Simon Firth – Projects Director
Simon Firth, the author of several titles in the On The Tracks of 007 series, visited Japan along with an intrepid group of Bond fans, including more members of 007GB Club.
‘This is the big one 007’ So went the tag line to the proposed On The Tracks tour of Japan in 2023. Entitled ‘You Only Live Once’, the trip promised luxury hostelry, bullet trains and a travelogue including so many Bond sights, including the island that inspired Silva’s base in Skyfall, Hashima.
Early on, it was evident a lot of thought had gone into the planning of the tour and, even with the experience of having led many tours, I did wonder at the enormity of On the Tracks founder Martijn Mulder’s task that included such hurdles as language barriers, weather and the herding of a group populated with guests of various physical abilities and their equally variant baggage sizes as we undertook the traversing of multitudinous train stations. The bullet trains at least, would require particularly speedy embarking and disembarking within the 120 seconds of station stoppage time (true to their reputation, Japanese trains run with a high degree of precision).
Electing to arrive at the Hotel New Otani a day earlier than the tour start date to allow for a more relaxed acclimatisation to the time zone, I nonetheless remained in a state of delirious semi-consciousness for the following two days as I alternated between confusion and sleep-induced blindness.
07.04.23 – The First Day – Tokyo
The aforementioned fatigue saw me, the following morning, wandering into the wrong restaurant for breakfast, and without the customary breakfast voucher that gains one admission to the treats within. Once inside the rather gorgeous dining room, I availed myself of dumplings, noodles, steak, bacon, steak sauce, boiled tomatoes and vegetables and morning juices of rice and vinegar bases. It was a stunning introduction to the country. Still very tired, and with the life affirming properties of the hotel’s swimming pool closed, the entire group met in the evening for introductions and cocktails in the hotel’s superb Bar Capri. While this did not necessarily aid and abet the acclimatisation to Japan time, the group were a lovely collection of people.
08.04.23 – Osato’s Chemical Engineering Offices
The New Otani was built between 1963 and 1964 in readiness for the Tokyo Summer Olympics on the site of a 400 year old garden and became the tallest building in Tokyo. Two further buildings were added to extend the hotel complex; the Garden Tower in 1974 and the Garden Court in 1991. As is well documented, the hotel exteriors stood in for Osato’s Chemical Engineering headquarters while all of the interiors were filmed in Pinewood Studios. Satisfyingly, the frontage had not changed at all; all the pillars behind which Connery hid and shot were still present and correct. Martijn’s knowledge and delivery held just the right balance of knowledge and humour, and on we went into the gardens for the location of the fight between Bond and Dikko Henderson’s killer, and one errant shot of the ninja training school that was to be predominantly filmed at a later location (Himeji Castle). It was here that the group was hilariously introduced to the need to come equipped to these events with an imagination. Parts of the garden had been excavated for a pool and waterfall. Deer statues and artefacts identifiable from the film had been moved hither and thither. Some had been lost to time. A distinctive red bridge had survived the travails of development though. From there, we were directed around the hotel to consider the car chase.
‘If you look in that direction, Kissy’s car turned off there. But the road that led to it is now this building,’ we were informed as he pointed to the monolithic structure not two metres from us.
A half day tour for the group left the other half free. Some of us explored some location points of interest pertinent to the Tokyo based film, Lost in Translation: the Joganji Temple and the Shibuya Scramble Crossing, the famous crossing where all the streets are brought to a red light halt to allow pedestrians to cross horizontally, vertically and diagonally in gloriously organised chaos. We popped up to the seventh floor of a department store to a venue that served beer and to take in an aerial view.
Martijn is in touch with the Japanese Bond Club contingent and, so happy were they at the news of our arrival in April, that they threw a party for us in the New Otani. Beer, wine, champagne and an astonishing array of food were all offered in a venue that they had enthusiastically set dressed with posters from the James Bond films and various people dressed up in the films’ characters. The Japanese Club members were fantastically friendly, offering limitless smiling energy. Compering the event was son to Tetsurō Tamba, the actor who played Tiger Tanaka, and the actor who fought Sean Connery in the Otani garden. It was a truly lovely evening and I extend my deep gratitude for the thought and the friendship.
09.04.23 – Tokyo – The car chase and the walk to the Sumo Wrestling
Today was to be a metro and walking tour of the Tokyo locations. The passing of 56 years would clearly entail a city’s extensive development but the world’s film location finders would still be able to piece it all together. Into the metros and streets we went. Various group members had the film segments on their phones, others had printed off screen grabs; all was shared on the group Whatsapp to aid and abet ground level identification.
We popped into the metro Station, Nakano-Shimbashi, where James Bond chases the fleet-of-foot Aki, as played by Akiko Wakabayashi. The station’s exterior had been developed but all the pillars inside remained as they were in the film, although barriers had been added to the platform for modern day safety reasons. Pictures were taken. As would rapidly become the norm, Japanese people would look on in wonder at the sight of 20+ people photographing something that in any other circumstance would never be consciously considered, much less photographed.
Not reviewing the day’s locations in film order, we walked on the road along which Connery walked before being mobbed by the nation’s fans. From there we followed his path into the alleyway that, if continuously walked, crosses a road before continuing into another alley. We stopped at the point of the wall where in 1967, there had been the door through which Connery went to meet his contact at the sumo match, Aki. The door had been filled in and was now just a wall. But, while not seen in the film and only in press images, on the opposite wall was a sign for a bar called Lupin, named after the fictional gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin. The sign had survived the ravages of progress! Squeezed into an alley, 25 responsible adults photographed and recorded the evidence. It sounds quite ridiculous but in fact, it was hilarious. We were all self-aware of the idiosyncratic behaviour, but we didn’t care. We were standing on hallowed ground!
Much walking ensued through the day as we visited a variety of roads that were used for the Toyota 2000GT chase. This was a day of interest for those who wished to discuss angles, possibilities, and Peter Hunt’s editing techniques that must have been designed only to ensure anyone following his footsteps would not be able to identify anything with consummate ease. That said, we did see the road that briefly showed off the Yoyogi Stadium as back drop to the Toyota shooting right to left of camera. Conversely to the rest of the day’s locations being very identifiable, the stadium was created for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Film maker John Cork entertained and interviewed group members, assembling material for an up and coming podcast project. It was a very gentle day, the weather was perfect, the spirits were jovial, and there was a realisation that the journey would be just as important as the destination.
Continuing the expansion of filmic scope to include Lost in Translation, three of us took a taxi to the Hyatt New York Bar for cocktails and a wagyu burger, and to discuss how a film unit made the best use of their bar where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters met for the first time.
10.04.23 – A Drop in The Ocean – Fuji Speedway
A stunning day that commenced by checking out of the Otani, loading up a bus with people and baggage and being whisked to the Fuji Race Speedway at Oyama in the Shizuoka prefecture. Of meaningful import to Bond fans today, this is the location for where the airborne helicopter catches up with the chase and, with the aid of a magnet (that every Japanese helicopter comes equipped with as a bare minimum of industrial requirements), secures and removes the SPECTRE car from any further interest in the pursuit and drops it unceremoniously in the bay. The Tokyo Tower provides identifiable backdrop. This particular segment of the scene sees the chaser and chased going first into, and then out of, a tunnel: specifically the left hand of two tunnels that are separated by a wall.
We were received by an energetic representative of the Fuji Speedway who took us to the location on a walk that passed a coned race practice area. Appearing to be used by amateur drivers driving their personally owned cars, they screamed by with a gusto that promised its own excitement. Motorbikes were also heard to be practising on a different track.
The track opened in December 1965. Designed as a NASCAR style track, the course was designed to have had two high banked curves; only one was built. It was called the Daiichi Curve. In no way a success, the increasing number of fatalities ensured that in 1974, the track was redesigned and the curve abandoned. In You Only Live Twice, this curve can be seen immediately above the tunnel, out of which come the cars.
Martijn had found the location with the aid of Google Streetview as the road down which the helicopter follows and the tracks had been digitised by the Silicon Valley company. As above, both tunnels were in operation and, before the course remodelling, one could drive straight through and under the track. Subsequent to the redesign, the excavated earth was dumped on the track side of the tunnel, effectively closing it. The cars entered and exited the left of the two tunnels. Today, the left tunnel has been halved with a wall that hides a flood drainage system that is fed from the other side of the tunnel by a huge pipe. Unlike perhaps some of the other more microscopic identifying elements of the previously visited locations, this was very apparent, very identifiable and very exciting. The phones were brought out, footage was reviewed, camera angles were compared. Of the two tours that Martijn had undertaken in Japan, this was the first time he had visited the Fuji Speedway.
The group was blessed with the company of a couple of people well known to the well-versed. Mention has already been made of John Cork but, in ways that ensured a wider stepping up of the group, we also entertained, and were entertained by Alan Stephenson. Known to many as ‘irreverent generalist’ with a bent for collecting, Alan had planned ahead and bought and shipped over presents for the entire group. Climbing aboard the bus, he very kindly and with exquisite timing, gave each of us a Corgi model of the Toyota 2000GT with special edition packaging as created by On The Tracks of 007 contributing artist, Jeff Marshall. An overwhelmingly kind gesture.
The lovely bus tour guide and translator lady, Yuki, had no idea about either the film or the location. She had however heard of James Bond. John Cork introduced to her the scene from the film; Alan gave her a car. Consider her now to be a Bond convert.
The journey took us towards and past Mount Fuji on a trail that was consistently mountain and bamboo-lined. The day was lovely and sunny. The ice topped Mount Fuji, we were informed, is open only in July and August for climbers. A mountain that has undergone a few name changes, it was once variously called Wealthy Warrior Mountain and Never Die Mountain.
It is already evident that the organisation was simply stunning, as was the patience, as was the humour, as was the desire and ability at the end of the day to have a drink with his tour guests. There were a variety of attempts to explore the 3D street addresses as bars and other caverns of entertainment can be located four floors above street level. One such foray to find a bar or inspiration saw us looking down an empty 4th floor corridor with doors lining the right hand side. From within came the desperate caterwauling of those searching in vain for the right note in response to the dictations of Karaoke rooms. For those where a bath, an upturned shower head and an accommodating neighbour are not enough, for a fee a single person can watch, sing and drink alone. So too was it the case here where each of the rooms were occupied by a soloist, each, if not perfecting their imitation of a music act, striving manfully in their hopeless pursuit. We looked elsewhere.
11.04.23 – A day of travelling – Wakayama
With southerly miles to cover, today was a day of travelling to Wakayama via the celebrated Bullet Train, more locally known as the Shinkansen. Capable of operating at speeds of 250-300mph, as I sat at peace on the train I found myself wondering less about the achievement of the speed and more about how the tracks get laid so that at speed, the travel is more akin to flying. We were given informed instruction as to how to make the best possible use of the 90 seconds we would have to board the train, such is the timekeeping of the train schedules. But first we had to await the other passengers to disembark; our time to board would be limited by how efficiently these passengers removed themselves. One carriage door was utilised to tetris pack the suitcases, the other carriage door for people and small bags. ‘Don’t try to stow your bag as soon as you get on; walk to the middle of the carriage, let everyone else board and Then we will figure out the storage.’ It worked a charm; the total count of team members and bags was not reduced.
As we would find with all streets in Japan, they were empty, clean, spacious, and in some cases streets would have chamber or classical music lightly piped through speakers over the walkways. There was a pervasive sense of calm and peace that permeated the soul; it was lovely. The cleanliness of the country was a subject of much discussion; perhaps one of the most irreverent subjects to ever conversationally take the group off-brand during the two weeks. Essentially, the conversation was one of a question; how could an entire country be so clean when there was nary a bin to be found on any of our travels. Bins were rarer in Japan than winning a series of 100-1 accumulators on a day that pigs flew over rocking horse poop; except in hotel rooms where in a 10 square metre area of private space for just two people, there would be two, or maybe even three such receptacles. One could walk miles before chancing upon A Bin, and such was the surprise when passing one, coinciding of course when one was not actually needed, we would buy something just to put in it.
An otherwise free day, we visited a castle, had a beer on a sidewalk, and found dinner in a small place that, at 5.30, had only just opened. We were the first ones in, and so happy were they to see their first customers that we were positioned in a broom cupboard facing the underside of the stairs; three of us aligned on a single bench facing the sloping ceiling as one would behind an airline passenger who had fully reclined their seat while your own seat was blocked against the back wall. As we would find with all other restaurants, they operated a tablet ordering system which is fine when entirely image based but in this example’s case, once pictorially deciding on beer and being taken to the appropriate page, all the options were in Japanese text. Similarly when deciding on tempura, the options were in Japanese text; sushi, the same. While clearly we the visitors should be the ones speaking their language, this observation was merely made on the menu design and its consistency. Ours was a stab in the dark approach with some glorious friendship and help from the owner/waiter. The gentleman even gave us his mobile phone with the password access to an app that would translate words into characters. While we experienced some shaky starts, we were refining our choices that realised some amazing food. Confidence increasing, the dishes were ordered and continued to fall through into our cupboard. Three people, including beer and sake, £60; a price that would tend to suggest that Japan is not the wildly expensive country it is widely reputed to be.
12.04.23 – The Wedding – Nachisan
Our guide was called Hiro and the bus driver, Tanaka san. The group warmed to the rounded perfection of the Gods’ deliverance. With the Pacific Ocean to the right, and primordial forest covered mountains to the left, we took a three hour ride to Nachisan, a natural focus of Japanese worship since the 4th century. The journey was relaxed; snippets of easy going Bond related conversation could be heard floating around the bus; John Cork and Swiss group member Sergej Novoselic were recording material for future podcasts. The roads continued to twist and turn around the mountainous terrain.
Parking at the bottom of a sharp incline, 500 steps led up to the Buddhist and Shintō temples. We were shown the big bell that started the scene between Bond and at this point an as yet to be chosen wedding candidate. It was interesting to see how the sequence had been filmed. To witness the girls’ arrival, Bond and Tanaka were stood close to the top of the steps, and for their reception and mutual acquiescence, they were placed closer to the ornate Buddhist Temple. For the actual wedding, this was filmed within the more colourful but less authentic looking and neighbouring Shintō temple. To clarify, while the two temples for differing religions co-exist in this place of worship, there are still two sets of access steps; one for each of the temples. Regarding the filming decisions, it is thought that the ornate wooden framing of the Buddhist temple worked for the exterior meeting between Kissy, Tanaka and Bond, but that the religious Shintō colours of the freshly maintained orange would provide colour and light for the interior of the wedding.
We moved on to the 133 metre high Nachi Falls, the highest single drop falls in Japan, where we gathered for the first of a series of group photos. Not even the light rain spoiled the magic of the day. Without any form of James Bond connection, as we would discover through the course of the trip, we would be introduced to wonder upon amazement in this country. That the location managers clearly did their job well was to our eternal benefit, both for the resultant film and for our much later tour visitations.
Later that evening, a few of us convened in a Wakayma bar where following explanations as to the purpose of our visit, the barman introduced us to a lady who had been born in Nachisan, and then put You Only Live Twice on the TV for us. It is the little things, the nuggets of surprise and kindnesses that provide the cream on the coffee.
13.04.23 – Haiku – Iga-Ueno
A full day, the seamless organisation incorporated a check-out, two stops and a further bus ride to a hotel for the following day’s excursions. Again, while the above sounds as though that could prove to be a trying day, in actuality it was not. Martijn’s considerations for the organisation were beautifully supported by the Japanese logistics. An easy two-hour bus ride with Hiro and Tanaka san to Iga-Ueno, we were to have lunch and thence to visit the Igaryu Ninja Museum.
Arriving in Iga-Ueno, we were asked to convene in the square in front of the various restaurant options to ‘await further instruction.’ Positioned together, we happened to be standing next to a statue. Expecting a reiteration of times, geography and promises that if missing in action, one would look after oneself, we are asked, ‘Do you know of whom is the statue?’ Perhaps fearing a delay to the day’s schedule, Martijn hinted, ‘It is a book connection’. Nope, with wild guesses and minimal inspirations exhausted, we are told it is a statue of Bashō, the haiku poet in whose likeness the Fleming created poem is inscribed before the beginning of the book, You Only Live Twice.
You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face.
Martijn really is full of surprises; this was not included in the tour brochure notes but it was a lovely reveal. I must admit to experiencing a tingling feeling at the back of my neck when being told this. Born in 1644, Matsuo Bashō was most recognised and famous for his haiku poetry. Haiku is a type of short form Japanese poetry consisting of three phrases composed of 17 phonetic units in a 5, 7, 5 pattern. While Bashō did not create the You Only Live Twice poem, Fleming created it in the style of Bashō, even if his poem required one extra phonetic unit. And the reason for the statue, Bashō was of course born in Iga-Ueno.
Following lunch, we headed to Igaryu and the Ninja Museum. Although transpiring to be a cross pollination of historical interest and comedic sideshow, it proved nonetheless to be thoroughly interesting. Following instruction to throw ninja throwing stars, first overhead and then like a Frisbee, we were given a demonstration by a masked ninja of a typical ninja home. Promoting the concept to Fight by not Fighting, the home was equipped with secret panels and escape hatches. There were hiding places for weapons under sliding door mechanisms, hiding places for humans with peepholes to surveil intruders; one in a cupboard, and one with elevation accessed by a trick staircase. With piercing eyes, long silken and pony-tailed hair, and a slight but athletic form, the ninja demonstrated their use with quite frightening speed. While the demonstration had been presented in English, the ninja appeared to have learned the entire script parrot fashion as my question was not at all understood. Talking to Hiro, I asked, ‘Could you ask the lady how the floorboard hiding panel would work if accidently stepped upon?’
While this was politely answered, many of my fellow group members later gently but firmly informed me that the ninja to whom I had found myself strangely attracted, was in fact a chap. With any literary reputation for observation now in terminal tatters, we moved on to the museum that highlighted their stealth, their weapons and their protective gear. These included blow darts, swords, ropes, and climbing equipment to scale stone walls. This was followed by a Ninja demonstration by two ninjas that was alternately presented in Japanese with odd words and announcements in English. With an unerring accuracy, a variety of weapons were demonstrated including an umbrella sword, a scabbard containing two swords, a sweeping brush sword, nunchaku swords, to self-defence with a piece of rope, and throwing axes, stars and scythes. The throwing of stars and axes was unnecessarily accompanied by a whooshing sound effect through the PA system, but the accuracy was unnerving as was the speed of the human reactions to fight scenes. While some of the act was played for humour, it served to undermine the seriousness of their story and history.
The slate-cleaning aspect of a new city that excised any and all previous observational slip ups, we arrived at the gorgeous Hotel Granvia in Kyoto. Finding a restaurant on the 5th floor in the building of the neighbouring Hotel Kyoto, we were served by our first Japanese waiter robot. The waitress came by to provide tuition and education. We graduated upon understanding how to send the robot back to either its home or to provide further provisions, and this achieved by placing the full palm of the hand on a blue spot on its head, as though wishing it fond farewell for a good journey and giving it a blessing. We had octopus balls, squid tempura, udon noodles, and sake. And thus our immersion into modern Japanese culture was complete.
14.04.23 – Himeji – Kyoto
Kyoto was the one-time capital of Japan until 1868. Deliberately spared from bombing during WWII, the city nonetheless has suffered from fires and earthquakes.
We were here for Himeji Castle, the best preserved wooden castle in Japan from around 1600. Although the castle was randomly hit by a bomb in WWII, the bomb did not explode. It is also the site of Tiger Tanaka’s Ninja training school. Following a Bullet train to arrive in Himeji, upon exiting the station, the castle looms large on the horizon of a wide avenue. Veritably, it is a stunning white structure in immaculate condition. Entering the castle grounds, one sees first the field where Tanaka’s helicopter lands, and within the grounds where Tanaka informs Bond that a marriage is the only way to provide a meaningful cover story to the espionage-aware Ama villagers, where the ninjas are introduced to the film when they storm the camera, the patch of land in a corner of the castle’s structure where they are practising stick fighting, and the throwing star alley. Although not used in the film, it is well worth a look around the multi-tiered interior; with shoes removed, the wooden floors inside are given a daily polish by the be-socked feet of the castle’s many visitors.
Like the film’s introduction to Tanaka’s ninjas, John Cork arranged for an impromptu video of the OTTO007 ninja team to storm a phone camera; this to the immediate shock and later bemusement of the on looking tourists. And with due deference to the title of the film, he did this Twice.
Home to the famed Kobe beef, we partook of a Kobe rice bowl in small ‘café’ that sat a bijou five. The cows having been bathed in the tears of angels during their meaningful lives, the meat almost melted in your mouth. Together with a fragrant rice and soup, this meal rated highly in the dining experiences.
Mention has previously been made of the enthusiasm for the location minutiae. The Kobe Docks as seen in the roof top fight sequence are no longer in evidence further to the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake; all has been rebuilt and developed out of recognition. So why go there? Because we are in Japan and sometimes the journey itself is the adventure. There was however a question as to how to get there; using trains today, the only way from the train station was to commandeer a corps of taxis for those who wished to make that pilgrimage. We were 16, we needed four taxis. The Docks do not have an address in the normal sense of the word so, having corralled the taxis, we separately and creatively tried to convey the destination to their drivers. Confusion reigned supreme! Why on earth would this many people, evidently tourists, wish to go to the docks? As the taxi drivers confirmed the ask between themselves, the message was received. We arrived at the unrecognisable docks and, as there were no taxis to be seen in this vicinity, the next message to convey was to get them all to wait for 15 minutes before returning us to the same train station. More confused conference between the taxi drivers later saw the light dawn.
The group’s cognoscenti recognised an old warehouse and the bridge that can be seen as backdrop to the foreground fighting action. Triangulation placed us at pavement level where the building on which Bond fights the dock workers and SPECTRE agents used to be. The water either side has been filled in for the container lorry parking. To the casual observer, this errant behaviour has now eventuated from the idiosyncratic to the hilarious. Recording and documenting photography was undertaken. We fully acknowledge that this is a special group, on a special holiday, with special needs but, never let it be said that these tours do not deliver and that they are incomplete.
But what do the taxi drivers think of all this nonsense? A watcher of people-watchers, I looked back from the warehouse and the distant bridge to see quite clearly they were non-plussed. I wondered what they would say to their wives when they got home? What might be their new and updated impression of the predominantly western tourists?
All in all, this was a day that straddled the sublime to the ridiculous. And it was all the more perfect because of it.
15.04.23 and 16.04.23 – Gion and Nagasaki
Today it rained. And rained. It was a day off where people could explore things unrelated to anything, and they did. Some visited Gion and others the Toyota Museum but of delicate constitution, I gave up and called Friday a day of Sabbath to fully incorporate the abstinence from work. The following day was one of intent travel to see us utilising what we had learned from the previous boarding of trains. Travelling to Nagasaki, we hopped on and hopped off three trains, of which two were Bullets.
17.04.23 – Bombs and Islands – Hashima
When in Nagasaki, one visits the Atomic Bomb Museum. A pleasant walk along the river from the superbly interior designed Hilton Hotel takes you to the museum. Unequivocally, the museum confirmed that when bombs drop, people are killed and buildings are destroyed. As the message went, yes, it is a good idea to never drop a bomb again, but it is probably also a good idea to not attack Pearl Harbour that might cause such retaliation, contrastingly of which no blatant equivocation was made.
Reportedly following his having seen a documentary about the island, Daniel Craig suggested to the Skyfall producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, that Hashima Island, a small island off the western coast of Nagasaki, could be a potential lair for villain Raoul Silva. In 1916, Hashima Island was developed by the Mitsubishi Limited Partnership into housing for all the coal miners that were mining the island and sea bed for the black mineral. The thinking being, if the commuting time is reduced, more coal can be mined. There was later an energy shift from coal to oil and, in January 1974, the mine was closed. In April of the same year, the island became summarily uninhabited.
No filming for Skyfall was undertaken on the island; merely an inspiration for Silva’s Macau based island, it was recreated on the backlot of Pinewood Studios with the help of CGI to add a number of stories to the buildings. The approaching boat was filmed in Turkey and later CGI’d into the island’s approach.
A stunning day, bright sun and calm waters ensured that the boat taking us to Hashima was able to dock and to give us the opportunity for a look around – the safe parts that were fenced off, not the unsafe areas. In point of fact, it is only one in three days of the year that the boat can dock at the arrival point. If unable due to inclement weather conditions, the boat will then take the passengers for a circuitous look around the island, but not actually on it. Even if not a Bond ‘location’, this island’s story is a thoroughly fascinating one and in and of itself would be worth seeing and reading about just for the history. The tour is really progressing from strength to strength. Again the organisation is sterling.
18.04.23 – Travel – Kagoshima
This was again a day of travelling and again with three trains, but by now the group is a fully functioning team, able to leap aboard trains with their bags, cases, holdalls, carry-ons, best wishes and love with the youthful alacrity of the Lakers Cheerleaders. This is the last train ride for which Martijn Mulder is responsible for his charges meaning he can move forward a further level towards total relaxation. While his previous endeavours to maintain a focused consistency of people’s attention and awareness might not have had so much in common with a herd of rabbits staring intently into the headlights of oncoming traffic, the boarding and leaving of trains, the searching around large stations for platforms and elevators to accommodate the manoeuvring of a variety of bags, this being the last train journey must nonetheless have been a welcome level of responsibility to step off from.
We arrived at the Kagoshima Train Station to be welcomed by an MBC news crew wielding Welcome to Japan boards for the OTTO007 group, cameras, boom handlers and interviewers. Of course by then, the whole of the station’s populace had seen the team and believed they are going to be graced by the presence of a film, music or TV star. Without knowing who we were, not least the world’s least-selling author of the world’s best-known secret agent, everyone points their phone camera lenses in our direction and starts recording. Finally, we are rabbits in headlights. It appeared the news crew had been informed and invited by the Shiroyama Hotel of our arrival to help promote post-Covid tourism; an enthusiastic team, they would lend a slightly surreal presence to the entire remainder of our stay.
Arriving at the Shiroyama Hotel, we were met by the same news crew; they had managed to arrive before us. The Hotel was also very much in on the co-ordinated coverage for there were yellow boards and banners celebrating our glorious arrival, both inside and outside the hotel. Group shots were taken, interviews were given and all without the advance warning we might have made best use of for a hair and make-up polish.
The Shiroyama Hotel was the Cast and Crew hotel for You Only Live Twice in 1966. Although then called the Castle Park Hotel, it is now a vastly different building today to how it was in 1966. Perched atop Kagoshima’s highest city peak, due to our associated publicity our rooms had been very generously upgraded to a Kagoshima harbour and Sakura-jima volcano view. The lofty perch upon which the hotel sat also meant we availed ourselves of the free shuttle to take one down and into town. Duly undertaken, we had dinner in the restaurant area where a central BBQ affair took care of meat, squid, and the odd errant vegetable. Slewed with sake, it was delicious.
19.04.23 – Lairs and Weddings – Kagoshima
There had started encroaching a feeling that this was now irrevocably close to the end of the trip. Any questions one might have had about the duration of a trip in such confined company had been spirited away, and the time had flown. Quite by chance, the tour had followed both the filming and, in large part, the film’s actual storyline. Starting north in the cities and heading south, we were now exploring the wonders of the Japanese rural nature; as the cityscapes fell away so too did increase the space, the quietude and the peace. There was a further reality that the tour was apparently surpassing itself with every ensuing day. What this was resolutely impinging upon me was that, at the point at which the tour peaked, it would then finish and the guests would be unceremoniously dropped over a vacuous cliff of introspective thought of the previous two weeks of unsurpassable beauty and fascination.
Steeling myself to this imminent prospect, the group boarded a bus journey to Kirishima, the northern area of the Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park. The route was lovely, every side of every mountain was covered in a carpet of trees of every shade of luscious green; from afar it gave the mountainous terrain a mossy look. From a more proximate vantage point, the many varieties of trees were interspersed with bamboo forests. Some of the trees’ barks had little green buds sprouting from within giving the whole tree a green, soft and fluffy appearance. Everything looked so alive and healthy, why? Did it have anything to do with the volcanoes which gaveth with one hand and tooketh away with the other? Maybe. Some high level research suggested volcanic ash is ‘a versatile and effective multi-nutrient mineral fertilizer.’ And the water? ‘Annual precipitation in Japan is approximately 1,718 mm; roughly two times as much as the world average of about 810 mm.’ All of which suggests that when the volcanoes are at peace, Japan luxuriates in plant life like no other.
We stopped off at the Maruo Falls. Very reminiscent of Bond’s rainforest walk in Moonraker which was coloured with waterfall backdrops, this was the location of a short shot used to lend scenic variety to Bond’s and Kissy’s walk to the volcano lair. While this location may possibly be documented by the Japanese team, Martijn only came across it quite by chance. On holiday and staying at a nearby hotel, their car journey to the National Park took them past the falls. Seeing the falls, mental cogs whirred, memories were stirred, unspoken questions were asked. Was this in the film? Pictures were taken and only upon their return and the film had been reviewed was it confirmed that this was indeed a Bond location.
Blofeld’s volcano lair is Mount Shinmoedake. In March 2011, it erupted and the lake and the walking trails disappeared. While the alert level had been reduced in 2022 from two to one, the hiking trails had not been restored and made safe. And if this contributed any sadness to the event, the omnipresent MBC news crew was at Kirishima to brighten our day with smiling greetings and enthusiasm.
Martijn set the expectation for the three hours we had at Kirishima. One could go for a walk in any one of a number of directions, one could see a crater lake to provide substitute, but one was unlikely to get close to Shinmoedake. The news crew wanted to film shots of a few of us looking into the nearby crater lake of Onami Pond. John Cork agreed that this might make for good footage, but the lake’s location also meant we could get close to the Shinmoedake volcano for shots of the now altered crater wall. Loading up their car with camera equipment and a sound boom, the crew of two together with four group members climbed into the car and headed off to a short cut that would reduce walking time to Omani. We walked along a surviving trail. The crew filmed us; we filmed each other. It was a lovely walk where again you could enjoy the green, the quiet, and the fun of the two crew guys. Cresting a hill, we looked into the wondrous Omani crater lake. We were each interviewed about our time in Japan and our feelings about this day’s experiences. This was good exercise but, with the interviews done, we headed further towards Shinmoedake while mindful of the need to be back at the bus by a designated time. And from a distance, we saw it. Billowing sulphurous fumes from its sides, the aspect had indeed dramatically altered since the days of the filming.
A combined race back down the mountain path saw group and crew back at the car and thence back at the bus. In this case, both journey and destination were as important as each other, and both were as successful.
The astute Japanese Bond contingent have not been letting the grass grow under their feet in the world of location identification. There is a street in the Tenpozan district that had been identified as the street Little Nellie takes off from subsequent to its having been pieced together from Q’s suitcases. Very evidently it was an east facing road leading towards the mountain Sakura-jima. As identification goes, this is a stunning piece of work as time has decreed huge levels of disguising development since 1966. Indeed, what of the sequence is there to go on? As soon as the Little Nellie is airborne, it is a high speed tracking shot at close quarters that all but makes the back drop a blur. From the camera angle there are two perpendicular streets, one of which is seen before take-off, the other of which needs to be stop framed to even be seen. There is a wall and an entrance to a driveway that is on screen for a tenth of a second, and quite incredibly the angle of the wall on the corner and the gate post heads match what we were to see. We were reliably informed that, of all the roads that today face the Sakura-jima, in 1967, this was the Only road that offered that direction and view. Today, much else has developed around it. While roads in this district appear not to have names, there was a sign suggesting the address to be 122 Tenpozan.
Again the news crew was present to record the professional identifying of the location together with the knowing finger pointing and confirming nodding of heads. Up to speed now on what they might want, we provided the team with all they needed.
20.04.23 – Ama Girls – Akime
The last day was upon us. Two weeks had passed at pace and peace. With everyone thoroughly looking forward to this day, exclusively from an excursion point of view if indeed not from the trip’s culmination perspective, we boarded the bus to Akime, home to the Ama diving girls, Kissy Suzuki’s home and an abundancy of little changed village coastal views.
But first we had a reception with the local dignitaries associated with the Mayor of the local prefecture and his entire staff. Exiting the bus, we were greeted by applause more commonly associated with being responsible for the cure for cancer, and our resident news crew recorded all. By now we were taking the adulation in our stride such that, if we were to pop down to the hotel breakfast the following day, we would likely be camera ready and made up. Joined again by members of the Japanese Bond contingent, we were invited to inspect and admire the progress of an imminent sand art exhibition in the park opposite the Mayor’s town hall.
Then onwards and downwards we travelled through the twisting roads lined with the omnipresent lusciousness of the verdant trees and bamboo forests. We stopped off at Gotobana Observation point to see Okiame Island. On the seaward side of the island was filmed Bond’s arrival at an unspecified part of the Japanese coast subsequent to his being shot out of a submarine torpedo tube at the beginning of the film, and also the cave out of which Bond and Kissy escape from the poisonous gases towards the end of the film. On the landward side was filmed the Ama diving girls; a sharp and jagged rock to screen left still very much untouched and unchanged by the ravages of volcanic time.
We later arrived at Akime, the home to Kissy Suzuki and the Ama diving girls in You Only Live Twice. Nothing much has really changed since 1967. We saw the rock on which Bond and Kissy climb from their escape from the poisonous gases before climbing up the volcano. We saw Kissy’s house, also not in the slightest bit changed since filming. We were treated to a stunning and seemingly very authentic lunch at an equally authentic sit-on-a-tatami-mat-and-cross-your-legs Chabudai table. We were treated to gifts from the Japanese contingent; their kindness and enthusiasm knows no bounds.
In the course of launching books for On The Tracks of 007 in foreign countries, invariably there would be in attendance representatives from the countries’ ministries and departments of tourism looking to discuss how best to showcase, celebrate and perhaps profit from the regions’ connections to the James Bond films. I have commented on how few signs that geographically pinpoint these locations actually exist. And subsequent to our discussions and interviews, how few appear thereafter. To wit, the uniquely designed breakwater on the north shore of Paradise Island in The Bahamas as used to thrilling effect in Thunderball, and that which sits in the Atlantis Bahamas resort of such altitudinous commercial orientation, has nothing whatsoever to highlight their connection and ownership. When in Gravina, Italy, Martijn was asked for his opinion as to how their department of tourism could maximise their involvement with No Time to Die. His responses expansively swung from appropriately minimalistic signage to the extreme sport of bungie jumping off their aqueduct.
The sleepy backwater of Akime have themselves sorted out and should be used as a template for all others to follow. From the above mentioned Observation Point to Akime, signage highlights all that has been discussed in this article. Within Akime, along with signage for everything, Including the privately owned house that stood in for Kissy’s abode, there is also a monument on the east coast of the bay which includes engraved autographs of Connery and Broccoli, and a fully licenced 007 logo. Further to this, one gentleman who as a 12 year old was featured in You Only Live Twice, and whose father was responsible for the creation of the marble monument, wants to develop the recently vacated residential home into a feature and hostel, and to restore the interior to exactly how it was in the film. We are informed that there will be / has been / is a Crowd Funding page set up and Bond fans of the world should generously donate. It goes without saying that I salute this thrust of enthusiasm and we wish them well.
Following lunch we travelled back up to Kagoshima to consider the exterior of Tiger Tanaka’s house, otherwise the exclusive event venue nomenclatured as Shigetomi-so. A coffee and cake was served before we could venture forth and of course, so prepared were they for our arrival that they projected for us a blu-ray version of You Only Live Twice. Silence descended upon the room. Martijn was heard to comment that it looked as though this was the first time any of us had seen the film but in reality of course, we were seeing again on the big screen that which we had more recently seen in person, or in person with an expansive imagination to fill in the blanks of change.
Shigetomi-so is now an upscale event venue. While there now exists an additional and more modern looking building designed to cater to greater numbers, the main house and the gardens remain untouched and are sublime. Pictures were taken, and re-enactments were attempted to lesser or greater degrees of success.
There are no two ways about it; quite considerably this tour has been a kaleidoscopic culmination of many blessings. The Gods supplied the lovely weather, the country its charming people, the film its stunning locations and Martijn Mulder provided an object lesson in seamless organisation where everything was realised as a pinnacle of relaxed excellence. Martijn’s bus borne farewell speech brought forth some unexpected emotion on my part but the reality of it was that, in ways discussed above in respect of the tour surpassing itself on every subsequent day, so too was it very much the case in this, the last day.
While I am invited to write things for Martijn from time to time, in this case I was merely a fully paid up group guest. I can unswervingly recommend Martijn’s tours should funds and time permit. While James Bond will provide the thrust of the decision making, there is enough time for people to relax and even consider alternate topics of conversation outside of the cinematic remit. Considering the merits of journey over destination, these tours seem to offer the very best of both.
For the experience and the recording, many thanks to Martijn Mulder, Nuala Mulligan, Christian Winter.
Last modified: 3 January 2024