In the tenth installment in the series looking at the world of James Bond, we visit Japan...

The World Of James Bond - Japan
10th April 2005

The last James Bond adventure published before Ian Fleming died takes us to the Land of the Rising Sun. Although criticised by many reviewers as more travelogue than 007 adventure, it is an interesting snapshot of Japan written at a time when long distance travel was far from the norm.

Although suffering from increasingly ill health Fleming took delight in his short stay in Japan, and although the whirlwind tour means that some locations lack the rich detail found in earlier books, it provides glimpses of Japan’s culture through the eyes of a 1960s Westerner as well as providing some bizarre examples of Japanese cuisine.


When we meet Bond at the beginning of You Only Live Twice he has been in Japan for a full month with little apparent progress in his mission. Charged with the apparently impossible task of gaining access to top-secret Russian communications decrypted by Japan’s Magic 44 code machine, he has been sent by M in the hope that the mission will pull Bond out of the self-pity that has engulfed him since Tracy’s murder in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Even by his own high standards Bond is drinking too much, losing heavily in the casinos and has been making careless mistakes in his work. He is now facing the prospect of losing his previously cherished double-0 number.

Above: The Tokyo skyline as it is today - home to 32 million people

When the 16th century feudal lord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, seized control of the small fishing village of Edo, he had the ambitious aim of making it the most powerful city in Japan. Amazingly enough he surpassed this ambition and made it the biggest city in the world through a rigidly controlled insular society that eventually isolated Japan from the rest of the world. This isolation lasted until 1867, when the US demanded trade access to Japan. Power was handed to the Emperor, who made Edo his capital, which was then renamed Tokyo and brought about rapid industrialisation to enable Japan to catch up with the rest of the world. Following the great earthquake of 1923 came the change of shopping customs to Western style. Shoppers had left their shoes at the door in traditional shops and the shopkeeper would bring goods for inspection while the customer sat on a mat. The introduction of Western style shops and department stores was much more time efficient and the massive competition that this cultural change brought about saw the introduction of the neon adverts that Japan is so much associated with today. Following the obliteration of much of the city during the Second World War, the American occupation coincided with the rebuilding of the city to what it has become today.

Above: Mount Fuji dominates the skyline from the airport.

Under the cover of working for Her Majesty's Australian Diplomatic Corps, Bond is met at Tokyo airport by “Dikko” Henderson. Henderson was based on the Sunday Times correspondent for the Far East, Richard Hughes, a hard drinking Australian ex-boxer who had showed Ian Fleming around Hong Kong and then Japan, while “Tiger” Tanaka, head of the Japanese Secret Service, was based on Torao Saito, Hughes’s journalist friend who accompanied them while in Japan.

Arriving from Hong Kong, Fleming was full of reservations about Japan. In his own words “they had been bad enemies and many of my friends had suffered at their hands”. However, “Richard Hughes, who came with me in the Comet and who, being an Australian, should have been predisposed against Japan, was totally enamoured of it”.

Although he put Bond in Hotel Okura, next to the American Embassy in the heart of the city, Fleming arrived in Tokyo amid “hordes of American tourists attending the fashionable autumn or Chrysanthemum Season, six hundred delegates for a G.A.T.T. conference had descended on the town and Dick had finally had to accept rooms in a Japanese inn”.

Although initially furious at having to put up with the hardships of the inn, Fleming came to enjoy his stay at the Fukudaya Inn and even recommended it in “Thrilling Cities”, his series of articles first published in the Sunday Times and used the experience in You Only Live Twice to describe Bond’s stay in a Japanese Inn.

Saito ensured that Fleming was kept entertained in full Japanese style; in addition to a geisha house, he was taken for a traditional Japanese massage, which seems to have made quite an impact on Fleming - in chapter 9 (“Instant Japan”) we read of Bond’s almost identical encounter, with a “young girl, wearing nothing but tight, brief shorts and a exiguous white brassière”.

Above: The hotel Okura

A month after first meeting Tiger in his headquarters (located in the station of the then unfinished Tokyo Metro), Bond is invited to a Geisha ceremony. Although there is often a misconception that Geisha’s are prostitutes, Geisha’s entertain by singing, dancing and providing witty conversation, as well as performing the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and we find Bond and Tiger playing the children's game of Scissors cut Paper, Paper wraps Stone, Stone blunts Scissors, while consuming vast amounts of sake to the encouragement of the Geishas. After the party Tiger gets down to business and by the end of the evening the deal is done; for access to Magic 44 Bond must assassinate the mysterious Dr Shatterhand.

Above: The Tokyo Metro had not been completed when Fleming wrote "You Only Live Twice".

Departing from Tokyo main station on their mission, Tiger explains to Bond that “we will take the express to Gamagori, on the south coast and the evening hydrofoil across Ise Bay to the fishing port of Toba. There we will spend the night. This is to be a slow journey to Fukuoka for the purpose of training and educating you. It is necessary that I make you familiar with Japanese customs and folkways so that you make as few mistakes as possible.”

By the time of their arrival in Toba, Bond had had enough “and he was glad when he was at last left alone in his maddeningly dainty room with the usual dainty pot of tea, dainty cup and dainty sweetmeat wrapped in rice-paper”.

That evening Bond and Tiger dine on the ghoulish house speciality “a large lobster whose head and tail had been left as a dainty ornament to the sliced pink flesh in the centre. Bond set to with his chopsticks. He was surprised to find that the flesh was raw. He was even more surprised when the head of his lobster began moving off his dish and, with questing antennae and scrabbling feet, tottered off across the table. ‘Good God, Tiger!’ Bond said, aghast. ‘The damn thing’s alive!’” The Japanese hunger for raw fish is well known, but as well as eating live lobster, one 2,000 year old delicacy involves pinning down a live fish, removing the skin which is chopped, seasoned and replaced on the still live fish. What is indefensible about these dishes is that the purpose of both is to provide a barbaric spectacle of suffering, rather than to guarantee the freshness of the animal. A rather more appetising meal follows an episode where Bond feeds a bottle of beer to a cow and then, taking a mouthful of shochu (a Japanese spirit that can be distilled from ingredients as diverse as potatoes, sugar, rice or barley) to spray over its back, gives the cow a massage. The result of this special treatment (“the herdsman was greatly impressed by your sincere performance with his cow”) is the highly prized Kobe beef, which was “without equal in Bond’s experience.”

Following the meal, Bond is taken to a ninja training school run by the Japanese secret service, where he is shown some of their skills, such as scaling walls and fighting, as well as a display of ninja weapons. The ninja, or “stealers in”, were spies and assassins said to be able to make themselves invisible in the 16th and 17th centuries. After the ninja training school James Bond was exhausted. “To Bond’s unspeakable relief, they put up that night at the smartest hotel in Kyoto, the Miyako. The comfortable bed, air-conditioning and Western-style lavatory on which one could actually sit were out of this world”. Bond makes the most of his stay at the Miyako, which first opened its doors in 1900, and orders “a pint of Jack Daniels and a double portion of eggs Benedict” and the next day Tiger takes a hung-over Bond to tour “the oldest whore-house in Japan” before driving to Osaka and taking a ferry across the inland sea to Kyushu. It is on board the ferry while eating ham omelettes that Tiger introduces Bond to the haiku, the Japanese verse of seventeen syllables, and one of its leading exponents, Basho. Asked to write a haiku for himself Bond spends a few minutes with pen and paper before unveiling his effort:

  “You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face”

Arriving in Beppu (on Kyushu, the third largest island in Japan and the birthplace of Japanese civilisation), we are treated to another glimpse of the geysers and fumaroles of the spa town before progressing to another traditional Japanese meal; the fugu feast.

The fugu is the Japanese blowfish that has the ability to inflate its body to many times its normal size and project protective spikes. Inflated and dried, they are sometimes used as lanterns, particularly outside fugu restaurants. Some of the fish’s organs contain tetrodotoxin, 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide and a pinprick of it can kill. As a result, fugu chefs must be specially licensed to prepare the fish, which produces a numbness of the lips due to trace amounts of the poison remaining. Nearly 100 people die every year from fugu poisoning, mainly because they have prepared it themselves, and preparation is so specialised that the fish costs up to $200 per head. One more curious fact – it is the only fish that can close its eyes. “That’s just what I would have chosen for dinner”, jests Bond when learning of its properties, but the “very thinly sliced and rather transparent white fish” served raw “tasted of nothing, not even of fish”.

The following morning the two are collected in a police car and driven to the headquarters of the Sosaka (the CID equivalent) in Fukuoka where he is briefed on Dr Shatterhand’s castle and its garden of death. Wondering how he will gain access he learns that “there is an Ama island called Kuro only half a mile out to sea.” Although an island called Kuro exists, it is more than 10 miles out to sea and appears to have no history of the Ama, a gypsy like tribe whose girls traditional dive with only a loincloth. Famous for pearl diving, Ama divers originally dived for food, such as seaweed and shellfish and on Fleming’s imaginary Kuro they dive for awabi shells. Awabi are a type of abalone, a shellfish related to the sea snail, and rare due to being over-harvested.

Above: The Beppu skyline

Bond stays on Kuro as a guest of the family of Kissy Suzuki, a local girl who had made a film in Hollywood. He plans to spend the two days until full moon with the family before making his way to the castle at night, returning to the island once the mission is complete. Each day Bond rows Kissy out with her pet cormorant (named David after the actor David Niven, the only person who had shown her any respect while in Hollywood) and must pull Kissy up from the depths when she tugs on a rope.

Above: Japanese Ama divers


On her first dive Bond is surprised to see the bird appear with a catch of its own and watches as “with a contemptuous glance, the cormorant tossed the fish into the floating tub and disappeared like a black bullet”.

Enjoying the plain, simple life of the Ama in contrast to “the dark dirty life he had chosen for himself” Bond thinks ahead to his mission: “Today and the next would be stolen days, days with only Kissy and the boat and the bird and the sea. He must see to it that they were happy days”.

"The World Of James Bond" will continue next month...

Article by David Leigh.