When we travel, my journal turns into a bit of a travelogue. I haven’t given up thinking about the life of being a pastor. In fact this morning’s adventures include a visit to the Base Chapel and a meeting with one of the chaplains. But we enjoy traveling and we are having a lot of new experiences as we go, so it seems natural to write a bit about where we are and what we are doing.
What we are doing is simple for this trip. We are connecting with a new grandson and we are supporting our daughter and son in law as they begin the adventure of being parents and engage in the delicate balance of work and family life.
Where we are is an amazing place.
Misawa Air Base is approximately 400 miles north of Tokyo, on the northeastern part of the main island of Honshu. Misawa Air Base is located in Misawa city on the shores of Lake Ogawara in the Aomori Prefecture.
The base is home to US Air Force, Navy and Marines as well as Japan Air Defense Forces. The runways of the air base are also used by the Misawa Airport for regular commercial flights that connect Misawa to other parts of Japan.
The world's first non-stop Trans-Pacific flight was launched from the beach near Misawa on 4 October 1931. That particular flight didn’t involve any airports. The plane took off from the beach and crash landed in the hills near Wenatchee, Washington 41 hours later. The Bellanca CH-400 was named Miss Veedol and was later repaired and sold. We have seen a replica of the airplane in the Misawa Aviation and Science Museum.
The air base dates back to the build up to World War II. The Imperial Japanese Army constructed a runway at Misawa in 1938. It was used by the Japanese Naval Air Force for training long range bomber crews, including some who participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Later the field was used to train Kamikaze flyers. In December of 1946, the United States established a permanent fighter base at Misawa and it has been a joint air base since. It is now home to the U.S. Air Force’s 35th Fighter Wing.
The base sits on the shores of Lake Ogawara and is surrounded by beautiful and lush mountains. The small community of Misawa has a number of modern hotels and many shops and restaurants that cater to the personnel assigned to the base. During our visit last year we stayed in the home of our daughter on base. This year, with a new member of their family in their small apartment we are staying in a hotel. We have base passes that allow us to walk onto the base which is only a block from our hotel. Later in our visit we will be staying at the Navy hotel on base. It is a busy place with a lot of coming and going of military personnel.
From our daughter’s home, we can walk to the shores of Lake Ogawara. They have a dog, so there is an excuse for taking walks and looking around at the setting.
When we think of Japan, one of the things that comes to our minds is the huge cities. Tokyo is one of the most crowded places I have ever visited. One day last year we sat in a cafe overlooking a busy intersection and were entertained by the huge crush of humanity that crossed in every direction. It is hard for us to imagine living with so many people so close at hand. Although most of Japan’s people are crowded into its large cities, the country is mostly mountains and rural areas. Misawa is smaller than Rapid City, with less than 40,000 people. It is surrounded by farm fields and is sandwiched between Lake Ogawara and the Pacific Ocean.
It is hot and humid here this summer, which is typical for a town located between two large bodies of water. In the winter the area is known for heavy snowfalls. The result is lush forest vegetation with lots of ferns under the tall cedar, fir and hemlock trees. Although it is warmer in the summer, it is not unlike the climate of the area where our son lives in Washington State not far form the Puget Sound.
For American tourists, there is much that is new and very interesting. We are enjoying Japanese breakfasts, with fish and rice and vegetables as well as eggs and sausage and pastries. We commented to one another yesterday morning at breakfast that we definitely weren’t at the “Continental” breakfast of a US hotel chain with its waffle machines and sweet cereals. A walk down the street takes us by small shops that are very different from US retail businesses. And we are surrounded by people who speak a language that we do not speak and only a few words are known by us. The result is very exotic and exciting for us.
We have the advantage of having visited less than a year ago, so some of the challenges of travel aren’t so intimidating as they were the first time we visited. We are more at home traveling by train and exploring the area. Japan is a very safe country to visit and people are warm and gracious towards guests. The exchange rate between US dollars and Japanese Yen is just over 100 yen per dollar, which makes it easy to understand prices and know how much money you are spending. Drop a couple of zeros from the price and the 1200 yen item costs about $12. Cash is the preferred payment method in restraints and shops, though there are many places where credit cards are welcome. It is easy to use our US bank cards to obtain cash from ATM machines, located in most convenience stores and at several locations on the air base.
Our grandparent duties are the main reason for this trip, but we will be traveling out and visiting the area in the days to come. It promises to be a grand adventure.