Graeme Lay catches up with a Japanese man who aimed to set foot in every country on Earth.
A year ago, I travelled to remote Pitcairn Island and back with a young Japanese man, Naoki Kuroiwa. I discovered that he was the ultimate world traveller, having set himself the goal of travelling to every country on Earth. He had gone through, he told me, seven passports ("But second and fourth ones were stolen"). After Pitcairn, he was off to North Korea, South Africa, St Helena and Ascension Islands. A rugby fan, he had made sure his visit to New Zealand coincided with the World Cup.
Some weeks later, I received an email from Naoki, home in Tokyo, letting me know that he had now visited 247 countries, out of the global total of 248.
The one country he hadn't been able to get to?
Libya, which was going through the ghastly convulsions of its civil war. Understandably, Naoki hadn't been able to obtain a visa for that North African country.
I was so struck by Naoki's ambitious project and his cheerful personality, that I wrote a story about him for the Herald. It was published in the Travel pages last April. I sent him a copy, adding, "You are now a world famous traveller, Naoki".
Yesterday I received another email from Naoki, with the word "Finished!" in the subject line.
It read in part: "Finally, I set foot on Libyan soil. I was so happy when I got Libyan arrival visa exchanged with approval letter at Tripoli Airport. Yes, that means I finished the journey to visit all the countries and territories which I believed. I enjoyed staying in Libya, where still good and bad smell of revolution. Yes, I spent a lot of time and money, but okay, I keep actually feeling "Yeah, I am still alive!"'
What will Naoki do now, I wonder? Visiting Tokyo's botanical gardens or even climbing Mt Fuji will hardly compare with scaling the Andes, hiking in Greenland or leaping from the Pitcairn supply ship, Claymore II, into the island's longboat, as we both had to do. Maybe he will sign up for a Richard Branson space flight.
And I was touched by the last line of Naoki's email. It read:
"Pitcairn is so tiny and smallest country in the world, but one of the biggest in my mind. Thank you Graeme, I'm really happy I met with you.
Likewise, Naoki. Bon voyage!