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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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Japan ready to approve COVID-19 vaccines, following Britain (News)
Thu, 03 Dec 2020 06:01:01 +0900

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Thu, 03 Dec 2020 05:44:45 +0900

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Thu, 03 Dec 2020 03:41:46 +0900

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Thu, 03 Dec 2020 03:28:46 +0900

Police officers found the man, in his 40s, after spotting his car in the hot spring spa's parking lot. He had also dropped by his ...
Japan OKs free COVID-19 vaccinations for nation (News)
Thu, 03 Dec 2020 03:28:27 +0900

The law includes a provision obliging citizens in principle to make efforts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Japan to allow ‘large-scale’ overseas visitor numbers for 2020 Olympics, Nikkei reports (News)
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Organizers of the games, which were pushed back by a year in March because of the pandemic, had sold nearly 1 million tickets overseas, the ...
Russia deploys advanced S-300 missiles on disputed islands off Japan (News)
Thu, 03 Dec 2020 03:09:37 +0900

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Ex-farm minister suspected of taking bribes from egg production firm representative (News)
Thu, 03 Dec 2020 02:53:25 +0900

The former representative lobbied lawmakers and farm ministry officials on international standards for animal welfare, sources say.

Travel to Japan

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

Japan Culture

Post Date: March 29, 2008

Where would you eat? I'd opt for the Curry Depot restaurant on the right. See the sign that says カレー デポ (kare depo) ?

When I first arrived in Japan, I found the most perplexing impediment to getting around was the written language. When traveling to countries where the language is written in the same alphabet as English, one might not know what a word means, but you can at least pronounce it, and if you are looking for a place name, it is readable. In Japan, however, you could be starving for soba, but not realize that a soba restaurant is only across the street, even though there was a big sign that said そば hanging over the door

While Japanese might appear to be extraordinarily difficult, it is a well structured and orderly language with few irregularities in its basic form. The phonetics are consistent, and all foreign words that are integrated into the language are converted into Japanese phonetics. While this may seem odd and humorous to a foreigner listening to a McDonald's commercial and hearing the word "makudonarudo", wouldn't English be a lot easier to learn if there were not so many irregularities that one has to simply memorize.

I would encourage anyone who is traveling to Japan to study the language, even if it is just an introductory course in order to get a feel for the phonetics, grammar, basic vocabulary, and to learn the "kanas". I'll try to give you a bit of an introduction here.


Forget vowels and consonants, and think syllables -- single syllables. The vowel sounds of those syllables are as follows: a, i, u, e, o. A is a short a as in ah. I is a long e sound like see. U is a long u as in sue. E -- you're from Canada, eh? O is a long O like go. Now, we've just covered the first row of syllabic sounds in the Japanese phonetic set; those syllables are comprised of a single vowel with no consonant.

Combine these vowel sounds with a single leading consonant, and you have the next group: ka, ki, ku, ke, ko. See the pattern?

The only stand alone consonant sound is N, and it is considered a separate syllable.

There are some sounds that are foreign to us. For example, the r and l sound. There are a set of syllabic sounds that, when written in Romaji, or the roman character set that we use as our alphabet, they are: ra, ri, ru, re, ro. The consonant sound is somewhere between and r and l, and is very difficult for us to enunciate properly. This is why Japanese people have so much problem with the r and l sound when speaking English. If your name is Larry, forget about anyone properly saying your name. Some others that are mildly difficult at first, but easy to master are tsu, and diphthongs such as hya, hyu, hyo, bya, byu, byo, pya, pyu, pyo.

This will all make more sense when looking at a hiragana or katakana chart.


I mentioned Romaji in the section above. Romaji is a representation of Japanese words in our character set or alphabet. While you might see some signs written in romaji for commercial effect, or some signs in train stations written in romaji, Japanese do not make a practice of reading their own language in our alphabet. In fact, for many of them, romaji can be confusing.

romaji a ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa
romaji i ki shi chi ni hi mi   ri wi
romaji u ku su tsu nu hu mu yu ru  
romaji e ke se te ne he me   re we
romaji o ko so to no ho mo yo ro wo
romaji n                  

There are three sets of characters used in written Japanese. Kanji is a collection of hieroglyphic like characters adopted from the Chinese. Each character has a meaning, and there are at least two ways of reading each character. There are thousands of kanji, however, standard Japanese is defined by the usage of about 1800 of these characters. That being said, proper nouns such as town names and family names might be written in archaic characters that are not in common usage.

Tanigashira Station platform

Railroad station sign in rural Kyushu containing kanji, hiragana, and romaji

Hiragana is a set of just less than 50 characters that represent syllabic sounds. The characters do not have meaning, only sound. In the written language, you will see prepositions and verb endings written in hiragana. Whole words may also be written in hiragana in the case where either there is no kanji for the word, the writer does not know the kanji for the word, or it may be done for emphasis. In train stations, the town or station names on the platform signs will show name of the present stop in hiragana as well as kanji, and in some cases romaji. The previous and next stop names are written in hiragana and sometimes romaji. Store signs, menus, and the like often are written mostly in hiragana. Learn the chart on the right, and you will be a lot less likely to get lost or go hungry.

romaji a ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa
romaji i ki shi chi ni hi mi   ri wi
romaji u ku su tsu nu hu mu yu ru  
romaji e ke se te ne he me   re we
romaji o ko so to no ho mo yo ro wo
romaji n                  

Katakana is another syllabic character set that is very similar to hiragana. Foreign words that are integrated into the language are converted to the Japanese phonetics and then written in katakana. The basic katakana character set is detailed in the chart on the left.

Like hiragana, these characters do not have meaning, but only represent the sounds of syllables. Earlier, I mentioned the trade name McDonald's as in the fast food restaurant chain. McDonalds becomes "makudonarudo" or マクドナルド . My name, Robert, becomes "robaato", and is written in katakana as ロバート.

Katakana is also used in a lot of commercial signage and logos, and occasionally a word might be written in katakana for emphasis.

In hiragana and katakana, there are also voiced sounds formed by adding either a double hash mark or a small circle to the upper right of certain characters. I won't chart all of these, but, for example, the hiragana characters は ひ ふ へ ほ (ha, hi, hu, he, ho) become ば び ぶ べ ぼ (ba, bi, bu, be, bo) with the addition of the double hash mark. Adding the small circle, they become ぱ ぴ ぷ ぺ ぽ (pa, pi, pu, pe, po) . These sounds are represented in katakana by the identical method. There are other voiced sounds, and certain characters are combined to form diphthongs.


As I stated earlier in this article, there are thousands of kanji. Each character has a meaning, and at least two ways of being read. For example, the name of Japan's capital city, Tokyo, is written 東京. The meaning of the first character is east, and written by itself is read higashi. The meaning of the second character is capital, as in capital city. As you can determine from the meaning of these two characters, the word Tokyo means eastern capital. This makes sense because the city of Edo was renamed Tokyo when the Emperor Meiji, after having been restored as the head of government, moved the seat of government from Kyoto to Edo, which is east of Kyoto.

While it would take years to learn enough kanji to become literate, it is a good idea for the traveler to know a few, like the kanji for man , woman , entrance 入口, exit 出口 , north , south , east , west 西, and the characters of the numbering system.


Japanese Numbers
Number Kanji Romaji
1 ichi
2 ni
3 san
4 shi/yon
5 go
6 roku
7 shichi/nana
8 hachi
9 ku/kyu
10 ju
100 hyaku
1,000 sen
10,000 man
100,000,000 oku

In Japan, you will sometimes see numbers written in the Arabic numerals and sometimes in kanji. Prices marked on merchandise, if machine generated are usually in arabic numerals, e.g. an item selling for two thousand yen would be marked ¥2,000. However, that item might show the price in the native numeral kanji, especially if the price sign is handwritten, 二千円, or perhaps a combination using zeros, like 二000円. Menus often show the prices in kanji, so it is a good idea to be able to recognize the numeral kanji.

Another thing that is really handy to know, is the structure of the numbering system heirarchy. Please note in the chart on the right that there are symbols for 1-10, 100, 1000, 10000, and 100000000. The number twenty two, for example would be a combination of two, ten and two, and would be said ni-ju-ni. Two hundred twenty would be ni-hyaku-ni-ju. Two thousand two hundred twenty would then be ni-sen-ni-hyaku-ni-ju. Twenty thousand would utilize the 10,000 unit and would be read ni-man. Now it gets interesting, for two hundred thousand would be ni-ju-man, two million would be ni-hyaku-man, and twenty million ni-sen-man. Do you see the pattern? This isn't really all that difficult; it is just different from the way that we are used to expressing numerical values. If you know this, though, and if you can learn to express numbers in Japanese, then you are less likely to have that deer in the headlights look in the convenience store checkout line when the cashier politely tells you the total of your purchase.

I won't attempt to go any deeper into the language in this article, but I would encourage you to learn more if you plan to go to Japan.

A little knowledge of the language can go a long way in making your travels there more pleasurable. There are a lot of online guides to help you learn, and I have identified a few of these in the links section. If you have the opportunity to take a formal course in the language in either your local community college, or for military personnel and dependents, through your base education office, I would encourage you to do so.

 | Published by: Japan Days  logo
 | Date Modified: September 11, 2019

My Air Force Days

me with camera 1977

Me with movie camera - 1977

I was going through some boxes of old pictures and slides, when I came upon a small box full of 8mm movie films. And no, they weren't the "training films" that used to sometimes surface on poker nights at Yokota. These were movies that I shot with my Canon 814 Super 8 movie camera back in the early to mid 1970's.

In that box, one was labeled WB57 taxi. I had not thought about having made that film for many years. Thinking back to the early part of my Yokota tour, I remembered shooting a short clip one winter day, I think it was in Dec 1973, or possibly January 1974, of a WB57F taxiing on the parking ramp toward the runway.

I was standing on the wing of a WC-135, working on a U-1 foil, and luckily, I had taken my movie camera onto the aircraft with me that day. When I noticed that the B57's engines were starting, I ducked inside the aircraft, grabbed my camera, and went back out on the wing to get ready to film. As you can see in the video, standing on the wing of the 135 was the perfect vantage point from which to shoot. Unfortunately, I only had enough film left in the camera to shoot part of the taxi, and didn't have an extra film cassette to film the takeoff. Anyway, I am very happy to have taken the movie that day. I just had the super 8 converted to digital so that I could enjoy watching it in a more convenient format, and so that I could share it via this website.

Notice how low the wing tips are; the airplane must have had a full load of fuel. It looks like the left wing tip almost clips a snow bank as the plane rolls by.

Here are a couple of images that I captured from the video.

This is a WB57F high altitude reconnaissance plane taxiing toward the runway at Yokota Air Base in 1973


Another view - WB57F Yokota AB


WB57F P-systems and spheres in the Yokota AB MET/ARE shop

The WB57F was a pretty amazing aircraft. It had a wing span that was almost twice the fuselage length, and powered by two TF-33 fan jet engines (sometimes two smaller J-60 engines were mounted outboard of the main engines), it had a ceiling altitude of about 80,000ft. Although it could be equipped with a variety of special equipment, the standard configuration consisted of a B400 detection unit, an I-2 foil and single U-1 foil for particulate air sampling, and a P-system, which consisted of two platforms mounted in the nose. Each P-system platform, several of which are on the floor in the picture on the left, had two compressors, and held four 900 cu in steel spheres that could be pressurized to 3000psi. This equipment was the basic gear used to sample debris from nuclear tests performed, at that time, primarily by our cold war adversaries, USSR and China.

Prior to my tour at Yokota, these aircraft had been assigned to the 56th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. After the 56th WRS was deactivated, 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing left an operational detachment there, to which was assigned 3 of these aircraft along with the flight crews and necessary operational staff. Maintenance personnel, including MET/ARE were re-assigned to the 610 MASS.

I don't remember exactly when the 9th Weather Wing detachment was de-activated, and the aircraft left Yokota, but I think that it was very late 1974 or early 1975. That was the end of my experience supporting these unique aircraft.

The last news article that I read about the WB57F was from about 4 years ago in a piece that discussed an operation in Afghanistan run by NASA utilizing the last two remaining operational WB57F's as a platform for a highly specialized communications system. It was good to know that a couple of them were still flying high.

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