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Date, Time, Currency Rate
Japan:
Saturday, Dec 7, 2019, 10:53 AM
Central USA:
Friday, Dec 6, 2019, 7:53 PM
Currency: 1 USD = 108.56 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: Stars and Stripes Pacific
Afghan authorities were tipped off about Nakamura attack
Fri, 6 Dec 2019 22:43:31 +0000

Local authorities in Afghanistan had been informed in advance of a possible attack on Tetsu Nakamura, making it more likely that Wednesday's shooting specifically targeted the Japanese doctor, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
Sailor who killed two and himself at Hawaii shipyard reportedly faced minor discipline
Fri, 6 Dec 2019 22:07:00 +0000

Gabriel Romero – the sailor who fatally shot two people at Pearl Harbor before killing himself – was unhappy with his commanders, facing non-judicial punishment and had been undergoing counseling, a U.S. military official said Friday.
Pearl Harbor veteran’s interment to be last on sunken Arizona
Fri, 6 Dec 2019 15:26:00 +0000

On Dec. 7, 1941, then-21-year-old Lauren Bruner was the second-to-last man to escape the burning wreckage of the USS Arizona after a Japanese plane dropped a bomb that ignited an enormous explosion in the battleship’s ammunition storage compartment.
F-16 damaged but pilot who ejected has been released in good condition, Air Force says
Fri, 6 Dec 2019 12:58:13 +0000

A Fighting Falcon pilot from the 8th Fighter Wing suffered minor injuries when he ejected during a landing after a routine sortie on Monday.
Marines suspend use of illumination flares after ‘several’ land off base on Okinawa
Fri, 6 Dec 2019 07:30:00 +0000

Mortar flare rounds were found Thursday and Friday outside training grounds near Camp Hansen.
Amphibious assault ship USS America drops anchor at its new homeport in Sasebo, Japan
Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:58:00 +0000

The USS America, the Navy’s newest and most advanced flat-deck amphibious assault ship, arrived Friday at its new homeport in southwestern Japan.
US likely to sanction China over human rights despite trade talks
Thu, 5 Dec 2019 21:16:35 +0000

Congress is poised to hand President Donald Trump a second chance in less than a month to anger the Chinese government and attack its record on human rights as he tries to deliver a long-sought trade deal with Beijing.
Japanese scientists to start clinical trial of Ebola vaccine
Thu, 5 Dec 2019 16:53:46 +0000


North Korea threatens to resume calling President Trump a 'dotard'
Thu, 5 Dec 2019 15:31:00 +0000

North Korea threatened Thursday to resume insults of U.S. President Donald Trump and consider him a "dotard" if he keeps using provocative language, such as referring to its leader as "rocket man."

Travel to Japan

Post Date: August 11, 2019

"Be like a train; go in the rain, go in the sun, go in the storm, go in the dark tunnels! Be like a train; concentrate on your road and go with no hesitation! " --Mehmet Murat ildan

Kyoto Railway Museum Entrance

During the Kyoto leg of our 2017 spring trip to Japan, one of our goals was to visit the Kyoto Railway Museum. During our 2016 visit to Kyoto, we had missed the opening of the museum by just a few days, and we were determined to go there during this trip.

On the morning of our visit, the sky was cloudy, and a fine mist fell on us intermittently as we walked from Kyoto Station. In retrospect, it would have been easier to ride one of the frequently scheduled busses from the station, but once afoot, we were committed. We arrived at the museum entrance a few minutes before opening, and took our place in a rapidly growing line of visitors, among whom was an adorable group of early grade elementary school students, replete with backpacks, water bottles, and really spiffy uniforms, assembled in formation next to the entrance queue.

The children were all beaming with excitement and anticipation, and it is no wonder. Aside from containing an impressive collection of historic and modern trains, a lot of exhibits in the museum were made for the participation of children of all ages.

Type 230, s/n 233; the oldest existing production model steam locomotive in the English style manufactured in Japan; manufactured in 1903 by Kisha Seizo.

First Japan manufactured large electric locomotive EF52

Kyoto Railway Museum main floor; left to right: Shinkansen 500 series, Kuhane, and Raicho limited express trains.

Ritsuko standing in front of a Shinkansen Model "0"

Inside the Shinkansen Model 0 "ordinary" class passenger car

Inside the Shinkansen Model 0 Green Car "first class passenger car"

On the main floor, a very popular exhibit was a pedal powered rail inspection car. The seat height was set for children, therefore most adults who tried it struggled (personal experience). Another popular group of exhibits were the simulators, where people could simulate driving trains or operating various control consoles. But for me, the ultimate participatory exhibit was the steam locomotive train that visitors to the museum could ride.

The appeal of the museum exhibits is quite broad, and I think that anyone with an interest in trains or in the history of Japan should visit this museum if ever in Kyoto. It contains a really impressive collection of trains, railway equipment, and timeline exhibits arranged in the huge, three floor main hall and in the adjacent locomotive roundhouse in such a way that graphically illustrates the amazing history of rail in Japan, from its beginning during the Meiji Period to the present.

An exhibit, or series of exhibits, that really resonated with me were those showcasing the first generation Shinkansen, the Model 0, that was put into service in 1964 on the new Tokaido Shinkansen Line with service between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka. When I lived in Japan in the early to mid 1970's, the Model 0 was still in service. Looking at the dining car, and the various types of passenger cars, certainly evoked memories of that era.

The first time I rode in a Shinkansen was in the early summer of 1974, when I traveled with some of my Air Force buddies to Shimoda for a weekend beach outing, opting to ride a "bullet train" the short distance from Tokyo Station to Atami. It was the first time for most of us to board one of the sleek super fast trains. I remember at that time, admiring not only the ultra smooth ride while traveling faster than any other train in the world, but also the simple elegance and cleverly designed functionality of the passenger car interiors. It would have been impossible for me to imagine at the time how the Shinkansen would evolve, but 45 years, several train model generations, and thousands of miles of traveling via Shinkansen, I still marvel at the simple elegance, functionality, and beauty of these incredible trains whenever I ride in or even see a Shinkansen.

Seeing how far the rail transportation has developed in Japan since its humble beginning in 1872 to the most comprehensive and advanced railway system of any country in the world, one might ask, "What could possibly be next?"

Kyoto Railway Museum locomotive roundhouse

In the next decade, we should see the opening of the Chuo Shinkansen, providing Maglev service between Tokyo's Shinagawa Station and Nagoya, and then eventually Osaka. Maglev trains have been under development in Japan for decades, and working test models of the trains have set world speed records, with a L0 Series train reaching a speed of 603 km/h (375 mph) during a manned test in April 2015.

The history of railways in Japan is an amazing story. It is an integral part of the incredible transformation of Japan from a feudal society in peril from imperial encroachment by the superpowers of the mid 19th century world to an industrialized empire in the late 19th through mid 20th centuries, and then emerging from the ashes of World War II to become a modern standard for advanced technical innovation and for excellence is providing an intricate infrastructure that well serves its population. The Kyoto Railway Museum, in my opinion, does a superb job of presenting that story.

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

Japan Culture

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 over 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

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: October 11, 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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