Milo Ventimiglia, star of NBC’s This Is Us, joins Norman on Ride With Norman Reedus for a trip through Japan from Kyoto to Osaka in Episode 3. In this Q&A with AMC.com, he talks about what he loves about Japanese culture, riding motorcycles, and more.
Q: You mention that you’ve spent some time in Japan. What sparked your interest in Japanese culture?
A: I’d written reports on Japan when I was a kid. I don’t know why, I was just always so fascinated with the culture, this honor-based culture with a very reverent way of looking at craft, and how, for a relatively small geographic nation, it has such a worldly impact, through technology and the like. I was just always fascinated with Japan when I was younger. I didn’t go for the first time until I was in my mid-thirties. It really just came out of a desire to go see it, so I said to one of my best friends, “Hey, do you want to go to Japan for the Christmas break?” And he was like, “Great,” and his lady was on board, so the three of us went to Japan for the first time, and it was awesome. And I’ve tried to get back there every year since.
Q: How long have you been speaking Japanese?
A: That came out of this need to do something different with my brain. I’d spent 25 years in front of the camera, and I got pretty good at memorizing my lines and emoting, so I thought, let me do something with my brain that’s challenging and getting me a practical skill. Learning a new language felt right. And this was after the first time I’d gone to Japan, and having that barrier, feeling the desire to communicate, drove the idea of signing up for school, going to school once a week, learning how to read and write and speak. Keeping it up now, that’s the hardest part. My workload has kind of tripled, so it’s harder to find the time to go to school. But I’m trying to hold on to what I have and practice when I can. … We all get so programmed into whatever we’re used to, from the routes we take to the grocery store, to the friends we see, our daily routines. Doing something completely different, totally foreign and difficult as f-ck was like, I kind of need to do that.
Q: As someone who has spent some time in Japan, what do you think is the one thing people should do there?
A: Remember to be patient. It’s one thing sometimes, culturally as Americans, we expect everything to move at the pace of the states, and things are just different. Things are high-paced, but you also have to take up the energy of where you happen to be, whether you’re shooting arrows from a bow, sitting around a campfire, or doing 100 miles per hour on a motorcycle.
Q: How did it come about for you to join Norman on Ride?
A: I got a phone call, funny enough, to be on an earlier episode of the season in the U.S., but I just wasn’t available. And I was like, “Aw man, that’d be a lot of fun, but I’m just not around.” And then later on, I got a call about the ride from Kyoto to Osaka to Nara, and the timing actually just kind of worked out. It was the perfect week window where I could be in Japan, since I had to follow that up with a trip to Africa and then to D.C. So I got to start off this globe circling with Japan.
Q: When did you first start riding bikes?
A: I’ve been on a bike almost, 14, 15 years. I got my license when I was in my late-twenties, and everyone in my immediate world just kind of freaked out. I kind of let that fear from everyone else get the best of me, and I didn’t get a bike, but what I did instead was get a private tutor to show me how to ride, and really teach me the best way to get out of bad situations on a bike. I rode with him for awhile, and then I got enough confidence and went out and bought a bike of my own. My family didn’t find out that I had that bike for about nine months, so by the time everyone started to find out, I was like, “Oh, well I’ve been riding for about a year and nine months, and I’m doing pretty good.”
Q: In the Ride episode, you and Norman visit a temple and watch this waterfall purification ritual. What was that like?
A: I think as wild as Norman’s life or my life is, finding those calm moments in that solace, that peace, especially in a setting of purification, it was really great to witness. The ride up to that temple was beautiful as well, and to spend time with those two brothers who are monks who also ride — I think in my life, I’m always seeking that calm, I’m always looking for the serene, I’m always looking for things that are going to slow my speed down a little bit, since life otherwise moves pretty fast. I was pretty happy that that was the path we were on when we were in southern Japan.
Q: And then you got to practice kyudo archery! How was that experience?
A: That was hard as sh-t. So much respect to the folks there who were just absolutely destroying these targets. I think my first arrow out of the bow, it hit the target, but then the ten others that followed didn’t go anywhere near it. But again, it’s the discipline, it’s the practice, it’s the repetition and the honor in all of that, and the honor in the craft of it. It just lends itself to finding beauty in the simplest of tasks, the most efficient of tasks.
Q: Do you feel a similar kind of zen when you’re riding?
A: I do, but it’s not zen-relaxed, it’s more like zen-alert. A lot of my riding is in Los Angeles proper, and there’s a lot of cars going different directions, at different speeds, a lot of left turns coming in front of you, a lot of people merging, a lot of people speeding, and yet there’s this matrix, almost calm that happens where you’re able to be totally aware of everything around you. It’s kind of like being in the ocean: it’s gonna go up, it’s gonna go down, but you’re just going to travel with it and avoid the spill along the way. You’re focused, but not totally relaxed because you have to be alert. It’s an interesting thing. I’ll say this: I’m never stressed when I’m on a bike, but I’m also not worried about falling asleep.
Q: What was it like feeding the deer in Nara? It’s a scene that seems so hilariously incongruous, you and Norman, these two famous actors, just…feeding deer some potato.
A: I hadn’t ever really thought about going to Nara, but yet it’s something everyone talks about, with the deer and the bowing. And you hear that and go, “Yeah, sure, they’re bowing.” But then you get there and you realize that’s exactly what they do, and they know what people are handing them, and they’re super into it, and they’re gonna bow the hell out of it to get that cracker. The sad part is when you’re out of crackers and there’s five to six deer standing around you like, “Dude, where’s my f-cking cracker?”
Q: What are some of your favorite memories of your ride with Norman?
A: I usually don’t talk when I ride. I don’t have a helmet system that is communicating or anything, I usually just use hand gestures or lift my lid to talk to my friends. But that was actually kind of cool to be able to have a conversation, to see something on the side of the road and just start talking about it — just talking about the dumbest things, like creating a riding group called the Donuts of Osaka. It’s kind of like finding enjoyment with others and not in the solitude of your helmet. I think that’s part of it that I enjoyed the most. And also when some of my friends from Osaka joined us. That’s always fun when you can introduce people. I introduced Norman to my friend Sunny, and then Sunny introducing Norman and I to his friend, and then kind of meeting people was my favorite part. It was very simple, very serene, very human.
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