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Date, Time, Currency Rate
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Mon, 12/5/2022, 4:20 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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Japan News and Discussion

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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: July 17, 2022

Japan Culture

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: July 16, 2022

My Air Force Days

Post Date: February 6, 2021

"With luck, it might even snow for us." -- Haruki Murakami, from After Dark

I am sitting in our home in Iowa on a cold and snowy day in early February 2021, warmed by the glow of my computer screen. I am doing so because events from earlier today provided me with ample inspiration and motivation to sit down and write this article. Reminiscing about a time long ago, I had gone searching through a box of old slides and negatives, and found pictures from a day in what had to have been about the same time of year as now, 46 years ago, on a cold and snowy day in Fussa Japan.

In early January, 1975, Ritsuko and I began our lives together by renting a tiny apartment in Fussa city, about 3 blocks from the east entrance to the train station. The flat consisted of a single 6 tatami mat room for living and sleeping, a toilet (fortunately a western style flushing type), and a minuscule kitchen. To bathe, we walked a block down the street to the neighborhood Sentō. It was a magical time; we have many fond memories of the few months that we spent living in that diminutive abode. However, after the passage of more than four decades, recalling the details of those memories often requires some discussion between us in order to reach a collaborative agreement on their accuracy.

While neither of us remember very many details from that day, looking at the pictures, we came to an agreement that the morning must have progressed something like this:

Ritsuko was enjoying her morning coffee.

snow outside our window

Looking out our window, we could see that there was a lot of snow. Fortunately, neither of us had to go anywhere that morning.

Ritsuko was content to settle down to work on one of her many projects. That day she was probably working on the hideously detailed USFJ Form 196EJ, a six page document via which she was to list her personal history, in Japanese and English. It was required to be submitted in 6 copies (all original; no photocopies allowed) as part of the package of official documents that we had to submit in order for us to receive permission from the US Air Force to marry.

getting ready to go

As much as I wanted her to finish the "permission to marry" forms, I couldn't resist being a bad influence that morning by convincing her join me for a walk outside in the snow. Ritsuko agreed; there were just a few last minute details to take care of before going out in public.

Outside, and we're off for a walk in the neighborhood. Wow, there is a lot of snow.

snow east side of Seiyu

There aren't many automobiles on the streets this morning.

Evidently, this was not a snow day off for the school children.

people headed to work

Not a snow day off for most people. Slogging through the snow, it's on to work.

Business owners prepare to open shop.

slippery sloppy day

Life goes on, even on a day of slippery, sloppy weather.

Ritsuko says this has been fun, but it is time to go back home.

snow people

Later that morning, we went back outside and Ritsuko built a snow man, a rather portly fellow evidently adorned with some sort of Heian Period head gear. Nice bit of detail, my dear. That blob of snow with two orbs of snow attached haphazardly and standing next to her snow man, is my feeble attempt at sculpting a snow woman. Obviously neither of us were invited to compete in the Sapporo Snow Festival that year.

That's all for now. I hope that you all enjoyed stepping back into the past with us.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: August 1, 2022
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