Memories of Japan

With all of the tragedy that has befallen Japan recently, I thought I would share some of my experiences during my three wonderful years there. There has been so much devastation, it seems that’s all anyone can talk about.  I’d like to share a little light on what it was like to live there for 3 years…the good things.

I had just finished U.S. Navy boot camp and then sent off to my “A-School” where I would become a Photographer’s Mate(Navy term for photographer).  I was sent to the Defense Photography School in Pensacola, FL, and graduated 2nd in my class.  Myself and the #1 guy got our choice of orders.  Everyone else got sent where they were sent.  Study hard kids…standings matter. 🙂  He chose Yokusuka, Japan, where the Admiral’s Barge was stationed.  I chose the other Japanese billet, Misawa, AB Japan.  I was there from 1994-1997, starting when I was just 20 years old.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel and live abroad.  It enriched my life more than I could have expected.  The Japanese culture is a world away from American culture and taught me many life lessons.

Where to start…well, I guess where I have a few photos to share the story…

The Japanese have festivals in cities all around Japan, for different events and different times of the year.  One of my favorites was the Nebuta Festival in Aomori-Shi, Aomori Prefecture.

Nebuta was THE festival to go to if you could make it.  It was a few hour drive from Misawa, Japan, where I was stationed.  The drive there was gorgeous, going through mountains and beautiful forests.  Finally, being a part of the celebration was wonderful.  Thousands of people showed up.

I LOVED the drums!  Some of them were as big as a semi-truck and had 4 and 5 people playing them.  They rolled through the streets and the sound was thundering!

Click the link below, “Nebuta Festival Sounds”(opens a new window) and then come back to this window.  It will give you a feel for the sounds of the festival…volume higher is better.

Nebuta Festival Sounds…

If the images look a little grainy…they are.  Every image here is either color, black and white film, or chrome as digital wasn’t even in it’s infancy yet…Click any image to see it bigger.

The Nebuta floats are made from historical figures in history…dragons, samurai’s, and other warriors in Japanese Legend.  They’re three dimensional figures built on a frame, then carefully papered, colored, and lit from inside so they’ll stand out in the dark night. How they are made

I got up higher to take this shot of the crowd and the Nebuta figure coming around the corner.

Here’s me taking part in the festivities…that bulge in my pocket…12 rolls of film…stop it you dirty minded blog readers!  lol….

These two images(above and below) are one of my first attempts at rear-curtain sync…

This is the, “young” crowd who bucked tradition by not wearing the usual festival outfits…even one girl in just a bra top left…little rebels…all of them. 🙂

At the end of the night, all of the floats would be put out on the water and a wonderful fireworks show ensued…

Here’s a map that shows where I was stationed in relation to Aomori City where the Festival was held.
Northern Japan in general was my playground.   Every weekend that I could, I got out and tried to see something new…

The natural beauty of Japan and her surroundings I never tired of.  My friends and I would just get in the car and drive.  Sometimes we had no destination in mind, just to get off base and get lost in the country.  We’d have a general map, but we preferred to take the roads where we did not know where they lead.

The cool thing about camping in Japan, is you could really camp anywhere.  No one cared as long as you picked up after yourself.  We’d take road trips and just pull over somewhere, set up the gear, and start cooking…

Pardon my feet here…just to give realness…lol. cooking breakfast in my Coleman gas grill.  Nothing like opening up your tent in the morning to a view like this…

This is my good friend(and boss at the time, PH1(SW/AW) Jim Schulz..getting his leg humped by a stray dog…too funny. This was one of our favorite camping spots on the beach on the east coast of Japan.

Ok, I’ll break down the military jargon for you…  the PH means, “Photographer’s Mate”, the “1” means 1st Class(or E-6 on a scale from 1 to 9).  The SW means he was Surface Warfare Qualified and the AW means he was Air Warfare Qualified.  What this means, in general, is that Jim was one bad ass Photographer, boss, teacher, and friend.  He taught me a lot of what I know today about photography.  Yes, he was at times a hard ass, but he must have done something right as I’m doing it full time today and enjoying every minute of it.  Thanks, Jim!  Jim retired as PHC(SW/AW) Jim Schulz (Chief Petty Officer).  A damn fine example of what is right about our military.

We liked to take some of those Coleman propane tanks(seen above in my cooking shot) when the fire was hot, shove it in…give it a few minutes and it would explode about 50 feet into the air…juvenile…yes.  Fun and satisfying…Oh, yea…lol.  Just don’t try it with canned air…almost took out the car’s windshield…very unpredictable…

The nights on the beach were gorgeous…

Continuing on…

Sorry about the length of this one…you need to go get a drink?  Take a piss?  Go ahead…I’ll still be here.. 😉

These are some random photos I took while traveling around Japan.  I’ll have to do another few posts to show the whole breadth of imagery I took…but that takes a scanner and time.  Everything I shot was on film or chrome and thus has to be transferred to digital eventually.  It’s a long term project of mine…

I loved the old temples.  They had such character, the likes of which isn’t created again in today’s world.

One of my favorite Temples is on the way to Lake Towada.

A winter in Towada.

There’s much more to the story, but that will have to wait until I get the negatives scanned in.  I shot thousands of images in Japan and it’s just a little daunting to look at it and want to get it transferred to a digital format now…

I hope this has been a little enlightening as to a tiny slice of life in Japan from one person’s view.

I grieve for all of the Japanese people affected by this Tsunami and resulting Nuclear Plant tragedy.  As someone who got to enjoy spending time with the people and the beautiful Japanese environment, I pray that they have the strength to put things back together again…

If I can, I’ll scan some more images and share some more of my experiences in Japan.

If you’d like to donate to the Red Cross’s Japan effort, you can do so here:  Red Cross Japan

Thanks for listening…James

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3 thoughts on “Memories of Japan

  1. freddy cruz says:

    Dude…I miss those days. To be free and wander around in different country and feel safe. All on the Navy’s dime. Priceless.


  2. mccsully says:

    Boy does that bring back some memories! I’ve got a great stash of Nabuta and Cherry Blossom Festival negatives stashed away in a shoe box somewhere. Would be great to get them scanned somehow. Thanks for the memories, Web. Was great serving with you and Jim in Misawa. 🙂

    • James Weber says:

      Sully!! Yea, bro, it was a magical time. That three years in Misawa with you and Schulz was one of the best times of my life. It sucks that we haven’t been able to get a reunion together. Maybe we can…love to reconnect again sometime…and get those negs scanned!! haha

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