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Edging Toward Japan: Taking a James Bond tour of Japan

Mount Aso's crater spews volcanic smoke in this photo taken in Kumamoto Prefecture from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in April 2019.

By Damian Flanagan

    When I occasionally give talks about the connection between James Bond and Japan, the audience often take a particular interest in the exact route Bond-creator Ian Fleming took when he toured Japan for two weeks in 1962. One travel agent even suggested recreating it for modern tourists as "The James Bond Japan Tour." Fleming would send Bond on a very similar journey in Japan in his 1964 novel "You Only Live Twice."

    Starting from Tokyo, Fleming's first destination was Mikimoto's Pearl Island in Ise, which he reached in those pre-shinkansen days by hydrofoil from Gamagori, and where he watched ama divers. In the novel, Fleming would make Bond's love interest Kissy Suzuki an ama diver.

    After the Grand Ise Shrine, the next stop on the tour was nearby Matsuzaka, famed producer of marbled beef. As in the Bond novels, death and sex were the two main features of Fleming's tour of Kyoto -- he visited the Jinya "House of Death" near Nijo Castle and took a keen interest in the workings of the Shimbara brothel district.

    Fleming had two traveling companions: Richard Hughes (an internationally renowned Australian journalist, Japan expert and spy) and Torao "Tiger" Saito (an architect, editor, and the model for "Tiger Tanaka," the head of the Japanese Secret Service, in "You Only Live Twice"), who had carefully prepared the itinerary for him.

    Fleming closely observed both the Japanese people he encountered on route -- never failing to spend an hour every evening writing notes on his experiences of the day. He travelled everywhere in a dark blue suit with polka-dot blue tie, smoked cigarettes from a holder, sported a shooting stick and carried his own supply of bourbon.

    The one place in Japan that seems to have woken up to the potential of celebrating 007's adventures in Japan is the island of Naoshima in the Inland Sea, where a James Bond Museum was briefly created, though it closed down a few years ago.

    Passing through the islands of the Inland Sea, Saito designed a Caribbean-style, Dr. No-like hotel and Fleming immediately offered three titles for it.

    Hughes called Beppu, their destination in Kyushu, "rather vulgar, but amusing and lascivious." After viewing Mount Aso, their ultimate destination in Japan was Fukuoka -- and it is here that Bond would ultimately kill his nemesis Blofeld, holed up in a castle, surrounded by a "garden of death."

    It's perhaps surprising that Fukuoka, with relatively few visitor attractions, doesn't capitalize on its starring role in the penultimate James Bond novel and create its own Blofeld Castle, 007 interactive show and real-life "garden of death."

    A "James Bond Tour of Japan" might end on the charming Island of Iki, which Fleming never visited, but was presumably the type of island the author had in mind when he described an amnesiac Bond living as a fisherman with his lover Kissy Suzuki after killing Blofeld.

    Nowhere in Japan is further removed from the thrilling world of James Bond -- and yet, paradoxically, few places are more closely connected to the final elegiac pages of "You Only Live Twice."


    (This is Part 29 of a series)

    In this column, Damian Flanagan, a researcher in Japanese literature, ponders about Japanese culture as he travels back and forth between Japan and Britain.


    Damian Flanagan is an author and critic born in Britain in 1969. He studied in Tokyo and Kyoto between 1989 and 1990 while a student at Cambridge University. He was engaged in research activities at Kobe University from 1993 through 1999. After taking the master's and doctoral courses in Japanese literature, he earned a Ph.D. in 2000. He is now based in both Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, and Manchester. He is the author of "Natsume Soseki: Superstar of World Literature" (Sekai Bungaku no superstar Natsume Soseki).

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