War tourism: A thrill-seeking Japanese trucker in Syria

January 3, 2013

Yesterday's news that the death toll in Syria has climbed to 60,000, as well as the near-daily reports of shelling and violence there, are probably enough to keep most tourists away from the war-torn nation. Unless, of course, you're a bored Japanese truck driver who gets a buzz running from snipers.

Japanese trucker Toshifumi Fujimoto holds his cameras in front of damaged buses in Aleppo's old city on Dec. 27, 2012.  AFP PHOTO/STR-/AFP/Getty Images
Japanese trucker Toshifumi Fujimoto holds his cameras in front of damaged buses in Aleppo's old city on Dec. 27, 2012. (AFP photo/STR/Getty Images)

AFP has the story of Toshifumi Fujimoto, a driver who left his native Japan to embark on an odyssey to document Syria's ongoing civil war.

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

He was in Yemen last year during demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy and in Cairo a year earlier, during the heady days that followed the ouster of longtime 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.

Fujimoto told AFP that he mostly travels on his own, with several cameras in tow. 

"I always go by myself because no tour guide wants to go to the front. It's very exciting, and the adrenaline rush is like no other. It's more dangerous in Syria to be a journalist than a tourist," he said, describing how "each morning I walk 200 meters to reach the 'front,' and I'm right there on the firing line with soldiers of the [rebel] Free Syria Army."

The weirdest part of his story is that he claims the Syrians he encounters think he's Chinese, and that FSA fighters have apparently been friendly toward him, even stopping to take photos with him on occasion. Given China's votes against U.N. sanctions that would hurt the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it's odd that the rebels would embrace an ostensibly Chinese outsider so readily.

Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, the International Federation of Journalists said recently, with at least 35 journalist fatalities recorded there in 2012.

Still, war zones maintain an odd allure for amateur journalists and tourists alike. Over the summer, tourists flocked to the Golan Heights, an Israeli-occupied border territory that was captured from Syria in 1967, to watch (and hear) the fighting inside Syria first-hand.

In Afghanistan, Caitlan and Josh Coleman, an American-Canadian couple who went missing recently, were in the war-ravaged country on what seemed to be an unofficial, casual visit. Though the two were traveling solo, as Buzzfeed reported, companies have sprung up to offer tours throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

"Why they actually went to Afghanistan, I'm not sure. ... I assume it was more of the same, getting to know the local people, if they could find an NGO [non-governmental organization] or someone they could work with in a little way," James Coleman, Caitlan's father, told the Associated Press.

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Max Fisher | January 3, 2013