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Wed, 07/17/2024, 11:12 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. As you browse the site, please note that clicking (or tapping if using a phone or tablet) 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 (or tapping if using a phone or tablet).

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

News Feeds

News feed source: The Diplomat
The Diplomat
The Diplomat is a current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific, with news and analysis on politics, security, business, technology and life across the region.

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Nippon Ishin no Kai’s Baba Nobuyuki Faces Hard Political Realities in Tokyo and Osaka
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An interview with the opposition party leader on the push for political reform and setbacks to the upcoming World Expo in his political stronghold.
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Assessing the NATO Summit and Indo-Pacific Partners
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Insights from Liselotte Odgaard.
Delayed US Arms Transfers to Taiwan: Déjà Vu?
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The situation recalls the early 1950s, when U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were delayed by other priorities. Unfortunately, Taiwan’s need is much greater today.
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The marathon celebration over Mukesh Ambani’s youngest son Anant’s wedding could go down in history as one of the most expensive – in both cash and carbon.
Russia-Ukraine War Provides New Opportunities For North Korea’s Tank Industry
Tue, 16 Jul 2024 22:10:00 +0900

Russia’s tank shortages could see North Korea emerge as a supplier of armor to the country – and beyond.
Pakistani Government Seeking Ban on Imran Khan’s Party
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The decision appears to be a response from the Sharif government and military to the judiciary’s recent rulings supportive of Khan.

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 commuter train, 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 Yūshūkan - the museum at Yasukuni Shrine, 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 communication 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 magnificent 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 20, 2024

Japan Culture

leaving Kyoto station

As the Shinkansen leaves Kyoto Station, it quickly accelerates. Watch the video to see from a passenger's POV.

Watch from the perspective of a passenger as this high speed Shinkansen leaves Kyoto Station, and accelerates rapidly.

Below is a short video clip that I shot from a train we were aboard when we traveled from Hiroshima to Tokyo during our 2012 trip. Sitting next to the window in the last row of seats in car 5, I shot this as we were leaving Kyoto Station. Immediately after leaving the city the train goes into a tunnel. The video will go dark, and then you can see the reflection of the interior of the car.

Notice the smoothness of the ride, and how quiet is the interior of the train. This is really a great way to travel.

Video shot from inside Shinkansen as it leaves Kyoto Station -- April 2012

waiting to board

Tokyo Station April 2012 -- Ritsuko with our luggage, waiting to board the 6:26AM train for Osaka, where we would transfer to another train bound for Kagoshima.

When Ritsuko and I go to Japan, we typically cover a lot of ground over the 2 to 3 week period of our trip, and in my opinion, the absolute best way to travel in country is by rail. Japan has a superb rail system. The larger cities have a network of commuter trains and subways; many rural areas have a combination of train and bus service. But, of course, the crown jewel of Japan's railway system is the high speed, comfortable, and reliable Shinkansen, also known as the "Bullet Train".

Tokyo Station - Model N700 Shinkansen

The first Shinkansen was a dream made into a reality under the leadership of Shinji Sogo, who was the fourth president of Japan National Railways in the 1950's and early 1960's. The initial plan was to upgrade train service on the Tokaido Line, utilizing a high speed train on a dedicated standard gauge track, with the goal of reducing travel time from Tokyo to Osaka to two hours. Put into service in 1964, the launch of the first train was to coincide with the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games, showing the world the remarkable extent to which Japan had recovered after WWII. However, political goals notwithstanding, the Shinkansen was the first move toward migrating Japan's rail system to standard gauge, and set a new standard for quality of service and safety for Japan's rail system.

Joetsu Shinkansen

E7 Series Shinkansen at Tokyo Station - service to Nagano

The model 0 had a top speed of 200km/hr. Today's model N700 runs at speeds of 240–320 km/h, and throughout the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, most major cities are linked by Shinkansen.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: July 28, 2023

My Air Force Days

Post Date: March 28, 2008

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -- Henry Miller

Growing up in Dallas Texas in the 1950's and 60's, I always thought of Japan as a beautiful, intriguing land that I would really like to visit if I ever had the opportunity. That opportunity materialized in April of 1973.

Since graduating from Tech School at Chanute AFB in November 1971, I had been assigned to the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at McClellan AFB, in Sacramento California, and in the spring of 1973, I volunteered to attend NCO Leadership School. I really wasn't one for volunteering for anything, especially not some resident school for professional military training, complete with uniform inspections and close order drill. My reason for doing so was that testing for a promotion cycle was scheduled for May. It was the first cycle in which I was eligible for promotion to Staff Sergeant, and I wanted to make it on my first try. The key to doing that would be to score really well on the Promotion Fitness Examination. So there I was, early April 1973, TDY at Norton AFB, CA, enrolled in the 22nd Air Force NCO Leadership School. Actually, I enjoyed the classes, and the inspections, drills, etc. were not that bad. Overall, it was a really good school, and I felt as though I was set to ace the PFE, and earn my fourth stripe.

With only a few days remaining till graduation, I received a call from a personnel specialist at 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing HQ at McClellan. He called to inform me that if I was still interested in an assignment to Japan, there was about to be an opening, and that if I would agree to extend my enlistment by seven months in order to have enough retainability for a two year tour, the assignment was mine. Ever since I was in tech school, and learned that in my specialty field one of the five or six 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 in my four year enlistment, I had the chance to get the assignment that I had been wanting. Without hesitation, I told the HQ fellow to please go ahead and prepare the paperwork, and that I would sign the extension commitment as soon as I had graduated from Leadership School and returned to McClellan.

The next couple of months were rather a blur; I returned to work, took a TDY to Hawaii, went back to California, and took my promotion test (Leadership School was worth the effort -- about a month after I arrived in Japan, the promotion list was published, and I had a line number for SSGT!). For my remaining days at McClellan, it was mostly work as usual. Then, in my last days on duty, I sold my car and turned in my flight gear, sadly giving up the extra $55/month hazardous duty pay that I had been receiving while on non-crew flying status. I then went on a few days leave, traveling to Texas in order to visit family, and prepared to venture into another world. Finally, on June 29, 1973, 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 Air Base, 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 were still a lot of US military personnel moving into and out of the Asian theatre, and Hickam AFB/Honolulu International was a hub of connecting military and military contract flights, as there were a lot of troops from all branches of the U.S. military moving in all directions. Waiting for my flight to board, I sat in the airport bar, quietly enjoying a cold beer. A small group of Air Force guys were seated at a nearby table; one of them shouted out to me, "Hey Sergeant!! where are you headed?"

"PCS to Yokota," I said with a big grin.

"YOKOTA!!! JUST STARTIN' YER TOUR????" a heavy-set red haired two-striper in the group 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!" spontaneously forming 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 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, leaving them to affirm each other's affinity for childish behavior and pointless conversation, I went on to wait in the gate area, 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 Hickam Passenger 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 dependent wife with a three year old and a baby who was going there to join her husband. She was a nice young woman who seemed to be very shy, and who looked barely old enough to have two 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 mother 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 for 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. From under the seat, I retrieved my brief case, in which I had a few mini-bottles stashed, and silently declared to myself that 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 other hand, 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 the whiskey that I had consumed a few hours earlier, 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: March 22, 2024
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