interlude – yama sakura 65

YS65 Patch

My trip to Chitose Japan was as technical support to Yamasakura-65 at Camp Higashi-Chitose, just across a local highway from New Chitose Airport. Camp Higashi-Chitose is part of the Northern Army of Japan, one of five active armies in Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force. Yamasakura-65 is an annual, bilateral exercise with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and the U.S. military. This year it was coordinated from Chitose.

From 1 December to Wednesday, 11 December, I was on-site, 12 hours/day, the equivalent of the Maytag repairman for the JLCCTC constructive simulation. The Japanese and American army staffs were there to train at the brigade and higher levels, in a simulated major BLUFOR vs OPFOR wargame. Under these conditions it’s vital to keep the game going 24 hours a day for as long as the exercise is scheduled, as part of the simulation of war. Chitose wasn’t the only participant in the game; other groups from as far away as the US and Korea were also plugged in, providing support and simulating other aspects of warfighting. JLCCTC is about training for and studying major ground combat. For those who think that heavy ground combat is a thing of the past, all you have to do is look at the map of the eastern Pacific and see that Japan sits across from North Korea and China. Korea still thinks ground combat, and China has been building up their forces for quite some time. Considering China’s unilateral declairation of their Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea combined with the over-the-top craziness that is currently in charge in North Korea these days, YS-65 and similar training now had a certain “edge” to it.

How I got pulled into this is a long and complex story. The Reader’s Digest version: from 1998 to 2005 I helped design and write software for the core portions of JLCCTC, then went elsewhere until May of 2013 when I essentially came back. I came back to work as a contractor to Lockheed Martin, the prime for JLCCTC. Except this time I was on the “other side” of the wall, providing integration, test, installation, operations support, and training for the software system I helped to create all those years ago.

I much prefer my current position on the program, especially as it involves a lot of travel which I like. My children are grown now and I can go for two or more weeks at a time and not worry. Even long trips to Japan and beyond are no longer an issue. I just go where they tell me and use my experience and judgement along with my general instructions to do my job. And did I mention how I like to travel?

That lovely photo of me, taken by my traveling companion on my Galaxy S4, was snapped at the end of the exercise after they’d started to tear everything down for shipment back to Korea. If you’d like to see what it was like on the inside (and it’s kind of boring actually) there are official photos taken during the exercise (I wasn’t given official permission to use my camera on post during the exercise, but then I didn’t know enough to ask in advance).

Yama Sakura 65 I Corps on Flickr –

100 yen shop

100 yen store

Chitose isn’t a large city like Saporo or Tokyo. But it’s still a compact city with everything built up, especially as you head towards the train station, which serves as the central transportation hub. While I went to the Aeon mall just about every evening because it was closest to the hotel, there was a five story building that contained a mix of businesses, such as one, the 100 Yen Shop. We stopped there on our way back to the hotel from the udon shop.

The 100 Yen shop is the equivalent of the Dollar Store here in America. All the items in the store are 100 yen or less. The big difference is that every item in the 100 Yen Shop appears to be of excellent quality. The store is bright and clean, and every item is pleasingly presented to the prospective buyer. No item was out of place and there were no broken packages anywhere. Think of a budget version of Target.

japanese candy

One part of the store that almost leaped out as me was this candy section. My photography doesn’t do justice to the electric colors for all the various bags of candy that lined the wall. Marketing competition is fierce in Japan, far more so than it seems here in America.

narrow escalator

All the floors in this department store center were interconnected with elevators and escalators. What I found interesting is that the escalators in this store were only narrow enough for one person to stand. Our American escalators are built to hold at least two abreast, with room to spare. I saw this style of escalator in a number of public buildings. One of the features of many of the escalators (but not here) are photo-detectors that determine when someone walks towards an escalator. To conserve energy, a lot of escalators are simply turned off if no one is around. When someone approaches, they automatically start moving again.

happy christmas snoopy

The department store center was filled with many businesses. One floor seemed to be taken over with a book store. On the way through the book store I came across this Snoopy display. The Japanese seem to love cartoon characters, both their own as well as American. This display combined their deep interest in Snoopy with Christmas. It was oddly touching.

I wish I had had more time to just walk about and observe the intersection and intertwining of Japanese and American pop culture. Perhaps when I go back to Japan next February.