“WHEN AUSTRALIAN RICHARD HUGHES first landed here in 1940, he found ambassadors still needed reminding that Shanghai was not in Japan and the Emperor did not sleep at the Grand Shrine of Ise. He wasted no time proving his journalistic credentials, though, being first to alert his homeland that Japan was to forge an alliance with Germany.

“One cringing misadventure often recalled with much hilarity was how in 1947 he became the only journalist ever appointed FCCJ general manager. He was selected by what he called a ‘drunken and uproarious endorsement’ by his peers, a mixed membership of the world’s best and bravest journalists, along with ‘the world’s most plausible rogues and magisterial scoundrels.’

“FCCJ was in those days a lively establishment, which the reluctant manager said had the ‘features of a makeshift bordello, inefficient gaming house and black market centre,’ not to mention ‘the aspirations and pretensions of an outpost of the free world in a defeated oriental state.’ Still, Hughes managed a coup when he convinced General MacArthur to help coax the FCCJ’s landlord, Mitsubishi, to repair exploding basement lavatories and crumbling steps in the five storied, brownstone building at No. 1 Shimbun Alley.

“‘News and revelation, scandal and fact’ were always on tap at the FCCJ bar, where the GM no doubt polished his already considerable intelligence gathering skills. Though the ‘eccentric experiment,’ as he liked to call his tenure, came to an end in less than two years, Hughes went on to make his name in a string of international scoops, highlighted by the exclusive interview in Moscow with the British defectors Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.

“Everyone assumed he was a double agent, so it was no surprise when Ian Fleming, his close friend and former editor at the London Sunday Times, came to Japan in 1962 in search of local color and inspiration for his next novel about James Bond, agent 007.

“Fleming and ‘Dikko’ spent two glorious weeks visiting the most idyllic shrines and temples tucked away in the scenic hills of Kyoto and Fukuoka, hot springs, villas with secret corridors riddled with trap doors, tea houses of ill repute, all the while ‘staying loyal’ to local saké every evening. Fleming was particularly eager to meet pearl divers, as he had already decided his next 007 heroine would be an ama, so off they went to Mikimoto’s pearl farm.

“Hughes noted that Fleming never developed an affinity for eating and sleeping on tatami, but writes of his consuming admiration for Japanese simplicity and the genuine pleasure he drew from the most mundane chance encounters.

“Fleming had a bad heart, but against the doctor’s orders, always travelled with his own bottle of bourbon. This was better for the heart than scotch because ‘the ‘muscles expand under bourbon, Dikko, but they contract under Scotch.’ Hughes wasn’t impressed by Fleming’s science, but wishfully reasoned that bourbon must then also be correcting the ill effects of the copious volume of nicotine Fleming was inhaling. It didn’t quite deliver, though, as Fleming died just two years later of a massive heart attack shortly after the fruit of their journey was published.

“The much anticipated novel read rather like a travelogue, with a somber and curiously introspective tone. When the film producers flew out on their reconnaissance, however, they found Tokyo resplendent from five years of Olympics construction madness, and promptly shifted the storyline to highlight the state of the art tech gadgetry that now came to define Japan.

“Fleming never saw the film, nor the New Otani Hotel that rose from its ancient gardens like a metaphor for Japan’s global ambitions. But it’s doubtful he would have been happy with the liberties his erstwhile good friend Roald Dahl took in writing the script. Still, You Only Live Twice, starring Sean Connery and actress Mie Hama as the beautiful ama, was a huge international hit, and cemented James Bond’s popularity in Japan.

“The book and film just added to Hughes’ growing fame. For being Fleming’s loyal guide and key Japan source, the FCCJ’s short lived GM was honored in perpetuity as Dikko Henderson, Bond’s British contact in Tokyo, (played in the film by Charles Gray).”

— The Shimbun Alley Whisperers