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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Japanese Man Vacations on Syrian Front Lines

Toshifumi Fujimoto's vacation pictures, posted on his Facebook page, show him in poses familiar to any tourist. He lines up with interesting people, tries local activities and shows the sights. Except in the case of Mr. Fujimoto, a Japanese tourist, that means images of what appear to be Syrian rebel fighters engaged in battle, of himself firing an assault rifle and of the corpses of some of the 60,000 people the United Nations has said have died in Syria since a civil war began there early last year.

Mr. Fujimoto, 45, is, according to an interview he gave the news agency Agence France-Presse in Aleppo, Syria, usually a trucker hauling loads between Osaka and Tokyo or Nagasaki. For the last week and on a previous trip, he has been a tourist snapping pictures with his Canon D-SLR cameras and a compact video camera in Aleppo - the very heart of the Syrian conflict. (A link to his Facebook page is here, with the warning that it contains very graphic images.)

He told the news agency, via Google Translate, that he had sneaked across the border from Turkey and taken up a position where the fighting is heaviest. “I always go by myself, because no tour guide wants to go to the front,” Mr. Fujimoto said. “It's very exciting, and the adrenaline rush is like no other.”

He dresses in camouflage fatigues, but without a protective jacket or helmet, which he said were too heavy and could dull the excitement of the gunshots. “I'm not a target for snipers because I'm a tourist, not like you journalists,” he said. “Besides, I'm not afraid if they shoot at me or that they might k ill me. I'm a combination of samurai and kamikaze.”

Toshifumi Fujimoto, a tourist from Japan, held his cameras in front of damaged buses in Aleppo's old city in December. Agence France-Presse - Getty ImagesToshifumi Fujimoto, a tourist from Japan, in front of damaged buses in Aleppo's old city in December.

Mr. Fujimoto has also been to conflicts in Yemen and Egypt and said he would like to spend time with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He makes no money from his photography and pays for his trips himself. He explained his motivation to Agence France-Presse:

Fujimoto is divorced, and says: “I have no family, no friends, no girl friend. I am alone in life.”

But he does have three daughters, whom he ha sn't seen for five years, “not even on Facebook or the Internet, nothing. And that saddens me deeply,” he said as he wiped away a tear.

So he's bought a life insurance policy, and “I pray every day that, if something happens to me, my girls might collect the insurance money and be able to live comfortably.”