On the tracks to discovery in Japan
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Japan is a country admired for its beauty and culture. From the scenic mountains, to the coastal beaches, to the neon lights of the metropolises, many find that Japan has a lot to offer.
Conveniently, from Yokota all it takes is a 15 minute walk to access Tokyo's well-oiled network of train lines.
"Without the trains I would not be able to connect with Japan the way I have," said Airman 1st Class Justin Stokes, Armed Forces Network - Tokyo broadcast producer.
Stokes said the train system is especially helpful for him because he prefers them to driving in Japan.
It might be easy for Airmen to stay insulated on Yokota, since everything needed for living is available on base. However, there is a lot to see outside the fence.
"I go to the cultural festivals that they have in Yoyogi park close to Harajuku station," Stokes said. "I definitely like to go to Yokohama and Odaiba because those are really nice hangout places. I've also taken trips out to Kamokura and Inoshuya beach and you can see all the historical caves and shelters and it's really cool to see, especially when it comes to experiencing the culture of Japan."
For many Airmen, the train system is the easiest and cheapest way to access to Japan. Purchasing a Suica pass is a convenient way to buy train fair, and every station has automated booths for refilling the card with Yen. The booths can also be used to purchase one-time-use tickets, and have an English option at the press of a button. A one-way train fare to the popular anime and gaming hub, Akihabara, takes about 1.5 hours and costs roughly 800 yen. If things get confusing one can simply go to the ticket desk, tell them the desired destination, and pay there.
Another tip is to use a smart phone application for navigation, which tell where a train is going.
"I rely on apps for the most part," said Staff Sgt. Zackary Webb, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems craftsman. "I've gotten lost plenty of times. The most valuable thing I learned from Right Start is the 'milkshake and fries.' That's what the kanji for Tachikawa looks like, and Tachikawa goes to Fussa."
Webb said that he has been using the trains ever since he arrived at Yokota, and continues to use them almost every week. Most of his experiences of Japan outside of Yokota have been via trains.
"The train system contributes to Yokota by helping the people to be more cultured," Webb said. "They've seen more of Japan, I guarantee you, because these trains exist."
Webb said that if it weren't for the trains he would only know what Japanese people are like on base, but instead he's met Japanese people in many places throughout the country. Stokes has had similar experiences with the trains.
"The train system has helped me out a lot in connecting with Japan in general," Stokes said.
When he first moved to Yokota, Stokes used to get lost a lot on the trains. He said he was forced to talk to Japanese people for direction, practicing and learning the local language.
"It put me out on my own and helped me meet people," Stokes said. "Sometimes Japanese people got to practice their English with me. It's not just Japanese people, but I've also met people from Africa, Europe, and pretty much anywhere."
Stokes has also had memorable moments on the trains in Japan.
"I was in a beat boxing mood," Stokes said, remembering an unforgettable night on the train. "A couple of guys I was with rapped, and these Japanese girls sitting right next to us heard us. We were asking around the train if anyone could rap and they told us 'Hey, this guy can rap,' and they pointed to their friend. At first he was kind of shy but I beat boxed for him and he rapped in Japanese. It was really cool."
Tokyo can appeal to a variety of tastes. Anyone wishing to visit may want to research the following popular options, with approximate travel times: To experience Japan's anime culture, consider Harajuku (1hr 20min), and Akhiabara (1hr 25 min); for shopping and eating there is Harajuku, Chinatown (1hr 40min) and Odaiba (1hr 40min); many enjoy the night life in Roppongi (1hr 20min), and Harajuku; to see history and classic Japanese architecture, consider the Meji Shrine (1hr 20min), Senso-ji temple (1hr 40min) and Tokyo Imperial Palace (1hr 40min); for sightseeing, the Tokyo Skytree (1hr 35min) and Shinjuku Goyen garden (1hr 10min) are popular; as for recreation, one can visit Tokyo Disneyland (1hr 55min), Tokyo Disneysea (1hr 55min), Ueno Zoo (1hr 25min) and Yoyogi Park (1hr 20min).
No matter where you may want to visit in Tokyo, the trains offer an easy, relatively cheap way to set out there and explore.