You Only Live Twice

Best read after Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the reader finds Bond with a personal score to settle with Blofeld after being widowed on his wedding day.

You Only Live Twice Cover

Author: Ian Fleming
Publication date:
 26th March 1964
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Cover artist: Richard Chopping

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With his life in tatters after Tracy was killed by Blofeld at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, M temporarily relieves 007 of his Double-O number and sends him to Japan on an apparently impossible diplomatic mission; convince the Japanese Secret Service to allow Britain access to Russia’s top secret cipher traffic being intercepted by Japan.

Bond is shown Japanese life by Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese secret service and a former Kamikaze pilot for whom the war ended before he participated in a suicide mission. When Bond is asked to take a care of an embarrassing problem for the Japanese in exchange for access to the Russian cipher traffic he learns that Dr Guntram Shatterhand, who owns the castle in whose “garden of death” Japanese flock to kill themselves, is no other than Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Along the way Bond finds himself at a Ninja training camp, and lives in a Japanese fishing village before entering the Garden of Death for himself.

You Only Live Twice is the last James Bond book to published during Ian Fleming’s lifetime, as he died of a heart attach in August 1964.

What we say

In the third novel of the Blofeld trilogy M sends Bond to Tokyo on what he considers an impossible a diplomatic mission. Still in mourning for his wife, James Bond is drinking and gambling heavily, a shadow of his former self.

On the verge of sacking him, M instead decides to give Bond one last chance. He must persuade the Japanese secret service to allow Britain access to decrypted Russian radio transmissions. Bond’s mission soon takes on a personal element though.

The book features some great observation gained from Fleming’s trip there in 1959 although Japan and its culture is viewed through the lens of a rather cynical westerner. The book was the last to be published in Ian Fleming’s lifetime.

Friends & foes

In You Only Live Twice, James Bond finds himself immersed in Japanese culture while negotiating to gain access to Russian cipher traffic decoded by the Japanese. Luckily he has a number of allies to help him navigate the Land of the Rising Sun, both literally and culturally.

Dikko Henderson works at the Australian embassy in Tokyo and assists Bond at the beginning of the story, providing him with important information about the country and its potential threats. Henderson plays a significant role in Bond’s initial investigations, introducing him to the culture while showing him Tokyo’s drinking dens.

Tiger Tanaka is the head of the Japanese Secret Service. He is a key ally to James Bond in the book and helps him navigate through Japanese culture and society. Tanaka is a skilled strategist and provides Bond with crucial information and resources during his mission.

Kissy Suzuki is an Ama diver, known for her diving skills and pearl hunting abilities. Having made a film with David Niven, she decided that Hollywood was not for her and returned to the home on the Ama island of Kuro. Kissy aids Bond in his mission, offering both emotional support and local knowledge.

Dr Guntram Shatterhand is a mysterious character who operates the “Garden of Death” in the grounds of his castle in Japan. Bond suspects him of being Blofeld in disguise. Shatterhand’s true identity and intentions are crucial to the plot.


The story begins with Bond attending a Geisha party in Japan, organized in his honour by Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese Secret Service. Bond immerses himself in Japanese culture, appreciating the traditional rice wine, saké. As he navigates the formalities of the occasion, this quintessential Japanese drink helps Bond’s immersion in Japanese life.

Also see: You Only Live Twice: the food & drinks from the novel

After the Geisha party, Bond and Tiger retreat to Tiger’s house for a private discussion. Here, amidst the open paper partitions that ensure privacy, Bond and Tiger share more saké.

Bond has been in Japan for several weeks and prior to flying out had planned to take Mary Goodnight to dinner at Scotts for roast grouse and pink champagne.

During the JAL flight from London to Tokyo he orders brandies and ginger ales. He’s met by Dikko Henderson, who takes him to his hotel, the luxurious Okura Hotel. There they do some “serious drinking” at the Bamboo Bar, although we aren’t told what they drink. The next night the pair hit Melody’s, in the bustling Ginza district, where they indulged in at least eight flasks of saké each while discussing Japanese culture. Henderson tells Bond they’ll go for eels and “a serious bottle of plonk” before finishing the evening at The House of Total Delight – presumably a brothel.

After being taken under Tiger’s wing, Bond gets to experience many aspects of Japanese culture first hand. He struggles to appreciate Japanese cuisine though. After arriving in Toba by hydrofoil, they celebrate Bond’s progress with a lobster dinner accompanied by saké. When it arrives Bond downs his tumbler in one. When it comes, Bond is shocked when it scuttles off his plate.

Bond does find Kobe beef to be exquisite though. Tiger takes him to a restaurant where it is served with saké. Before arriving they had stopped in the countryside, and Bond was handed a bottle of beer. First he was told to feed the beer to a cow. Then he was told to take a mouthful of shōchū liquor and spray it over the cow’s back and massage it.

The following night, left to his own devices in a Kyoto hotel, Bond orders a pint of Jack Daniels to accompany a light dinner from room service.

Dining first class aboard the 3,000 ton Murasaki Maru, Bond and Tiger eat ham omelettes – hamlets -washed down with saké as they discuss the art of haikus. Tiger insists Bond write one and after some time Tiger is delighted at the result, so Bond requests more saké to celebrate.

After arriving in Beppo, Tiger takes Bond to a restaurant specialising in fugu, the Japanese blow-fish. He explains that “its liver and sex glands contain a poison which brings death instantaneously”. Bond has downed five flasks of saké before the meal arrives. He is unimpressed, although he makes a show of appreciating the meal. When more saké is brought to their table it contains raw fugu fins.

They arrive on the Ama island of Kuro aboard a police launch. For the final leg of their journey Tiger provides them with sandwiches and a flask of saké. It is the last thing Bond drinks before he departs to face Dr Shatterhand – Ernst Stavro Blofeld – in the Castle of Death.

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David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

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