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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.

News Feeds

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

Japanese manga artist George Akiyama dies at 77 (culture)
Tue, 02 Jun 2020 04:43:28 +0900

Manga artist George Akiyama, known as the author of the "Haguregumo" manga series, died on May 12, major publisher Shogakukan Inc. announced Monday. He was ...
Former AKB48 star Mayu Watanabe retires from show business, citing health issues (culture)
Tue, 02 Jun 2020 04:34:40 +0900

Mayu Watanabe, a former member of the popular Japanese all-girl idol group AKB48, has retired from the entertainment industry due to health reasons, her agency ...
Must-have cookbooks for the budding Japanese chef (culture)
Sun, 31 May 2020 04:57:29 +0900

Looking to learn the ropes of Japanese cooking? Begin with these cookbooks.
‘Hold Your Breath, China’ review: China is once again the center of mystery and intrigue (culture)
Sun, 31 May 2020 04:53:07 +0900

“Hold Your Breath, China,” is the 10th detective novel in the saga of Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau.
Japan turns to two-headed bird in hope of ending coronavirus pandemic (culture)
Fri, 29 May 2020 21:00:05 +0900

The legendary bird was said to have predicted a cholera outbreak in the late 19th century.
Live-house culture won’t cede the stage to COVID-19 (culture)
Fri, 29 May 2020 19:00:23 +0900

Seiichi Yamamoto, founder of Osaka live music venue Namba Bears, is employing a range of methods to keep his stage open to touring musicians.
Seeking kindness after a ‘Terrace House’ tragedy (culture)
Fri, 29 May 2020 18:57:14 +0900

The death of 'Terrace House' star Hana Kimura gives new impetus to discussions about cyberbullying.
As coronavirus restrictions are relaxed, the future of live music in Japan looks rocky (culture)
Fri, 29 May 2020 18:55:10 +0900

Despite Japan having lifted its state of emergency, gig-goers may have to wait for live music to get back to normal across the country.
Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi opens up to streaming (culture)
Thu, 28 May 2020 19:00:07 +0900

Film composer Joe Hisaishi says he is writing more as a result of COVID-19, but is determined not to write about the pandemic itself.

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.

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

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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.

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Hakata station -- a train approaching on the opposite track

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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.

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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.

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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.

 
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Posing with a couple of Harajuku cosplay girls.

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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.

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Entrance to the grounds of Meiji Shrine.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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Near Akihabara Station - Draft Beer Vending Machine

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The chilled mug is tipped for pouring, and changes angle as the beer is dispensed.

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Foam is added to form the perfect head.

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

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.

Draft beer, perfectly poured into a chilled mug -- automation nirvana

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

My Air Force Days

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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

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Another view - WB57F Yokota AB

 
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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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