“Getting Dirty in Japan” is the brainchild of TV host and actress Janni Olsson—endearingly known on Japanese TV as “The Swedish Outdoor Girl”— and Christopher McCombs, who has been working both sides of the camera in Japan for decades and who much prefers the creature comforts of indoor living. He is part of the award-winning media house, Tokyo Cowboys, that produced “The Benza,” a popular comedy that has been airing on Amazon Prime about two roommates’ adventures replacing a broken toilet in Japan. During some Covid downtime the dynamic odd couple dreamt up the show about getting out of the house, out of your comfort zone and into some exciting outdoor adventures and destinations in Japan. 

PRE-PRODUCTION

Chris: I met Janni shortly before we began shooting “The Benza” series. Janni was one of just a few new cast members not in the original short film. She jumped right in though and now we’ve been working together on the show for more than five years. We’re about to begin shooting the final season. It’s a bittersweet feeling.  

Janni: Over Covid I was thinking about starting a YouTube channel since so many sets weren’t working. Having my own outdoor show on a major TV network was a goal of mine, but I thought I’d have to wait for an offer. Then Chris asked, “Why start a YouTube channel when we could make a TV show?” The rest is history.

Chris: Janni is is one of the most adventurous people I know. I’ve never seen someone throw themselves at challenges the way she does. Yet, when I see her on Japanese travel shows, it seems like they want to portray her as weak or silly. When we initially discussed the show we both insisted nothing was to be faked and we’d be honest with the editing so viewers get a genuine sense of each story and location.

Episode 1: Let’s Be Honest—River fishing and city kayaking

Janni: Making an outdoor show with someone that doesn’t like to be outdoors might sound like madness, but it brought a fresh perspective to the show. Despite his distaste for the outdoors, Chris faced it head on. His honest opinions often made me laugh, but they were incredibly valuable. He showed you can bring others along that may not be as excited as you are to be outside, but they can still have fun.

Chris: I hate fishing. I’m sorry, I just do. I realize now I probably shouldn’t have said it as much as I did in the show, but I think viewers realized on the first episode that we were going to tell the truth. You may not agree with me, but you know I’m going to share my honest opinion.

Episode 2: Searching for Tarzan—Treetop adventures in Chiba

Janni: This episode was actually the original pilot. When we shot it we were still trying to figure out the tone and style of shooting the show. I realized just how much I was asking from my team since, aside from myself, no one else had shot outdoor or adventure content before. Our directors, Michael Williams and Raito Nishizaka, really came through. Raito strapped on all of his cameras and joined me on the course up in the trees. Michael had to shoot the campfire conversations during the worst heat wave of the year.  All without a script, and we only had one chance to shoot it. Chris came out to the campsite after just one or two hours of sleep and made sure we got all the shots we needed—he pulled us across the finish line. It was tough, but I was proud of how we figured it out.

Chris: In order to get to the camp site in time, I had to leave at 3 a.m. and drive an hour and a half to the middle of nowhere. I vividly recall being annoyed by how loud nature was at that time of the morning. Then the sun came up and I saw the most beautiful view of Japan I had ever seen. I was so touched by the beauty of the moment I wrote the lyrics to the theme song, “Waiting to Be Seen” by Fossilize, right there in the car on the way to Forest Adventure.

Episode 3: Getting Wet—Riding waves and relaxing hot springs

Janni: This episode may look peaceful, but up until 30 minutes before filming, we didn’t know what we would actually be shooting due to the weather, making it tough to prepare. I wanted to shoot surfing, but if there were no waves we’d have to switch to SUP. Two very different activities—one is easy to shoot, the other, fast and unpredictable. The team showed they could come together no matter what was thrown at them. We often talk on the show about how outdoor adventures never go according to plan, but thats why it’s so much fun. I think we all felt that shooting this episode.

Chris: The surfing instructor is every bit as friendly as he appears in the episode. He spoke English well and knew some great spots to eat after surfing.  We went out for a bite afterwards and I was very much in love with him, the beach, and that city by the end of the day. I was broken hearted, however, that I wasn’t allowed into the onsen because I have a tattoo. The waiting area and the restaurant at the hot spring was nice though. 

Episode 4: Something New—Traditional Japanese horseback archery horseback and glamping

Janni: I love the outdoors, but it’s hard convincing my not-so-outdoorsy friends to come along with me. Some want to get into nature more but are afraid they don’t have enough experience or gear—and some just aren’t looking for that hardcore outdoor experience. The glamping site was the perfect middle ground. Everything was provided so you can ease into the outdoor experience. And honestly, sometimes it’s nice to not have to race the sun to pitch your tent before dark. Having lots of yummy food ready to go on the grill was great too. This is probably the one location where every single member of the team was happy at the same time. 

Chris: Yabusame (traditional horseback archery) is no joke. The people practicing while we were there were all serious students and breathtaking to watch. The staff was not sure what to make of us when we first arrived and it was obvious they’d had a bad experience or two with foreign groups in the past. It took a bit of time, but by the end of the shoot we were all laughing and cheering Janni on. One thing I’ve learned from this show is that no matter where you go or what you do, remember to be respectful of nature and the people who make their living from it.

Episode 5: Getting Dirty—Mountain bikes and muddy trails

Janni: I’ve been riding a bike since I was very young, so I walked into this episode full of confidence. I was humbled quickly. Mountain biking on muddy, hilly trails is no joke. Luckily, we had a very patient instructor with us at the MTB park. The instructors and guides really made this show and their passion and skills made us want to push our limits. 

In Sweden you pretty much get thrown out into nature at a young age and get to try all kinds of activities. It’s harder to do in Japan, but luckily there are schools and tours with excellent instructors here so you can give it a try no matter your experience.

Chris: There is no scenario where I am going mountain biking with Janni. Having said that, the forest was beautiful to walk through while she was working on her mountain bike skills. The staff was every bit as charming as they appear in the episode. For people like me who don’t enjoy the outdoors, a patient, friendly hand extending an invitation to come along on the adventure goes a long way. It can make the difference between trying something new or just giving up and not going on the journey at all.  

Episode 6: Surprise Finish—Facing fears and winging it

Chris: Director Michael Williams and I were having a hard time locating Janni up in the sky, then, off in the distance, I heard a familiar sound. We could actually hear her screaming from the ground. We were laughing so hard as we chased after Janni’s screams. Surprisingly, she was a natural at paragliding and we were all relieved no one got hurt. I remember how hungry we all were after we finished that shoot. The poor BBQ crew were not ready for how much food we ate, but they certainly did their best to keep up with our appetites.

Janni: Before shooting the last episode, Chris kindly pointed out that we had shot ocean, land and rivers, but we were missing the sky. Yes, I know, that was on purpose! I have always had trouble with heights. I’d get dizzy just watching someone walking a couple of meters above ground. I started trekking and climbing to overcome my fear, but, to be honest, you never get over it completely. So until now, I’ve avoided skydiving, bungee jumping and paragliding. But the series was about challenging ourselves, so I decided to give it my all in the final episode.

To anyone even slightly interested in the outdoors, yet afraid you won’t be good at it, I just want to say getting out there and challenging yourself while having fun is what outdoor adventures are all about.

“Getting Dirty in Japan” is currently available on Amazon Prime Video in Japan and on many other streaming services around the world. The team is currently planning their second season so reach out if you have some ideas for outdoor adventures you’d like Janni to try. Find out where it is currently available in your region and what’s planned for Season Two here.

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