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Date, Time, Currency Rate
Japan:
Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020, 7:51 AM
Central USA:
Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020, 4:51 PM
Currency: 1 USD = 109.06 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.

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Bringing you yesterday's news from Japan and Asia, today.

Starbucks Japan unveils first sakura drink for cherry blossom season 2020 (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 17:30:38 +0000

Iconic Japanese flower will be blended with a popular dessert this spring. We may still be in the middle of winter right now, but that doesn’t mean everyone isn’t looking forward to the sunshine of spring. Today we’ve been reminded that those warm rays aren’t far away, as Starbucks has just revealed its first sakura […]
No coins? Not a problem for Japan’s new cashless gachapon capsule toy vending machines (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 16:00:45 +0000

The beloved capsule toy machines are catching up to the times by losing the coin element of the transaction.  Gachapon, also known as gashapon, are those ubiquitous capsule vending machines found throughout Japan. Children and adults alike have taken delight in inserting their leftover change into the coin slot, twisting the handle, and eagerly watching […]
And now, a spot of everyone’s favorite winter sport: Japanese cat curling【Video】 (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 15:00:37 +0000

All you need for this sport is a cat and a recently cleaned wooden floor. Winter sports are so fun to watch, especially at home, in a blanket cocoon, with a steaming hot beverage. While there’s no denying the heart-racing talents of pro figure skaters like Yuzuru Hanyu, it’s a lot of work to actually […]
Turn yourself into a dewy-eyed manga heroine with Kate Tokyo’s “Manga-Genic” eyeliner set (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 14:00:16 +0000

Cosplayers and casuals alike can look as cute as a comic book character! Cosmetic company Kate has frequently flirted with unreal aesthetics, one time even advertising their product with a completely fictional model. However, their flair for hyper-realism makes them a favorite of cosplayers, and we imagine one of their latest products is going to […]
Japanese police officers increasingly forgetting their guns in public restrooms (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 13:00:30 +0000

At least they didn’t forget to flush… we hope. Have you ever used a public toilet, and when finished forgot to zip up your pants or tuck your shirt in properly? It’s pretty embarrassing, but now imagine that instead of those things, you leave behind a lethal weapon in an area where people with extremely […]
McDonald’s releases new rice burgers in Japan (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 05:30:36 +0000

Three of the fast food chain’s popular burgers get a rice overhaul for a limited time. Just a few days ago, McDonald’s began teasing their customers in Japan with a cryptic tweet that said: “Ahh, I want to eat rice…”. The Internet immediately went into overdrive, with some people speculating the tweet could be hinting […]
Japan’s cat bread bakery opening brand-new branch in Osaka Prefecture! (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 04:00:37 +0000

Special ingredients and four flavors promise it’ll taste as good as it looks. The name Neko Neko Shokupan probably feels like a major mouthful if you don’t speak Japanese, but trust us, those are handy words to know. Neko, repeated here for emphasis, means “cat,” while shokupan means “bread,” specifically the standard type of loaves […]
Japanese manners videos show how to be a “really cool” traveller in Japan 【Videos】 (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 03:00:39 +0000

Japan Tourism Agency uses ninja, sumo and geisha to demonstrate what to do and what not to do in Japan. Japan is currently in the midst of a tourism boom at the moment, with 31.9 million foreign tourists travelling to the country in 2019, breaking the previous record for the seventh year running. Now with […]
Japanese public phones are immortalized in this utterly perfect miniature model (Japan)
Tue, 28 Jan 2020 02:00:14 +0000

This capsule toy model of a Japanese public telephone got a great reception on Twitter! What is it that makes miniature versions of things so darn satisfying to look at? We can’t get enough of the makeup sponge cleaner fashioned to look like a teeny-tiny washing machine, for instance. Is there anything that can’t be given […]

Travel to Japan

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 about 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

The next morning, as we entered the breakfast buffet, a decades old memory drifted into my mind. 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: January 2, 2020

Japan Culture

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

My Air Force Days

me with camera 1977

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

WB57F

Another view - WB57F Yokota AB

 
p-systems

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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