Greg has two addictions: telling stories and bathing in Japanese hot springs. His work has appeared in in-flight magazines, online magazines, Japanese tour guides, and university textbooks. He also teaches tourism at a Japanese college. Greg’s claim to fame is that he has soaked in approximately 600 onsens from the north of Hokkaido to the southern islands of Okinawa.
What got you into travel writing?
Eye-opening experiences while roaming the US and Mexico in my teens led me to travel writing. Cultural and environmental differences fascinate and compel me to share my excitement with others. At first, my travel writing was personal. As I matured and developed the self-confidence to share my writing, I realized happiness when readers reported visualizing or feeling emotions via my words. Two other reasons are discovering that I could both make money and educate some people about ecotourism, which I feel strongly about.
What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?
I write mostly about Asia, in particular rural areas of Japan, where I have been living and traveling for half my life. Language issues are the most challenging. Honestly, because I don’t spend much time with native English speakers, I worry about language attrition. So I spend a lot of time reading quality books and magazines and listening to podcasts. Conversely, though I speak intermediate-level Thai and Japanese, I sometimes do not understand as much as I want. Translators help, and some locals speak English, but the possibilities of miscommunication are always a concern.
What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?
Losing or forgetting my camera would make me miserable. I am a very visual person, and images help me to remember vital information. My traveling often includes mountain climbing, bicycling, snowshoeing, or canoeing in places where I cannot write notes or type on a computer. Taking photographs while on the move helps me to quickly retain necessary data.
What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?
My most memorable travel experience happened when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in a tiny town in South Thailand. I was the sole foreigner in the area. One day, I stopped at a local Chinese-Thai temple, where I had a once-in-lifetime experience. The villagers invited me to participate. After a purification rite, I entered the ceremonial grounds. Barefoot monks and a few villagers were safely climbing up and down a ladder whose rungs were knife blades. Despite the razor-sharp blades that sliced paper into shreds, they were uninjured. One monk invited me to climb. Because of fear, I declined. But soon after that, I joined another scary activity. A large wok containing oil had been placed over a fire. The oil was bubbling. A monk took me by the hand to the wok. I decided to trust him. Using a cup, he scooped up boiling oil and poured it over my head. The boiling oil did not injure me. That night, I also saw monks cutting their bodies, putting long poles through holes in their cheeks, licking sharp razors. I met these people repeatedly over two years. Their bodies healed faster than what seemed possible. I learned that the world was full of realities beyond the every-day truths of my suburban American youth.
How did you learn about NATJA and why did you join?
The best travel writer I know, Rob Goss, recommended that I join NATJA. I believe in always developing my skills, and I believe that NATJA plays a role in my self-development.
What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
Be patient, helpful, and polite while traveling, pitching stories, and working with editors. I give this advice for two reasons. The first is practical. These qualities will help the rookie journalist to be positively remembered by people who might assist them in future endeavors. The second reason is that I would like the world to be filled with more positivity and kindness.