My earliest traveling after joining the United States Air Force was to Misawa AB Japan. Take a moment and locate that there on the northern tip of Japan. Misawa was nicknamed "The Tip Of The Spear" for some reason, probably due to extreme northern location. My wife (now ex) and I arrived here on 24 December 1989 at 8ish in the morning after a 15 hour flight. After some very quick processing at the terminal, we grabbed our bags, a taxi, and headed to billeting (dorms the military call transient rooms). The first thing we noticed was how freaking cold it was and the second thing how deserted this part of the base looked. Have I ever mentioned I am from Houston Texas? Where the day I left I was swimming in the back yard with a temperature of low 80's, and now, here, in northern Japan, it was 8 degrees f.? We get to billeting and my sponsor (supervisor who was assigned to get us settled) was waiting to get us set up. We were rather tired, so we napped for a few hours and then walked across the street to Burger King for some dinner. After a delightful meal, we decided to get back to the room and get organized and whatnot.
The next morning, Christmas day, we woke to 41 inches of snow that fell over night in one of the heaviest snowstorms in 100 years. Vehicle movement on base was limited to emergency vehicles and snow removal equipment. No exploring today. However, the following day, my sponsor shows up at 7 am and greets us with some Burger King breakfast. We ate and then ventured out to find a car and a place to live. We found out, quickly, cash (Yen) is king in these parts. First, we got a car, a 2 y/o Honda Accord, $2000.00. Next, we went to a realtor and she rented us this cool 6 room condo style house for $800.00 a month. Both before noon, how cool was that. So, now life begins here at the tip of the spear, we got settled, and life was pretty good.
I was not aware of the vending machine population here. One can buy everything, yes everything, out of a vending machine. Anything from a drink to real estate and everything in between. Which was cool, I have a "bank" of vending machines 20 ft from my front door. Speaking of front doors, we had bowls just inside our front door where all your bills were paid. Couriers would leave a bill in one, you put your money out, and later he/she would come back to retrieve it. We never had to go anywhere to pay bills. Ok, we lived in a rafter large house for 2 people, we had a giant bathroom (1). But this bathroom had a tub about the size of a legal notepad, it was so small I never once attempted to get into it. At 6'8", I need just a little leg room. At that point, I realized I was in the land of the little people. I say that in a very kind way and not meant to be a bash on them as a people, but the Japanese in general are very small people, not trying to be derogatory by no means.
When we first moved in this house, I had noticed this business that operated 24/7 that was directly behind our house. We would see people walking in robes and slippers as well as getting out of their cars the same way. I was surprised and happy to find out it was a public bath house. In simple terms, it is a place to bath, relax, and get a steam. Afterwards, one could get a snack also. These ranged from very basic to the styling of a major resort. I lived in the country, so this one was rather large, but on the simple functional side of things. There were also ones for women, ones for men, coed, and family. The one behind my house was a family style one. Which means that both sexes bathed together, as a family unit. People of all ages, from infant to the elderly would be here. Plus, it was very cheap, about 75 cents a visit. I would normally go to bathe twice a day, no different a habit than being back in Texas. At first it was a little weird, but then became "normal" and part of the everyday way.
Even tho gambling isn't legal here, like many places, they found ways to get around all that. I stayed away from most of it, with the exception of pachinko parlors. The noisiest places on the face of the planet. Pachinko is an upright style pinball machine in the most basic of terms to describe it. Google it, then you will get it. Anyway, you put money in, and if you win, you get these steal bearings in return to collect. Collect for what? Prizes, cigarettes, coupons, food, and a whole slough of crap you don't want. Or, after a few times going and they don't think you are the law, you can make your way out back and give a code and the slot in the door opens. You give the guy your ticket, he gives you back a handful of cash. Always something to keep in mind.
There are many fine places to eat, even out here in the country. Being from the gulf coast, I really love seafood. I thought I had a grip on the whole seafood thing. Wrong, way wrong answer. I don't know jack about seafood. When you want seafood here, its a little bit different. I will eat almost anything. I do, however, draw the line when my food is looking back at me, then blinks. I have heard of fresh, but never so fresh they kill it at your table right in front of you. As cool as that seems boys and girls, the first time always makes you a little squeamish. I ate more unidentifiable things while in Japan than I had ever even known imaginable, and I have a very vivid imagination. Sushi bars were my favorite. I tried to go to a different one at least three times a week. The food was cheap, they prepared it in front of me, and it tasted fantastic!
Out where we lived, as well as allover Japan, there were establishments called "Love Motels". Not unlike the little motel on the edge of most towns where people thought they were getting away with something but the whole town knows, yea, that kind of place. A very popular destination for the married men of Japan. I don't know if I would call it socially acceptable, but it was common for the men to have mistresses and these motels are their meeting places. They are very business like places, not unlike driving up to a drive thru at McDonald's. There is a menu, mix and match, customize or go for the prepackaged deals, your choice. Select, pay, pull into your private stall/garage. My ex and I had to try it out, used the Texas room. In fact, my oldest daughter was conceived that very night. Do a little research on these for yourselves, to much to put right here, right now.
In Japan, we saw so many festivals that it would make some peoples head spin. There is a festival to celebrate just about any occasion you might be able to imagine. We went to so many festivals that they all started running together. I had my favorites that we would go to every year. Up north where I was, there are many local festivals. I will do a post or two another time with my favorites.
We had a great time in Japan. I saw so much that I never knew even knew existed, and now they are things I wish I could still be a part of today. Living in Japan is way different than being a tourist there. When one immerses oneself in the culture, we get to see the real side of where you really are. I highly recommend living in another country, it opens your eyes. I only touched on a few things here today, about 10% of what we actually did. Living there was cultural shock, but the shock helped us expand our minds and let us appreciate another culture.