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.
Near Akihabara Station - Draft Beer Vending Machine
One evening during our 2016 Japan trip, Ritsuko and I were shopping in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, and decided to stop in a restaurant near Akihabara Station for a quick snack before moving on.
In that restaurant, we saw the most marvelous of mechanical contraptions -- a draft beer vending machine. Ok, I must admit that I don't get out much, and that I am easily amused and entertained, but I thought this was just a great invention, and oh so practical. For 300¥, this machine, which is even equipped with a chiller in the lower part of the cabinet for glass mugs, pours a perfect mug of beer for the customer.
In the video below, Ritsuko demonstrates how it works:
Video of Ritsuko demonstrating the operation of a draft beer vending machine in a restaurant near Akihabara Station
The chilled mug is tipped for pouring, and changes angle as the beer is dispensed.
Foam is added to form the perfect head.
Draft beer, perfectly poured into a chilled mug -- automation nirvana
We were each planning to drink just one glass of beer with our ramen, but watching the machine go through its paces was so entertaining that we each had to buy another round, just so we could watch the it run a couple more cycles.
In Japan, automated conveniences like vending machines are like a cultural and industrial art form, and this draft beer vending machine is truly a work of art.
A few years ago, Yuko Suzuhana, a beautiful and talented young graduate of Tokyo College of Music, trained in the classic art of Japanese poetry singing known as Shigin, shared her vision for starting a new kind of rock band with some of her friends.
Together, they formed Wagakki Band, a Japanese rock ensemble that is not quite like any group that I have ever seen or heard. As the name wagakki, a generic term for traditional Japanese musical instruments, suggests, the band incorporates a traditional musical style, specifically using the instruments Koto, Shakuhachi, Shamisen, and Wadaiko, along with electric guitar, bass, and drums into a sound highlighted by Yuko Suzuhana's beautiful vocals in the style of Shigin to forge a unique sound.
There are eight very talented artists in the band. As I noted above, Yuko Suzuhana is the vocalist. Daisuke Kaminaga plays the shakuhachi (bamboo flute). The percussion section of the band consists of two drummers, Kurona, who plays wadaiko (traditional Japanese drums), and Wasabi a percussionist who performs in a most unique style with a modern drum kit. Electric bassist Asa, and electric guitarist Machiya are the other musicians playing modern instruments. Kiyoshi Ibukuro plays the koto (a large harp like string instrument), and Beni Ninagawa plays shamisen in the style "tsugaru jamisen".
Each artist, in addition to being exquisitely talented musically, presents themselves in costumes that incorporate traditional style with modern. The vibe that they create is sublimely infectious, and their music and performances present a modern representation classical Japanese culture that is visually and audibly pleasing, representing their native culture in a most positive manner to the world.
When their first recording was uploaded onto YouTube, the band became an instant success, and after creating more music videos and live performances since 2014, their popularity has grown exponentially, not only at home, but all over the world.
A lot of their studio videos and live performances are on YouTube. I have embedded two in this article. The first is a live performance from 2017 of the band's iconic hit song "Senbonzakura" (1000 Cherry Trees), and the other is a video from a 2016 live performance in an outdoor venue in Nikko, Toshogu Shrine.
Wagakki Band Video - Senbonzakura (1000 Cherry Trees) - live 2017
The video below was filmed in June 2016, when the band performed at the 400th anniversary of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan. Toshogu is a Shinto Shrine of great historical importance. It was built to honor Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder and first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled a unified Japan from 1600 C.E. until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
Live performance at Nikko Toshogu Shrine June 2016
Please look for more of their content on YouTube, and I hope that you enjoy the performances of Wagakki Band as much as I do.
Traveling by train from Fussa to Okutama in 1973, on the Ome Line
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.
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.
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.
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.
A fisherman casting from the river bank, near Okutama 1974
Hazy sky reflected in calm water
Light at the end of the tunnel - near Okutama 1974
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.