The Gardners Discover Japan

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmail
O-torii (great floating gate) at Miyajima Island Previous page: A Five Story Pagoda at the Itsukushima Shrine, also on Miyajima Island, Japan. Photos provided by Cindy and John Gardner.
O-torii (great floating gate) at Miyajima Island Previous page: A Five Story Pagoda at the Itsukushima Shrine, also on Miyajima Island, Japan. Photos provided by Cindy and John Gardner.

We’ve had the good fortune of traveling with Jerry and Mary Edsen last year, and so we eagerly looked forward to another adventure. Both are retired Air Force, so they know the ropes of Space-A travel. They also possess those two characteristics that are absolutely required – patience and flexibility.

We had planned this trip for about six months. Jerry and Mary were hoping to fly from Scott AFB, IL, to Travis AFB, CA, which is near our home. They got somewhat close – North Island in San Diego. They rented a car and drove the 11 hours up to San Rafael. Now we were together and ready to start our trip to Japan.

Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

C-17 from Travis to Hawaii. Easy. 53 seats, 13 PAX. Hickam had no rooms, but over at Pearl Harbor (Lockwood Hall: 808-421-5400) we had accommodations for $55 per night. We also used Enterprise to get a car to facilitate moving around to lodging and food. Car rental is right in the Hickam terminal. Cost for two days was $74.

There were three flights Monday morning from Hickam to Kadena AB on Okinawa, Japan, starting at 0500. Although we wanted to go to Yokota AB in Tokyo, we decided Kadena was closer to our goal than Hawaii. We didn’t have to spend so much time on the mental gymnastics about our strategy however. The seat count on all three flights totaled 17. We were not selected. We were however selected for a C-5 later in the day, but you know what that means – mechanical problems. Thus we spent two nights in Hawaii waiting for the plane to be fixed. Not a hardship.

Tuesday, Feb. 28

Finally airborne on the C-5 for what we’re calling a Tour of Asia. After an eight-hour flight we landed in Guam. We were fortunate to secure rooms on base at Anderson AFB. (The phone number was posted in the phone booth in the terminal). Jerry and Mary ended up sharing a house with a Cat V mom and her three adorable children. For $25 John and I had nice accommodations in remodeled single-room quarters.

Wednesday, Feb. 29

Today was spent flying into Osan AB, Republic of (South) Korea, and waiting a couple of hours to reboard and fly on to Yokota AFB. We stayed at the Kanto Lodge on base for three nights ($41.50 per night) before leaving for Tokyo. For $8 and your military ID you can board the daily shuttle bus from the Kanto Lodge direct to the USN-run New Sanno Hotel in downtown Tokyo.

We had booked our six-night stay at the New Sanno five months prior to arrival. E-Mail: room_rsv@thenewsanno.com. From U.S.: 011-03-3440 -7871 ext.7121. Rooms were $73 per night. Two very resourceful and helpful concierge ladies helped everyone with travel questions. Besides three restaurants, a Deli, bakery, and serving Starbucks coffee :-), The New Sanno had a small Exchange and some food supplies.

Being close to the subways was another plus for The New Sanno. We were able to take our day trips to the Ginza, Tsukiji Fish Market, Kamakura, Asakusa, Tokyo Tower, and the new Sky Tree. Speaking of the Sky Tree, we enjoyed having lunch across the street from this 634-meter communication tower. We were sitting in a small glass-fronted café when four Japanese people waved to us and then started taking our picture. They were outside the window, we were inside. We enthusiastically waved back and then signaled that we wanted to take their picture. It was great fun and all eight of us were enjoying a good laugh. This was just one small example of the friendliness and happiness we encountered throughout our three weeks in Japan. You don’t really need to speak the language either. Our dozen or so words of polite phrases and questions were all we needed to navigate around Japan – that and a big smile, of course.

After exploring Tokyo and its environs we took the shuttle bus back to our reserved rooms at the Kanto Lodge, Yokota AFB. We wanted to take advantage of the large exchange and commissary on base; we planned to utilize the ITT office, located in the Yojo Community Center, for maps and suggestions for the next part of our next journey. It was also our opportunity to use the free laundry facilities located on every floor. The four of us enjoyed our easy walks to the dining hall (Samurai Café) and the free base shuttle was very convenient for longer trips to the AMC terminal and Fussa Gate (leading to the adjacent small town of Fussa).

Tuesday, March 13

Today we took an early morning taxi from the Kanto Lodge to the Fussa train station. The local JR train carried us to Tokyo where we bought tickets on the Shinkansen fast train (one way, $165) to Kyoto. All of the ticket machines have a button to press for English so buying tickets was never a huge problem.

Tea at the Rakucho Ryokantime for Mary, Jerry, & John. Photos by the Cindy and John Gardner.
Tea at the Rakucho Ryokantime for Mary, Jerry, & John. Photos by the Cindy and John Gardner.

We felt a good way to experience the culture was to stay at a traditional Ryokan. Finding one to fit our budget was the challenge. A friend recommended the Rakucho Ryokan in northern Kyoto and it turned out to be exactly the experience we wanted. Leaving our shoes at the door when we entered, we were greeted by a man who spoke some English. He gave us slippers to wear, maps and bus schedules of the area, and some of the do’s and dont’s of living in a Ryokan. (Rakucho Ryokan: rakucho@yb3.so-net.ne.jp).

Each couple had their own tatami mat room with two comfortable mattresses about six inches off the floor. Folded at the foot of each bed was our beautifully presented Yukatas (traditional cotton robe) There was a low round table with a tea service, and a small lovely garden behind the shoji screen and window. A short way down the hall was a men’s lavatory, then a shower room, a hot tub room (more on that in a minute) and two additional bathrooms, both with western toilets that had heated seats and a bidet wash. There was a small kitchen area for shared use and an apartment-size washed and dryer.

My favorite part, experienced on previous trips to Japan, was the hot bath. In this Ryokan it was set up for single-use. You sat on the small stool in front of the faucet and scrubbed yourself clean, rinsing off with a shower head. Once you are squeaky clean and shampooed, you step into the hot bath to soak. You’re up to your neck in pure hot water thanking your lucky stars that you decided to experience this relaxing ritual. The average daytime temperature during our two evenings at Rakucho was 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit so you can imagine how welcoming this bath felt.

Heat however was not a problem. We could control the temperature in our room, and we had heated electric mattress pads beneath our thick comforters. The cost of $107 per couple, per night, was well worth the comfort, experience, and location.

After a short walk from our Ryokan to the bus, we were able to explore Kyoto. Kyiomizu Temple was probably our favorite experience. Although we were a couple of weeks early for the full cherry blossom exposure, we were delighted to see several early trees in full glorious bloom.

We were back to the Kyoto train station getting tickets to Iwakuni MCAS on March 15. We found Iwakuni very interesting. Lodging was easy, but they did say it becomes impossible if they have several priority PCS’s. We were lucky I guess. We had two nights at $95 per night, which was the highest we paid throughout our three weeks in Asia. The bedroom had a double bed and a twin, dresser and TV; full kitchen with an oven, range, microwave, etc; living room, TV, couch, and chair. No internet is available.

The shuttle bus was very helpful getting around this large base. Retirees cannot eat at the mess hall, but there is a food court, called the Crossroads, with the usual eateries, an ITT office, Post Office, bowling alley, and cabs are lined up at the Crossroads. We used the cabs to get to and from the train station. Not all cabs can come on base, but by asking in English we always got the right answer. We packed light (23 lbs bags) so carrying suitcase up/down the multitude of stairs at the train station wasn’t too onerous.

Saturday, March 17

The AMC terminal at Iwakuni appeared new and modern. We showed up on 3/17 hoping to get seats on the Patriot Express back to Yokota AB where we had once again reserved rooms. We were easily selected for the flight & that saved us about $280.00 in train fares (During our 3 weeks in Japan the conversion rate averaged 80 ¥ (yen) to the dollar).

Cindy, Jerry, & Mary wait to board a KC-10. Photo provided by John Gardner.
Cindy, Jerry, & Mary wait to board a KC-10. Photo provided by John Gardner.

We were told that it’s difficult to get a flight to CONUS from Yokota, so we decided to start looking for flights on the 19th. At Yokota AFB you need to go to Japanese customs and immigration as soon as you land. When ready to leave the country, you must check out with Japanese authorities within 24 hours of your departure. The office is about a 15-minute walk from the terminal. We checked out late on the 18th, and then arrived at the terminal on the 19th contending for seats on a KC-10. With a nice sign-up date (day 48) we were easily selected for this flight direct to Travis AFB.

After landing at Travis we noticed a flight to Hawaii two days out. That sounded like a nice warm way to end our journey, so we secured rooms at lodging (Westwind, (707) 424-8000) and waited. Alas, too few seats and too many PAX were ahead of us. So we just changed direction and drove up to Reno, NV, for three nights at the Atlantis Casino Resort, toured Lake Tahoe, and met with Space-A friends who live in Truckee, CA. That was colder than Hawaii, but still a nice way to get over jet-lag.

Saturday, March 24

Back to Travis today so Jerry and Mary could get on a flight to Andrews. After flying all night, they missed a flight the next day to Scott AFB but made it the following day. The entire trip was really smooth and too much fun. We’re simply going to have to travel Space-A together again. Soon.

LCDR John Gardner, USN, Retired
and Cindy Gardner
San Rafael, CA
ccgardner@earthlink.net

Reprint from July-Aug 2012 • Volume 42, No. 4