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Monday, Apr 6, 2020, 1:27 AM
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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: Stars and Stripes Pacific
US contractor tests positive for coronavirus in 19th case for US Forces Korea
Sun, 5 Apr 2020 09:12:00 +0000

It was the ninth infection reported by Camp Humphreys as it surpassed the Army garrison in Daegu with the most cases.
Smell test: US base in South Korea tries new way to sniff out coronavirus
Sun, 5 Apr 2020 04:02:00 +0000

People trying to enter U.S. installations in the southeastern city were being randomly asked if they can smell apple vinegar as part of the health screening process.
South Korean police accidentally shoot US military retiree, officials say
Sun, 5 Apr 2020 04:01:00 +0000

South Korean police shot an American military retiree near his home outside Osan Air Base, shattering his jaw in what officers said was an accident involving a “fierce dog.”
Osan Air Base contractor infected with coronavirus, raising US Forces Korea total to 18
Sat, 4 Apr 2020 08:00:40 +0000

An American contractor who works at Osan was confirmed to have coronavirus on Saturday, the military said, raising the number of infections affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea to 18.
Hawaii military community battling coronavirus as child-care center employee tests positive, missile test postponed
Sat, 4 Apr 2020 05:59:00 +0000

“Medical professionals from Tripler Army Medical Center have reviewed the details of this case and assessed the risk to any individuals at the Fort Shafter CDC to be low,” U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii commander Col. Tom Barrett said of the infected childcare worker.
Hawaii: Delay Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise over virus
Sat, 4 Apr 2020 03:53:22 +0000

The U.S. has more cases of the coronavirus than any other country. South Korea and Japan, major participants in the exercise, are also among the countries that have been hard hit by the pandemic.
Coronavirus quarantine awaits hundreds of Pacific Pathways soldiers heading home to Hawaii
Sat, 4 Apr 2020 02:32:44 +0000

“The redeployment of our soldiers will be done in the same thoughtful manner we have implemented for all of our soldiers returning throughout this crisis,” said Maj. Gen. James Jarrard.
Coronavirus struck entire Wuhan family, took its patriarch
Fri, 3 Apr 2020 21:57:00 +0000

It was late January, just before China's most important holiday, when Wu Di and his mother came down with a 102.2-degree fever. Three days later, his father's temperature also hit 102.2, and his mother-in-law started coughing.
How to cancel, change or make new travel plans for the Olympics in 2021
Fri, 3 Apr 2020 20:34:00 +0000

The International Olympic Committee announced March 30 that it has postponed the start of the Tokyo Olympics to July 23, 2021, and of the Paralympic Games to August 24, 2021, because of the coronavirus pandemic. For travelers who had been planning to attend the 2020 Games, there are a lot of factors to juggle when it comes to canceling or changing Tokyo travel reservations.

Travel to Japan

Post Date: May 11, 2017

On May 9, Ritsuko and I returned from our 2017 Japan Trip. Everything pretty much came together as planned, and aside from both of us coming down with colds in the last week, there were no unpleasant surprises.

waiting at Ohare

At Chicago O'Hare, waiting to board our flight to Tokyo

Flying in economy class for 13 hours is not a pleasant experience, but it was tolerable. This year, we flew on Japan Airlines instead of ANA, on which we have flown on our previous three trips. JAL's widebody 777's are set up with a 3-3-3 seating configuration in the economy cabin as opposed to the 3-4-3 setup on ANA. Also, there is slightly more leg room on JAL. These small differences made for a huge improvement in overall comfort.

Improvements in comfort notwithstanding, by the time that we arrived at Narita, Tokyo International, I felt like I was some kind of creature that had been squeezed out of a tube, and was attempting to regain human form as I slithered into the jetway. Things got better after that. Immigration, customs, and the JR East office were not congested, and we were quickly processed, received our JR Rail Passes, and were on our way to Tokyo via the Narita Express train (NEX).

I'll try to fill in the details on some of the highlights of the trip later, but here is the a broad overview of where we went and where we stayed:

We spent the first night near Tokyo Station across the street from the Yaesu North Entrance at Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo. We also stayed here on the first night of our 2016 trip. The hotel is secure, clean, and well appointed. Although it might seem rather pricey for the size of room, given the location where most hotels in the area cost double or more, it is a bargain. If you need to depart Tokyo Station early in the morning, the convenience of being across the street from one of the entrances near the Shinkansen platforms is worth the extra expense.

The next morning, we traveled by train to Kagoshima, where we spent seven nights in Kagoshima city at the Silk Inn Kagoshima, about 2 blocks from Kagoshima-Chuo Station. Booking a hotel near the station for seven contiguous nights was a challenge this year. This was our first stay at the Silk Inn, and we were quite happy with the hotel. The location was good, the hotel was clean and quiet, and the staff was excellent. We will definitely stay there again. During our stay in Kagoshima, we traveled by train several times to the north into rural Kagoshima Prefecture, where we got together with several family members. We also visited the newly constructed museum on the East China Sea coast in the town of Hashima that is dedicated to the Satsuma Students and their voyage to England in the 1860's. Another highlight of our stay in the Kagoshima area was a return visit to the Uenohara Jomon Period Archaeological Museum and the Kagoshima Prefecture Archaeology Center in Uenohara.

us with Osaka Castle in background

Bob and Ritsuko with Osaka Castle in the background - May 2017

From Kagoshima, we traveled by Shinkansen to Kyoto, where we spent six nights, staying at the Daiwa Roynet Hotel Kyoto-Hachijoguchi. This was our first time to stay in this hotel, and we were very pleased. It is a well appointed hotel located a couple of blocks south of Kyoto Station, and a block and a half north of the Karasuma Subway Line Kujo Station. The room was large enough so that we were not tripping over one another, and we had adequate space for luggage. The hotel serves a super breakfast buffet every morning that includes Japanese and western breakfast items. Last year, we left Kyoto a couple of weeks before the new Kyoto Rail Museum opened. This year, visiting the rail museum was on my must see/must do list. Our stay in Kyoto was during Golden Week, therefore, with the exception of the Kyoto Rail Museum and Nishiki Market, and other popular shopping areas, we avoided the more popular tourist destinations in order to avoid the crowds, opting instead for sites less visited or more remote.

Mt Fuji viewed from Shinkansen 2017

Mount Fuji viewed from the Shinkansen en route to Tokyo

The last leg of our journey took us back to Tokyo for the last week of our trip. For the third consecutive trip, we stayed in Asakusa near Sensoji Temple at a small residence hotel, B:Conte Asakusa. Ritsuko and I love staying in Asakusa. Although it does get rather crowded at times, especially on holidays, it is a laid back area with a rich history and lot of great small restaurants. We didn't do a lot during this leg of our trip. We visited some familiar haunts, ate some great food, and mostly hung out and relaxed as we prepared for the journey home.

Overall, it was a great trip, and although we just returned, we are already thinking about our next Japan trip, whenever that will be.

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

Japan Culture

leaving Kyoto station

As the Shinkansen leaves Kyoto Station, it quickly accelerates. Watch the video to see from a passenger's POV.

Watch from the perspective of a passenger as this high speed Shinkansen leaves Kyoto Station, and accelerates rapidly.

Below is a short video clip that I shot from a train we were aboard when we traveled from Hiroshima to Tokyo during our 2012 trip. Sitting next to the window in the last row of seats in car 5, I shot this as we were leaving Kyoto Station. Immediately after leaving the city the train goes into a tunnel. The video will go dark, and then you can see the reflection of the interior of the car.

Notice the smoothness of the ride, and how quiet is the interior of the train. This is really a great way to travel.

Video shot from inside Shinkansen as it leaves Kyoto Station -- April 2012

waiting to board

Tokyo Station April 2012 -- Ritsuko with our luggage, waiting to board the 6:26AM train for Osaka, where we would transfer to another train bound for Kagoshima.

When Ritsuko and I go to Japan, we typically cover a lot of ground over the 2 to 3 week period of our trip, and in my opinion, the absolute best way to travel in country is by rail. Japan has a superb rail system. The larger cities have a network of commuter trains and subways; many rural areas have a combination of train and bus service. But, of course, the crown jewel of Japan's railway system is the high speed, comfortable, and reliable Shinkansen, also known as the "Bullet Train".

Tokyo Station - Model N700 Shinkansen

The first Shinkansen was a dream made into a reality under the leadership of Shinji Sogo, who was the fourth president of Japan National Railways in the 1950's and early 1960's. The initial plan was to upgrade train service on the Tokaido Line, utilizing a high speed train on a dedicated standard gauge track, with the goal of reducing travel time from Tokyo to Osaka to two hours. Put into service in 1964, the launch of the first train was to coincide with the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games, showing the world the remarkable extent to which Japan had recovered after WWII. However, political goals notwithstanding, the Shinkansen was the first move toward migrating Japan's rail system to standard gauge, and set a new standard for quality of service and safety for Japan's rail system.

Joetsu Shinkansen

E7 Series Shinkansen at Tokyo Station - service to Nagano

The model 0 had a top speed of 200km/hr. Today's model N700 runs at speeds of 240–320 km/h, and throughout the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, most major cities are linked by Shinkansen.

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

My Air Force Days

Post Date: March 28, 2008

As a kid growing up in Dallas in the 1950's and 60's, thoughts of one day living in Japan never really entered my mind. It always seemed like a mystical, mysterious place of unfamiliar customs, ancient temples, and beautiful women. It was an intriguing place, but I never really thought that I would go there.

In the spring of 1973, I was stationed at McClellan AFB, CA, and was on TDY at Norton AFB, CA in order to attend NCO Leadership School. While I was there, I received a call from a personnel specialist at 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing HQ, telling me that I could have an assignment to Japan if I would agree to extend my enlistment by seven months in order to have enough retainability for a two year tour. Ever since I was in tech school, and learned that in my specialty field one of the five places in the world where I could be stationed was Yokota Air Base, Japan, I had been trying to get an assignment there. Now, although I only had about a year and a half left of my enlistment, I had the chance to go. I told the HQ fellow to please go ahead and prepare the paperwork, and that I would sign up for the extension as soon as I had graduated from Leadership School and returned to station.

The next couple of months were rather a blur, as I returned to work, took a TDY to Hawaii, went back to California, sold my car, took a short leave to Texas to visit family, and prepared to venture into another world. Finally, I was in the passenger terminal of Travis AFB, where I said goodbye to a few of my friends, and boarded a flying cattle car (military contract airliner) headed for Yokota AB, Japan.

The flight stopped in Honolulu to take on fuel, and to drop off and take on more passengers. Although US combat operations in Vietnam had ended a couple of months earlier, there was still a lot of US military moving into and out of the Asian theatre, and Hickam AFB/Honolulu International was a hub of connecting military contract flights, as there were a lot of troops from all branches of the U.S. military moving in all directions. I sat in the airport bar, quietly having a couple of beers when some Air Force guys at a nearby table said, "Hey Sergeant!! where are you headed?"

"PCS to Yokota," I said with a big grin.

"YOKOTA!!! JUST STARTIN' YER TOUR????" the heavy-set red haired two-striper bellowed. "You're hurtin'!!! I got three more months and then I go back to the world for good!!! I hope you like fish heads and rice!!!" He and his buddies then simultaneously burst into laughter and yelled, "SHORRRRRRT!" in some kind of a moron chorus.

With great difficulty, I resisted the temptation to demonstrate to them just how well I could combine a few choice expletives into a sentence. Instead, I just quietly finished drinking my beer, and tried not to listen as the knuckleheads went on and on about how much they hated being stationed in Japan. It would have served no purpose for me to tell them that I was looking forward to this assignment, and that I had wanted it so much that I actually extended my enlistment by seven months in order to qualify for it. So, I just sat back and smiled, remembering the words of my friend Joe, who used to say "for a lot of G.I.'s, the only good bases are the one they just came from and the one where they are going next." As usual, Joe had been right on target in his assessment of the human condition.

Finally, it was time for me to board the plane for the last leg of my journey. As I stood in line to board, a lady from PAX services approached me, and asked if I would accompany/assist a dependent family who were in transit to Yokota. I agreed, and was introduced to a young woman with a three year old and a baby who was going there to join her husband. She was a sweet young girl who looked barely old enough to have kids. I carried a couple of diaper bags and held the three year old's hand as we boarded the plane. After we got settled in, I found a coloring book for the three year old, and made sure that he was strapped in his seat. Aside from saying that she already missed her mom, the young woman didn't talk much; she just mostly looked out the window and cried until she, the toddler, and the baby were all asleep. Being single, I had never really considered how much of a hardship that an overseas assignment could be to a family, especially a young family.

Looking around the cabin, I saw in the faces of those on board that everyone there didn't share my zeal over going overseas. Figuring that I was the only person for whose happiness I was directly responsible, I decided that it was time for a shot of Jack Daniels to put me into a happier state of mind. Retrieving my brief case from under the seat in which I had a few mini-bottles stashed, the bar was open.

Yokota Air Base flightline, looking toward the terminal on an overcast drizzling day, early 1970's, you can see a line of C141's and a C5A.

It was the last day of June, 1973. I never saw any landmarks as we flew over the Kanto region of the island of Honshu. Mt. Fuji was down there someplace, but this was monsoon season, and visibility was zero since the sky was a watery soup of drizzling clouds. I helped the young mother pack up the kids and all their paraphernalia, and walked with them in a line of passengers from the plane to the Yokota passenger terminal. I sweated in the heat and humidity as we walked, straining to see anything of the skyline beyond the base, but to no avail. The sky was too overcast. We reached the terminal, and parted ways. I don't know what happened to them after that; I never saw them again.

As a testament to the military mantra of "hurry up and wait", it seemed to take forever to process through the terminal. A customs agent went through every item of clothing in my duffel bag, meticulously inspecting each pocket, cuff, and lining. I really wanted to say something like, "give it up will ya pal, I smoked all my dope before leaving California". Figuring that this guy probably didn't share my sense of humor, and not wanting to spend the rest of the afternoon pissing into a beaker and being interrogated by the OSI, I kept quiet until I was instructed to pack up my gear and clear out. I just wanted to get out of my 1505's, take a shower, and get some sleep.

Military Airlift Command Patch

MAC Patch

Exiting into the terminal, I was greeted by my shop chief who had been there patiently waiting while I got through the all the bullshit. We hopped into a flightline truck and headed down a long line of hangars. It was a busy flightline. Forklifts and pallet carriers buzzed back and forth from the freight terminal to a tarmac full of C-141's and C-5's. This was another transportation hub of the Military Airlift Command, and the main tenant organization at Yokota of that era was the 610th Military Airlift Support Squadron, a unit of the Military Airlift Command that was responsible for keeping the en-route transport planes, cargo, and passengers moving through the region safely and on schedule. I'd never seen so many C141's in one place before; on the taxiways, they were lined up to either take off or taxi in. The hazy sky beyond the runway revealed the glow of landing lights every few minutes as another plane came in on approach.

WB57F

Weather Reconnaissance WB57F

My previous assignment had been with the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at McClellan. There had been a similar squadron, the 56th WRS, at Yokota, but it had recently been deactivated, and the maintenance personnel were integrated into the 610 MASS. An operational detachment of 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing remained on base with 3 WB-57F aircraft along with the aircrews and basic operations staff. The WC-135's formerly assigned here had either been sent to McClellan or sent to the C-135 depot in Oklahoma to be reconfigured for other types of missions. Since the maintenance people supporting these planes had been integrated into the 610 MASS, I was now assigned there as well. A lot of the missions that the 56th had performed were still operating out of Yokota, therefore the 55th always had at least one WC-135 deployed there.

My part in all this was the maintenance of the weather and air sampling systems on the weather aircraft. I was an Airborne Meteorological/Atmospheric Research Equipment or MET/ARE Tech. There were less than 100 of us Air Force wide, and therefore most people were completely unaware of what we did. The weather aircraft of that era consisted of WC-130's, WC-135's, and WB-57F's. These aircraft were utilized to fly a variety of weather missions as well as special missions. The primary special mission for which they were tasked was sampling the emissions from nuclear weapons detonation tests performed mainly by our cold war adversaries, the USSR and China. These missions were run by AFTAC (Air Force Technical Applications Center), using Air Weather Service aircraft. Essentially the aircrews would fly into areas where it was predicted that the airborne debris from these tests would be in the airstream. A special equipment operator would detect radioactivity in the airstream through which the plane passed and gather whole air samples, which were pumped into pressurized steel spheres, and particulate samples on filter paper mounted in screen assemblies in pods called U-1 Foils. When the aircraft returned to station, the MET/ARE guys not only checked out the equipment, but also were responsible for downloading the samples, and getting them to the lab. Back then, the Soviet Union conducted underground tests, therefore the emissions and debris were relatively low level. China, on the otherhand, conducted mostly atmospheric tests, therefore the planes and the samples often contained dangerously high level radioactive material. Handling that stuff always scared the crap out of me.

1973 USAF photo

My 1973 official USAF mugshot

As we drove down the flightline and on to the enlisted transient quarters, Howard, my new boss, told me that they had been short handed while waiting for me and another guy to get on station, and that they were still running the last few missions in a series of "specials" due to a recent Soviet test. He was in a bit of a rush since a 135 was due back in about half an hour. By that time, with the travel, the time change, and all the bourbon that I had consumed on the plane, my body and brain didn't know what they were doing, so I told Howard to give me a minute to change into fatigues and I would help with the recovery.

So, there I was in Japan, or at least on a U.S. Air Force base in Japan. A base is a base, except on this one, we drove on the left side of the road, and there were a lot of signs for the Japanese civilian workers in a language that I couldn't read. I knew that eventually, I would get outside the gates to see where I was, but for a while I had to earn my keep, and do the job that I was sent over there to do.

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