Dean Newcombe came to Japan to work as a model which then turned into acting and reporting for NHK World. Inspired by his off the beaten track adventures around Japan he started a YouTube channel called 'runAway Japan' where you can watch him stay at a Yokai (Japanese monster) hotel or hike with his family. Travelling nearly 2,000 km across Japan with a TV crew, he fell in love with Tottori prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Dean can tell you a thing or two about what you can find there but we will only give you one spoiler here: camel riding! He advises to keep your eyes and heart open because everyone can find their unique Japan and make long lasting memories.
Hi, thanks for talking to us today. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Dean, I am from the UK originally but now live in Japan, where I have been for the past decade. I work here as a model and actor, and work with NHK World as a reporter too. I started my own content on Japan a few years ago on a YouTube channel called ‘runAway Japan’.
How did you end up working and living in Japan and what was it like?
I came to Japan originally to work as a model. It was my first time to live and work in Asia, and I was fascinated to visit Japan, more than anywhere else in the world! It was nothing like I expected, and Japan still continues to keep me guessing a decade later!
How did your YouTube channel ‘runAway Japan’ come about?
Originally I made content for a Japanese TV channel and for NHK World. The concept was pretty unique. I ran, cycled and kayaked all over the country, introducing parts of Japan. I went with a team from Tokyo all the way to the Oki Islands in Shimane prefecture - that’s nearly 2,000km of travel which took me through nature rich areas like Izu Peninsula and Wakayama, and historical cities like Ise and Kyoto. Tottori Prefecture (which is Japan's least populated prefecture) became one of my favorite places in Japan after this trip after discovering everything from camel riding (yes, in Japan!) to open air hot springs to scared mountains all in just a few days. I really wanted to make the content available to anyone (particularly those outside of Japan) so I uploaded the whole series to YouTube and then just kept it going, sharing my personal adventures around Japan.
Which places in Japan have made the most lasting impression on you? Why?
This is one of the hardest questions. I get it all the time. Japan has an incredible amount of locations which are worthy of being on a lasting impression list. The difficulty is comparing spots of magnificent nature, with experiences where emerging yourself in the culture at a shrine visit or at a local hot spring bath. Japan is diverse. I can say that it’s normally the spot off the beaten track, hard to find, that wins my affections. Japan has plenty of them too. The beauty is finding your own unique Japan and experience. No matter which way you go, you should stumble upon this.
What kind of places off the beaten track would you recommend to our readers?
Maybe for the adventurous, I’d recommended heading for Wakayama and experiencing part of the ancient Kumano Kodo Trails. I walked a trail called the Magose Toge Pass in the runAway show. It rained heavily all day and yet it was so enchanting and came out as one of our favorite days of the whole trip!
Alternatively, head for Yakushima. An island in the south of Japan, which can be accessed by boat or plane. Go and see the oldest tree in all of Japan and enjoy a setting that looks like it’s right out of Jurassic Park.
Can you give us any travel tips for people who are visiting Japan for the first time with children?
Japan is safe and clean. It’s a great location for children in that respect. Maybe watch out for the food, because outside of the hotels, they and even the parents might find it’s a little too different from western tastes at times. Maybe load up with healthy snacks the kids are used to.
Do you have any food recommendations?
Food in Japan is fun. Each restaurant generally specializes in a type of food, so each time you dine, try and look for something new. Sushi is a must, and remember that although conveyor belt sushi is fun, the tasty stuff generally comes sitting at a counter at a far more intimate venue.
This month we’re focusing on the word ‘natsukashii’, meaning 'nostalgic' or 'full of fond memories'. What is your favourite natsukashii memory from Japan?
I think since I have been in Japan more than 10 years now. I can just about feel ‘natsukashii’ about my first adventure through Japan. Destinations from that first trip riding the bullet trail from Tokyo to Hokkaido and back down to Kyushu bring back great memories. Way up north there is a place called Osore-zan or ‘Fear Mountain’, I found this location almost by mistake and was fascinated by this sacred site. I have never been back, but when I finally do, I will feel those sweet ‘Natsukashii’ vibes as I retrace the footsteps of my young self.