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Date, Time, Currency Rate
Monday, May 10, 2021, 2:17 PM
Central USA:
Monday, May 10, 2021, 12:17 AM
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Japan Days

My Days in Japan

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Welcome to Japan-Days.info

On this web site, I will share with you some stories and pictures from the time when I lived in Japan as a member of the United States Air Force, and from various visits that my wife, Ritsuko, and I have made there since my departure from the military in 1978. I will add content to the site periodically in the "Articles" section, so please visit often. I hope that you enjoy the site.

News Feeds

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5 injured in stabbing rampage at New Zealand market
Mon, 10 May 2021 05:15:51 +0000

A man began stabbing people at a New Zealand supermarket Monday and five people were injured, authorities said. Police said a suspect had been arrested and taken into…
Man shot to death at Vancouver airport in gang incident
Mon, 10 May 2021 03:24:59 +0000

A man was shot to death at the Vancouver International Airport in what authorities said appeared to be a gang-related incident Sunday, and police were later fired on…
Major U.S. pipeline struggles to reopen after ransomware attack
Mon, 10 May 2021 01:24:46 +0000

The largest fuel pipeline system in the United States remained largely shut down on Sunday, two days after a major ransomware attack was detected, its operating company said.…
75–year-old woman hit, killed by train in Niigata Pref
Sun, 09 May 2021 23:48:08 +0000

A 75-year-old woman was hit and killed by a train in Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture, police said Sunday. According to police, the incident occurred at around 11 p.m. Saturday,…
Israel plays for time on flashpoint Jerusalem evictions
Sun, 09 May 2021 22:05:20 +0000

Israel's attorney-general secured a deferment on Sunday of a court hearing on planned evictions of Palestinians in Jerusalem, a session that had threatened to stoke more violence in…
UK Labour leader reshuffles team after poor local election results
Sun, 09 May 2021 22:08:31 +0000

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, reshuffled his team on Sunday after disappointing results in local elections that further strengthened Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson's…
Taliban declare three-day Afghan ceasefire for Eid holiday
Sun, 09 May 2021 22:00:12 +0000

The Taliban on Monday declared a three-day ceasefire in Afghanistan to mark this week's Eid al-Fitr holiday, just two days after the government blamed the insurgents for bombs…
Medical staff on standby
Sun, 09 May 2021 21:30:26 +0000

Medical officers wearing protective suits are seen at the morning session of an Olympic athletics test event at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday.

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: April 7, 2021

Japan Culture

With Ritsuko having been born and raised in a small town in rural Kagoshima Prefecture, I have had the opportunity to visit the area with her many times over the years.


stone lined stream that directs water to the Shimazu estate

Southern Kyushu is a beautiful part of Japan that receives sufficient rainfall for the mountains and valleys to be covered in lush vegetation, and has a long history of responsible productive use of the land and resources.

Walking through the countryside, one thing that you will notice are the centuries old stone lined aquaducts that are still in use today. Their presence and use give testament to how well the people of this region have managed, and continue to manage the flow of water from the mountains and into the fields and towns.

During our stay in Kagoshima on our 2016 Japan trip, we visited Sengan-en. Sengan-en is a park established on the grounds of a beautiful estate that has belonged to the Shimazu family for the past three and a half centuries. I will write more about the estate, garden, and museum in another article, however, I just wanted to share this video of a Sakon-Taro in operation. This is a water powered device that was used to remove the husks and to polish rice.

Below, is a video of the machine going through a cycle.

Video of Sakon-taro in operation - Sengan-en, Kagoshima, Japan


Sakon-taro rice husking device at Sengan-En, Kagoshima, beginning to cycle

Sakon-taro rice husking device at Sengan-En, Kagoshima, about to strike

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: October 24, 2020

My Air Force Days

During the early part of my tour at Yokota Air Base, Okutama became one of my favorite places to escape when I had a day off from work. Okutama is a small town in the extreme western extent of Tokyo Prefecture. Geographically, the municipality extends far beyond the town itself, encompassing a large mountainous area bordering Saitama and Yamanshi Prefectures. Several waterways, including the Tama River, traverse the area, and nearby is Lake Okutama, a large man made reservoir that is an important source of water for Tokyo Prefecture.

Traveling by train from Fussa to Okutama in 1973, on the Ome Line

Back then, as is now, Okutama was a popular destination for hikers and fishing enthusiasts. I used to go there in order to escape into a peaceful natural environment, to hike, and to photograph. For me, the area was very accessible, either by car or by train. By car, the roads were well marked, and although few road signs were in romaji, the kanji for Okutama, 奥多摩, was easy to remember and recognize. However, with the town having train service via the Ome line, rail was the the most convenient conveyance. Japan Railways Ome line provides service from Tachikawa to Okutama, with Fussa (the city outside Yokota Air Base, being one of the stations on the line. The original line was built during the Meiji Period, providing service between Tachikawa and Ome. In 1944, it was extended to its current western terminus, Okutama.

The video in this article is a short film that I shot on super 8 during one of my visits to Okutama in 1973. You can see in the various scenes, a change in terrain from the flat, low lying plain where Fussa is located, to progressively more mountainous terrain as the train travels westward.

photography in Okutama 1974

Okutama 1974, composing a shot with my Nikon F2, demonstrating proper technique of simultaneously holding camera and cigarette

I loved going there to take pictures. Mountain trails and waterways were just a short hike from the station, and they offered great subject material for a photo hobbyist like myself. Shortly after arriving at Yokota, I took up photography as a hobby, and Yokota Air Base was definitely a good place for one to pursue such a hobby. Not only did the Base Education Office offer several courses in photography through LACC (Los Angeles Community College), but also Yokota had an excellent Photo Hobby Shop for military personnel stationed there.

For a price of admission that was comparable to buying a beer at the NCO Club, one could use the hobby shop darkroom. All chemicals and equipment were provided, although you were welcome to bring your own enlarger lens, developer, and other assorted accessories. The hobby shop store usually had a good supply of photographic paper in various sizes, finishes, and contrast characteristics. Of course, if one wanted photographic supplies that the hobby shop didn't stock, Shinjuku was only about 45 minutes away by train. Across the street from Shinjuku Station were a couple of large photographic equipment stores, where one could find anything. I was a frequent visitor to the Sakuraya store in Shinjuku, where I usually tried to keep from spending all my money so that I could enjoy a hot bowl of noodles at one of the nearby standing soba shops before boarding the train for home.

near Okutama Japan

One of my favorite pictures from Okutama 1974- shot on Kodak Panatomic X film, I was trying to expose for maximum grey scale

Bridge near Okutama Japan in 1974 - photo shot while wading in the river

Recently, I found some prints of a few of my favorite pictures from Okutama, that I took during 1973-1975. They were photographs that I had printed at the Yokota Air Base photo hobby shop, and were still in excellent condition. I have the negatives somewhere at home, and considered producing digital media by scanning the negatives in a film scanner, but instead decided to scan the prints using a flatbed scanner. My reason for this is that when I took the photographs, I did so knowing that I would crop the negative to fit the aspect ratio of either 8x10 or 10x12 paper in the darkroom. Therefore, the print better represents what was in my mind when taking the picture, and since I sure can't remember what I was thinking while standing in a river or leaning off a cliff 40 years ago, I'll just scan the print.

fisherman casting from the riverbank

A fisherman casting from the river bank, near Okutama 1974

calm water

Hazy sky reflected in calm water

looking out of tunnel

Light at the end of the tunnel - near Okutama 1974

new mountain road

Newly improved mountain road - near Okutama 1975

This concludes my trip into the past for today. I hope that you enjoyed the video and pictures.

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