I’ve just come back from 10 days on board the Peace Boat, a Japan-based nonprofit organisation that for the last 15 years has been sending a ship around the world with a mission to spread cultural awareness. I took part in its 79th voyage, a round trip from Japan via Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and central America. I have to say that it is a much faster and more comfortable way to see the world by boat than the method I have been used to.

I joined the voyage in St Petersburg in Russia, and disembarked in Bergen, Norway, having travelled via Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Bergen (Norway). As well as considerably improving my knowledge of Baltic geography, I also learned a lot about the Japanese – all but one of the 800 participants being from Japan, the one exception being a German guy who is fluent in Japanese – and about some of the great work that Peace Boat does to promote global understanding, and hence peace.

Here is how the Peace Boat describes its mission:

“The ship, as a neutral space beyond borders, becomes a floating peace village, encouraging a sense of community and enabling direct dialogue between those onboard and in the ports that we visit. Our programmes, both onboard and in port, explore the main aspects of Peace Boat activity – peace, human rights, sustainability and respect for the environment – and aim to develop travel as a tool for peace and sustainability.”

Me in a yukata

My reality while I was on board included giving two lectures and a Q&A session, dressing up in a yukata (a less formal type of kimono), having my name written in kanji (the symbols mean something like “road across the ocean” – or should that be “rowed across the ocean”?!), and meeting all kinds of wonderful people, ably supported by my three interpreters and two coordinators.

I am going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that it is all too easy to hold prejudices about a country, often dressed up in humorous stereotypes of its tourists overseas. I won’t describe here the stereotype of the Japanese tourist – you can probably think of your own! And yes, I do know there is a stereotype of the English tourist too…..

Yet when you actually meet people as individuals, and find out about their lives, interests, the valuable work they are doing and their concerns for the future, the stereotypes melt away.

With my marvellous translator/interpreters (from left): Ryoko, Mariko and Masami

We need much more of this. To rise to the challenge of creating a sustainable future for all humans and other species, we need to pull together as one. We all have to live on the same planet, breathe from the same atmosphere, depend on the same ocean. In the past we were able to operate as individual nations, but now, thanks to globalisation, we are now utterly interconnected.

This reminds me of an extract from a book I am reading at the moment: Cancel the Apocalypse: The New Path to Prosperity, by Andrew Simms. It quotes Joseph Tainter, writing about the collapse of various ancient societies. He concludes, “Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilisation will disintegrate as a whole.” Our compatriots, then, are not just the people with whom we share a nationality. It’s all the people with whom we share a planet.


If you’re interested in traveling on board the Peace Boat, take a look at their website. It’s possible to take part even if you don’t speak Japanese, as most events are translated into English and some of the participants speak English, but please be aware that the vast majority of participants are Japanese. Speakers are from anywhere and everywhere. I believe it costs around $12,000 for a 3-month trip around the world, but you should verify this. What I can say, for sure, is that it is an unparalleled opportunity to open your mind to new ideas, people, and places.

The Hermitage in St Petersburg

Tallinn, Estonia

Riga, Latvia

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Fjords near Bergen, Norway