Venturing out, Yokosuka and The Honch.

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The other day after getting off of work early and noticing that the weather was a nice sunny 60 degrees I decided to venture off base for the first time. My friend offered to take me around earlier but he was still at work and I really wanted to see the surrounding area. I’m not going to lie but I was a bit nervous. Walking around a foreign country by myself armed with only several Japanese words is a bit intimidating. But I wanted to get over my fear so I went for it.

Yokosuka Kanagawa is the 11th largest city that makes up Greater Tokyo. It has the population of about 414,000 thousand people. For my California friends it’s roughly Long Beach to Los Angeles both in size and in distance when compared to Tokyo.

Yokosuka like all Japanese cities has a lot of history. Archeologists have found pottery fragments from the Jomon(Rope or Braid designs for history geeks like me) period of Paleolithic Japan.  It’s location guarding Tokyo Bay makes it the ideal strategic Naval location therefore it has been a military position for hundreds of years and the location of Japans first Naval Ship building Iron Foundry. It was also the site of Commodore Perrys landing in 1853 when the U.S. forced Japan to re-open relations with the West. Currently it’s the home of the U.S Navy’s 7th Fleet.

Another neat historical fact I came across is that William Adams, the first British man to set foot on Japan and the inspiration for the novel Shogun first came ashore here in Yokosuka. He was also granted the title of Samurai and given a fief in this area. There’s a statue of him somewhere that I need to find and take a picture of.

 

With the history lesson complete I return to the story of my trip. I took a quick cab from the Navy Lodge to the front gate. It’s about a twenty minute walk and I didn’t want to waste too much daylight on base. At the gate the first thing I did was use the ATM to pull out 5,000 yen, about 41 dollars. I wanted to have enough for a meal and anything else I might need.

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The main base gate opens up right into downtown Yokosuka, also known as Dobuita Street “The Honch.” The Honch is the famous Yokosuka bar district that caters to Sailors, Marines, and the kind of people that like to hang out around them. It’s a series of narrow streets packed with back to back tiny bars, clubs, and food stands. It’s basically the Downtown Oceanside of Japan but a lot cleaner.

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I’m sure with a bit of Google-fu you can find all sorts of crazy Honch stories from sailors going back many decades. It’s an area famous for debauchery, massage parlors that give no massages, and all sorts of weirdness that goes along with young dudes on liberty.

Of course being Tuesday and 3pm most of the bars were closed. But it gave me the opportunity to walk around and enjoy all of the funny signs written in bad English. The area is really geared towards Americans with lots of hamburger stands, Mexican food(I can’t wait to try) and several Irish bars.

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After a bit I found myself on Blue Street(nicknamed that due to the color of the concrete, it’s sorta blue if you squint) and walked towards one of the outdoor shopping areas. I’m not going to lie but it was a bit overwhelming due to being early afternoon and most Navy guys still at work I was the only white guy walking around in a sea of locals. Everything out here is colorful and interesting. All of the shops have weird anime cartoon signs and use colors that are a very busy compared to what we are used to in the U.S.

My goal was to have my first authentic Japanese meal. After wandering around looking at everything like a small child I got the nerve and ducked into a small Ramen shop. It had a sliding door entrance just like a patio. I couldn’t get it to open until I realized the old looking door actually had a touch sensitive pad that made it slide.

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I walked in and stood frozen as several Japanese women looked at up at me from their bowls of ramen. Luckily a woman walked in behind me and went up to the machine where you order your meal otherwise I would of stood there forever like a dumbass. Basically the ramen shop has this machine that looks like an old soda or cigarette machine. You put Yen into it and click on the food item you want. It prints a receipt which you give to the cook. Freaking genius.

I ordered a magnificent bowl of pork ramen and slurped it all up. I even got to practice my please, thank you, and have a good day phrases like the dorky American that I am. It was a successful first meal and I look forward to having many more in the next few years.

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I continued my day by ducking into a bar, having a Miller Light, walking around like a goony tourist, going to the mall(a description I will save for another day), and finally meeting up with my friend Allan. He insisted we have dinner so he led me to the Dollar Sushi that comes on a revolving belt restaurant. Yes! The whole concept of Sushi that comes to you by itself is amazing and deserves its own post so I wont say much more about that here.

So my first adventure in Japan was short but successful. In the scope of things it was the equivalent of me dipping the tip of my toe into the pool to test the water. Everything I have seen of Japan so far is amazing and I can’t wait to venture farther out and really start understanding the place.

This weekend I already made some big plans. Saturday I will continue my local exploration of Yokosuka and Sunday I booked a day long trip to the temples around Mount Fuji. I’m really excited to see genuine temples and well Mt Fuji-san. I need to remember to stop by the store and pick up some thermals and gloves because it’s supposed to be 15 degrees out there.

 

Checking in, Yokosuka

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Currently my home.

 

It’s been a few days now and I finally feel up to the task of writing up a check in with everybody. The jet lag did not get me as bad as I expected but I have been running around and trying to figure everything out so writing a post went to the bottom of my to do list.

While the flight from Seattle to Japan was very long and somewhat bumpy I didn’t mind it too much. I bought one of those dorky neck pillows at the airport and managed to read two books on Japanese culture. The best part was getting to sit towards the back of the plane where it was rather empty. So empty in fact that I had the whole middle to myself. The seats to my left and right were unoccupied so I had a whole giant bench to stretch out on. It allowed me to get somewhat decent sleep.

When we finally arrived at the Air Force base we went through a quick customs and loaded onto a bus to take us to Yokosuka. This is where I found out that we were actually two hours away from base. For some reason I expected Yokoda to be near my destination. So my trip ended up being a bit longer than I expected.

The bright side was that I got to see a bit of Japan by bus. Right away everything stood out as completely different than the U.S. The cars stand out, all of them are small. Everybody seems to drive small models I have never heard about that look like a cross between a Nissan Cube and a Fiat Pop.

Japans countryside, just the little bit I got to see so far is beautiful. There are trees and hills everywhere and all the foliage is currently in a yellow, red, brown fall color. The houses, buildings, and overall layout of the towns really stand out as different from what I am used to in California. There seems to be no coordinated city planning or layout and the roads we took snaked around without any set grid pattern I could identify. All of the buildings are styles that you don’t see in the U.S. Much smaller and built in a Japanese manner. Unfortunately I didn’t think about using my phones camera so I stashed it in my bag way out of reach so no pictures of the trip.

Yokosuka Naval Base is a really interesting place. Completely different than any base I have been stationed at in the past. It’s a small, self contained American city positioned on what looks like a peninsula jutting into the bay. Everything an American living around here needs can be found on base. Starbucks, grocery store, furniture stores, house supply stores, cellphone store, and a bunch of American food court restaurants.

I got to my command pretty late on a Friday so all of the important people were gone for the weekend. That meant no security brief for me, therefore no going off base. So I spent my first weekend in Japan exploring the base on foot, hitting the gym, picking up uniform pieces I was missing, and getting myself a Japanese cellphone(actually Korean). I’m not complaining because even the base is a bit much to take in at first.

Now I’m back to work but in my case work will consist of several weeks of checking in. I have to secure housing, get all my paperwork set up, meet the rest of my chain of command, and sit through a few week long briefs on local customs and culture. Stretching the check in process even further is the fact that I got here during the holidays so most of the people I need to deal with are on leave or will be going on leave. I have a feeling I wont be fully working until sometimes next year.

So far Japan is an awesome place and my new command seems excellent. I am looking forward to being settled in and getting to work. Not to mention once I do get settled in I can start writing again. I feel a bit overwhelmed with this transition to fully focus my mind on any writing project so the most I am doing in that department is noting ideas into my cellphone.

Of course not everything is perfect. The big downside, a really big downside actually, is the fact that my amazing wife is not here with me. She will be joining me next month. A month is not long in the scope of military life but it sucks. I hate being away from here for a night let alone a whole month. Luckily we live in the 21st century and we have Skype. It makes life so much easier to have the ability to videochat with your loved ones thousands of miles away.

I think that in the next few months I will keep updating here about my stay in Japan. Mostly because I want to have a record of my observations for myself to look back on in the future and because I want to share my experiences with my friends back home. So expect a lot more Japan posts.

Konban Wa