Licence to travel – following James Bond around the world: You Only Live Twice

After the fabulous ‘Skyfall’, the world is holding its breath for the 24th James Bond film, ‘Spectre’ coming out in November, perfectly timed for my birthday – as is tradition 🙂

An essential element of the appeal of the early movies remains in place today – the use of exotic foreign locations. In this series we’ll be returning to locations used in each of the 23 films so far released (we’re purists and are not including the first ‘Casino Royale’ or ‘Never say never again’).

We’ll show you how to find them, where to stay nearby and let you know of any 007 experiences you really shouldn’t miss – such as performing the actual bungee jump from the opening sequence of ‘Goldeneye’. We’ll add a short summary of the plot, some video clips and throw in some fun trivia and goofs for each movie too, because we’re nice like that. Lights, camera, action!


You Only Live Twice, 1967

The poster


Image (c)

The trailer

The plot

The perennially wicked Ernst Stavro Blofeld is stealing US and Soviet manned capsules in outer space from his very nifty lair under a volcano. The original – and best – bad guy’s base. Often copied, never bettered…

The Soviets blame the Americans and the Americans blame the soviets for their missing craft and instability grows. In order to prevent a catastrophic World Ware Three, our man Bond heads to Japan to head a ninja army with the aim of putting a stop to Blofeld’s plans. And to Blofeld, preferably…

The countries

Hong Kong, Japan, USA, Russia, Outer Space

The locations

The first scene takes place in a location that most ‘set-jetters’ won’t be visiting for quite some time yet. A US spacecraft is snatched from outer space – swallowed by a much larger, distinctly evil-looking vessel.


Image from the film

But what about the brief glimpse of the venue for the crisis meeting between the USA, Russia and the UK after the incident? Most people – including Norwegian Bond fans – may not be aware that this is actually Magerø radar station at Tjøme, near Oslo.

The distinctive domes (2 are shown in the movie but there were originally 4) are long gone, having been demolished in 2006 despite local protests to keep them as a landmark. Norway has been basically ignored by the Bond films ever since apart from a brief sequence of Svalbard in Die Another Day, so make the most of those 11 seconds!

Somewhat more accessible is Hong Kong, where James Bond is working on the case in rather typical 007 style. This doesn’t last long, however, as the pre-credits section ends with his being apparently shot to death by assailants in bed.

A nice establishing shot of Hong Kong Harbour gives way to the burial at sea of 007 – note the beautiful turquoise seas here during the dive sequence – the underwater clips here were filmed in the Caribbean. Bond is of course alive and the whole episode has been a cover – he does indeed live twice.

Next up is Tokyo, 1960s style. You Only Live Twice – both the book and the very different film – provided worldwide audiences with a crash course in Japanese culture.


By Goki (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Bond attends a Sumo tournament at the Ryogoku Kokugikan (above) which can be found at 1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku and still hosts the sport and seats some 11,000 spectators.  before being taken to meet Henderson, SIS Head of Station.

The latter is soon dispatched by an assasin who 007 kills. Taking his coat, hat and mask he disguises himseld as the killer and jumps into the waiting getaway car. He is driven to a building owned by Osato Electrical and Engineering Company.


Image (c) Hotel New Otani Tokyo

This is in fact the main building of the Hotel New Otani Tokyo, instantly recognizable by the disc-shaped structure on the roof. This huge property was built for the Tokyo Olympic Games and is the perfect place for Bond fans to stay while poking around the area.

Where to stay on location

Not difficult, this one – stay at the Osato HQ itself by booking a room at the Hotel New Omani Tokyo. Arrive in a Toyota 2000GT for a dash of authenticity.

After some rough and tumble he grabs some clues and is driven to a meeting with the Japanese equivalent of ‘M’, Tanaka.


Image (c) Wikimedia Commons

They take Tanaka’s private train to his sumptuous abode. The scenes here were filmed at Nakano-Shimbashi (public) subway station on the Marunouchi Line. The platform has changed a lot since then but the stairs and foot tunnels are still recognisable from the movie.

After some Japanese hospitality chez Tanaka it’s back to the mission.

James Bond returns to the Osata HQ the next day and narrowly avoids an attempt on his life. A spectacular car chase ensues in which a Japanese agent, Kissy Suzuki, drives 007 to safety.

Investigating the ship shown in a photograph Bond took from his first visit to Osata, our hero is attacked and a massive roof-top chase ensues – he gets away but only to be clobbered when back on ground level.

The harbour scenes were filmed at Kobe docks, which were all but destroyed in the catastrophic earthquake of 1995.

Another spectacular escape later (after being left tied up in an aircraft abandoned by its pilot) he is back at Tanaka’s place and takes delivery of Little Nellie from Q.

He flies over the island where it has been established that the predatory spaceship took off and landed, fights off enemy helicopters over Ebino Kogen and is about to return when told not to as a Russian rocket launch is about to take place.

The Soviet rocket suffers the same fate as the American one earlier but this time the good guys are able to watch it land – the crater lake of a volcano on the island opens to reveal a landing area.


Image (c)

Yes, it’s a secret base run by SPECTRE and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld – and arguably one of the best 007 locations to visit. Or perhaps it’s true to say that it was one of the best…

The problem is that the Mount Shinmoedake volcano erupted in early 2011 which not only resulted in the  closure of the area to hikers for several years but also displaced the crater lake and dramatically altered the landscape. Blofeld would not be pleased…

Back to the film – Bond is taken to the Ninja training centre at a traditional Japanese castle where he meets some of the team that will accompany him to assault the island.


By Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is Himeji, a 17th Century building and major tourist attraction 50km west of Kobe. After being ‘under wraps’ – literally, in fact – for the past few years due to extensive renovation work the castle is due to reopen fully to the public this month.

We are also treated to an extended Japanese wedding sequence (his) before Bond travels to the island by boat posing as a worker.

The fishing village is Akime on the southern coast of Kyushu and some 50km southwest of Kagoshima.


By Sakoppi (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On a hill overlooking Akime you can find large marble plaque engraved with the words ‘Our James Bond film, You only live twice was filmed on location here at Akime’ and signed with engraved signatures of Albert R. Broccoli, Sean Connery and Tetsuro Tamba. The monument, made of locally produced marble, was built in August 1990.

After gaining access to SPECTRE’s base Bond manages to stop a second American craft from being stolen as Tanaka’s Ninja troops attack the base. In the destruction that follows, however, Blofeld escapes…

All the interior work under the volcano was carried out at the enormous stage built for the movie at Pinewood Studios back in Blighty. More on this in the trivia section.

The classic lines

Bond: Hello, Base-1, Little Nellie got a hot reception. Four big shots made improper passes at her but she defended her honour.

Blofeld: This organization does not tolerate failure.

Tiger: This is our baby-rocket. It is very useful for people who smoke too many cigarettes, like you. It can save your life, this cigarette.
Bond: You sound like an advertisement.

Henderson: That’s stirred not shaken. I hope I got it right.
Bond: [grimacing] Of course.

Blofeld: The firing power of my crater is enough to annihilate a small army. You can watch it all on TV, it is the last programme you are likely to see.
Bond: Well, if I am to be forced to watch television, may I smoke?
Blofeld: Yes. Give him his cigarettes. It won’t be the nicotine that kills you.

Blofeld: You will see that my Piranha fish get very hungry. They can strip a man to the bone in 30 seconds.

Bond: Tiger, contact M. Tell him to send Little Nellie. Suggest she be accompanied by her father. Most urgent.

Bond: Oh, the things I do for England.

Moneypenny: You’re late, as usual. Even from your own funeral.
Bond: We corpses have absolutely no sense of time!

Tiger: I am a trifle disappointed at the ease I was able to entice you.

Policeman: Well, at least he died on the job! He would have wanted it this way.

The trivia

“You Only Live Twice” was the twelfth book in the series and the last Ian Fleming James Bond novel published during his lifetime, released on 16 March 1964.

For the first time in the James Bond movie series, the story on the screen was wildly different from the book. The Japanese location and some characters made it from the page, but that’s about it

While scouting for locations in Japan, the chief production team was nearly killed. On 5 March 1966, Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, Director Lewis Gilbert, Cinematographer Freddie Young and Production Designer Ken Adam were booked to leave Japan on BOAC flight 911 departing Tokyo for Hong Kong and London. Two hours before their Boeing 707 flight departed, the team were invited to an unexpected ninja demonstration and so missed their plane. Their flight took off as scheduled and twenty five minutes after take-off the plane disintegrated over Mt Fuji, killing everybody on board. The incident brought with it an unsettling reality to the meaning of the title “You Only Live Twice”.

Director Lewis Gilbert originally said no to taking on the movie.

The budget was immense for the time – $9.5 million ($1 million Ken Adam used just for the volcanic crater set).

In the novel, Ian Fleming describes Blofeld’s hide-out as being a castle by the sea but it was soon discovered that no such castle locations were available. The Japanese never built castles on the coast due to the risk of typhoons – so the SPECTRE lair was reimagined inside a volcano.

Ken Adam’s crater set was constructed at Pinewood Studios outside London and consisted of a movable helicopter platform, a working monorail system, a launch pad and a full scale rocket mock-up that could simulate lift-off.

Filming was chaotic, mostly due to the production being continually mobbed by eager Japanese onlookers. The attention got too much for Sean Connery – who was especially irritated at being referred to as Bond rather than Connery – and halfway through he announced that he would not be returning as James Bond.

Due to the level of interest in the James Bond movie franchise and  Sean Connery in particular, cameras frequently had to be hidden whilst shooting on location so the production schedule would not get seriously delayed.

In an interview with Playboy magazine, writer Roald Dahl claimed that he assembled his script to a formula already established in the previous films in the series, and that he never took the script seriously.

In order to gain some measure of authenticity for the team of stuntmen who would play the part of Ninja in the climactic battle in the volcano, the producers brought in Japan’s only practicing Ninja master, 34-year-old Masaaki Hatsumi for training purposes.

The producers were not happy with the first cut of the film and begged Peter Hunt to return to his earlier role as editor late on. He agreed on condition that he could direct the next Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

The title of “You Only Live Twice” comes from a haiku (or poem) included in the Ian Fleming novel on which the film is based. It goes: “You only live twice. Once when you are born. And once when you look death in the face.” In the novel, the poem is written by James Bond for his friend Tiger Tanaka and it is also made clear that it is a bad attempt by Bond to construct a haiku.

The title song was sung by Nancy Sinatra and reached number 44 in the US charts and 11 in the UK.

Akiko Wakabayashi – the actress playing Aki – could not drive a car so six stuntmen created the illusion of her driving the white Toyota 2000GT convertible by attaching a cable and pulling it from off camera.

The actor who played Tanaka, Tetsuro Tamba later became a religious leader in Japan.

Charles Gray (Henderson) appears as Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

Tsai Chin, who played Bond’s playmate in the opening pre-credit sequence, reappeared in the Bond franchise almost 40 years later as one of the players in Le Chiffre’s big poker match in Casino Royale (2006).

You Only Live Twice was the last Bond film to make extensive use of voice dubbing. In this film and most of those made previously, many of Bond’s leading ladies and villains were overdubbed by other actors. For example Tiger Tanaka’s voice was dubbed by another actor, but one line remains in his own voice – when he speaks Japanese bathing him and Bond.

Two Toyota 2000GTs were transformed into convertibles specifically for the movie. These were the only topless models ever made and the main reason this was done was to allow Connery to fit inside. One is now on display at Toyota’s headquarters today while the other owned by a Toyota executive.

Little Nellie is based on the real-life Wallis Autogyro. Its inventor, Wing Commander Ken Wallis actually flew Little Nellie in the film. The machine was incorporated into the plot after production designer Ken Adam heard Wallis in a radio interview discussing his invention. Wallis had to carry out 85 flights in total to film the sequence.

The gyrocopter shown being assembled is not the one that is shown flying. The “kit” machine was a mock-up made strictly for the assembly sequence.

Footage of the US Jupiter spacecraft in the film is actually film of the real Gemini spacecraft which flew between 1965 and 1966.

James Bond does not drive a car in this film. This is the only EON Productions James Bond film to date in which James Bond does not drive a vehicle.

It is also the first Bond film in which 007 does not visit Britain. and the first in which he is shown wearing his Royal Navy uniform and that he holds the rank of Commander.

John Jordan (Aerial Unit Camera) lost his leg while working on the film – it was sliced off by helicopter rotor blades during the dogfight sequence.

The goofs and gaffes

In the Russian launch sequence the rocket shown lifting off from the pad is an American made Titan III-C ICBM modified to launch the Gemini series spacecraft. Also there are palm trees in the foreground which indicates a tropical location far south of the Soviet Baikonuir Cosmodrome complex.

When Bond has infiltrated and is escaping from Osato Chemicals for the first time, the security guards that are shooting at him are using silenced revolvers (at least the ones inside the building), yet when they fire, the noise made is that of an unsilenced weapon.

When No. 11 is dropped into the piranha tank there is much movement of the water, but the water doesn’t turn red as one would expect it to from the blood, nor are there any clothing fragments.

When Bond and Kissy leave the boat, it’s obvious that Bond has nothing on under his shirt. Upon arrival at the volcano, he removes his shirt to reveal a Ninja outfit.

When Aki is driving Bond to see Henderson, she is driving a car with the steering on the right side. As they approach Henderson’s residence, Aki is seen briefly to be on the left side of the car. When the camera cuts to a close-up, she is back on the right again.

Kissy’s shoes change when diving and arriving at the volcano.

As part of Bond’s disguise as a Japanese man, they shave all the hair from his chest. Yet in the final scene of the movie, when Bond and Kissy are in the lifeboat, Bond’s chest is quite hairy, even though this is only a few days later.

As the four helicopters begin to attack little Nellie, Bond’s helmet microphone switches from his right side to his left and back again.

When Bond takes his seat at the sumo arena, he first takes off his shoes. When he and Aki leave shortly later to go to meet Henderson, he leaves without putting his shoes back on. He is wearing shoes when he arrives at Henderson’s apartment.

When James Bond is in Tanaka’s underground train enjoying the sake wine, a servant enters saying that the photograph is ready for viewing. This servant then walks to the door, which is on the left-hand side of the carriage. After going through the door, we can see the servant taking a left turn, but where to? Outside the moving train?

In the volcano when Blofeld drops the cat and the gun goes off the cat is missing in the next shots because the gunshot scared the cat and it took them hours to find it. The cat had hidden in the scaffolding above the soundstage.

During the fight scene with the large goon in Osato’s office, the goon’s suit and shirt repeatedly become disheveled and un-tucked, then straightened and tucked, as the shots change.

Little Nellie takes some bullet hole damage to its rudder during the helicopter battle scene. The bullet holes disappear in all subsequent scenes.

During the climactic battle scene, one of Tiger’s ninja’s slides down a rope into the SPECTRE base and runs off, but he has a row of bullet holes across his back.

When Bond first sees the “crack” ninja training facility, one of the running ninjas trips and almost falls.

In the volcano Ninja fight finale, the ace swordman’s weapon bends and straightens several times.

In the Little Nellie helicopter battle scene, the same footage of enemy copters being destroyed is used three times.

We hope you enjoyed this article. James Bond will return in the next installment of the series – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Andy Higgs
Andy Higgs

I know what it's like to go from being a crazy backpacker without a care in the world, via being a vaguely sensible parent to being an adventurer once more. In other words, evolving into a Grown-up Traveller.

Like everyone else, I love to travel, have visited a lot of countries and all that but my big thing is Africa.

I also own and run The Grown-up Travel Company as a travel designer creating personalised African itineraries for experienced adventurers

Articles: 1259

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.