June 3, 2015


Fleming Week: Fleming's Japan. My Art students and I have wrapped up another school year, and I find myself diving into an even busier schedule writing the manuscript to a new book about the spy boom (details soon!) and planning a visit to Elstree Studios, Portmeirion, and various locations used in classic 1960s TV series. But before we rush off on summer missions, I invite Spy Vibers to pause and recognize an important date on the Spy Vibe calendar. 007 creator Ian Fleming was born on May 28th, 1908. We are celebrating his birthday all week with new articles based on Spy Vibe's most popular posts about our favorite author.

One of the rare photographs in my collection offered a chance to do some research and get a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the eleventh James Bond novel, You Only Live TwiceIan Fleming had been sending his secret agent 007 around the world since Casino Royale in 1953. And when it came time to plan the twelfth book, the author chose Japan as the main setting. Fleming's timing couldn't have been better. The country was booming with economic and technological growth, and a new international fascination would soon blossom with increased tourism around the Tokyo Olympics. Fleming had visited Japan once before, when he was writing Thrilling Cities in 1959, and he returned in late autumn of 1962 to find elements that would suit the next James Bond thriller. Meeting up with journalist Richard Hughes and editor/architect Torao "Tiger" Saito, Fleming hoped to soak in "local color, factual detail, spiritual inspiration, and carnal folklore." (Hughes/Foreign Devil). They stopped in Tokyo and Kobe during a two-week journey that took them down the inland sea to Kyushu. But where exactly did he visit? The rare photo held the answer. Posing next to a demon statue, Fleming playfully pulled at its belly button for the camera. In the background are signposts that provided clues to Fleming's route. Continues below.

For those who haven't read You Only Live Twice, Bond's nemesis Blofeld turns up in Japan, where he lords over a castle surrounded by a macabre garden of deathly delights. Fleming needed to find dramatic and deadly elements for the setting and his research reportedly contained detailed taxonomy of all manner of poisonous fauna and flora. Kyushu is renown for its hot springs and live volcanoes, and he couldn't have picked a better location than Beppu, Mt. Aso, and the Fukuoka area. Based on testimony in the author's biography and intel gleaned from the signposts in the photo, I was able to create a map of Fleming's route (below). His first stop on the island was the small city of Beppu. If you have ever been to the area, you will know why the author and his friends made such an effort to get there. In the heart of the hot springs rests a special attraction. I can imagine Fleming's eyes lighting up upon hearing its name- "Mt. Demon Hell"! It must have sounded tailor-made for a diabolical mastermind. Visitors to the mountain are greeted by the statues of giant demons, who overlook an assortment of bubbling pools of mud and scalding water. It is a rocky terrain, where the air is thick with steam and sulphur. There is even a place where crocodiles are bred! One demon statue in particular rests on a rock and wields an ominous club. Ian Fleming is seen in the image above at this site in 1962, posing for a photograph presumedly by one of his two traveling companions. Incidentally, Fleming's guides found their way into the novel as the Dikko Henderson and Tiger Tanaka characters. Fleming returned from the trip to complete the book during the early winter of 1963 in Jamaica. The novel was published by Jonathan Cape in March, 1964. Fleming died five months later in August. The book was adapted for cinema by Roald Dahl in 1967. Story continues.

I lived in Japan for a number of years to teach English in a northern farming town and was fortunate to be able to travel the country. During my own trip to Kyushu, I had a chance to follow Ian Fleming's path. We sampled the baths in Beppu and Oita, spent two days photographing wild monkeys on Mt. Takasaki, and made our way to Mt. Aso, Mt. Unzen in Nagasaki Prefecture, and to Fukuoka. Amazingly, Mt. Unzen erupted unexpectedly a couple of weeks after we left, killing many people- including a few volcano specialists. It would seem Fleming's intuition about the dangerous vibe of the area was correct. Below: You Only Live Twice, Mr. Bond, but Fleming's great novel has lived on through numerous editions around the world. Enjoy! Our Ian Fleming image archive hereSpy Vibers, I'm making my first trip to England later this month. If you can help, please consider making a small donation in our Paypal tip-jar at top-left of the page. You can also help by shopping my current listings on eBay hereThank you! -Jason 

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