Over 25 years ago, after studying the Japanese language, I worked for Jalpak, the inbound travel subsidiary of Japan Airlines, in Sydney – arranging Australian based tourism for Japanese clients.
It was the perfect company for me to work for in those days as staff discount fares kept my Japanese travel addiction well satiated!
I moved out of travel after a few years and into cheffing, then later into food publishing and food/ travel writing – combining all of the above.
I’ve only recently commenced my own Food and Culture tours of Kyoto – my favourite city in the world.
What do you like most about your job?
Sharing what I love about Japan with open minded, engaged humans. And, as a related bonus, spending time here – wandering the streets with my camera, meeting wonderful, inspiring people and of course eating the most sensational food!
Recently I was invited by the Tokyo Metropolitan government to give some talks in Sydney and Melbourne on Tokyo food and travel – I was so honoured and excited to meet and share information, as their representative, with so many members of the travel industry and media – and to introduce the Tokyo Lunch project being held in eight Sydney restaurants until 25 February – a fine way to access just a little taste of what Tokyo has on offer! Which is considerably more than you can ever imagine until you actually make it to Japan.
What’s one of the biggest achievements of your career so far?
Turning some of the pages of my book (Zenbu Zen – finding food, culture and balance in Kyoto ) into a tangible experience for like-minded souls. My tours attract people who are interested in food and culture – and travelling in style with intelligent, respectful and curious co-travellers. It is a more intimate travel experience with just 8 guests per group.
What’s the best advice ever given to you and who gave it?
To be myself. I think it was my dad who came up with that little pearl of wisdom.
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the travel and / or hospitality industry?
In the travel industry there is one person who immediately stands out for me as the perfect role model – and that is Ken Yokoyama – the general manager of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kyoto. He is an absolute gem of a man. He works too hard, although he’d never admit it, but is the most thoughtful, kind individual who never misses a beat. He blends old fashioned hospitality of the highest order with supreme efficiency. His hotel runs as smoothly and luxuriantly as melted chocolate –and his team adore him as do all the guests! Every person I have met in the hotel and hospitality industry, who have met him, cannot speak more highly of Yokoyama san. I’m sure there are members of some underground fan club burning candles by his photograph as I type!
In hospitality generally – the most creative, talented and well regarded people I know are also the most humble. I’m constantly learning from all around me.
What can people expect from your writing and what inspires it?
I write from my heart. If I am fascinated in a subject, particularly something that not everyone might have the chance to experience, I’m bubbling over with enthusiasm and want to describe my experiences in authentic detail! What it looks, feels, tastes and smells like. Japan is a country of great complexity – it would take a lifetime to peel off all the layers but I just keep edging my way in. I’m continuously surprised and delighted by what I uncover. I enjoy demonstrating the personality of a place through my words and images. There is often an edge of humour but also plenty of “stop and smell the flowers” moments too. People who know me say I write as I speak – that reading my words is like having me right in front of them, my facial expressions visible and emotions palpable. And I’m pretty chuffed with that.
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
Although I’ve seen much of Japan there are still so many unique villages and areas to explore… so that is a no brainer. But I’d also like to return to Scandinavia – particularly Norway as I haven’t made it there yet – and see more of the Baltics and Russia. Also on the must visit list are Berlin and Greece.
Although I’ve visited Paris (and other parts of France) on numerous occasions I’m happy to put it very high on the “must return to” list.
Now I’m just getting greedy….
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had (good or bad)?
There have been too numerous amazing times to pick just one! All travel experiences are good… even when they appear bad or difficult at the time. After all – the tough, frightening, most aggravating travel moments make for great dinner-table laughs!! (once they’ve been processed of course and the shaking stops….).
As a curious aside – I'm always astounded by stories about the valuables people leave behind on the Tokyo subway system, only to discover them on the same seat a day later. Handbags, phones etc. A photographer friend left a very expensive laptop on the Narita airport express train. It was handed in within minutes of being found and was back in his possession a few hours later. In no other city of this size would you expect to reclaim lost valuables or to feel as safe as one does.
What are three things you always take with you when travelling?
My all-too-heavy but excellent camera. Spare room in my suitcase for any necessary and beautiful purchases. Respect for the country I’m visiting.
Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and a destination you’d like to go with them.
Funnily enough I’ll shortly be spending a few days in Kyoto with one of the world’s best chefs – Peter Gilmore of Quay restaurant in Sydney. Pete’s a friend and I’ve always wanted to show him “my Kyoto” – I know he’s going love it here. Peter has an innate connection to nature and food source and I’m in awe of the graceful way in which he translates information through his cuisine. How it transpires on the plate. Perhaps he was Japanese in a former life….