Fleming, Bond and Connery in Tokyo

To celebrate the anniversary of the publication of You Only Live Twice, we take a closer look at Fleming, Bond and Sean Connery’s experiences in Tokyo.

Article by Graham Thomas

Fleming came to Tokyo in 1959 and 1962, Bond arrived in 1963 or maybe early 1964, and Connery in 1966. In the early 1960s about 1 million overseas visitors arrived annually in Japan. Now tourism is booming with some 30 million visitors entering the country in 2018, and with the Rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, even more, are expected. If you are one of these and a Bond fanatic then take advantage of the fact that Tokyo is awash with locations featured in Thrilling Cities and You Only Live Twice.

Tokyo in the 1960s

The first thing to note is that Tokyo’s population is a mind-boggling 36 million people across the Tokyo Metropolitan area; the city is unbelievably big but perpetually in a state of constant flux. Impermanence is an inherent characteristic of all Japan, across many aspects of society. This is particularly true of the built environment because earthquakes and fire have periodically destroyed buildings leaving people with little sentimentality for the old. In addition, public buildings are often replaced as new earthquake-proof techniques and regulations are introduced.

Bond and Tanaka

Hence, despite being awash with locations, with one or two exceptions it is impossible to see them precisely as they were. Nonetheless, the essence of Tokyo is the same as when our heroes set foot in the capital. Enduring features include the sheer density of people, buildings, shops, bars, restaurants and neon that confronted all three men. Fleming remarked that at times he was overwhelmed; Bond swore. Far from being an inconspicuous spy, Connery had to keep his head down, not always successfully.

Today is little different. Of course, this should not deter the potential visitor: overwhelmingly everyone is polite, the city is well ordered and, by and large, functions perfectly. Indeed one of the best ways to experience Tokyo – in the same way as the three men – is to take a walk through the streets, without feeling intimidated. Of course, all three ate and drank well. In fact for indulging in the vices, Tokyo remains the world’s capital.

And certainly, take a night time stroll when the sky is awash with neon. Fleming wrote about it; in the film, the establishing shot of Tokyo starts with Ginza’s glitzy neon. When you think that Piccadilly Circus was the best that could be found in London at the time, it is easy to understand why Tokyo’s neon was seen as such a distinctive, iconic and impressive sight.

Arrival

Visitors flying into Tokyo are presented with a choice of two airports: Narita or Haneda. You must fly into Haneda, as this is where Fleming, Bond and Connery arrived as their point of entry (and if you fly from Heathrow on BA, the flight number is 007). Not that Haneda would now be recognisable to any of the three as everything has been rebuilt, and the airport considerably enlarged. Also, it is unlikely that you’ll encounter Bond’s problem where his luggage took an hour to arrive on the belt – usually Haneda is super-efficient and it is unlikely that you’ll need to use any expletives. (As Bond did in a fit of pique.)

From Haneda, it is just about affordable to take a taxi into the centre of Tokyo following the same route along the Expressway as taken by our three men. What you’ll see en route is different but you’ll still get a sense of the sprawl of buildings that Fleming noted.

Ginza Station

Ginza Station

(The significantly more affordable option is to catch either the train or monorail. Both are quick, and access is well signposted within the airport terminals. The monorail is pure Bond but construction only started after Fleming’s last visit. Perhaps if he had seen it, some reference would have been made in the novel, as it was futuristic at the time.)

On the subject of travel, both Fleming and Bond took trains from Tokyo Station. Still, as frenetic as they found it, you will see plenty of salarymen wearing crisp white shirts and black trousers as described by Fleming.

Nakano-Shinbashi station (also known as Shin-nakano) is where Tiger’s office and the private train can be found. The station is on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line, a route that snakes through the centre of Tokyo. From Ginza Station a direct train takes about 25 minutes and once there, most will conclude that little has changed other than the addition of platform barriers and some modernisation.

It was on Tiger’s private train that Connery enjoyed a cup of sake. In lieu of the train, I suggest popping into F’s Bar La Chiave a voi, a stones-throw from the station, and a friendly place to enjoy a flask.

Hotels

As noted above, Fleming made two trips to Tokyo. In 1959 he was a reluctant guest at the Fukudaya Inn. (Hotel Fukudaya 4-5-9 Aobadai, Meguro-ku.) This remains largely the same but it is not open to the public so other than viewing the outside there is little to see. (But for a traditional Japanese experience it is an option to think about, particularly if you want to be an old grouch like Fleming.)

On his second visit, he stayed at the Hotel Okura [2-10-4 Toranomon, Minato-ku], which is where he also sent Bond. This was then a brand new hotel and one that was imaginatively designed in a mid-century style. Indeed over the years, it became an architectural icon and the 1960s interior – of the sort so often seen in the early Bond films – became justly famous.

After much debate, the original Okura was demolished not that long ago, and a new Tower is in the final stages of construction. However, it is promised that the 1960s lobby will be recreated. Even if you don’t stay, it will be worth visiting and, if the restoration works well, the flavour of Bond will sing through. And why not go on to enjoy a martini in one of the bars. (Incidentally, there are various claims that the hotel was featured in the film but these are incorrect.)

On his first trip, Fleming met Somerset Maugham for a gossipy lunch in the Imperial Hotel – as this was where Maugham was staying. What we see today is a rebuilt hotel as the Frank Lloyd Wright creation was torn down many years ago.

The 'old' Imperial where Fleming met Maugham

The ‘old’ Imperial where Fleming met Maugham

Nonetheless, it retains the status of the grande dame of Tokyo hotels although there is nothing left that captures Fleming’s brief visit. (1 Chome-1-1Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda.)

Suntory Time

Suntory Time

In 1967, Connery, Lewis Gilbert, Roald Dahl, and the producers stayed at the Hilton (2-10-3, Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku). This is now called the Capitol, and is another modern version of an older hotel, although like the Okura it too retains some of the 1960s detail. Dahl once talked about meeting Gilbert in the bar, and the Capitol Bar remains a refined place to enjoy a Japanese whiskey. (A few years later Connery was to appear in a Japanese TV advertisement for Suntory whiskey.) Alongside the hotel is the Hie Shrine where Connery and his wife Diane Cilento made a brief visit walking up the steps that lead from the Tori gate. These have remained almost exactly the same.

Not too far from the Capitol, the hotel that every fan knows, heaves into view. This is the New Otani (2 Chome- 10-3, Nagatachō, Chiyoda-ku) used as the HQ for Osato Chemicals; and its grounds were used as both the backdrop for some scenes of the ninja training sessions, and as Henderson’s garden where Bond kills the assassin, feigns being wounded, and collapses on to the back seat of the gangster’s car.

New Otani Hotel

New Otani Hotel

Both the exterior of the hotel, its access and grounds are still instantly recognisable from the film. The distinctive circular floor where Osato-san had his office (although of course, the office was a set in Pinewood) is now a restaurant and bar called The Sky. Lifts will whisk the visitor to the top floor and it is worth noting the absence of bullet damage. Once in the bar, a second martini can be ordered. Unfortunately, The Sky currently does not revolve, which might be just as well after two large martinis. The hotel also boasts a Trader Vics, a chain of bars which, in the 1960s, were the epitome of fast and exotic living. There is no handy helicopter pad, though one can be found in nearby in Akasaka, and a hotel car is easily arranged.

Restaurants

Fleming ate at a number of restaurants but sadly most have now closed, annoyingly some only recently.

For many years Tokyo had an entrenched German population. Ketel’s was set up by Hemuth Ketel who had been a PoW in Japan during the 1st World War. On his release, he remained in Tokyo and eventually set up Ketel’s in 1930. A hang-out of spies and all manner of rum sorts, it was located at 5-5-14 Ginza Chuo, Tokyo but drew down the shutters a few years ago. If you hanker for German food there are a number of restaurants dedicated to the pork knuckle and sauerkraut but only one from that era, and that is Tsubame Grill near Shinagawa Station (4 Chome-10-2-6 Takanawa, Minato-ku.)

Fleming also dined at the Prunier, in the beautiful Tokyo Kaikan. Here he enjoyed a plate of Hiroshima oysters. This too has closed and the building is being refurbished. However, there are tentative plans to reopen the restaurant when the building’s refurbishment is complete this year. (3-2 Marunouchi Chiyoda-ku – the same area as where Osato Chemicals offices were actually located.)

Hiroshima oysters are a treat and not that expensive. In Ginza, they can be enjoyed at Oyster Table Ginza Corridor Shop (7 Chome−2 Chūō, Ginza).

Fleming ate sashimi in Ginza at an unnamed restaurant. Today in Ginza, Sushi Aoki Ginza Honten enjoys a firm reputation for good sushi and sashimi. Afterwards, he said he took a nightcap in one of many small bars that were then prevalent.

On a second night, he ate eel soup in a restaurant close to Shinbashi; Bond visits a bar in Ginza too, after which he eats eel. Nodaiwa is an old-fashioned eel restaurant that has been around for over two hundred years. So not hard to imagine it was where the two men ate.

All we know about Connery’s Tokyo restaurant experience is it took place somewhere in the Ginza. He drank Kirin beer, while enjoying a crab salad and Kobe beef. Perhaps it was at Gyuan, a reasonably priced establishment that today might be seen as old fashioned but is certainly of the same era and is noted for its Kobe beef. (6 Chome, 13-6 Ginza.)

While not in Tokyo, both Fleming and Bond ate the deadly fugu, the renowned poisonous puffer fish. Fortunately, fugu restaurants can be found aplenty in the capital. Be warned it isn’t cheap but then you only want the most skilled chefs to be preparing the fish – otherwise, you might die a horrible death, worse than would ever be experienced in Shatterhand’s garden.

Fugu

Sake is served in every bar and restaurant but for a nightcap, I would recommend going to a specialist sake bar. Kuri in Ginza is worth a visit.  (6 Chome, 1 5 4, Ginza.)

Ginza

Ginza is in the heart of Tokyo and, if there is a focal point for all things Bond, this is the place and in particular the small area known as Ginza 5.

Sam Watanabe

As already noted above, Fleming, Bond and Connery visit Ginza to eat and drink. Fleming also explored the shops, and while wandering through the streets he claimed the sheer number of pimps who approached him was a surprise. Pimps have long moved on but Ginza remains one of the world’s high-class shopping districts albeit much redeveloped. At Sam Watanabe, a long established shop specialising in woodcuts the visitor can buy a print as Fleming did. (8-6-19, Ginza.) Whether you would want to follow Fleming’s choice of a man being beheaded is another matter.

Three Ginza streets feature in the film’s Tokyo scenes. All three are adjacent to one another and can be easily found on a map app: Ginza Suzuran- dori is a side street with a myriad of smaller shops and restaurants. The shops now have more modern frontages than seen in the film but it is still charming and is reminiscent of a slightly old world Tokyo. Connery then cuts through to a narrow alley where you can find Bar Lupin (and I suggest having a drink here while imaging it is where Fleming and Bond drank). The address is B1F, 5-5-11 Ginza, but again best to find Bar Lupin via a map app.

Just across the road, opposite the end of this alley, is Jeweller Miwa where the actors took refuge between takes. Inside they have Connery’s autograph.

A Few Travel Hints from Miss Moneypenny

Tokyo can be expensive. It can also be ridiculously cheap. If you are on HMG’s expenses then all well and good but excellent food can be found at a low cost. For example, the ramen shop Ippudo Tokyo (4 Chome, 10-3 Chūō, Ginza) lunch can easily be eaten for around Yen 1500. (It is also worth noting that many expensive places will do cheaper set menus at lunchtime.)

More and more places in Tokyo are foreigner friendly, particularly in the centre. Menus often have photos and all you need do is point to a photo and use your fingers to show how many. Increasingly restaurants have English language websites and the staff will try hard to help.

At the very best restaurants, you will need to make a reservation and this should be done through the hotel concierge.

James, of course, had a First in Oriental Languages from Cambridge, and he had no need for the language book I offered. However, while the Japanese are not fluent in English, they will always try to assist. It is best to remain polite and not get flustered.

Finding an address in Tokyo is difficult. Restaurants don’t always use a standard format. (Don’t ask me why.) The best thing is to ask the hotel’s concierge for help, and use a map app, or take a screenshot, or print out a map before leaving.

Taxis are plentiful but not cheap. The good news is that public transport is extensive, costs little and, with a little patience, is easy to use.

Incidental Intelligence

More details can be found in Graham Thomas’s The Definitive Story of You Only Live Twice, Fleming Bond and Connery in Japan.

Stuck on Crab Key Island with Graham M. Thomas

Bondo-San in Japan: Interview with Graham M. Thomas

Who was the real Tiger Tanaka?

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