|End of the road: Kiyotaka Yamaoka is seen at Ca Mau Cape, where he wrapped up his nine-month journey. — Courtesy Photos of Kiyotaka Yamaoka
by Van Dat
More than 20 years ago, Kiyotaka Yamaoka, who is now 34, dreamt he would visit all the provinces and cities in Viet Nam. At the time, the Japanese teenager could only learn about Viet Nam through books, newspapers, and magazine.
However last December, Kiyotaka finally completed his life's journey by stepping on Ca Mau Cape, the southernmost area of Viet Nam, and he is eagerly planning to return to the country in August.
Before leaving Viet Nam, he promised himself that he would revisit some places he'd been to and spend some more time there. Although the trip is now over, he thinks that Viet Nam will be part of his life for ever.
At the age of 13, Kiyotaka Yamaoka started dreaming about having a trip around Viet Nam, but he only made his first visit to the country four years ago. Although he has since visited 63 provinces in 11 separate trips, he can still remember vividly, his first time in Viet Nam.
"At that time I didn't believe that I could do it. I knew about Viet Nam through learning about the war. Not many young people in Japan have an interest in it like me. Maybe I was crazy," he said.
After his first flight to Viet Nam, he found that Viet Nam was a hugely animated and energetic place. On this first visit to Viet Nam he went to Phu Quoc Island.
Kiyotaka quit his job in Japan in March last year, to begin his journey.
The Japanese man could not explain why he had so much love for Viet Nam. Even in Japan, he had only travelled to the northern part of the country.
Although he knew it would be very difficult for him to travel in Viet Nam by motorbike, he insisted on doing the trip by bike, so that he could experience and photograph the Vietnamese people and the beautiful landscapes of the country, to show back home at exhibitions.
Getting in and out of Viet Nam 11 times was not enough for the Japanese photographer. In March last year, he quit his job in Japan and came back to the country in March to prepare for the journey, although he knew nothing about the Vietnamese language.
When asked about his experience of riding a motorbike for over nine months in Viet Nam, Kiyo laughed and said he had narrowly escaped death several times.
"Maybe it was my madness that made me dare to ride a motorbike all over Viet Nam, but it was not that scary. Although many times, I had to push my motorbike because it had a flat tyre," Kiyotaka said.
|Paying tribute: Kiyotaka Yamaoka at his recent photo exhibition on the consequences of war in the central region of Viet Nam.
He reckons he had a flat tyre more than 30 times during the journey.
Once, after leaving an ethnic minority village in the Northwestern region, he got a flat tyre. He had to wheel the motorbike over 10 kilometres, and still he found nowhere to fix it. He ended up returning to where he started.
Initially his family were against him travelling for a long period of time in Viet Nam but they soon came round to the idea. Kiyotaka came close to quitting when he received news that his brother in Japan, had died. But the early death of his younger brother even strengthened his will, "I decided not to give up on my life's dream," he said.
One of the Japanese traveller's most vivid memories is of the time when General Vo Nguyen Giap passed away.
"He was my idol. I heard about him when I was a teenager. When I heard the news, I was in Quy Nhon. I tried my best to reach Quang Binh, his hometown as soon as possible to pay tribute to him," Kiyotaka recalled.
Unfortunately, he was the only foreigner at the ceremony. He was stopped while carrying a big camera and questioned by local police for security.
"My Vietnamese was not good enough, so I did not understand their questions. I only repeated the same sentence over and over again in my best Vietnamese ‘I want to meet General the last time'." Finally he was allowed to pay tribute to General Giap.
Although he came across many difficulties, the things that remain in his memory are all the wonderful people he met along the way. "People were very friendly. They had me to stay and invited me to join them for meals," he said. He plans to return to the places he visited, with Japanese students who want to learn about Viet Nam.
Kiyotaka doesn't know how much money he spent during his months of wandering around the country, but all of his savings earned in Japan are gone. — VNS