[Editor’s Note]: Masato grew up in Japan and with a keen interest in travel and languages (such as English and Russian) he combines his skills and interests to live where the Russian language is spoken and takes as many side-trips as possible to countries he has never visited. Masato recently survived living two years in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and currently is doing a 2-year stint in Moscow, Russia. His passion for travel, cultures, the arts, and meeting people has even inspired me to travel to new destinations! Masato was habitually enjoying raw fatty pork bacon on toast (treating it as sushi) until I told him that raw pork bacon really should be fried in a pan!
This interview was conducted via email in November 2014:
Globerovers (GR): How many countries have you been to?
Masato Aoyama (MA): I’ve been to 26 countries and have been travelling more actively since 2012. I’m really just a beginner but I would like to continue to travel until my enthusiasm for travelling fades away.
MA: Here are my top 5 destinations:
1. Germany – see my next answer
2. Greece – Athens, Pantheon
3. Spain – Barcelona, Gaudi’s architecture
4. France – Mont Saint Michel
5. Croatia – Dubrovnik
GR: Which is your most preferred country for travel and why?
MA: Germany. Somehow I think Germany has a similar atmosphere to Japan. The German society seems to me very organized and in order. Streets are usually clean. Most people are kind and helpful, though sometimes you also meet a few unkind and unhelpful people, in particular in the eastern part of Germany. There are so many historical and cultural places of interests and each city has a different face! I have so far visited Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Wuppertal, Munster, and a few more smaller places. The Germans are such beautiful people.
GR: Where do you wish you were right now?
MA: Italy, absolutely! However, I’ve never been to Italy. I’m so excited about Italy because there are so many places to see and things to experience. I’m a bit hesitant to plan a trip to Italy because travelling there seems daunting and it will make me so tired and stressed, though I’m sure I will enjoy it. I’m often dreaming of holidays in Rome (like Audrey Hepburn), Milano, Florence, Venice, Pisa, etc.
GR: Among those countries you have not yet visited, which ones are at the top of your “must do” list?
MA: As most people wish, I would like to visit the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal in India. But actually my “must do” list that I’m working on right now is to visit Georgia, a country famous for their hospitality. I want to enjoy their good food and wine. I also want to visit Azerbaijan so I can see the Caspian Sea, though I have seen the Caspian from Aktau on the Kazakhstan side. Also on my shortlist is Bulgaria to visit a friend of mine who is working there, Belarus (a friend of mine in Moscow is from Belarus so I want him to guide me), and Turkey (two friends of mine whom I met in Kazakhstan are working there, so I want to visit them).
GR: If you could spend the rest of your life somewhere other than your current home country, which country would that be?
MA: Actually I don’t know where it is! I live in Moscow now and will be here for more than one and half years. But, I feel it’s not the country to spend the rest of my life. I’d like to live in Europe but I don’t know which country is best for me. So, I often travel around Europe in search of the best place to spend the rest of my life. However, it sounds great to live in the Canary Islands, though I’ve never been there. I would love these Spanish islands because I like warm weather, beautiful sea, and delicious food.
GR: In about 50 words, please tell us about the most incredible and memorable experience you have ever had while traveling?
MA: Transit in Uzbekistan! My first travels abroad (5 years ago) was to Moscow via Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to study Russian there for 10 months. In fact, Tashkent was my very first destination outside of Japan! I landed in Tashkent and got out of the plane with three girlfriends of mine from the same Japanese university. Then, by mistake, we got on the bus which headed to the passport control zone rather than being on the bus which goes to the transit area. So us four Japanese students who didn’t know Russian very well got so lost at the airport. It was very confusing. Fortunately we could got back into the transit area with the help of an immigration officer.
GR: Based on your travel experiences, if you were to recommend the one most amazing destination for intrepid travellers, which place would that be, and why?
MA: Kazakhstan. I lived there for two years from February 2012 until February 2014. Kazakhstan is not a very popular destination among most travellers as there are not so many historical and cultural places of interest. However, there is incredibly beautiful nature that most travellers are not aware of. Tourism in Kazakhstan is now developing, though it is still a tough country to travel around if you don’t speak some Russian. However, it is not diffuicult to meet nice people like anywhere in the world.
GR: Which people by nationality or subgroup e.g. Greeks or the Tartars, would you say have been the most hospitable during your travels and why do you say so?
MA: I think nationality is not strongly related to hospitality. You can find kind and helpful people everywhere in the world just as you can find unkind and unhelpful people anywhere. However, based on my experience, generally people in post, or current, communist countries are not so kind to travellers – sometimes even offensive or rude.
GR: How do you think traveling around the world for independent travellers has changed over the past 20 years?
MA: I’m 27 years old, so I don’t know if I can offer an insightful answer of how it has changed over the past 20 years. Nowadays people can travel more easily because aviation definitely developed over the past 20 years. The Internet also now offers so much information about tourism and is so accessible via mobile devices and Wi-Fi.
GR: Lets get a bit more personal. Do you have any “must take” items which you travel with that you think most travellers don’t have?
MA: “Remova” suitcase (made in Germany) and my mini-rucksack of PORTER made by Yoshida & Co (made in Japan). Though it’s shame that so far I have no experience travelling with a big backpack! In addition, as a typical Japanese, I need a camera!
GR: What is your favourite travel resource on the internet?
MA: The website “All About” on the Internet though this website is written only in Japanese. When I book air tickets, Skyscanner helps me, when I book hotels I use booking.com, and when I search for good restaurants I consult with Tripadvisor.
GR: Lets talk about food. Which one country that you visited has the best food in the world?
MA: Japanese food. My tongue and stomach were developed on Japanese food culture, so I miss Japanese food when I live abroad. I love sushi, Japanese curry rice, Ramen (noodle). However, my favorite food is raw bacon (haha, that’s an insider’s joke!)
GR: Where was the best meal you have ever had during your travels?
MA: It comes to my mind that I had foie gras steak at the Montparnasse tower in Paris while watching the glittering Eiffel Tower at night. But, I think you can get a very good meal everywhere (expensive ones or cheap ones). It is more important for me with whom I eat than what I eat.
GR: And where was the worst food during your travels?
MA. Boiled sheep’s head in Almaty, Kazakhstan! Giving it to a guest means being an honorable host. But it’s really not appetizing to me even though the taste was good.
GR: What is the strangest or weirdest place you have ever spent a night?
MA: Not so strange, but I stayed at an old castle (hotel) near Mont saint Michel for one night. I felt like I became a king.
GR: Based on all your travel experiences, what is the best tip you can offer to new travellers?
MA. Please take your passport, money and map. Guided tours are easier, but travelling alone is more condusive for thinking, planning, and solving problems not only during trip but also in normal life.
GR: What is the single best lesson you have learned about the world during your travels around the world?
MA: I realised how big the world is! There are so many different people and interesting places. Whom we can meet with and where we can visit are sometimes so restricted. I’d like to love and take care of my old and future friends that I will meet someday. I’d like to visit many countries where I haven’t been and see new aspects of the world.
GR: Do you have any strange, weird, or even bizarre travel rituals which you can share with us?
MA: Not so strange, but sitting for a while, thinking, before leaving home (or a hotel), just as most Russians do.
GR: What is the main focus of your travels?
MA: My main focus is taking photos, visiting museums of fine arts, and making good friends.