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Destination Japan - Visiting Japan

Visiting Japan for the first time can be somewhat overwhelming. At first glance, the streets are ablaze with colors strewn across an endless canvas of neon signs with undecipherable writing. People are everywhere--thousands of them flow effortlessly through the city streets in seemingly splendid harmony with one another.

Many Sailors taking orders to Japan may feel dazed and confused in such an environment. As a result, many Sailors restrict themselves to the safe confines of their base, never realizing the real reason for taking orders to Japan is found off the ships and beyond the base's gates.

"Even though I was skeptical at first on how to use the trains, I quickly realized that the people actually know enough English and are willing to help out; all you have to do is ask," said Aviation Boatsman's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Isaac Paddock, assigned to USS Kitty Hawk(CV 63).

After reassuring himself that he wasn't intimidated by being in a foreign country, Paddock discovered Japan offers a variety of recreational options, especially during the warm weather months.

"Summer is incredible in Japan. I never realized that Japan had so many great beaches. I've done everything from surfing to riding jet skis," said Paddock. "At night the Japanese shoot off fireworks and have bonfires on the beach. Japan is such an awesome experience, I feel like I am on vacation living here."

There are also plenty of locations throughout Japan for Sailors to relax. The Japanese gardens--better known in America as parks--exude a feeling of serenity. These gardens are one of the country's most distinctive features, and they add a special dimension to a visitor's enjoyment of Japan.

"The parks are a great place to relax and just get away," said Airman Sean Whitt, also assigned to Kitty Hawk. "I think it's good to feel like I'm on vacation so that my job on the ship is less stressful."

In stark contrast to the peaceful atmosphere in the Japanese Gardens are the crowded streets of the Akihabara district in Tokyo. Japan is one of the world's leaders in innovative gadgets and technological advances, and Sailors can find almost any gizmo they need in the Akihabara.

"I'm amazed by the technology," said Paddock. "I have yet to understand everything my phone does. Everywhere you go there seems to be something different, new or high tech staring you in the face. It's all over."

Whether a Sailor wants to experience the quiet of the Japanese gardens or dive into the technological maelstrom in the streets of Tokyo, the experience is there. Sailors just have to know how to take advantage of it. And according to Paddock, they need to begin is right on base.

"If you want to really get out and see Japan, the best thing to do to get started is go to the MWR [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] and ITT [Information, Tours and Travel] offices on base," said Paddock. "They have tours all the time. They also have bus and train schedules, even maps that show you where to go. After you do a couple of tours, you get your confidence up and you'll be ready to go out on your own."

Stephen Brown, a former Sailor aboard Kitty Hawk, suggests trying it all to get the most out of a tour in Japan. He spent four years in Japan before getting out of the Navy. Later, he came back as a civilian.

"Japan will grow on you," said Brown. "The people, the food and everything about this land has an addictive quality about it. After four years of being here, I didn't feel like I had fully experienced what Japan had to offer, and now I'm back doing what I can to soak it up. I would advise anyone who comes to Japan to get off the base and see as much as possible."

But Japan is more than just crowded cities, busy streets and fancy gizmos. Ancient temples secluded among bold streets and colorful flowers rest on the outskirts of these busy meets and hold the secrets to Japan's ancient history.

"When I first visited the temples, it was completely different from being in the city," said LT Kimberly Musa, assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka. "There was something peaceful about being out there that you can't get in the city."

In time, Sailors become accustomed to the foreign atmosphere and find themselves at ease with everything around them, having lost their initial fear. The country's low crime rate and kind nature of its people are key to this,

According to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2000, Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. The kind treatment of visitors to Japan is in part due to the teachings of Buddhism, which most Japanese people practice as their religion. All travelers are to be treated with the utmost respect and kindness. Under these precepts, the Japanese have been schooled in the "Good Samaritan" concept for more than a thousand years.

"I'm amazed at how comfortable I feel traveling around the country alone," said Musa. "Everyone is so friendly and always willing to help out. There always seems to be some sort of celebration--it is like Mardi Gras every weekend in Japan."

Sailors stationed in Japan have an opportunity to experience these celebrations. There are many local festivals throughout the year, usually centered around neighborhood shrines and Buddhist temples. These festivals (O-matsuri) are celebrations of the changing seasons, planting and harvesting.

The festivals may also offer prayers for family health, good fortune and prosperity, and they often include folk dancing (odori), carnival-like games, food booths, archery and martial arts demonstrations. Costumed participants carry shrines through the streets while chanting. Most festivals are free to watch.

"I will never forget the first Japanese festival I saw," said Musa. "It was held at the base of Mt. Fuji, signifying the beginning of the climbing season. Hundreds of spectators gathered along the streets that were laced with scorching bonfires taller than a man. Bright red embers fell from the night sky as a shrine carried by a dozen men passed me. It was a sight to behold, unlike anything I have ever seen in the United States."

Appreciation of Japanese culture is one of the most unique things a Sailor can take from a tour in Japan. The cultural lessons of the Japanese way of life may be far more rewarding than all the cars, cameras, video games and other products the country exports.

"I've done all I can to experience the culture of Japan, such as taking trips with MWR, visiting temples, and I even saw the famous 'Big Buddha' in Kamakura--all of which has helped me understand the Japanese people more and gain a respect for their heritage," said Musa. "I am so happy that I have gotten out and learned something about their history. I believe it has made me a better person, and I definitely am making the best of my duty in Japan."


Fast Facts

NAF Atsugi is home of the only complete co-located, forward; deployed air wing, Carrier Air Wing 5, embarked aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63).

Location: In Ayase city, 10 miles due west of Yokohama and 23 miles southwest of Tokyo, Atsugi is within walking distance of trains.

Major commands: COMFAIRWESPAC; U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi; FASOTRAGRUPAC; Naval Pacific Meteorology & Oceanography Det. Naval Air Pacific Repair Activity; Carrier Air Wing 5.

Population: 10,000.

Housing: All military members, civilian employees in the grade of GS-12 [pay equivalent) or higher with command-sponsored family members, are eligible for government family housing. All members, including single personnel with command endorsement, are eligible for off-base housing,

Facilities: Nations Bank, medical facility, DODD schools, commissary, exchange, MWR, gym, bowling, movie theater, golf, swimming pool, restaurants, clubs, pool hall, baseball and football fields.

Special Interest: Tokyo Disneyland, Yokohama, Mt. Fuji, Nagano (snow skiing), Kamakura Beach.

"The best part about having duty overseas is the opportunity is available to finish my school online or on campus, and let's not forget the shopping!"

Ms. Nicole Carr, Family Member NAS Atsugi.

Internet: Naval Air Facility Atsugi



Fast Facts

Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) is the largest overseas U.S. naval installation in the world, The 55 tenant commands that make up this installation support WESTPAC operating forces, including principal afloat elements of the U.S. 7th Fleet and Commander Destroyer Squadron 15, including the only permanent, forward-deployed aircraft carrier--USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63).

Location: This 560-acre installation lies at the entrance of Tokyo Bay, just 40 miles from the capital city of Tokyo.

Population: 24,000.

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