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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.

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First South Korean ‘comfort women’ novel released in English (culture)
Wed, 23 Sep 2020 02:00:22 +0900

Kim Soom's 'One Left' tells the story of one former captive who debates whether to go public with her story.
Show some love for your elders with these films to bond over (culture)
Mon, 21 Sep 2020 21:38:50 +0900

In honor of Respect for the Aged Day on Sept. 21, here are some heartwarming films to watch with the more mature people in your ...
‘The Cat and the City’ author Nick Bradley: When writing fiction, ‘there’s no such thing as wasted living’ (culture)
Sun, 20 Sep 2020 04:58:11 +0900

Nick Bradley’s debut novel is a love letter to Tokyo brimming with details of everyday life that he absorbed during his years in Japan.
Polly Barton: A heart set on literary translation (culture)
Sun, 20 Sep 2020 04:56:20 +0900

The Bristol-based translator balances art-related texts with literary translation and has just finished her first original work, “Fifty Sounds.”
Ukiyo-e: Japan’s original pop art (culture)
Sun, 20 Sep 2020 04:52:34 +0900

Edo Period ukiyo-e were like today’s popular media — celebrity photos, travel pics, snapshots of daily life — all reflecting the spirit of the times.
Actress and producer Urara Matsubayashi takes control of narrative on societal struggles (culture)
Fri, 18 Sep 2020 18:15:26 +0900

“Kamata Prelude” is an omnibus by four directors that is based on the life experiences of Urara Matsubayashi, the film’s star and producer.
Noh theater struggles to survive the pandemic (culture)
Fri, 18 Sep 2020 18:00:13 +0900

Shuttered venues and a lack of subsidies have added to dwindling audience numbers to create worry for performers.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s best director win at Venice is a career changer (culture)
Fri, 18 Sep 2020 17:45:49 +0900

The reaction to Kiyoshi Kurosawa winning the Silver Lion for best direction has been overwhelmingly positive, but 'Wife of a Spy' isn’t entirely free of ...
From the battlefield to manga to Zoom: A Kyushu samurai clan and its legendary warrior get an online outing (culture)
Fri, 18 Sep 2020 01:55:23 +0900

Sengan-en, the estate of a samurai clan, is going virtual in honor of the family’s legendary warrior, Shimazu Toyohisa, and the manga modeled on him.

Travel to Japan

Post Date: March 28, 2008

In February 2005, Ritsuko and I traveled to Japan. We covered a lot of ground in the two weeks that we were there.

Leaving home at 6am, we flew to Chicago O'Hare, where we caught a non-stop, 13 hour flight to Tokyo Narita airport. Immediately upon landing in Tokyo, we took a train from Narita airport to Tokyo station, where we caught the last Shinkansen that would get us all the way down to Okayama in time to catch a sleeper train that slowly traveled through western Honshu and along the Pacific coast of Kyushu. Early in the morning, we had just about enough of the sleeper train, and got off in Oita, where we had breakfast, and caught a limited express to Miyazaki.

Ritsuko on train to Miyazaki

Here is Ritsuko, on the train from Oita to Miyazaki; both of us were quite exhausted from traveling all night.

She was looking out at the beautiful, mountainous Pacific coast near Oita


After a couple more train changes from Miyazaki, that took us through the mountains and over the Ebino plateau from Miyazaki prefecture into Kagoshima Prefecture, we finally got to Ritsuko's mother's house late that afternoon. The next morning, I got up early and walked about, taking some pictures, reminiscing over the times that I had been there over the past 30 years.


Down the hill from Ritsuko's mom's house, I took this pic of Kirishima in the distance.


From the levee of the Sendai River, I took this pic of Ritsuko's junior high school.


We spent several days at Ritsuko's mother's house, and had a big family reunion. It was a wonderful time, and we were all so happy to be able to visit with Ritsuko's family, most of whom we had not seen for 14 years.

When we left, we traveled by train to Kagoshima city, then north to Hakata, where we caught a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka.


Hakata station -- a train approaching on the opposite track


The train that will take us to Osaka approaches


In Osaka, we stopped overnight to spend some more time with Ritsuko's younger brother and his family. The next morning Ritsuko and I went with Hiroaki and his daughter, Ai, to nearby Kyoto, where we spent the day.

Although we had passed through Kyoto on the bullet train numerous times in the past 30 years, we hadn't spent any time there since 1975. Richly historic Kyoto, the ancient capital, is the home of many ancient temples and shrines that are juxtaposed with modern buildings.


A street in Kyoto.

That afternoon, Aki and Ai took us to Kyoto station, where we said our goodbyes, and boarded a train for Tokyo, where we would stay for the last 5 days of our trip.

Tokyo is without a doubt one of my favorite cities in the world. It is such a fascinating, vibrant city. From 1973 to 1978, I was stationed at Yokota Air Base which is located in the western part of Tokyo prefecture. Ritsuko and I met in late 1974, and were married in April 1975, so the first 3 years of our lives together were spent there. Wherever we go in or around the city, the things that we see evoke many fond memories.

Shortly after we arrived in Tokyo, Ritsuko came down with the flu, so she spent most of the next few days in the hotel room, in bed, trying to recover. Most of my outings during that time, were on my own. One day, I decided to take a side trip to Fussa, the city where Yokota Air Base is located. You can read about it in another article that I posted on this site.

Fortunately, Ritsuko was able to venture out a couple of times, albeit briefly. One outing was to Harajuku and Meiji Shrine.


Harajuku -- the fashion district, Takeshita street on a Sunday afternoon

Takeshita Street, back in the 1970's, was a back alley full of stores with cutting edge fashion from up and coming designers. Ritsuko and I used to go there so that she could shop for clothes. I just went there to watch people. It was really fun. There were a lot of bargains, and Ritsuko could find all sorts of unique clothing. It was very affordable, even for an Air Force Staff Sergeant and a Seiyu department store information counter girl.

Now, the street is a mecca for tourists and locals. Maybe it is because we are no longer in our 20's, but the stores seem a little less inviting, and there are more chain outlets. Such is progress, I suppose. Harajuku is still a fascinating place, and I still love to go there, but I am really happy with our memories of what it was like years ago.


Posing with a couple of Harajuku cosplay girls.


Ritsuko always loved Harajuku -- she is enjoying the cosplay show!!!

An iconic phenomenon of the Harajuku street culture is cosplay, or costume play. On Sunday afternoons, young girls gather at the entrance to Meiji Shrine, just outside of Harajuku Station, to display their costumes. It is pretty much a party atmosphere, with street musicians, cosplay girls, and many curious onlookers.

We spent the rest of that afternoon nearby, touring the grounds of Meiji Shrine. The visitors to the shrine that day were sparse, but I could recall walking the same path on several occasions of New Year's Eve, when the crowds were crushing, and one could only go with the flow of the crowd to and through the Shrine.


Entrance to the grounds of Meiji Shrine.


The Shrine.

As darkness began to fall upon the city, we left Harajuku, and took a short train ride to Shinjuku to see the neon lights, large video displays, and the crowds outside the station at night.


Outside Shinjuku station at night

Outside the station near the Kabukicho district, a band played in the shadows, illuminated only by the neon and large video displays of the buildings across the street.

As I mentioned earlier, for the next few days I was on my own, as Ritsuko stayed in our hotel room, suffering with the flu, trying to recover sufficiently so that she could make the trip home. One day, I went to the Ginza early in the morning, home of some of the most expensive real estate in the world.


Ginza on a Monday morning

Later I took the Ginza Line Metro subway to Meijijingumae station, and walked through Yoyogi Park and the site of the 1964 Olympics. Then I walked to Shinjuku, had lunch, and then hopped on a train and went back to Asakusa to see how Ritsuko was doing.

Even though Ritsuko was unable to enjoy our last couple of days in Tokyo, overall it was a great trip. I only hope that the next time we go, that both of us are able to remain healthy for the entire vacation so that we can fully enjoy all of our days in Japan.

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

Japan Culture

With Ritsuko having been born and raised in a small town in rural Kagoshima Prefecture, I have had the opportunity to visit the area with her many times over the years.


stone lined stream that directs water to the Shimazu estate

Southern Kyushu is a beautiful part of Japan that receives sufficient rainfall for the mountains and valleys to be covered in lush vegetation, and has a long history of responsible productive use of the land and resources.

Walking through the countryside, one thing that you will notice are the centuries old stone lined aquaducts that are still in use today. Their presence and use give testament to how well the people of this region have managed, and continue to manage the flow of water from the mountains and into the fields and towns.

During our stay in Kagoshima on our 2016 Japan trip, we visited Sengan-en. Sengan-en is a park established on the grounds of a beautiful estate that has belonged to the Shimazu family for the past three and a half centuries. I will write more about the estate, garden, and museum in another article, however, I just wanted to share this video of a Sakon-Taro in operation. This is a water powered device that was used to remove the husks and to polish rice.

Below, is a video of the machine going through a cycle.

Video of Sakon-taro in operation - Sengan-en, Kagoshima, Japan


Sakon-taro rice husking device at Sengan-En, Kagoshima, beginning to cycle

Sakon-taro rice husking device at Sengan-En, Kagoshima, about to strike

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

My Air Force Days

During the early part of my tour at Yokota Air Base, Okutama became one of my favorite places to escape when I had a day off from work. Okutama is a small town in the extreme western extent of Tokyo Prefecture. Geographically, the municipality extends far beyond the town itself, encompassing a large mountainous area bordering Saitama and Yamanshi Prefectures. Several waterways, including the Tama River, traverse the area, and nearby is Lake Okutama, a large man made reservoir that is an important source of water for Tokyo Prefecture.

Traveling by train from Fussa to Okutama in 1973, on the Ome Line

Back then, as is now, Okutama was a popular destination for hikers and fishing enthusiasts. I used to go there in order to escape into a peaceful natural environment, to hike, and to photograph. For me, the area was very accessible, either by car or by train. By car, the roads were well marked, and although few road signs were in romaji, the kanji for Okutama, 奥多摩, was easy to remember and recognize. However, with the town having train service via the Ome line, rail was the the most convenient conveyance. Japan Railways Ome line provides service from Tachikawa to Okutama, with Fussa (the city outside Yokota Air Base, being one of the stations on the line. The original line was built during the Meiji Period, providing service between Tachikawa and Ome. In 1944, it was extended to its current western terminus, Okutama.

The video in this article is a short film that I shot on super 8 during one of my visits to Okutama in 1973. You can see in the various scenes, a change in terrain from the flat, low lying plain where Fussa is located, to progressively more mountainous terrain as the train travels westward.

photography in Okutama 1974

Okutama 1974, composing a shot with my Nikon F2, demonstrating proper technique of simultaneously holding camera and cigarette

I loved going there to take pictures. Mountain trails and waterways were just a short hike from the station, and they offered great subject material for a photo hobbyist like myself. Shortly after arriving at Yokota, I took up photography as a hobby, and Yokota Air Base was definitely a good place for one to pursue such a hobby. Not only did the Base Education Office offer several courses in photography through LACC (Los Angeles Community College), but also Yokota had an excellent Photo Hobby Shop for military personnel stationed there.

For a price of admission that was comparable to buying a beer at the NCO Club, one could use the hobby shop darkroom. All chemicals and equipment were provided, although you were welcome to bring your own enlarger lens, developer, and other assorted accessories. The hobby shop store usually had a good supply of photographic paper in various sizes, finishes, and contrast characteristics. Of course, if one wanted photographic supplies that the hobby shop didn't stock, Shinjuku was only about 45 minutes away by train. Across the street from Shinjuku Station were a couple of large photographic equipment stores, where one could find anything. I was a frequent visitor to the Sakuraya store in Shinjuku, where I usually tried to keep from spending all my money so that I could enjoy a hot bowl of noodles at one of the nearby standing soba shops before boarding the train for home.

near Okutama Japan

One of my favorite pictures from Okutama 1974- shot on Kodak Panatomic X film, I was trying to expose for maximum grey scale

Bridge near Okutama Japan in 1974 - photo shot while wading in the river

Recently, I found some prints of a few of my favorite pictures from Okutama, that I took during 1973-1975. They were photographs that I had printed at the Yokota Air Base photo hobby shop, and were still in excellent condition. I have the negatives somewhere at home, and considered producing digital media by scanning the negatives in a film scanner, but instead decided to scan the prints using a flatbed scanner. My reason for this is that when I took the photographs, I did so knowing that I would crop the negative to fit the aspect ratio of either 8x10 or 10x12 paper in the darkroom. Therefore, the print better represents what was in my mind when taking the picture, and since I sure can't remember what I was thinking while standing in a river or leaning off a cliff 40 years ago, I'll just scan the print.

fisherman casting from the riverbank

A fisherman casting from the river bank, near Okutama 1974

calm water

Hazy sky reflected in calm water

looking out of tunnel

Light at the end of the tunnel - near Okutama 1974

new mountain road

Newly improved mountain road - near Okutama 1975

This concludes my trip into the past for today. I hope that you enjoyed the video and pictures.

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