TV series made by Fuji Television in 1999. The hit dating show ran for ten years, ending in 2009. Earlier this year Netflix teamed up with Fuji to reboot the series and the first instalment of the new ‘Ainori Love Wagon – African Journey' dropped on the streaming service in January 2020.
Like the original incarnation, the new program follows seven people touring overseas in a pink bus dubbed ‘the love wagon.' While the phrase ‘Love Wagon' might have slightly creepy connotations in the West, in Japan it isn't considered a taboo to fill a van with young people and ask them to talk about their sex lives! I'm joking, the show is very sweet, and although we find out about the contestants' past romances, it's all very innocent.
The contestant's goal is to find true love with another member of the wagon. The show's twist happens when one person falls for another. If a participant decides they like someone, they ask the bus drivers for a ticket back to Japan. At this point, they must declare their love and ask the person to return to Japan with them immediately. If the proposal is accepted, the new couple flies home together. If not, the jilted participant is left to return to Japan alone. The other person continues on the trip, and another romantic interest joins the tour.
Throughout the 22 episodes (27 minutes long) we discover more about the people on the bus. The boys are a mixed bunch; one is a lovable chubby virgin, another is a winner of a male beauty contest! In the beginning, four boys share the bus with three girls. Romance quickly blossoms between members of the group. I suspect the chief reason for this is the confiscation of mobile phones at the start of the journey!
Along with romance, we also get to witness some fantastic scenery too. The show does an excellent job of educating the audience on all the countries visited during the series. In one episode the gang visit a school set-up by Fuji TV ten years ago. The ‘Ainori' school in rural Kenya gives local kids a safe place to learn. The group pitch in to help refurbish the school and paint the exterior with the aid of the school children.
Between the action in Africa, the show switches back to Japan, where a studio panel talks about the events unfolding. The panel makes humorous remarks about the contestants, and in many ways, this part of the show is similar to ‘Terraced House‘ the other famous Japanese dating show. The Japanese do like the ‘Dating' format, as the series points out in an early episode, 34% of Japanse people in their 20's have never had sex. So maybe the dating format is more of a necessity than pure entertainment.
It's worth pointing out, that despite the slightly seedy title; this show is incredibly sweet. It's the complete opposite of ‘Love Island' and the producers of the show will not have to worry about #MeToo allegations in the future. A one-point in the series, a male contestant, formally asks if he could hold hands of one of the women. The participants, rarely act up for the camera but instead come off as genuinely trying to find themselves and love.
If you like dating series you will enjoy ‘Ainori Love Wagon – African Journey'. It has a slower pace than other shows of the same format, but it makes a nice change. A word of warning, you will need to switch subtitles on, unless you speak Japanese. It doesn't take away from the enjoyment, but occasionally the subtitles disappear before you get a chance to read them fully.