As written several times in this blog, I like to visit US military bases in Japan when they are open to public. They are usually off-limits to Japanese civilians, but open a few times a year for friendship festivals. Once you pass through the gate, you can see the same landscapes in the United States as seen on TV which you can’t see while off base.
Why do Japanese people find so amusing about what are seen in the United States? Going to the United States is, for most of them born after WWII, a dream and an exciting unordinary experience. They long, they attempt, and some lucky ones carry out, to do it. Yet most of them have not enough time, budget or physical strength to take a long leave from their employer, buy airline tickets for hundreds of thousand yen, sit on a plane for many hours and stay for one week in the mainland America or Hawaii. Visiting a US base in Japan is a one-day trip, costs only train fares to it, and offers visitors almost the same experiences as going actually to the mainland USA.
Yokota Air Base, Camp Zama, Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Yokosuka Naval Base, Negishi Heights, Sagami Depot, Naval Support Facility Kamiseya and Ikego Heights are all I’ve been, out of 85 US military facilities within Japan.
Yokota Air Base (Fussa, Tokyo): the only US Air Force Base in the Kanto Plain. There is the biggest Friendship Festival in late August every year, with the most stalls selling the most kinds of products. Visitors enter from the Supply Gate to the festival venue. Some hangers are open for a stage and stalls. Restaurants and food courts are not open.
Camp Zama (Zama, Kanagawa): opens twice a year, in early April for cherry blossom festival and early August for bon odori festival. Although no buildings but a food court, a theatre and a bowling centre are open to public, you can walk around in almost all open areas in the camp site. Soda vending machines (both Japanese and American) are available. ATMs are also available and you can withdraw cash with an ATM card issued in the US or an international ATM card. You can have access to mailing boxes so if you have mail with an American stamp affixed you can put it in the mailbox to send it to an address in the US for the same fare as in the mainland US. Food stalls are lower in number so you’ll have to wait in longer lines to get foods.
Atsugi Naval Air Facility (Ayase, Kanagawa): opens a few times a year, in the cherry season, on the Independence Day of the USA, and in August. Entrance is narrow so you have to wait in a long line to get inside. Bag check is strict at entrance and there is sometimes a dog inspection, where a working military dog checks your bag put on the ground to smell it to check if there’s nothing suspicious in it. David O. Taylor Field, a wide football field, is usually open for a stage, food stalls and a playground. In many cases, the apron area of the air facility is open and some carrier-based planes are displayed.
Yokosuka Naval Base (Yokosuka, Kanagawa): opens a few times a year, in the cherry season, in summer, and more. The entrance is the narrowest so there is the longest lines in front of it. You have to wait for more than two hours! Besides, the exit is narrow, too, so you must wait for a long time to get out. McDonald’s and a food court are open to visitors in the base. There are various kinds of stalls, ranging from American foods to American sweets and cookies.
Negishi Heights (Yokohama, Kanagawa): opens in late April and in late August. The Community Center building, Negishi All Hands Club (a bar and restaurant complex) and the open space around them are available for visitors. An ATM is on the first floor of the Community Center and visitors can freely use it. US mailboxes are available too. There are fewer visitors than in any other US bases so you can have access to food stalls without waiting so much time. Bowling lanes, arcade games and a movie theatre are available for visitors. Billiard and dartboards are available at All Hands Club, but darts are not allowed to bring inside the venue.
Sagami Depot (Sagamihara, Kanagawa): opens not every year. I was there in September 2007 for Music Festival. Admission fee was 500 yen. High-pressure Japanese officers at the entrance refused my taking pictures of the entrance gates. Visitor’s areas were strictly limited but there were no signs indicating where visitors may stay. Some visitors lost their way in a restricted area and captured by military police.
NSF Kamiseya (Yokohama, Kanagawa): opens in late March or early April. The festival venue is an open space where food stalls and a playground area are set up. People wait in long lines in front of the food stalls.
Ikego Heights (Zushi, Kanagawa): opens in May. The easiest-to-access site of military bases in the Kanto Plain, within a 5-minite-walk from the nearest train station. The festival venue is only within a football field, where food stalls and a playground area are set up. Visitors should stay within the field and aren’t allowed to go any other place. There’s no need to wait in front of food stalls so much time.
Last night I attended a meeting for alumni of Osaka University, where I graduated, to see the presentation by Ryuji Yamada, President and CEO of NTT DoCoMo, one of Japan’s mobile phone operators. Mr. Yamada is also a graduate from Osaka University and was invited to this meeting as a guest speaker.
He talked to us about NTT DoCoMo’s current circumstances, innovation plans and future strategies. He said in advance that the revenue from voice communications was decreasing year by year and so far the loss was not completely compensated yet by the revenue from packet communications, so innovations in packet communication was important. He also added that one of the important things right now was to change policies so as to meet the current situation where mobile communication market in Japan was reaching its full maturity. He said that he had launched the “All-DoCoMo Reform Plans”, where more than 3000 current problems had been collected from every workplace, ranging from R&D divisions to local shops, and the problems had been dealt with 25 project teams for discussion and improvement. Some of the problems were solved by the plans. One of the solutions is a special assurance plan to dispatch an on-site consultant engineer to the customer who complained of dissatisfied signal reception at home, within 48 hours from the time of this customer’s complaint call.
The most impressive point of his presentation was that mobile devices will be tools for personal activity assistance. Since the first era of them, YOU have done something with them, from voice communications to internet access and electronic wallets. In the future, THEY will do something for you. They will proactively help you do something. One of such solutions already in service is the “i-Concier”, where text messages such as traffic information, weather information, and local event information, are automatically displayed on mobile phone’s screen, according to date, time and phone’s location obtained from antennas communicating with the phone.
Media for information distribution is, according to his speech, shifting from text-based message to motion videos. He said that, as smart phones was being more and more popular, video would be the key media used for not only entertainment but tourist information, online shopping, navigation, security and medical assistance.
For such advanced services by smart phones, high network performance is necessary. Mr. Yamada declared that in December 2010 NTT DoCoMo would launch Long Term Evolution, or LTE, a 3.9-generation mobile telephony service, starting with that for the 2GHz band and to extend to that for the 1.5GHz band, and would offer 3G/LTE-dual handsets next year. With LTE terminals, radiowaves can be used approximately 9 times more efficient than current 3G terminals. That is, you can enjoy 9 times smarter services than today’s phones.
To prevent NTT DoCoMo’s LTE system from making the Galapagos ecosystem, he emphasized that NTT DoCoMo also did international activities more energetically than ever. It founded research and development facilities in Beijing, Europe and the United States, for contribution to standardisation and normalisation in the projects of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP. At the same time, it’s investing developing countries’ operators like TTSL and TTML in India, in order to help do business with it.
It’s greatly welcomed that mobile services will evolve to be more advanced and attractive for users. My hope is, as written in the last entry, to accept any terminal I want to use, as long as it meets the basic standards.
I heard the news that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan started discussing a policy to require mobile phone carriers to release SIM-lock-free handsets from the next generation. As is often written in some other entries of this blog, I have been dissatisfied with the current cellular phones in Japan because they are far from the global standards.
Today mobile phones are widely spread worldwide, ranging from smartphones like iPhone or Nokia N900 communicator to cheap simple cell phones only for calling and text messaging. They are handy, convenient and easy to use even in developing countries where electric supply is not sufficient. Thanks to their size, you can carry them everywhere in the world. In spite of their mobility, there are two major countries where you can’t use them as conveniently as in the rest of the world — Japan and Korea. Especially in Japan, the mobile systems and services have been so unique that they are often compared to the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, where endemic species are seen.
Every time I begin to visit a US military facility I feel that spring has come. Yesterday I went to Camp Zama for US Army Cherry Blossom Festival as this year’s first visit to US military bases. It was a little cold but fine. Cherries were almost at their full bloom and looked the most beautiful. There were plenty of people coming the venue.
Here’s the video recorded by a camcorder of my cell phone at Camp Zama yesterday and you can see what went on there.