Name: Tomoki Yamada
Occupation: Travel journalist
Likes: Alternative rock, Hiroshima Carp, coffee
Dislikes: Crowds, humid summers
1. What kind of writing do you do? I used to write for a variety of print publications — travel, lifestyle and business — but now I primarily focus on reporting travel and tourism business trends for online media. It’s interesting to see how technology has dramatically changed the industry. Just a decade ago, Airbnb and Uber didn’t exist.
2. When did you decide that you wanted to be a travel writer? Actually, I first wanted to be a news journalist. About 30 years ago, I visited Germany before the Berlin Wall fell. I was shocked. The East and West were completely different worlds. Even the sky looked like different. Yet all that separated them was a 5-meter-tall wall. I went back in 1990, two months after the wall fell. When I saw people with small hammers breaking off bits of the graffitied wall, I decided I wanted to become a journalist and report such events from around the world. I broke off some of the wall, too. A piece of it is one of my treasured items.
3. What’s the best and worst thing about your job? The best thing is that there are many opportunities to see and talk to different people from various cultures. It’s invaluable for expanding my world view. The worst thing is jet lag. The older I get, the tougher it is.
4. What can you do about the jet lag? I don’t think there is a magic solution. Just give in to nature. I do think you can recover more quickly if you bask in the sunshine outside as much as possible
5. How do you get commissions? I am mostly asked to write by online media outlets. Sometimes, though, I create an original project and contribute it to them.
6. How often do you get to go overseas? I used to go almost once a month, but nowadays just six or seven times a year. I need more time to work in Japan for local interviews or news coverage.
7. Where haven’t you been, but really want to go to? I have never been to South America. I’d love to travel to the southernmost point of South America.
8. Is it challenging to encounter so many different cultures and customs? I don’t think it’s so difficult for a traveler — it’s a temporary stay, so it’s rather fun.
9. Which do you prefer, five-star hotels or small local establishments? I like unique local lodgings. They offer more chances to experience local life. Five-star hotels are very comfortable and convenient, but there’s not much difference between them. Also, whenever I stay in a five-star hotel, I get frustrated with the overkill of switches — I’m always looking for the right switch for the right light.
10. Do you take photos of everywhere you go? Yes, but mostly for myself. I try to take photos like Sebastiao Salgado, who is my favorite photographer, but I know that’s a high bar, of course.
11. Any tips on how to pack light? I used to carry a big and heavy Canon single-lens reflex camera — but not now. An iPhone is a powerful tool for traveling light.
12. What personality traits do you think a person needs to be a travel writer? Curiosity, open-mindedness and positivity.
13. What three things should a travel writer do on every single trip? Walk around a local area, listen to local people and try to live like they do during your stay.
14. What do you do on long-haul flights? I always watch two or three movies, especially the latest Hollywood releases. But familiar classics are also good, because I don’t need to concentrate and as soon as I am tired of them, I fall asleep. They can be like sleeping pills for me. I’ve watched “The Godfather” series on board many times.
15. Have you ever lost your passport? When I traveled from Barcelona to Milan by train a long time ago, everything I had, including my passport, was stolen while I was fast asleep. This was near Nice, France. A friend of mine in Milan was expecting me, so I desperately wanted to reach Milan.
But back then Italy had not implemented the Schengen Agreement, which abolished internal EU border checks. So, legally, I should have got off the train in France and gone straight to the Japanese embassy. Instead, I found myself at the border station between France and Italy, trying to explain to an Italian immigration officer why I didn’t have a passport.
Incredibly, he thought carefully for a while, but then just waved me on! He said, “Go ahead. Say hello to your friend.”
So, thank you Italy!
16. What is your comfort food? Whenever I get back to Japan, the first thing I eat is soba. I need dashi — doesn’t matter if it’s konbu (kelp) or katsuo (skipjack tuna).
17. The world would be a better place without what? Politicians. I’m half joking — but only half …
18. Can you tell us something about yourself that most people who know you don’t know? It’s probably not unusual, but I am a punk rock lover.
19. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, alive or passed away, who would you pick? I’d love to have dinner with Stanley Kubrick to hear about the origins of his unique imagination and creativity.
20. If you could time travel, which era would you go to? The Edo Period (1603-1868), particularly during the Genroku Era (1688-1704). Japan’s original arts, like ukiyo-e, haiku, kabuki and jōruri (narrative music) originated at that time. I imagine there was a dynamic cultural explosion.