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Wednesday, Jun 23, 2021, 3:15 PM
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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.

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Travel to Japan

One evening during our 2016 Japan trip, Ritsuko and I were shopping in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, and decided to stop in a restaurant near Akihabara Station for a quick snack before moving on.

beer machine

Near Akihabara Station - Draft Beer Vending Machine

beer machine

The chilled mug is tipped for pouring, and changes angle as the beer is dispensed.

beer machine

Foam is added to form the perfect head.

In that restaurant, we saw the most marvelous of mechanical contraptions -- a draft beer vending machine. Ok, I must admit that I don't get out much, and that I am easily amused and entertained, but I thought this was just a great invention, and oh so practical. For ¥300, this machine, which is even equipped with a chiller in the lower part of the cabinet for glass mugs, pours a perfect mug of beer for the customer.

In the video below, Ritsuko demonstrates how it works:

Video of Ritsuko demonstrating the operation of a draft beer vending machine in a restaurant near Akihabara Station

We were each planning to drink just one glass of beer with our ramen, but watching the machine go through its paces was so entertaining that we each had to buy another round, just so we could watch the it run a couple more cycles.

In Japan, automated conveniences like vending machines are like a cultural and industrial art form, and this draft beer vending machine is truly a work of art.

Draft beer, perfectly poured into a chilled mug -- automation nirvana

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

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

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
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