US Army

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Visiting US military bases is fun for me. The US Army, US Navy, US Air Force and US Marine Corps use 75 facilities within Japan and Okinawa, 51 of which are dedicated and the rest 24 shared with Japan Self Defense Force. Though those facilities are usually closed to civilians, they are open to residents around them once or twice a year, and you can get inside the military places during these festivals.

Visiting those facilities is one of the few occasions to get in touch with the United States. You can eat American-made hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, turkey legs, and other American foods. You can pay foods, sodas, beer, sweets, and souvenirs with US dollars. You can talk to Americans in English. And, you can find out how average Americans live their daily life. What kind of groceries do they buy? What kind of foods do they eat? What kind of newspapers do they read? What kind of school do they make their children attend? You can catch a glimpse of those things without flying more than 12 hours to get to mainland America.

I have visited US bases and facilities in Japan and Okinawa for more than 15 years. With respect to what I have experienced, I’m grading each of these out of 5 by categories of accessibility, smoothness of entry and exit, freedom of movement, and availability of on-base building. 5 is the most excellent, and 0 the worst.

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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.

Camp Zama
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.

US Army Cherry Blossom Festival in Camp Zama 2010 from Masayuki (Yuki) Kawagishi on Vimeo.

Today's lunch at Camp Zama
This is yesterday’s lunch eaten at a food court Camp Zama Bowling Center because I didn’t want to wait for many hours in line in front of the PX to get Anthony’s Pizza 🙁

I love to visit the US military bases located within Japan, such as Yokota Air Base, Camp Zama, Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Yokosuka Naval Base, etc. They are usually closed to civilians and normal Japanese people, but they open the gates a few times a year so that everybody can get into the bases (within limited areas, though).
Actually I’m not so much interested in military affairs, but I just want to know how the people (employees and their families) are living as normal Americans. I just want to get what they get, I want to eat what they eat, I want to drink what they drink, and I want to feel what they feel. These bases are very convenient for me to "enjoy America" without flying many hours.
Yokota Air Base is within an easy driving distance from my house. Friendship Festival is held in an August weekend every year. Every time I go to Yokota, I get T-shirts, first aid kits and tens of cans of soda and beer within my backpack at temporary stores.
Japanese-American Friendship Festival, Yokota AB

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Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach
I was in Honolulu this week. It’s completely a private trip. I had 40,000 miles of my Northwest WorldPerks mileage program, which was enough for trip from Tokyo to Hawaii.
It was my first time to go on a visit to Hawaii. When I was a small child, going to Hawaii was a prize beyond people’s reach. Since Japanese Yen was very weak (1$=over 250JPY!) and an airfare was very high twenty years ago, it was only rich people or first-prize winners of a quiz TV program that could trip to Hawaii. For the common people like us, Hawaii was just a dream.
But today, almost everybody in Japan can fly to Hawaii for spending just a few hundred dollars of airfare, or for redeeming frequent flyer’s mileage program. Thanks god.
One of the purposes of visiting Hawaii was to open my bank accounts in Hawaii. Many banks of Hawaii allow non-US citizens to have their bank accounts by simple procedures, while most other US banks require a social security number to open accounts.
To have US bank accounts brings me many benefits. They allow you to keep money in US dollars, which is much safer and stabler than Japanese Yen. Their savings accounts and CDs have higher interest rates than those in Japan, and their checking accounts allow you to issue checks for payment for services in the United States.
Central Pacific Bank, Waikiki branch
Central Pacific Bank seemed to be very popular among many Japanese people. When I entered the door of this bank and told a bank clerk that I wanted to open bank accounts, she told me to sign up in the waiting list and wait for a while. The waiting list had many Japanese names signed up already. Guests waiting in the lobby were all Japanese.
Account opening was very easy, by showing my passport and handing in a few simple documents (application forms and W8-BEN, a tax exempt application form for those who aren’t live within the US). Almost all of the staff members were Japanese or Japanese-Americans, and Japanese language was available in every situation. I opened a CD, a savings account and a checking account and deposited some money. It was told that an ATM card and checkbooks were going to be sent to me several weeks later.
US Army Museum US Army Museum US Army Museum US Army Museum US and Japan's vehicles displayed in front of US Army Museum
After opening accounts, I visited a few sightseeing spots of Honolulu.
Hawaii is one of tactically and historically important locations of US military sites, and Americans are proud of Hawaiian US forces. US Army Museum, near the Waikiki beach, showed various kinds of displays, ranging from the history of US military forces in Hawaii to the Pearl Harbor attack, Korean and Vietnam wars, and distinguished services by Eric Shinseki, a Hawaiian-born Japanese-American who became the first Chief of Staff of the US Army.
USS Arizona Memorial Hall
USS Arizona Memorial
USS Arizona USS Arizona sunk under sea Altar with a plate of victims' names USS Arizona US Submarine Bowfin Museum Kazuo Sakamaki's parade clothes
Pearl Harbor was also a big sightseeing spot in Hawaii. USS Arizona Memorial, Submarine Bowfin Museum, USS Missouri Museum, and Aviation Museum were collected in one place, and they were repeatedly appealing how bravely American soldiers had fought against Japanese aircrafts that had suddenly attacked Pearl Harbor.
US Battleship Missouri US Battleship Missouri Mess deck Surrender deck Instrument of Surrender
The Instrument of Surrender on USS Missouri impressed me very much. It’s a symbol of the change of Japan from the militaristic country to democratic one.
Hawaii Izumo Taisha Shrine
Byodoin Temple
Hawaii Izumo Taisha Shrine (top) and Byodoin Temple (bottom)
In addition to places showing American’s bravery, beautiful Japanese traditional buildings were also Hawaii’s wonderful sightseeing places. Many Japanese people immigrated into Hawaii in the 19th century, and they built shrines and temples there for their religious symbols. Today they are often used for a wedding ceremony for Japanese-Americans.
All visitors were neither Japanese nor Japanese-Americans when I visited the shrine and the temple, but they seemed to be fascinated with the "oriental mystery" from the Torii or the Buddha.
The six day trip to Hawaii was really exciting. I got many American products for my daily use at Wal-Mart or ABC stores or a local supermarket in Kaneohe. Some products were almost the same as what I used in Japan, and some were a bit different. Anyway, I really enjoyed America, American food, American products, and American culture. I want to be there again next year, and some day I want to move and live there after I retire.