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Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Tour guide Shinobu Nimura


Shinobu Nimura, 50, is an experienced tour guide who organizes long-distance bus journeys through Asia, Africa and South America. His tours take one to two months and cover vast territories. In 25 years, he has clocked up an incredible 280,000 km on buses, the equivalent to riding around the Equator seven times. Nimura has seen it all, and there's never been a view he didn't love.

Shinobu Nimura
Tour guide Shinobu Nimura>JUDIT KAWAGUCHI PHOTO

Travel is not supposed to be smooth sailing; it's more like roughing it on stormy seas. The word "travel" is derived from the Latin verb "tripaliare," which means "to torture." This is very fitting, since in the past, travel was dangerous, painful and often deadly. As long as I keep this in mind, no matter where I am or what happens, I'm always sitting pretty.

A husband should be healthy and out of the house. That's me!

Great memories often come from rough experiences. Once back in Japan, I organize parties where my clients can exchange photos and reminisce. Without exception, the best stories revolve around things that, at the time, were not so enjoyable. Often, people remember these incidents with such fondness that they eventually become the highlights of the whole trip. For example, we'll never forget the huge storms that once forced us to hop onto a barge, or when our routes were forced to change due to a sudden conflict in a region. We even miss a hotel room that had frogs singing in the bathroom. Nobody, on the other hand, talks about the luxury hotels that we occasionally stayed in.

Tension keeps us healthy. I never get sick when I travel.

Although I often don't know where I'm going, I enjoy being on the move. I have total confidence that any journey will be exciting and fun and I like to take people along with me so they can see it for themselves. My clients are all hardcore travelers, and the same 100 or so of them keep going around the world with me. The average age is 72 and it's getting higher, so they all joke that they are on a "countdown tour," as if the trip they are on could be their final journey.

If you stick to the "safe" option, you'll never have a great meal. Local food is either very delicious or quite terrible. Whichever, it always has a flavor that will stick in your mind.

Elderly people don't get sick easily. I never have to worry about my clients. When they were kids, they played outdoors, ate sand and had many accidents and diseases. They are resilient.

Buses, like people, need to take breaks, too. People expect machines to work without fail; but, like humans, machines do break down. When that happens, I like to say, "That's a lucky break!" Why? Because, thanks to engine trouble, we get to experience something we would have never seen otherwise. For example, local mechanics could come and fix the bus in a unique manner, a way completely different to how we would do it. That kind of thing is fun!

Nothing unifies people more than misfortune. In Tibet, a cliff broke apart ahead of us and giant rocks rolled down to the mountain pass we were driving on. Soon, some locals arrived to check the damage and it was obvious that we could not continue our trip until the road was cleared. When the construction guys arrived, we helped them. They used dynamite and dumped all the rocks into the valley. A lot of the work was done with bare hands. While we were toiling away, kids from the nearby village brought us food to buy. This is one of my favorite memories.

The success of a marriage doesn't depend on the length of the dating process. It's a jump. Hop, step, jump and hope for the best.

We should live like we are ready to die at any moment. Twenty one years ago I moved to Okinawa with my wife and began working in the local tourism industry. We were happy. Then, in 1991, my best friend, Kinra, was shot to death by the Marxist Shining Path guerillas in Peru. He was an engineer doing good work and yet he was killed. I still have not gotten over the shock of his sudden death. He died while I was suntanning and relaxing. After that, I felt that I shouldn't take work and life for granted. A man must work hard.

Just because we're in love, it doesn't mean we have to always stick together. At hotels, Japanese couples always request twin beds. We hate fighting over the bed covers.

If children's smiles are an indicator of a nation's health, Japan is on its deathbed. No matter where I go, I see kids full of energy and vitality and sporting beautiful smiles. Everywhere, that is, except Japan. I think children here are gloomy because Japanese parents break the little ones' souls with too many rules. " Dame!" ("That's bad, stop it!") and "abunai!" ("That's dangerous, stop it!") are expressions commonly used by Japanese parents.

Some adults are as curious as small children. Japanese ask lots of questions. They always want to know the name of every local flower, tree and mountain. Whether in Ephesus, Turkey, or in the Amazon, local guides are often at a loss because they don't know the area's nature that well. I sometimes have to help them out by calling things something like "Ephesus violet" or "Amazon whitefish." Usually these kind of questions throw the guide into utter confusion and are met with hearty laughter. But my clients are serious: They wanna know!

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Out & About." Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/



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