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Date, Time, Currency Rate
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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. As you browse the site, please note that clicking on any of the images will enable you to see an enlargement of the picture, clicking on it again will take it back to original size. Also, many words are highlighted to show the availability of a tooltip, which will provide you with more information about the word, and are invoked by hovering the mouse pointer over it.

I will add content to the site periodically, so please visit often.

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We eat some crazy delicious Chinese food outside of a U.S. Air Force base in Tokyo (Japan)
Sat, 04 Feb 2023 16:00:54 +0000

Huge portions and a unique, original manju make this restaurant a must-visit in the area! A number of U.S. military bases are scattered throughout Japan, and quite a few are within commuting distance of Tokyo. Yokota Air Base, for example, actually lies within the city limits in the town of Fussa, albeit on the very […]
Step back in time to the Edo period at this unusual highway rest stop in Japan (Japan)
Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:00:54 +0000

Both the setting and the unique meals here will whisk you away to traditional Japan. Just the other day, our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma stopped at the Hanyu Parking Area along the Tohoku Expressway in Hanyu City, Saitama Prefecture, and got the surprise of his life. For starters, parking areas are generally known for being […]
Adorable cat-shaped slices of delicious Japanese bread now become Disney cats for a limited time (Japan)
Sat, 04 Feb 2023 07:00:08 +0000

Cat-shaped bread and Disney characters? Shut up and take my money! Cat-shaped bread is an idea we already love. I mean, who doesn’t want to eat slices of toast shaped like a cat’s head for breakfast every day? But now, for a limited time only, they’re made even better by drawing popular Disney cat faces on […]
Is Starbucks Japan’s new Valentine’s Day Frappuccino worth the calories? (Japan)
Sat, 04 Feb 2023 05:00:15 +0000

This decadent affair inspired by a French cake is difficult to resist. With January now over, it’s time for coffeehouse giant Starbucks to release its second Valentine’s Day Frappuccino of the year, and the beverage they’re seducing us with is one called the Opera Frappuccino. This decadent, chocolatey drink is based on the French opera […]
The sushi has stopped revolving at Japan’s biggest revolving sushi restaurant chain (Japan)
Sat, 04 Feb 2023 03:00:08 +0000

Sushiro hits the stop button on its up-for-grabs sushi plates. Sushiro is Japan’s largest and most popular kaitenzushi, or revolving sushi, restaurant chain. There are roughly 650 Sushiro locations across Japan, and if you’re heading to one anytime around regular dinner hours, usually you can pretty sure it’s going to be crowded with customers. Sushiro […]
Totoro and No-Face red envelopes are here to help celebrate Lunar New Year in Ghibli style【Pics】 (Japan)
Sat, 04 Feb 2023 01:00:46 +0000

Anime icons from Hayao Miyazaki films sure to be welcome at any Lunar New Year’s party. The lunar new year already got off to a start in late January, but depending on what part of the world you live in, as well as how your schedule meshes with your family’s and friends’, you might still […]
Suntory’s prized Hakushu whisky is going into a can for the Premium Highball Hakushu (Japan)
Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:30:36 +0000

Canned cocktail celebrates Suntory’s 100 years in the whisky-making business. Suntory’s Hakushu is one of the company’s best-loved whiskies. Produced at Suntory’s Hakushu distillery in the forests at the foot of Mt. Kaikomagatake in Japan’s southern alps, Suntory describes the single-malt Hakushu as “the verdant Japanese whisky” and says the unique quality of the mountain […]
Nagasaki Lantern Festival is like Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away in real life (China)
Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:00:04 +0000

Local resident reveals the secret spots you won’t want to miss during this breathtaking festival.  At the beginning of every year, a spectacular lantern festival takes place in Nagasaki Prefecture, and though it used to be a relatively small event, it’s grown to become a big winter gathering that draws tourists from around the country. […]
Full cast of live-action Final Fantasy X play appears in costume for the first time【Pics】 (Japan)
Fri, 03 Feb 2023 13:00:05 +0000

More than a dozen different characters from the hit video game will take the stage this spring. Earlier this week, we got our first look at the upcoming live-action Final Fantasy X kabuki play with an elegant video previewing Yuna’s emotional Sending scene from the Square Enix video game. But with Final Fantasy being part […]
Burger King Japan’s Cheeseburger Gelände — exceptional in taste, size and… paper napkins? (Japan)
Fri, 03 Feb 2023 05:00:07 +0000

Burger King’s latest offering leaves Mr. Sato stunned not once, not twice but three times! If you’re looking for a fast food burger that comes in generous sizes in Japan, Burger King is probably your best bet. Time and time again, they’ve released burgers with an intimidating amount of meat sandwiched in them, and especially […]

Travel to Japan

Post Date: April 6, 2017

"A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it." -- John Steinbeck

Late afternoon, April 15, 2016, after a 13 hour flight, Ritsuko and I arrived at Tokyo Narita Airport. With the flight from Chicago to Tokyo being the most arduous part of our journey, we were now very close to beginning of the fun part of our 2016 Japan trip. Clearing immigration and customs was quick and efficient, and we then had one more tedious task to complete before moving on to the city -- exchanging our rail pass vouchers.

2016 Rail Pass

2016 Japan Rail Pass

In the past, that had been a simple task, but this time, there was a line of people extending out of the Japan Railways office into the terminal. Making matters worse, the process had changed since our last visit, and the air conditioning in the JR office was not functioning properly. Dazed, confused, hot, and tired, we slowly moved forward. As we got closer to the counter, a group of young selfie stick toting jerks rushed to the head of the line, where their "place was being saved" by another in their group. Of course, these self indulgent twits all had to pose for selfies as they reached the head of the line, making the rest of us wait as they documented every mundane detail of their nitwit existence. Sensing my simmering discontent, Ritsuko gently squeezed my left arm. Other than issuing a muffled groan, I kept quiet, forced a smile, and waited patiently, as did the rest of the people in line while the noisy pack of self absorbed assholes ahead of us moved on through.

Upon receiving our rail passes, we proceeded to the airport terminal rail station, and boarded a JR Narita Express train for the 50 minute ride to Tokyo Station. By this time, we were pretty exhausted from traveling, and were in need of food and sleep. We sat near the rear of the car, and couldn't see much detail on the TV monitor on the forward bulkhead. It appeared to be news coverage of an earthquake somewhere. I figured that we would check into it later after we got settled in our hotel room.

By the time we reached Tokyo, it was early evening, and the station was a madhouse of activity. Pulling our bags behind us, we navigated through the crowds, finally exiting onto the street on the Yaesu side of the station. Our plan was to spend that night at the Hotel Ryumeikan, only a short walk from the station, and then return to the station at 6AM the next morning, and catch a Shinkansen to Osaka, where we would transfer to another Shinkansen that would take us to Kagoshima.

Tokyo Haneda Airport

Tokyo Haneda airport - our plane for Kagoshima

We were so tired by the time we got into our room, that all we wanted to do was sleep. I spent just a few minutes entering the WIFI ID and password for the pocket WIFI device that we had rented from Japan Wireless into our phones and laptop, then went to bed. Ritsuko was already asleep.

I woke up at about 1AM, and couldn't go back to sleep. I quietly turned on the laptop, so that I could check email, and have a look at what was going on in the world. The home page resolved to Google Japan, and I saw that the earthquake that had been reported on the news in the train was in Kumamoto, and it was a big one. The event would come to be known as the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes. People were dead, injured, and missing. Massive amounts of property damage had been reported, aftershocks were frequent, and all train service into and out of Kumamoto was suspended. The train that we had planned to take that morning goes through Kumamoto, so obviously, we needed to formulate a new plan.

I woke up Ritsuko, and told her what was happening. She made tea and coffee as I checked email. We had emails from my sister, and from some friends back home, who were worried that we might have been in the quake area. After answering all the emails, letting everyone know that we were OK, I went online, verified that train service into southern Kyushu was suspended, and booked a flight on JAL for later that morning out of Tokyo Haneda for Kagoshima.

Sakurajima from hotel window

View of Sakurajima from our room on the 14th floor of Hotel Solaria Nishitetsu in Kagoshima.

Prior to the opening of Narita airport in late 1978, Haneda was Tokyo International Airport. Since that time, it has been primarily used for domestic flights. I always thought the kanji for Haneda is really cool. 羽田 literally means wing field. In the 1970's, I drove there several times, and was always thankful that the kanji for Haneda was so descriptive, especially when driving in heavy fast moving traffic in the tunnels of the metro expressway. Fortunately, we did not have to drive that morning. After breakfast, we walked across the street to the station, boarded the Yamanote line for the 8 minute ride to Hamamatsucho, and then rode the Tokyo Monorail to Haneda Airport.

We had not flown on a domestic flight in Japan for 35 years, and this was a really pleasant experience, especially compared to domestic flights in the US. The flight was quick - about an hour and a half. Kagoshima airport is located in a rural area, and there is no train service, therefore we took a bus to Kagoshima city. After about 35 minutes we arrived at the bus Kagoshima bus terminal, which, coincidentally, is in the same building as the Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel.

This earthquake alert app helped us keep track of the aftershocks of the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake.

Solaria Nishitetsu is a really nice hotel. We had reserved a room on a high floor with a view of Sakurajima, the iconic active volcano that sits on an islet in Kagoshima Bay, and were given a room on the 14th floor with a perfect view. Of course, shortly after we got settled in the room, a big aftershock hit Kumamoto to the north, and our building swayed back and forth at an intensity sufficient to cause the blinds to bang against the window. Maybe this wasn't an ideal time and place to book a room with a view. My jokes about "isn't this a view to die for" kind of fell flat too.

I found a good earthquake alert app for our phones, and that helped us stay informed as to the location and intensity of the aftershocks that continued during our stay in Kagoshima. We stayed there for six days, during which we spent some time with members of Ritsuko's family who live in the area, and we also ventured out to see a few places that we had never visited.

After the first day, the damage reports became more disheartening as the aftershocks continued. The numbers of dead, injured, and missing continued to rise, and the affected area now extended into Oita Prefecture on the Pacific coast. Immediately, people in Kagoshima responded sending aid northward to help those displaced by the earthquakes. Students stood outside Kagoshima-Chuo station every day, tirelessly collecting money to help the earthquake victims. Collection cups were at supermarket checkout stands, convenience stores, and just about everywhere else. What the quake victims must have been experiencing was just unimaginable.

waiting in Kagoshima airport

Kagoshima Airport - waiting for our flight to Osaka

By now, all train and highway traffic was suspended going through a line from Kumamoto to Oita. We realized that we needed to reserve a flight for the next leg of our journey before all flights out of Kagoshima were booked. We were lucky to get tickets on a flight to Osaka for the day we had originally planned to leave. Fortunately, some of the airlines were adding flights to accommodate the increase in demand. Plan B would have been to book passage on a sea going ferry out of Kagoshima or Miyazaki to Hiroshima. That would have messed up our plan since we had hotel reservations in Kyoto for that night, but the ferry option does sound pretty cool. Maybe we will do that on another trip.

Every trip to this wonderful, fascinating country is different. Of course, it is always good to visit family, and it is always interesting to visit places of historical significance or places of inspiring beauty, but on this trip, the manner in which the people of Japan responded to a crisis affecting their countrymen was the inspiring beauty that touched me the most.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: July 16, 2022

Japan Culture

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." -- Eleanor Roosevelt (from It Seems to Me: Selected Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt, editors Leonard C. Schlup and Donald W. Whisenhunt)

In the days leading up to September 7, 2013, I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation the impending announcement of which city among the finalists of Istanbul, Madrid, and Tokyo would be selected to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. I remember feeling intense joy and relief when, on that day, the IOC announced their decision to select Tokyo, Japan as the host city for the 2020 Olympic Games.


Japan National Stadium

The old (1958) stadium was the venue for track and field and opening and closing ceremonies of the 1964 Olympics. I took this photo in early 1978 while Ritsuko and I were attending a soccer match.

National Stadium site in May 2016 -- original stadium has been demolished and the ground leveled, making way for the construction of the new stadium.

New National Stadium foundation construction May 2017

National Stadium near completion in April 2019.

Throughout my life, I have never been an avid fan of collegiate, professional, or really just about any form of organized sports. The exception is that from the time I was about ten years old, every four years the Olympic Games have captured and held my interest. I really don't know why; perhaps it is because of the variety of athletic events held during a short span of time within a specially built set of venues, or maybe it is because of my fascination over the aspect of an international representation of mostly amateur athletes transcending differences of ethnicity, religion, and nationality in a celebration of the true spirit of athletic competition. Whatever the reason or reasons, I really enjoy watching the events of the Olympic Games. Although Ritsuko and I both love watching the games, neither of us have ever attended an Olympics. Not being a cold weather person (yeah, I know -- we live in Iowa), I have never had a burning (no pun intended) desire to attend a Winter Olympics, preferring to watch on the television in the comfort of home, but there have been times when I would have really liked to have been at the Summer Games.

However, for one reason or another, in prior years the stars just haven't aligned in our favor to put together a plan to actually be there, but as soon as the IOC announcement was made, Ritsuko and I decided that we would put forth our very best effort to attend the 2020 Summer Olympics. After all, Tokyo is a city that we know and love, and in my opinion, it just made sense for Tokyo to be selected as the host city.

Yoyogi National Gymnasium - 1964 Tokyo Olympics

1964 Olympics sign at entrance to the Yoyogi National Gymnasium (photo taken Feb 2005)

Yoyogi National Gymnasium with entrance to Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park in the foreground, April 2012

Photo taken from Yoyogi Park April 2019-- you can see through the trees that the Yoyogi National Gymnasium is covered in scaffolding while undergoing a facelift in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.

Although Tokyo has a population of approximately 37 million people and is one of the most densely populated cities on the planet, getting from point A to point B is amazingly easy. The extensive network of safe and reliable commuter trains and subways that make up their public transportation system provide a relatively inexpensive and stress free means for a person to traverse the city without having to rely upon a car or a tour bus. Additionally, there is a multitude of hotels all over the metro area, ranging from inexpensive hostels and ultra spartan capsule hotels to luxurious five star accommodations. Food -- yes, whether you choose a konbini bento, street food, a simple bowl of ramen or soba, or gourmet haute cuisine, a seemingly infinite variety of food is available almost everywhere. And while there will be many event venues built especially for the Olympics, many existing sports and entertainment venues can be used; venues such as The Ryogoku Kokugikan, Saitama Super Arena, and the Yokohama Stadium. Also, remember the 1964 Tokyo Olympics? Rather than falling into derelict disrepair as has happened in many other countries, venues and attractions that were built for the 1964 Games have been maintained, improved, and used throughout the decades by the people of Tokyo.

Japan used the opportunity of hosting the 1964 Olympics to showcase their capital city to the world, exhibiting their remarkable recovery in only nineteen years after the end of World War II. In addition to attending events held in venues such as the National Stadium, which had been built in 1958, and other structures that were built especially for use in the Olympics, such as the Yoyogi National Gymnasium and Nippon Budokan, visitors could be transported to and from Haneda Airport on the newly constructed Tokyo Monorail, and they could travel westward from Tokyo to Osaka on what was at the time the fastest train in the world, the radically new high speed, Tokaido Shinkansen (colloquially referred to as the "Bullet Train"), the first of many Shinkansen lines that would subsequently be built throughout Japan.

In order to transform the war torn capital city into a showplace for the world to see in 1964, it is estimated that the government of Japan spent the equivalent of the entire national budget for that year solely in preparation for the 1964 Summer Olympic Games.

Martial Arts Venues

Nippon Budokan, April 2019; 2020 Olympics venue for Judo and Karate

Ryogoku Kokugikan, February 1991; 2020 Olympics venue for Boxing

Ritsuko and I have visited Japan several times since the IOC announcement awarding the 2020 Games to Tokyo. On each of those vists, we have watched the progress in preparation in the city of Tokyo and in surrounding areas. The old National Stadium was razed to make way for a new National Stadium, the construction of which was completed in 2019. New venues such as the Ariake Arena, built for volleyball events, and the Ariake Coliseum at Ariake Tennis no Mori are stunning examples of new structures built for the 2020 Games. An additional treat for visitors to venues in the Odaiba area such as the Ariake Arena and Coliseum is being able to access them on the new Yurikamome Line, a fully automated train that connects the Odaiba island to the mainland. Having been completed in 2014, the Yurikamome was not specifically built for the Olympics, but it is a example of Tokyo's commitment to continually enhancing their transportation infrastructure.

The city of Tokyo has also updated older subway and train stations throughout the city. A prime example is on the Ginza Line, the oldest of the Metro subway lines, most of the stations from Shibuya to Asakusa have been updated. A beautiful new station, Takanawa Gateway, was built on the busy Japan Railways Yamanote Line. This is the first new station built on the Yamanote since 1971, and provides travelers with easy access to Haneda Airport.

With each successive visit to Tokyo, we saw more evidence of preparation for the 2020 Olympics. New construction was evident wherever we went; from hotels to restaurants and updated shopping areas, it was evident that government and private enterprise were heavily engaged in the preparation, and it was also evident that all preparation efforts were on schedule to be complete by July 2020.

Our excitement was building as we watched the preparations and progress. Shortly after returning from our 2019 trip, I signed up for ticket availability alerts on the CoSport website. CoSport is the authorized reseller for 2020 Olympics tickets in the United States. I then began monitoring their website for event ticket availability. A few months later, we booked our airfare on Japan Airlines. We decided to arrive in Tokyo the day before the opening, and stay until 3 days before closing. As 2019 came to a close, we had not only booked airfare, but also had purchased a variety of event tickets, and we had prepaid our hotel bookings for the majority of our stay. Needless to say, we were really pumped in anticipation of our trip.

At the dawn of the year 2020, the World Health Organization began reporting about a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. In subsequent days, news stories regarding the outbreak quickly developed with the revelation that a new and highly contagious Coronavirus strain responsible for the pneumonia like illnesses was being transmitted from person to person, and was spreading rapidly. By early March, due to the severity and rapid spread of the disease, the WHO had formally recognized COVID-19 as being a world wide pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared, the IOC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee held the position not to officially cancel or reschedule, and announced that a decision would be made in May 2020. Ever since January, when news stories began to emerge about the virus, I had a sinking feeling that there would be no Olympics in 2020. As the disease spread, fearing an even greater catastrophe if they tried to proceed, I found myself hoping that the officials in charge wouldn't attempt to hold the Games on schedule. Then on March 24, the decision came early, and the 2020 Olympics were officially postponed until July 23, 2021. I remember feeling disappointment in that the Games wouldn't be held; disappointment for the athletes who have trained for months, years, and in the case of some, for their entire lives; disappointment that after massive expenditures in preparing for the event, the economic impact of canceling would be a terrible blow to the Tokyo economy. But, I also felt great relief that in consideration for the threat to public safety, for once common sense had prevailed.

For Ritsuko and me our disappointment was simply that the chance to fulfill a dream had become ever more elusive, but put into proper perspective the pain of our disappointment was mitigated by the fact we have had the good fortune of realizing so many other dreams in our lives, and that the personal economic impact of the Olympics being rescheduled was minimal. The airlines and hotels were very cooperative, thus we were able to get a full refund on our airfare and hotel reservations. We had an option last summer of requesting a refund for our event tickets. CoSport was offering a refund on the basic ticket cost, but we would have lost the service charge. Instead, we decided at that time to keep the event ticket reservations in the hope of the Olympics proceeding in 2021.

For the rest of 2020 and into 2021, the pandemic rages on.

As is stands now, at the end of January 2021, the IOC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee maintain that despite the pandemic, the Olympic games will begin on July 23 of this year. Some changes are being made in reducing the audience size of the events, implementing proper social distancing, etc. But, the pandemic rages on. Vaccines are now developed and approved, but it will take months for enough people around the world to be vaccinated in order to be able to safely hold such an event. And now there are several new variants of the virus, challenging the efficacy of the vaccines in distribution. The pandemic rages on, and I just don't think that it will be sufficiently under control five and a half months from now for the Olympics to be held without putting the lives of millions of people in jeopardy.

We have, for years, dreamed of attending a Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but I just don't think that it is going to happen. Maybe there will be a scaled down socially distanced version, and if that can be done safely and becomes a reality, then I am happy for the athletes who will be able to compete and for those who have put so much time and money into making the Olympic Games happen, but for us, that type of a scaled down event will be something that we would rather just watch on television at home. So at this time we are not planning to attend.

Maybe the 2020 Olympics will never be more than a beautiful dream. As we get closer to the July 23 2021 start date, it is becoming ever more likely that the Games will be postponed again or just canceled altogether. If that happens, I can only hope that those who worked so diligently and relentlessly to turn the beauty of their dream into a reality will be able to carry that dream on perhaps a different path toward a bright future of happiness and prosperity.

UPDATE 3/20/2021: The Tokyo Organizing Committee and IOC today officially confirmed that as requested by the Government of Japan, international spectators will be barred from attending the Olympic Games and the Paralympics.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: July 17, 2022

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. In my mind at the time, it always seemed like a mystical, mysterious place of unfamiliar customs, ancient temples, and beautiful women. It was an intriguing place, but actually going there was something about which I could only dream.

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 Daniel's to put me into a happier state of mind. Retrieving my brief case, in which I had a few mini-bottles stashed, from under the seat, 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 urinating 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.

55WRS NCO quarter plaque

55th WRS NCO of the Quarter
That was a surprise to everyone, especially to me.

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.

My previous assignment had been with the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at McClellan AFB, CA. There had been a similar squadron, the 56th WRS, at Yokota AB, 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.

De-classified Air Force film (circa 1970) describing the mission of Air Weather Service aerial sampling and weather reconnaissance.

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 never many people in the MET/ARE specialty field (AFSC 302X1), but by 1973, there were probably less than 150 of us Air Force wide, and therefore most people who were not a part of the Aerial Weather Reconnaissance missions were completely unaware of what we did. That mission is best explained in the video posted on the left, which is a de-classified Air Force film, circa 1970, documenting the aerial sampling and reconnaissance mission.

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 first and foremost I had to earn my keep by doing the job that I was sent to Japan to do.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: January 2, 2023