Since a couple of people asked, here’s a bit about my time in Japan and Okinawa while I was in the Navy. I was stationed on Okinawa, part of NSGA Hanza (Naval Security Group Activity, aka, ‘spooks’), for 18 months but got up to the mainland on a short vacation, primarily to climb Mt. Fuji. My biggest regret at the moment is the lousy camera I had at the time. I’ve pulled a few pictures that seemed more interesting than others. Most of the photos I have are pictures of shipmates while I was there, and so not of much interest to anyone but myself.
Anyway, to start with, Okinawa was my first duty station after the various schools the Navy sent me to around the country. I have to say it was more than a little surreal as it was also the first time I’d ever been out of the country. I’d never so much as gone to Canada or Mexico, so it was quite an experience. Surprisingly, learning to drive on the opposite side of the road seems to come quickly to people. I don’t recall anyone having any real trouble adjusting. It was also where I learned to drive a manual transmission, so I learned to shift with my left hand. I had more trouble readjusting to driving on the right when I came back to the States.
Here’s a shot of the Army base I was quartered at, Torii Station:
The Navy had separate barracks (just there on the left in the photo) from the Army people, and strangely we really didn’t mix with eachother. The inter-service rivalry was alive and well. Humans have an amazing capacity to divide themselves into separate groups, we seem to find reasons to keep our little tribes away from eachother. Anyway, the entrance to the base was through these torii gates. Behind it you can see the South China Sea. I remember one time driving down the hill where I took this picture and seeing two water spouts (tornadoes at sea). That was quite a sight. Sadly I did not have a camera handy at the time.
One of the first things we all had to do when we reported there was to take a class on some basic Japanese phrases, to help us navigate out “on the economy” as we used to say. We were also briefed on how to dial phone numbers there (longer and somewhat more intricate than in the States). Then, when we had just enough knowledge to be dangerous, we were packed off on an Okinawan bus to the capital city, Naha, for the day. Once we arrived we had to use a local pay phone to call back to the base. A gaggle of my buddies and I somehow made our way to a shopping mall and spent some money. I set about testing my new-found Japanese skills on a girl who worked in one of the shops, and bought several items. I guess they were impressed that I’d embarrass myself publicly like that and gifted me with a little red glass bell windchime, which still proudly hangs in my kitchen to this day. The moral of the story is, they don’t care how little you know or how badly you pronounce the language. They’re so pleased that you’ve made an attempt to speak it, they will bend over backwards to help you out.
This is one of my favorite pictures that I took. It’s a group of schoolchildren, not sure where they were heading, but I thought they looked like a row of ducklings in their matching yellow outfits toddling down the sidewalk. I’m guessing they were kindergarten age, they were so cute. Their teacher is at the head of the line there.
This pic is actually a postcard that I was smart enough to buy of a cemetery filled with mausoleums. I have pictures of another one closer to the base that are more rounded on top, which at the time we referred to as ‘turtle-back tombs.’
And this is the moat around the Imperial Palace.
A group of us had gone up to the mainland for a week or so primarily to climb Mt. Fuji, and then I spent a few extra days on my own visiting a friend who was stationed at another base, Kami Seya. Wow, there’s a story and a half which I think I’ll save for another time. Instead, I will tell you about climbing Mt. Fuji. You’ve all see photos of Fuji-san from a distance, so here’s what it looks like on the trail. Honestly, I have no idea how high up we were at this point:
We’re above the tree-line here, above the clouds. It’s not really all that pretty at this height. It’s composed of volcanic rock, and the trail most of the way is several inches deep loose volcanic gravel. We all had walking sticks with the Japanese battle flag attached and bells that tinkled with every step (most of us removed the bells before too long). The sticks are branded at different stations on the way up, to mark how far you make it. There’s a station (8th? 9th?) that is the last before the summit climb where hikers stop overnight. Then, they get you up about 3:00 AM to finish the climb to the top to watch the sun come up. I skipped that part, believe it or not. Ok don’t yell at me, I was young and dumb. I remember sitting down to rest at one point on the climb, and as I sat there catching my breath a couple of older Shintu priests who were briskly making their way up started waving and smiling as they went by, saying “Come on! Come on!”, urging me on. What could I do? I got up and started walking again. I forget how many hours we climbed, at least four, possibly five. We didn’t start at the base, we were bussed to the “5th” station to begin the hike (which was good as a few of us had gotten hammered on sake the night before…I do not recommend climbing mountains with a hangover, for the record) You can see a hiking stick being carried by someone in the photo below. I still have mine.
While wandering around a couple days before the climb, we made our way to Kamikura, where we saw this enormous bronze Buddha. It’s said to have been housed inside a temple once. Then centuries ago a tsumani washed over the area and destroyed the temple, but left the Buddha in place.