Star Trek actor, author and activist George Takei on serendipitous discoveries, his favourite cities and space travel
On my Caribbean Christmas voyage with Cunard I’m looking forward to serendipitous discoveries. When you look forward to a specific thing, you’re often disappointed – the best kind of experiences are unexpected ones and I don’t know what’s going to be happening on this trip, but I’m sure there’s going to be wonderful people and wonderful experiences. It’s that surprise that makes it that much more precious and memorable.
I’ve been on many, many cruises. One of my favourites was to Alaska. On that one I took both my husband and mother, and it was her thrill in experiencing glaciers and eating freshly caught salmon right on the riverbank that I enjoyed an awful lot. There have of course been other fantastic experiences like discovering Tikal, the Mayan civilisation ruins in Guatemala.
I go to Japan quite regularly. We were there last year. On travel posters you’ll see these red gates at the entrance to shrine grounds, they’re called torii. There’s a unique one that comes out of the water on an island off Hiroshima. It’s called Miyajima, which means ‘Shrine Island’. It’s my favourite place in Japan. The shrine is a floating island when it’s high tide and when the tide recedes you can see the pillars and shrine in the bay, but the gate always looks like it’s floating on water.
It’s a beautiful island because it has been preserved and kept like it was a century ago. The shrine becomes quiet at night when the day-trippers have disappeared and it’s so serene. Wearing wooden geta [traditional Japanese sandals] and going down to the shrine is like going back in history. You can see the reflection of the moon on the water and the geta make a wonderful clump, clump, clump sound as you walk.
Our favourite place to stay when visiting the shrine is at a ryokan [a Japanese style inn] perched on a hillside overlooking a ravine. When you return in the evening, you take a mineral bath in the basement and when you go back to your room it’s been transformed. The very room where you had your dinner on a black lacquer table is now a bedroom. It’s a magical experience.
I’m an urbanist and I love cities. I don’t have a favourite one, as every city I love has its own character, its own history and its own vitality.
I love London; I’m an anglophile and named after an English king. My father loved all things English too. He had all the English kings and queens memorised in order. I was born in 1937 three months before George VI was crowned and my father thought it was pernicious that his son was born when the King of England was coronated in Westminster Abbey.
There are many, many places in England that I love. I went to school in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Shakespeare Institute, so that is one of my favourite places. I love Edinburgh, Chester, York – walking the city’s parapets is a lot of fun. Bath has beautiful architecture and I love it for that.
Singapore is another dynamic city, particularly if you know its history. After the Second World War it was the cesspool of the world, but then this extraordinary leader and visionary Lee Kuan Yew became president and transformed the people of Singapore.
He identified two main problems: overpopulation and a lack of education. He came up with a policy that said a couple’s first child will be completely educated by the state, and a couple’s second child will be taxed and have half of its education paid for by the state. If they have a third child, it will be taxed heavily, and the state will not subside any of its education.
In just one generation, you found an educated, productive and incentivised populous, and the city began to transform. I’ve been to Singapore many times, and every time I go, I make a new discovery.
I’m blessed with work that takes me to wonderful places. I’m here in London right now and I consider it a vacation as well as work. I spent the first five months of this year filming on location in Vancouver. I wasn’t on set everyday so on those days off I explored the city by walking on my urban tongue – what I call the soles of my shoes – tasting the city and I found Vancouver to be absolutely fascinating.
I’ve filmed in Vancouver before, but they were for guest shots for television episodes. But this time it was for a 10-part mini-series, so I was there for five months and I got to know and love the place, particularly the people there. The crew of course live there and by chatting with them I got to know more about the city, some of their favourite restaurants or why their neighbourhood is so unique.
We sit on planes for long, long flights, like coming here to London, and what I always do at the beginning is find the classical music station and put it on very softly as I read. Sometimes when I’m reading, I might stop and enjoy a particular passage.
Currently I’m re-reading a book. It’s called the Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. We got the motion picture rights to it and we’re going to be making a movie out of it, so I have been re-reading it many times over to get a feel of the story, as well as the characters.
Recently I did a speaking engagement where Emilio Estevez was also speaking. He’s an actor and also the son of Martin Sheen, and together with his father, he wrote an autobiography. Martin would write one chapter and Emilio would write another. They’re very devout Catholics and have this hike called Camino de Santiago. It’s from northern Spain to this cathedral and they took the hike together. It’s apparently a very arduous hike, and the hiking experience – the Camino as they call it – is the line that runs through their story, but it’s the autobiography of both father and son. I’ve learnt a great deal about that family. It’s a fascinating story.
I have a particularly pronounced tailbone and it gets very uncomfortable when I’m seated, but the one thing I never forget on these trips is what I call my donut – it’s a special cushion with a hole on one side so I can sit for long, extended periods, otherwise it gets very uncomfortable.
As you know, people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are making preparations for tourists to travel to outer space. I’m 82 now so they better hurry up. But if it’s by 2021 or 2022 like they say, I think I could make it. I could be on that first tourist trip to outer space.
George Takei will headline Cunard’s 12-night Caribbean Celebration voyage on board Queen Mary 2, departing on 22 December, from New York. For more information, visit cunard.com.