What was I doing in Japan?
I've been to Japan three times, all of them on business, and all of them very frustrating short business trips. The first trip was when I had a research scientist position with Purdue University, the second and third were when I was doing training work for a U.S. based company, first teaching networking protocols to EMC in Tokyo, and then doing Linux work at Misawa Air Base.
My first visit to Japan was a business trip with Purdue University. This was a haze of inter-city train rides and ritualized business meetings. I have no pictures from that trip, and no advice beyond don't travel that way!
The second time was a networking project for EMC, doing some customized training for them at one of their offices in central Tōkyō. That was when I wrote some TCP/IP haikus. Unfortunately, TCP/IP haikus have not yet caught on. If they would, they have the potential for significant improvements in computer networking.
Better yet, or maybe worse, are the cryptographic haikus.
The third time was for some Linux work at Misawa Air Base, way up at the northern tip of the main island of Honshū.
Staying in Central Tōkyō
See the logistics page for more on getting from Narita International Airport into Tōkyō. This trip dates back to the end of my film photography era, so some of these pictures are rather grainy and poorly lit. The next page moves us into the digital era!
On the EMC job I was staying at the Keio Plaza hotel. This is a very high-end hotel in the central Shinjuku district of Tōkyō. Think of the hotel in Lost in Translation.
The hotel in Lost in Translation was actually the Park Hyatt Tōkyō, but the Keio Plaza was similar in many ways. It has an elegant lobby staffed by several bellboys in uniforms and tiny hats right out of 1930s movies. The 1,450-room hotel, the first high-rise hotel built in Japan, is a pair of towers 138 and 178 meters tall.
The company had suggested that I take the hotel shuttle bus, but I didn't want to ride from hotel to hotel through central Tōkyō for two to three hours. You need plenty of cash in Japan and ATMs can be hard to find, so get cash at the ATM while you're still in the airport. Then head downstairs to the complicated train station. Get a Pocari Sweat from a vending machine and try to figure out the train system.
I had taken the Narita Ekusupurseu or Narita Express train from the airport to the Shinjuku Station. The hotel is a few blocks away, but tunnels lead most of the way. That was good as it was pouring down rain, and I didn't have to do much more outdoors than cross the road.
I had a very nice room on the 29th floor of the hotel with a view out over the Shinjuku district. The room had a small bedside table with a built-in clock, room light controls, a night-light underneath, and channel and volume controls for the "radio", a choice of four audio programs. I encountered the same bedside hotel furniture in Hong Kong.
The breakfast in a hotel like that is expensive if it isn't included with the business rate for the room. It's again similar to what I encountered in Hong Kong, where the locals aren't sure what the odd foreign visitors will want so they err on the side of variety. It's a big buffet with scrambled eggs, poached eggs, soft-boiled eggs, ham, bacon, some odd sausages, french fried potatos, pasta, salad, pasta salad, bread, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sliced kiwi fruit, and more. Plus juices, coffee, and several varieties of tea.
A more typical breakfast, at least judging by what I got at local places in the limited time I was completely on my own, might be something like salmon inside sticky rice balls rolled in seaweed, a spicy meatball, and a small piece of an egg dish similar to quiche.
The job site was just a few blocks away, and it was an interesting walk through Nishi-Shinjuku, the skyscraper business district near the Shinjuku Station. This was where Japan's skyscraper building trend really began in the 1970s with the Keio Plaza.
The two-towered building in the first picture below is the Tōkyō-to Chōsha or Tōkyō Metropolitan Government Building. The whole thing is a complex of three buildings, each of them occupying an entire city block. Building Number 1, seen here, is the most prominent, being a tower that splits at the 33rd floor and continues as two separate towers to 48 floors. It's meant to simultaneously resemble a Gothic cathedral with its two towers, and an integrated circuit with its detailed facade.
Japanese science fiction often depicts some version of this building as a feature of a post-apocalyptic or futuristic Shinjuku district.
My job was in EMC's offices in the Shinjuku Mitsui Building, seen on the right side of the second picture above. It's the one with the diagonal bracing in its end.
Lunch each day would be a bentō box lunch, several places at street level sold them and there was a park nearby that made for a pleasant place to have lunch.
Evenings in Shinjuku
The class ended about 4:30 PM each day, at which point I would go back to the room, change clothes, and head right back out to explore the area.
With Shinjuku Station right there, I could easily get to anywhere in Tōkyō if I wanted. But there was plenty to see and do in Shinjuku.
The area is certainly brightly illuminated at night. Neon in many colors, and everything is brightly colored.
There is a lot out on the street, but the tightly controlled "indoor city" concept is very popular. Also see the love for Disney World and shopping malls. Underground pedestrian tunnels connect shopping arcades to department stores, all of it enclosed in concrete and lit with bright fluorescent lighting, but with the pedestrian tunnels sometimes having some appearance of a street.
The best area was the back alleys just north of Shinjuku Station, almost under the tracks. The alleys are lined with little smoky izakayas or Japanese taverns, many one two to three meters wide. The alleys are narrow and almost covered over with signs and awnings.
There's very little signage or labeling in anything other than Japanese. Well, of course, we're in Japan after all! Many of them don't even use quasi-Arabic numerals used in the west, but instead use the Chinese numerals. Again, we're in East Asia, so this does make sense.
The numerals for 1, 2, and 3 are easy: 一, 二, 三, just count the joss sticks. But I gave up after three. The glyph for zero looks like it could encode quite a bit of information given its complexity.
|100||١ ٠ ٠||百|
|1000||١ ٠ ٠ ٠||千|
An English menu in one izakaya listed:
Pork Heart |
I always went for the udon or soba, the wheat or buckwheat noodle soup, or the yaki-udon, the pan-fried noodles, or maybe sushi. For a snack you could always get edamame.
The izakayas were small, four meters wide at the widest, extending back eight to ten meters from the passageway. A counter with stools would run down the center, facing the cooking area against one wall. There might be a small booth or two with pairs of seats, if there was adequate room.
Walk around until you find people eating something that looks good. Squeeze into the place and point at what you want. Expect no English to be spoken or understood. The area is much like Blade Runner, except with less rain and fewer robots, at least when I was there.
There are plenty of places to get a quick and relatively cheap meal. Lots of places have carry-out bentō box meals. Train stations have sit-down places. They almost all have plastic replicas of the available food and drink in a display near the entrance. So, if all else fails, you can simply point!
And their names tend to be in something that looks like English but isn't....
There are a lot of curry shops. Japanese curry, not South Asian curry. In a typical curry shop you pay at the register as you enter and get plastic tokens. Seat yourself at the counter and turn over the tokens to collect your food and drink.
North to Misawa
My third time in Japan was for some Linux work at Misawa Air Base, way up at the northern tip of the main island of Honshū. Misawa is an unusually busy facility. It houses units of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Army, plus the Japanese Air Self Defense Force. The single 10,000' runway is also used for commercial flights.
Misawa is a joint U.S. military base, primarily a Pacific Air Forces base with the 35th Fighter Wing as its host wing, and also the 373rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group and the 301st Intelligence Squadron. The 35th FW was flying F-16s.
It also hosts U.S. Navy units, primarily the Patrol and Reconnaissance Force of the Seventh Fleet and the Navy Informations Operations Command Misawa (formerly the Naval Security Group Activity Misawa). The Navy was flying P-3 Orions and EP-3E ELINT aircraft.
Plus, for good measure, the U.S. Army's 403rd Military Intelligence Detachment (formerly the 750th Military Intelligence Company) is here.
Misawa is also the Japanese Air Self Defense Force's Northern Air Defense Force Headquarters, and hosts the JASDF 3rd Air Wing. They were still flying F-4 fighters and the E-2C mini AWACS, plus fighter trainers.
||Tavrichanka, Primorskiy Kray||Radiostantsiya Mayak|
||Primorskiy Kray||Radio VBC|
||Komsomolsk, Khabarovskiy Kray||Radiostantsiya Mayak|
||Khabarovsk||Radio Vostok Rossia|
||Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk||Radiostantsiya Mayak, the
strongest station in the morning
||Tavrichanka, Primorskiy Kray||Radio Lemma|
||Razdol'noe, Primorskiy Kray||Primorskoe Radio|
||unknown Russian||Radio Liberty / VOA ?|
||Tavrichanka||Radio Studiya O'key|
Russian MW Stations Audible in Northern Japan
There is very good
into Misawa from east through central Asia,
no doubt a reason for
the very impressive antennas found at Misawa.
They have since torn down the "Elephant Cage" or
used for directional interception, one of the last of its kind.
at Misawa as well as:
• USASA Field Station Augsburg, Germany
• Chicksands, England
• Clark AB, Philippines
• Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
• Karamursel, Turkey
• Udon Thani Province, Thailand
• San Vito dei Normanni Air Station, Italy
The two at Misawa and Elmendorf were, as of 2009, the last two in operation.
I was jet-lagged for much of the trip and getting up at 0300 or so. There's not much to do at 0300 when you're stuck on an overseas USAF/USN base. Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR work very hard indeed to make U.S. military bases into microcosms of the Confederate States of America. It's all NASCAR, Taco Bell and Popeye's Chicken, and low-power FM transmitters clogged with Rush Limbaugh and inbred country "music" plus a token percentage of rap.
About all you can do is stroll around the base in the dark and practice your Russian by scanning the MW broadcast bands. I heard the following:
FM broadcasting in Japan is on 76-90 MHz, an unusual range of frequencies. 90-108 MHz carried VHF television channels 1 and 2 until the July, 2011 analog shutdown. Most of the world uses 88-108 MHz for FM broadcast. The former Soviet Union and eastern Europe used 66-74 MHz but that is mostly discontinued now.
In the early evening you can go to a movie on the base theatre. Being a base theatre, everyone knows to jump to their feet as the lights dim. That's everyone except the confused visitor, of course. The U.S. national anthem is played as a waving flag is displayed. Then there are some short films promoting the idea of joining the military. Yes, recruiting happens on a military base. Then they play the movie.
At 1630 each afternoon, the U.S. and Japanese national anthems are played on loudspeakers spread around the base. If you are walking outdoors (or driving) you are supposed to stop during the music.
I didn't get to travel fifty kilometers southwest of Misawa, west of Hachinohe, to the village of Shingō and its odd local legend of the Tomb of Jesus Christ. The story is that the "Takenouchi Documents" were copied about 1,500 years ago from even older documents, passed from generation to generation in the Takenouchi family while men from that family served as priests at the Koso Kotai Jingu shrine in Isohara, in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Documents said to pertain to two small graves on the Sawaguchi family's ancestral land in Shingo turned up in the 1930s among the possessions of Koma Takeuchi, one of those Shinto priests in Isohara. The papers were said to be written in an ancient form of Japanese, although others claim it was a form of Hebrew. The original scrolls were seized by the authorities, taken to Tōkyō, and lost in World War II.
The graves were located in a bamboo grove on a small hill in 1935. Scholars concluded that the grave on the right is that of Christ, and the other holds his brother's ears and a lock of the Virgin Mary's hair.
According to the legend, Jesus visited Japan during his "lost years" and studied its language and culture before returning to Palestine.
Then his younger brother, Isukiri, took his place and was crucified. Jesus fled to Siberia, crossed to Alaska, and a few years later arrived by sea at the port of Hachinohe. He settled in Shingō, became a rice farmer, adopted the name Herai Taro Dai Ten Ku, married the Lady Miyu, had three children, and lived to the age of 106.
Members of the Sawaguchi family still live in the area, believed by some (but not the Sawaguchis themselves) to be the descendants of Jesus.
Meanwhile, a self-styled "cosmoarcheologist" named Wado Kowaka claimed to have transcribed the original "Takenouchi Documents", including the parts about how the ancestors of the human race came from outer space and what really happened to Atlantis. That's quite a feat, given that the documents were lost before 1945 while Wado Kosaka wasn't born until 1947 (and died in 2002). He also claimed to have contacted a UFO on a television program, and had a "Ph.D." from Pacific Western University, a diploma mill based in Hawaii in 1988-2006. You can read his "translations" here. Or at least you can see them, you'll need to know Japanese in order to really read them.
All this seems to have had some influence on the Mahikari religious movement founded in 1963.