Japanese trucker puts his life on the line as a war tourist in Syrian conflict

Japanese trucker is a 'combination of samurai and kamikaze' as he gets his adrenaline rush taking photos and videos in a deadly conflict

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 4:59am


Japanese trucker Toshifumi Fujimoto is bored with his humdrum job, driving from Osaka to Tokyo or Nagasaki hauling tanker loads of petrol, water or even some chocolate.

The stocky, bearded 45-year-old could spend his free time getting a jolt of adrenaline by bungee-jumping or shark diving. Instead, he puts his life on the line in a more unusual way.

He's become a war tourist.

Fujimoto's passion has taken him from the dull routine of Japanese highways to Syria, where as part of his latest adventure in the Middle East's hot spots he shoots photos and video while dodging bullets.

He was in Yemen during demonstrations at the US embassy and in Cairo during the heady days that followed the ousting of long-time Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Later this year, he plans to hook up with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But for the moment, he is wrapping up a week's tour of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which for six months has been one of the hottest spots in a conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

He previously spent two weeks in the war-torn country at the end of 2011, using a tourist visa, but this time he entered the country clandestinely from Turkey.

Dressed in Japanese army fatigues and armed with two cameras and a video camera, Fujimoto heads out every morning to the front line.

Fujimoto, who doesn't speak English, much less Arabic, has picked up a few words, such as "dangerous" and "front line".

"I always go by myself. No tour guide wants to go to the front. It's very exciting, and the adrenalin rush is like no other," he said via translation software.

"It's more dangerous in Syria to be a journalist than a tourist," he said, describing how "each morning I walk 200 metres to reach the 'front', and I'm right there on the firing line with soldiers of the [rebel] Free Syria Army".

"It fascinates me, and I enjoy it," he says, as some rebel fighters stop him to have their picture taken with him.

"Most people think I'm Chinese, and they greet me in Chinese."

He took his time getting a shot right, as rebels shouted from both sides of the street: "Run, run. There are snipers. Run."

But he ignored them, finished shooting and casually walked away with photos to post on his Facebook page to share with his friends.

"I'm not a target for snipers because I'm a tourist, not like you journalists," he said. "Besides, I'm not afraid if they shoot at me or that they might kill me. I'm a combination of samurai and kamikaze."

Fujimoto won't even wear a helmet or a flak jacket. "They are very heavy when it comes to running and it's more fun to go to the front without anything. Besides, when they shoot it's fun and exciting."

Fujimori said his employers did not know he was in Syria. "I just told them I was going to Turkey on holiday. If I'd told them the truth, they'd tell me I'm completely crazy."

Fujimori is divorced, and said: "I have no family, no friends, no girlfriend. I am alone in life."

But he does have three daughters, whom he hasn't seen for five years, "not even on Facebook or the internet, nothing. And that saddens me deeply," he said as he wiped away a tear.

So he bought a life insurance policy, and "I pray every day that, if something happens to me, my girls might collect the insurance money and be able to live comfortably".

Fujimori doesn't make any money off his photography, and he spent US$2,500 out of his own pocket for the flight to Turkey.

"I love children, but Syria is no place for them. A bomb can snuff out their lives at any moment," he said. Then a group of rebels invited him to join them and he ambled off down the street toward the sound of fighting.