This week on Tour Group, the travelers head to their final destination of Japan. In Tokyo, they experience the culture shock of an owl cafe and a maid cafe before exploring the Harajuku District and Shibuya Crossing. Then, at a traditional Japanese inn in the shadow of Mount Fuji, Misty and Jared are forced to confront the reality of their travelers' romance. Read on for a full travelogue of the episode and all things Tokyo...
Putting Thailand in the rear view mirror, the tour group travels to their final destination of the trip: Japan. After spending the majority of day 35 flying across Asia and the East China Sea, the group arrives in Tokyo and is overwhelmed by the vastness of the cosmopolitan city. Lovebirds Jared Levy and Misty Kingma are ready to put the drama that plagued their showmance throughout Sri Lanka and Thailand to bed, while Misty's twin sister Jenna Kingma is hoping that Japan will complete the trip for her with a proper happy ending. On the bus ride to the hotel, lead tour guide Brandon Presser points out that Tokyo has an exact replica of the Eiffel Tower, except it's called Tokyo Tower, it's 13 feet taller and it's painted bright orange. As Misty succinctly says upon learning this fact, "Japan is basically the future."
On day 36, Brandon and his fellow tour guides have planned to explore the giant city essentially neighborhood by neighborhood in order for the travelers to get as much of a taste of Tokyo as possible. To start, he and Sandhurst Miggins will be taking the guys to one of Japan's famed maid cafes while Rachel Grant is bringing the girls to an owl cafe. On the way to the maid cafe, Brandon explains that the maids' purpose is to sell the fantasy that your wish is their command - though they draw the line at anything sexual or inappropriate. As the guys arrive at the maid cafe, they are baffled by the reality of it all. Everywhere you look there are women dressed in Japanese school girl outfits with their hair in pigtails, singing and speaking in cartoonish, high-pitched voices. The maid cafe is like manga come to life. Over the course of the experience, the guys don bunny ears and clap along with the rowdy music, swept away on a sugar high of candy and real-life Sailor Moon characters.
The owl cafe turns out to be a decidedly quieter experience for the women. Filled with dozens of the birds, the atmosphere is tranquil and almost silent, as Rachel explains that Tokyo's culture has given rise to an entire industry of animal-themed cafes. They are basically the Japanese equivalent of having pets, since it's difficult to fit an animal into one of the tiny apartments that dominate the Tokyo housing market. Surprisingly, the owl cafe also brings out a much softer side of Heather Marianna, who up until this point has rather proudly been one of the trip's two divas along with Michelle Harvey. Misty points out that there's an irony in Heather loving the owl cafe after protesting at riding camels in Morocco and elephants in Thailand, but if the diva is happy then everyone can be happy.
After accidentally encountering and joining a traditional neighborhood Shinto festival in the streets of Tokyo, the guys reconvene with the girls and Brandon takes the entire group to experience Shibuya Crossing, which is the busiest intersection in the world. In fact, over 100,000 people cross it every hour! When the traffic lights change and the travelers take their first steps out into the complicated crosswalk, Brandon points out that Shibuya Crossing is actually a giant metaphor for their journey as a whole - it's the beauty, madness and unpredictability of travel in a singular, unforgettable experience.
Next the group explores the Harajuku district of Tokyo, shopping for Japanese street fashion, giant and mini-sized condoms and one particularly interesting game of "toilet golf." As a jewelry designer, Jenna is particularly fascinated with all the Japanese jewelry she's finding in Harajuku and vows to immerse herself in the culture to use it as inspiration for her next collection. Back at the hotel, she informs Misty that she's thinking of staying in Japan for a while once the trip ends, before having a sisterly heart-t0-heart about the future of the latter's relationship with Jared. With the trip drawing quickly to a close, Misty isn't sure what the future will hold for the couple. After all, they live on opposite coasts with Jared in New York and her in California, and after the drama in Thailand she doesn't want to overwhelm him with thoughts of commitment and the future.
Early the next morning, the travelers pack overnight bags and board a bullet train to take them to Hakone, a mountainous town at the base of Mount Fuji. There, they'll be having one last big cultural experience by staying the night in a traditional Japanese inn, otherwise known as a ryokan. These traditional guest houses are known for top of the line service - Brandon tells the travelers they won't ever get such attentive service anywhere else for the rest of their lives - but also operate under a number of specific rules and customs that some members of the group may just trample over without knowing it. It also happens to be Mother's Day, which leads to Michelle having a bit of a pity party on the train as it's the first Hallmark holiday she's ever been away from her 10-year-old son Tanner and her now-deceased mother.
Arriving at the inn, the travelers are greeted by an all-female staff dressed in traditional kimonos, and are blown away by the breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji. The workers at the ryokan don't seem to speak a word of English, but Brandon's able to translate that the party will be splitting up into smaller groups of three and four to be brought to their rooms. Everything about Japanese culture emphasizes minimalism, so the travelers are astonished to find that each group of four will be sharing a room the size of a small cubicle and sleeping on mats on the ground. Rachel's all about this experience, joking with Jeff and Jetta Bates Vasilatos that it'll be like having a Japanese slumber party, but Misty is less than enthused that she and Jared have to share a room with Heather and Michelle.
The staff of the inn helps the travelers get dressed in traditional Japanese obis before serving them a formal meal in the spacious dining room of the inn. Sitting on the floor and armed solely with a pair of chopsticks, the travelers are brought course after course of sushi and other authentic Japanese cuisine. Many of the dishes are unrecognizable to an American palate, but each plate is gorgeously crafted with special care given to every single detail. During the meal, the travelers marvel that the trip will soon be drawing to a close and it's obvious that certain cliques have been formed within the group. Jay Ward puts it bluntly in his confessional that while he'll miss Georgia boys Michael Cook and Steven Roberts and a couple of the girls, he's more than ready to bid the rest of the group farewell.
After the dinner, the travelers retire to their rooms for the evening, some of them enjoying a Japanese tea ceremony and toasting to the wonder of the experience. However, there's awkwardness fills the air in the room shared by Misty, Jared, Heather and Michelle as the two pairs quickly realize they have virtually nothing to connect over. Heather asks if Misty would consider moving to Dallas (where Jared's from) after the trip, but when she jokingly brings up babies and marriage the confirmed bachelor visibly blanches. That's obviously not the reaction Misty was hoping for, and it's clear that the couple is going to need to face their prospective future soon, before their time in Japan runs out for good. Will their relationship be just a showmance or is there potential for a real future after the trip is over? Next week is the finale, so we're likely to find out at least one of those answers sooner rather than later...
What did you think of this week's Tour Group? What's the first thing you would do in Tokyo? Would you rather visit a maid cafe or an owl cafe? Could you handle staying at a traditional ryokan? And do you think Misty and Jared's relationship has a shot of surviving past the trip?