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Date, Time, Currency Rate
Japan:
Saturday, Aug 15, 2020, 2:11 AM
Central USA:
Friday, Aug 14, 2020, 12:11 PM
Currency: 1 USD = 106.67 JPY

Japan Days

My Days in Japan

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Welcome to Japan-Days.info

On this web site, I will share with you some stories and pictures from the time when I lived in Japan as a member of the United States Air Force, and from various visits that my wife, Ritsuko, and I have made there since my departure from the military in 1978. I will add content to the site periodically in the "Articles" section, so please visit often. I hope that you enjoy the site.

News Feeds

News feed source: Japan Times National News
National – The Japan Times
News on Japan, Business News, Opinion, Sports, Entertainment and More

Japan and Malaysia may resume travel in early September for expatriates (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 06:39:56 +0900

Japan and Malaysia agreed Friday they may ease coronavirus-related travel restrictions for expatriates in early September, if they take precautionary measures such as a 14-day ...
Tokyo posts 389 new coronavirus cases, highest in nearly a week (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 06:27:02 +0900

The metropolitan government has raised its alert for the pandemic to the highest of four levels, meaning infections are spreading.
No Japan prefectures positive about hosting nuclear waste site (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 05:46:22 +0900

Nearly half of Japan’s 47 prefectures said they are opposed to or held negative views about hosting a deep-underground disposal site for high-level radioactive nuclear ...
Tokyo to inspect bars and restaurants with COVID-19 safety sticker (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 05:20:55 +0900

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Friday that it will inspect bars and restaurants with a metropolitan government-issued sticker indicating that adequate measures to prevent COVID-19 ...
Abe Cabinet support rate falls to 32.7%, nearing record low (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 04:34:48 +0900

The approval rate for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet fell to 32.7 percent in August, the second-lowest level since his current administration was launched in ...
Toshimitsu Motegi in spotlight as potential next Japan PM after Abe (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 04:30:49 +0900

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi is making a name for himself as a potential successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as senior government members laud his ...
Moon Jae-in to focus on victims in ‘comfort women’ row with Japan (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 03:54:42 +0900

South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed Friday to spotlight the plight of South Korea’s last few surviving “comfort women,” who suffered under Japan’s military brothel ...
After 75 years of peace in Japan, wartime issues remain unresolved (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 02:00:09 +0900

Japan has struggled to move on from its World War II history, yet remains tied to events that happened in the aftermath.
Coronavirus casting shadow over coming-of-age ceremonies in Japan (news)
Sat, 15 Aug 2020 01:04:02 +0900

Many municipalities have decided to postpone or cancel ceremonies amid the spread of the virus, although a handful plan to go ahead.

Travel to Japan

Post Date: September 25, 2019

"Whether you take the doughnut hole as a blank space or as an entity unto itself is a purely metaphysical question and does not affect the taste of the doughnut one bit." -- Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase

"The taste of the doughnut" indeed ... Mr. Murakami makes a very astute observation. As Ritsuko and I were viewing and discussing pictures from our 2019 Japan trip, I was also working on the code for adding a tooltip feature on Japan-Days.info. Somehow, the conversation morphed into one involving the PHP function that I had been coding, and I must have been overly philosophical about the difference between a variable that is empty as opposed to one that is null, i.e. nothing vs something that is nothing. Ritsuko, sensing that I was in eminent danger of entering a zen coder meditative state, reminded me that perhaps instead of pondering some logical conundrum, I should just tell the story of our trip. So, I will attempt to do just that.

Every one of our visits to Japan subsequent to our moving to the U.S. has been in either the winter or spring. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy those seasons, with spring being perhaps my favorite of all, but we had not originally planned to visit in the spring of 2019. We had planned to go in the autumn of 2018, with a stay in Shibuya during Halloween. But, on the morning of the day that we were to leave for Chicago, a family emergency caused us to cancel our plans, and instead drive to Texas. On several levels, this was a sad and tragic event, a shock, etc, but when all is said and done, we just do what we must and move on. I am glad that we were able to get to Texas immediately, and that we didn't need to make an emergency return after arriving in Japan, so it all worked out. As a result of that cancellation, and after enduring a particularly brutal winter, we seriously needed a Japan fix, therefore this was to be the make-up trip.

Some videos from our 2019 trip

Ritsuko shot this video of the Sakurajima Ferry departing Kagoshima City.

Our flight from Kagoshima to Tokyo on approach to Haneda Airport over Tokyo Bay

The completely automated unmanned monorail, Yurikamome Line, entering the Rainbow Bridge over upper Tokyo Bay

The basic plan for this trip was to be two phases, or rather two locations ... an eight night stay in Kagoshima and then seven nights in Tokyo. Since in country travel was to be the basic here to there and back to here scenario, travel by air would be the most efficient, and it was also the least expensive. Hence the aforementioned basic plan: drive to Chicago -> fly to Tokyo -> upon arrival, bus to Haneda -> fly to Kagoshima -> stay 8 nights -> fly to Tokyo -> stay 7 nights -> fly to Chicago -> drive home. Beyond that basic plan, we had a wish list of things to do that was pretty simple. A couple of days during our Kagoshima stay, we planned to meet with some of Ritsuko's family members. Aside from family activities, I wanted to re-visit the Reimeikan Museum in Kagoshima City, to take a picture of Sakurajima from the lookout on Shiroyama, and buy some high quality katsuobushi. Everything else would be spur of the moment. While in Tokyo, items on our wishlist included visit the Yasukuni Shrine museum, visit the Togo Shrine in Harajuku, and we planned to travel to Yokosuka to tour the Battleship Mikasa. The rest of the agenda was no agenda; hmmm... is that a blank space or an entity?

First meal after arrival - soba at Haneda Airport

Sakurajima and Kagoshima City viewed from the Shiroyama scenic lookout.

Doing something touristy in Tokyo: Ritsuko at the Hachiko statue, Shibuya Station.

After enduring the 13 hour non-stop, fully booked flight from Chicago O'Hare, we arrived at Tokyo Narita Airport in the mid afternoon, tired but only part way there. Our final destination that day was to be the Hotel Solaria Nishitetsu in Kagoshima City. So, dazed but fortunately not too confused to be functional, we proceeded immediately to the bus ticket counter, and purchased tickets to Haneda Airport. We could have traveled by train to Haneda, but, regardless of route, that would have required at least one train change, so for a couple who were substantially less than 100% coherent and bearing luggage, the bus seemed to be our best option.

The bus ride from Narita to Haneda is rather interesting; the route takes you through part of rural Chiba Prefecture and then, via the Wangan Doro toll road, to the north end of the bay, going past that garish looking Disney resort, then past Tokyo Sea Life Park, and passing through the Odaiba area before descending into a short tunnel under the bay, and finally emerging in an area north of Haneda Airport. At least, that is what I saw the last time we did this when we made an emergency trip to Japan in Dec 2017. On this trip, I was asleep during the majority of the bus ride. Did all of that I described above really happen? I'll never know.

The only thing that I knew for certain was that by the time that we arrived at Haneda, I was hungry ... really hungry, and so was Ritsuko. We wanted soba, real soba from a fast service soba shop aka たちぐい そば (tachigui soba) , the kind that you can only find in Japan. After checking in for our flight to Kagoshima, and ridding ourselves of our luggage, we found the nearest soba shop inside the airport. Ahhhhh ... gastronomic bliss as each slurp of perfectly seasoned noodles and broth sought to fill the void in our aching empty stomachs. Hmmm... was my stomach really empty, or was it something else that felt like empty, some entity, perhaps a memory from an earlier decade beckoning me to reconnect to a place I love by filling an emptiness with something familiar.

Empty was the status of my overall energy level when we landed at the Kagoshima airport. The airport is about 20 miles from Kagoshima city. There is no train service, however the bus service to and from there is excellent. Our flight was the last one into Kagoshima for the evening, and we were able to board one of the last busses to Kagoshima-chuo. One of the many convenient features of staying at Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel in Kagoshima is that the highway bus station is in the same building. So, after arriving, the hotel front desk is only an elevator ride away. We finally got to our room at about 10:30 that night ... roughly 25 hours since we had checked in for our flight at Chicago O'Hare. Needless to say, we were very tired, but we were also very happy to have arrived at our destination safely. We opened the curtains and the blinds of our window, and let the night time lights of Kagoshima city and Sakurajima fill the room with a mellow glow as we drifted into a peaceful night's sleep.

The beach near Shimoda where my friends and I went on holiday during the summer of 1974

The next morning, as we entered the breakfast buffet, a decades old memory drifted into my mind. In the summer of 1974, I was a single 24 year old Air Force Staff Sergeant stationed at Yokota Air Base, living in a barracks with many other young Airmen and NCO's. Based on information handed down from others who had ventured out into the country, one of my friends had been told of a minshuku near a small beach outside Shimoda that was open to taking in young American service men. So, with some very sketchy information, and with no reservations, four of us ventured out for a beach holiday on the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula. Fortunately for us, we didn't have to sleep on the beach, because the information was good, and the minshuku owners welcomed us into their inn.

Breakfast from the morning buffet at Hotel Solaria Nishitetsu, Kagoshima

Included in the price of our lodging were two daily meals, breakfast and dinner. The first morning there was a hajimete moment for all of us, as we sat down to a Japanese breakfast graciously served by our host family. A Japanese breakfast typically consists of rice, miso soup, fish or perhaps a small portion of meat, pickled radishes, and some combination of fresh or steamed vegetables. We stared, momentarily at what was put before us, and without any verbal communcation between the four of us, we proceeded to eat everything that was served. It was delicious, better than any of us had even imagined. Also, what we ate in the mornings sustained us throughout the day until dinner. It had to ... we had no money for food outside the minshuku.

The Solaria Nishtetsu Hotel in Kagoshima serves a superb breakfast buffet. The majority of the clientèle of the hotel are Japanese, therefore it stands to reason that most of the food items on the buffet would be those from which one could assemble a proper Japanese breakfast. There are some western items available, but not in abundant variety. When we stay there, I seldom see foreign guests partaking in the local breakfast fare, and instead choose some pastry, fruit, omelette, etc. I usually hear westerners describe a Japanese breakfast as an acquired taste. When I hear that, I have to wonder if they have ever actually taken the steps, or rather the step, necessary to acquire the taste. That step would be to actually eat a proper Japanese breakfast. If they have not, then I would call that a missed opportunity.

Whenever I get into such a discussion, it always brings back memories from my afore described 1974 trip to Shimoda, when I and three other young American men instantly, even if perhaps driven by necessity, acquired the taste. I will be forever glad that I did.

That morning, sitting in the casually elegant hotel dining room while looking out the window at Kagoshima Chuo station and Amu Plaza, and eating a magificent breakfast, all of the accumulated tension and anxiety from our travels the day before seemed to have melted away. Well rested and well fed, I now felt as though we had truly arrived. Any feeling of blankness or emptiness, whether real or symbolic had disappeared, and we were now prepared to embark upon the rest of our journey.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: January 2, 2020

Japan Culture

Post Date: March 29, 2008

Where would you eat? I'd opt for the Curry Depot restaurant on the right. See the sign that says カレー デポ (kare depo) ?

When I first arrived in Japan, I found the most perplexing impediment to getting around was the written language. When traveling to countries where the language is written in the same alphabet as English, one might not know what a word means, but you can at least pronounce it, and if you are looking for a place name, it is readable. In Japan, however, you could be starving for soba, but not realize that a soba restaurant is only across the street, even though there was a big sign that said そば hanging over the door

While Japanese might appear to be extraordinarily difficult, it is a well structured and orderly language with few irregularities in its basic form. The phonetics are consistent, and all foreign words that are integrated into the language are converted into Japanese phonetics. While this may seem odd and humorous to a foreigner listening to a McDonald's commercial and hearing the word "makudonarudo", wouldn't English be a lot easier to learn if there were not so many irregularities that one has to simply memorize.

I would encourage anyone who is traveling to Japan to study the language, even if it is just an introductory course in order to get a feel for the phonetics, grammar, basic vocabulary, and to learn the "kanas". I'll try to give you a bit of an introduction here.

PHONETICS:

Forget vowels and consonants, and think syllables -- single syllables. The vowel sounds of those syllables are as follows: a, i, u, e, o. A is a short a as in ah. I is a long e sound like see. U is a long u as in sue. E -- you're from Canada, eh? O is a long O like go. Now, we've just covered the first row of syllabic sounds in the Japanese phonetic set; those syllables are comprised of a single vowel with no consonant.

Combine these vowel sounds with a single leading consonant, and you have the next group: ka, ki, ku, ke, ko. See the pattern?

The only stand alone consonant sound is N, and it is considered a separate syllable.

There are some sounds that are foreign to us. For example, the r and l sound. There are a set of syllabic sounds that, when written in Romaji, or the roman character set that we use as our alphabet, they are: ra, ri, ru, re, ro. The consonant sound is somewhere between and r and l, and is very difficult for us to enunciate properly. This is why Japanese people have so much problem with the r and l sound when speaking English. If your name is Larry, forget about anyone properly saying your name. Some others that are mildly difficult at first, but easy to master are tsu, and diphthongs such as hya, hyu, hyo, bya, byu, byo, pya, pyu, pyo.

This will all make more sense when looking at a hiragana or katakana chart.

KANA:

I mentioned Romaji in the section above. Romaji is a representation of Japanese words in our character set or alphabet. While you might see some signs written in romaji for commercial effect, or some signs in train stations written in romaji, Japanese do not make a practice of reading their own language in our alphabet. In fact, for many of them, romaji can be confusing.

Hiragana
kana
romaji a ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa
kana  
romaji i ki shi chi ni hi mi   ri wi
kana  
romaji u ku su tsu nu hu mu yu ru  
kana  
romaji e ke se te ne he me   re we
kana
romaji o ko so to no ho mo yo ro wo
kana                  
romaji n                  

There are three sets of characters used in written Japanese. Kanji is a collection of hieroglyphic like characters adopted from the Chinese. Each character has a meaning, and there are at least two ways of reading each character. There are thousands of kanji, however, standard Japanese is defined by the usage of about 1800 of these characters. That being said, proper nouns such as town names and family names might be written in archaic characters that are not in common usage.

Tanigashira Station platform

Railroad station sign in rural Kyushu containing kanji, hiragana, and romaji

Hiragana is a set of just less than 50 characters that represent syllabic sounds. The characters do not have meaning, only sound. In the written language, you will see prepositions and verb endings written in hiragana. Whole words may also be written in hiragana in the case where either there is no kanji for the word, the writer does not know the kanji for the word, or it may be done for emphasis. In train stations, the town or station names on the platform signs will show name of the present stop in hiragana as well as kanji, and in some cases romaji. The previous and next stop names are written in hiragana and sometimes romaji. Store signs, menus, and the like often are written mostly in hiragana. Learn the chart on the right, and you will be a lot less likely to get lost or go hungry.

Katakana
kana
romaji a ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa
kana  
romaji i ki shi chi ni hi mi   ri wi
kana  
romaji u ku su tsu nu hu mu yu ru  
kana  
romaji e ke se te ne he me   re we
kana
romaji o ko so to no ho mo yo ro wo
kana                  
romaji n                  

Katakana is another syllabic character set that is very similar to hiragana. Foreign words that are integrated into the language are converted to the Japanese phonetics and then written in katakana. The basic katakana character set is detailed in the chart on the left.

Like hiragana, these characters do not have meaning, but only represent the sounds of syllables. Earlier, I mentioned the trade name McDonald's as in the fast food restaurant chain. McDonalds becomes "makudonarudo" or マクドナルド . My name, Robert, becomes "robaato", and is written in katakana as ロバート.

Katakana is also used in a lot of commercial signage and logos, and occasionally a word might be written in katakana for emphasis.

In hiragana and katakana, there are also voiced sounds formed by adding either a double hash mark or a small circle to the upper right of certain characters. I won't chart all of these, but, for example, the hiragana characters は ひ ふ へ ほ (ha, hi, hu, he, ho) become ば び ぶ べ ぼ (ba, bi, bu, be, bo) with the addition of the double hash mark. Adding the small circle, they become ぱ ぴ ぷ ぺ ぽ (pa, pi, pu, pe, po) . These sounds are represented in katakana by the identical method. There are other voiced sounds, and certain characters are combined to form diphthongs.

KANJI:

As I stated earlier in this article, there are thousands of kanji. Each character has a meaning, and at least two ways of being read. For example, the name of Japan's capital city, Tokyo, is written 東京. The meaning of the first character is east, and written by itself is read higashi. The meaning of the second character is capital, as in capital city. As you can determine from the meaning of these two characters, the word Tokyo means eastern capital. This makes sense because the city of Edo was renamed Tokyo when the Emperor Meiji, after having been restored as the head of government, moved the seat of government from Kyoto to Edo, which is east of Kyoto.

While it would take years to learn enough kanji to become literate, it is a good idea for the traveler to know a few, like the kanji for man , woman , entrance 入口, exit 出口 , north , south , east , west 西, and the characters of the numbering system.

NUMBERS:

Japanese Numbers
Number Kanji Romaji
1 ichi
2 ni
3 san
4 shi/yon
5 go
6 roku
7 shichi/nana
8 hachi
9 ku/kyu
10 ju
100 hyaku
1,000 sen
10,000 man
100,000,000 oku

In Japan, you will sometimes see numbers written in the Arabic numerals and sometimes in kanji. Prices marked on merchandise, if machine generated are usually in arabic numerals, e.g. an item selling for two thousand yen would be marked ¥2,000. However, that item might show the price in the native numeral kanji, especially if the price sign is handwritten, 二千円, or perhaps a combination using zeros, like 二000円. Menus often show the prices in kanji, so it is a good idea to be able to recognize the numeral kanji.

Another thing that is really handy to know, is the structure of the numbering system heirarchy. Please note in the chart on the right that there are symbols for 1-10, 100, 1000, 10000, and 100000000. The number twenty two, for example would be a combination of two, ten and two, and would be said ni-ju-ni. Two hundred twenty would be ni-hyaku-ni-ju. Two thousand two hundred twenty would then be ni-sen-ni-hyaku-ni-ju. Twenty thousand would utilize the 10,000 unit and would be read ni-man. Now it gets interesting, for two hundred thousand would be ni-ju-man, two million would be ni-hyaku-man, and twenty million ni-sen-man. Do you see the pattern? This isn't really all that difficult; it is just different from the way that we are used to expressing numerical values. If you know this, though, and if you can learn to express numbers in Japanese, then you are less likely to have that deer in the headlights look in the convenience store checkout line when the cashier politely tells you the total of your purchase.

I won't attempt to go any deeper into the language in this article, but I would encourage you to learn more if you plan to go to Japan.

A little knowledge of the language can go a long way in making your travels there more pleasurable. There are a lot of online guides to help you learn, and I have identified a few of these in the links section. If you have the opportunity to take a formal course in the language in either your local community college, or for military personnel and dependents, through your base education office, I would encourage you to do so.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: September 11, 2019

My Air Force Days

me with camera 1977

Me with movie camera - 1977

I was going through some boxes of old pictures and slides, when I came upon a small box full of 8mm movie films. And no, they weren't the "training films" that used to sometimes surface on poker nights at Yokota. These were movies that I shot with my Canon 814 Super 8 movie camera back in the early to mid 1970's.

In that box, one was labeled WB57 taxi. I had not thought about having made that film for many years. Thinking back to the early part of my Yokota tour, I remembered shooting a short clip one winter day, I think it was in Dec 1973, or possibly January 1974, of a WB57F taxiing on the parking ramp toward the runway.

I was standing on the wing of a WC-135, working on a U-1 foil, and luckily, I had taken my movie camera onto the aircraft with me that day. When I noticed that the B57's engines were starting, I ducked inside the aircraft, grabbed my camera, and went back out on the wing to get ready to film. As you can see in the video, standing on the wing of the 135 was the perfect vantage point from which to shoot. Unfortunately, I only had enough film left in the camera to shoot part of the taxi, and didn't have an extra film cassette to film the takeoff. Anyway, I am very happy to have taken the movie that day. I just had the super 8 converted to digital so that I could enjoy watching it in a more convenient format, and so that I could share it via this website.

Notice how low the wing tips are; the airplane must have had a full load of fuel. It looks like the left wing tip almost clips a snow bank as the plane rolls by.

Here are a couple of images that I captured from the video.

This is a WB57F high altitude reconnaissance plane taxiing toward the runway at Yokota Air Base in 1973

WB57F

Another view - WB57F Yokota AB

 
p-systems

WB57F P-systems and spheres in the Yokota AB MET/ARE shop

The WB57F was a pretty amazing aircraft. It had a wing span that was almost twice the fuselage length, and powered by two TF-33 fan jet engines (sometimes two smaller J-60 engines were mounted outboard of the main engines), it had a ceiling altitude of about 80,000ft. Although it could be equipped with a variety of special equipment, the standard configuration consisted of a B400 detection unit, an I-2 foil and single U-1 foil for particulate air sampling, and a P-system, which consisted of two platforms mounted in the nose. Each P-system platform, several of which are on the floor in the picture on the left, had two compressors, and held four 900 cu in steel spheres that could be pressurized to 3000psi. This equipment was the basic gear used to sample debris from nuclear tests performed, at that time, primarily by our cold war adversaries, USSR and China.

Prior to my tour at Yokota, these aircraft had been assigned to the 56th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. After the 56th WRS was deactivated, 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing left an operational detachment there, to which was assigned 3 of these aircraft along with the flight crews and necessary operational staff. Maintenance personnel, including MET/ARE were re-assigned to the 610 MASS.

I don't remember exactly when the 9th Weather Wing detachment was de-activated, and the aircraft left Yokota, but I think that it was very late 1974 or early 1975. That was the end of my experience supporting these unique aircraft.

The last news article that I read about the WB57F was from about 4 years ago in a piece that discussed an operation in Afghanistan run by NASA utilizing the last two remaining operational WB57F's as a platform for a highly specialized communications system. It was good to know that a couple of them were still flying high.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: October 1, 2019
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