TOKYO — Boredom led Toshifumi Fujimoto to one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
Now the Japanese truck driver’s daring adventure across Syria as a “war tourist” is garnering headlines all around the world, except in Japan, where he has been criticized for his “reckless” behavior.
Agence France Press first interviewed Fujimoto, 45, about his expedition last week as he was wrapping up a week-long tour of the northern city of Aleppo, one of the hottest spots in a conflict that has cost more than 60,000 lives, according to the UN.
Dressed in Japanese army fatigue and armed with two cameras and a video camera, according to the AFP, Fujimoto bought a $2,500 ticket to Turkey, and made his way to the frontlines in the battle for Aleppo without a helmet and flak jacket, saying they were too heavy and “not necessary for me.” He has documented his daily adventures on Facebook.
“It’s very exciting and the adrenaline rush is like no other,” he told the AFP.
From smiling photos of young children, to graphic images of rebel fighters injured in battle, Fujimoto’s posts offer a rare, unfiltered look into the Syrian fight, often only seen by journalists.
But, his go-it-alone approach has been panned back home, where a translated version of the article has been circulated online, despite little domestic media coverage of his actual journey.
Critics have taken to blogs to call Fujimoto’s actions “stupid and shameless,” while others have called him “nothing more than human waste” on popular internet bulletin boards. Few have lauded his efforts to “show the reality of the front lines to the world.”
Now back home in the city of Itami, Fujimoto responded on Facebook, writing “Japanese people like to bash news stories like this, right away.”
Fujimoto has a point.
Eight years ago, when 24-year-old backpacker Shosei Koda was beheaded in Iraq after traveling there as a tourist, the Japanese victim was largely condemned for being naïve and irresponsible. His family was inundated with calls criticizing Koda for causing trouble back home.
The same year, the release of young Japanese citizens taken hostage in Iraq, wasn’t met with backlash instead of relief. The group was treated like criminals, criticized for acting selfishly by ignoring a government advisory against travel to Iraq. Those kidnapped may have gone with good intentions – one of the hostages started her own non-profit group to help Iraqi street children – but their actions, which caused an entire nation to worry, was considered unforgivable.
“They may have gone on their own, but they must consider how many people they caused trouble to because of their action,” government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said at the time, according to the New York Times.
Fujimoto’s actions haven’t garnered much attention from the government yet, in part, because he has managed to escape war zones unscathed. He spent two weeks in Syria in 2011, flew to Yemen during demonstrations at the U.S. embassy, and joined demonstrators at Tahrir Square in Cairo as they demanded the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.
His tours aren’t only driven by thrill-seeking, but loneliness. Fujimoto is divorced, and told the AFP he has “no family, no friends, no girlfriend.”
“People may hate me in Japan, but I am welcomed in Syria,” he wrote on Facebook.
Fujimoto did not respond to an ABC News request for an interview.