The Motorcycle Diaries—With a Japanese Twist

Was it the Che Guevara-style berét that got my attention first–or the motorcycle? Perhaps it was the combination. All I know is that when I first saw Tsuyoshi Yoshihara, I thought of the Motorcycle Diaries film. And I wondered to myself: Is that Che Guevara’s Japanese reincarnation?

The resemblance was that uncanny.

Comandante Yoshi...looking serious

When I spotted this unique backpacker at my low-budget hotel in Cuenca, Ecuador, I introduced myself and initiated a conversation–not unlike a reporter eager for a story would do. (PS: I used to be a reporter, so how could I not?)

A Man on a Mission

I soon learned that Yoshi, referred to by friends as Soburu and/or Comandante, is one of Che’s biggest fans ever. He adores the Argentine Marxist revolutionary who lived from 1928 to 1967. So much, in fact, that he’s been on an epic journey through South America (with a stop-off in Cuba, of course), following Che’s trail for most of it.

And all the while, he’s been wearing the classic berét and riding a motorcycle. And paying tribute to Che’s most important monuments and places of significance in his life. And he’s not doing it just for the fun of it (although he’s been having a lot of fun).

He’s a man on a mission.

Sounds a bit like a modern-day Motorcycle Diaries, right?

So, what is the story? Why has he gone to such great lengths? Check out this interview and learn more about Comandante Yoshi.

Interview with Che Guevara’s Biggest Fan

How did you learn about Che? How did you become so interested in him?

About 5 years ago, when I was living in Sydney, I saw that a friend of mine often wore a t-shirt with Che’s image on it. That got my attention. Then, when I went back home to Japan for holiday, I found a book about Che on the dining room table. My mum was reading it and said that I reminder her of Che in some way.

I took the book and read through it, and I was impressed. Then I started reading more books, the ones he wrote–”Guerrilla Warfare,” “The Motorcycle Diaries,” etc.–and became more interested in what he did and how he lived his life.

What specifically made you such a huge fan of Che’s?

I think I was inspired by his courage to accomplish his goals, to make his ideas a reality and his willingness to help others.

Tell us about your journey—where it began, where you’ve been, etc.

I started my trip the 26th of July 2010 in Northern Canada. After you and I met in Cuenca in June, I went through Peru, then Bolivia (visited Vallegrande, La Higuera, where Che fought and died). I then went to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and to Chile. Then I visited Rosario, Santa Fe, in Argentina– where Che was born. I’m now in Paraguay.

What did you feel when you visited certain places that were important in Che’s life?

His birthplace was just a building, so I did not feel much there. I had more powerful feelings when I visited Alta Gracia, where he grew up. I liked the atmosphere of the town and I could feel and understand how he was raised–with the love of his parents, siblings and neighbours. I could see how and why he cared about everyday people so much.

Monument to Che in Bolivia--where he was killed

What is/has been the purpose of your trip?

First of all, I wanted to see the world. Second, I wanted to experience different cultures, people and ways of life. I wanted to learn something from this trip. Third, I wanted to help Japan in some way. I believe that the Japanese need to be more tolerant of “diversity.” It could be important for my country’s survival in the 21st century. Perhaps what I’ve learned on this trip–and the message I share when I’m back home–could help somehow.

Are you trying to get publicity from the Japanese press? If so, what is your message?

Not really, but if I do, that will be good. My message will be “Understand the differences and respect other values.”

Are you finished with the Che Journey?

I’ve finished the tributes to Che now (I visited his mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba; his burial place in Valle Grande, Bolivia; where his body was exposed to the public in Vallegrande; where he was killed in La Higuera, Bolivia; the place where he grew up in Alta Gracia, Argentina; and his birthplace in Rosario, Argentina).

How much longer will you be traveling?

I will be traveling at least another 1 year and a half. I’m now in Paraguay. I’ll soon go to Brazil and Uruguay. Then I will go to Europe.

Are going to sell your motorcycle when you leave South America?

No. I will ship it to Europe from Buenos Aires (by air).

Che berét and motorcycle

When you return to Japan, what will you tell people about Che? What are you hoping to accomplish?

I am now organizing a revolutionary group. I am hoping when I go back to Japan, we will be able to influence people there to see the world differently and better and to change the course of history of Japan in some way. If we do not stand up, no one will.

Right now, there’s just a single value ruling in our country, and it does not work for everyone. We need to make others realize that and do something about it.

Now that you’ve taken this journey, what are your feelings about Che?

He was a great guy, but at the same time he was a normal and ordinary person. He just wanted to help others in his own way. I feel even closer to him now than before this trip. Anyone could be like “Che”.

Do you keep a blog?

Yes, you can find my blog here.  I am keeping a diary every day in Japanese and English. (Recently, I have been a little lazy for keeping an English one, though).

What has been the best part of your trip so far? The hardest/most challenging part?

Seeing people and experiencing different cultures has been the best part of my trip. I am learning more and more all the time. The hardest/most challenging part has been keeping my eyes off of the girls!!

Yoshi's bike storage

Yoshi's bike storage--where he's kept his stuff during the trip

About Che Guevara

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, was also a doctor, an author, an intellectual and a guerrilla leader.

When he was a medical student, Guevara traveled throughout Latin America. At one point he even spent time in a leper colony in Peru, where he was struck by the camaraderie of the residents. During his journey, which focused heavily on towns and villages, he observed a great deal of poverty and alienation, which affected him deeply.

He came to the conclusion that it was capitalism and neocolonialism–as well as monopolism and imperialism–that had caused the class struggles and the economic inequalities. This led to his involvement with the Cuban Revolution, in which he played a major role. Years after his death, he remains a counter-cultural symbol of rebellion.

Che Guevara - 201

Your thoughts/experiences?

Historical Connections

Is there anyone in history–revolutionary or not–whom you’ve felt a strong connection to? Have you visited or wanted to visit places of significance in that person’s life? If so, who was it and where did you go? Did you feel the urge to dress like that person at any point?

Thoughts Re: Japan

Have you ever been to or lived in Japan? Do you feel that the culture would benefit in some way from the sort of acceptance of diversity that Yoshi described? What sort of impact do you think he might have?

And What About Che?

Are you a fan? Whether you are or not, it’s seems there are quite a few out there. Everywhere, in fact. :)

A New Series!

PS: this is the first interview in a new series called “The Experiential Traveler.” Every few weeks or so, I’ll be interviewing another traveler–those who travel in the moment and/or have deep experiences. Stay tune for the next interview, which will be with a man, an eclectic Buddhist who’s on a long-term trip with his son!

Photo credit for the Che graffiti image goes to Bixentro whose work appears on Flickr.

14 Responses to The Motorcycle Diaries—With a Japanese Twist
  1. Nicole Schuman
    February 27, 2012 | 10:21 pm

    Che Guevara is really an icon! And I love what you’ve said.. “Understand the differences and respect other values.” Thank you for sharing this..
    Nicole Schuman recently posted..more infoMy Profile

    • Yoshi
      February 28, 2012 | 7:33 am

      I believe understanding the differences and respecting other values are the key for realising the better world. I am glad that I could share the thoughts with others through this article.
      Yoshi recently posted..ソンシの帰還 / The Return of the GuruMy Profile

  2. Robert Wesler
    February 27, 2012 | 10:40 pm

    What a lovely and inspiring story. It’s great to see someone motivated by passion and interest rather then the usual monetary considerations that so predominate. Kudos to Yoshi for the undertaking and to you for posting!

    • Yoshi
      February 28, 2012 | 8:06 am

      Thanks Robert. I hope I can inspire others like “Che” does. I will keep travelling and learning.
      Yoshi recently posted..ソンシの帰還 / The Return of the GuruMy Profile

  3. Stu M
    February 28, 2012 | 5:41 am

    Che was an amazing figure, whether you agree with his politics or not. His compassion and sacrifice makes his story an inspiring one. His influence is still exceptional, as wonderful stories like this go to show.

  4. Brenda W. Scott
    February 28, 2012 | 6:14 am

    You look like Che Guevara but an Asian version! :) Well, Che is really an inspiration.. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Yoshi
      February 29, 2012 | 8:39 pm

      I might look like Che as I wear the beret and grow beard! But what I actually try to achieve is “I will be like Che!”
      Hopefully one day people think about me like him. Till then I will keep doing my best.
      Yoshi recently posted..旅の軌跡 / The route I’ve riddenMy Profile

  5. Amanda
    February 29, 2012 | 12:21 am

    Very interesting interview! I’ll admit I never knew much more than the basics about Che until I saw the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries” when I was in high school. That movie certainly inspired some wanderlust in me, though, and I always wondered if anyone had ever followed his route on the back of a bike – now I guess that question is answered!

    And how appropriate that Yoshi began his journey on July 26.
    Amanda recently posted..Photo of the Day: Kaikoura BeachMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 29, 2012 | 8:16 pm

      Hi, Amanda. Glad you found the interview to be an interesting read. Yoshi was certainly interesting to meet in person!

      I agree re: the July 26th date. Fascinating–and I’m sure it’s for the reason we think it is. Perhaps Yoshi can address that when he checks in to see/respond to the comments… :)

      • Yoshi
        February 29, 2012 | 8:48 pm

        Well, I left Japan on 25th July 2010 and landed Seattle on 26th July 2010 (Japan time). I intended to start my journey on this day and also it was a good season to ride through Canada.
        Yoshi recently posted..旅の軌跡 / The route I’ve riddenMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          March 1, 2012 | 7:02 am

          Yoshi–did you begin the journey on that date because of the “26th of July Movement”? I see it’s also in your blog’s name.

          • Yoshi
            March 1, 2012 | 11:06 pm

            Yes, you are right. I started on that date because of “M-26-Julio”.

  6. Jarmo
    February 29, 2012 | 5:33 am

    Great interview, and what a great idea for a road trip in South America. I’ve seen some of the places, but it would be really awesome to do it on a motorbike!

    And you do look like Che!
    Jarmo recently posted..Crispy Pork Buns at World’s Cheapest Michelin Star RestaurantMy Profile

    • Yoshi
      February 29, 2012 | 8:53 pm

      Yes, motorcycling is one the best ways to travel around South America. It could be harder than other methods of travelling, but it is rewarding!

      Now I might look like Che, and from now on I will be like Che!
      Yoshi recently posted..旅の軌跡 / The route I’ve riddenMy Profile

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