Well Marlins fans, I have a lot to catch you up on since it’s been a couple of days since my last blog entry. I’m happy to report that we now have successfully completed our tour of the military bases in the Tokyo area. After all the fun and incredible activities we had at the fire and rescue station, security headquarters, youth clinic, and burrito shop grand opening on the Yokota Air Base, we headed down the road to see how the Army’s soldiers were living at Camp Zama. Because it was a Sunday, we didn’t have as many activities lined up out of respect for the soldiers’ day off, but we were able to interact with many of them at a meet and greet session we had at their shopping center on base. Just as it was with the airmen at Yokota, the soldiers at Zama were very excited to host the Marlins group on their base, talk some baseball, take pictures, get some autographs and free Marlins gear, and tell us their stories of service and sacrifice. This was again a humbling and extremely enjoyable experience for us.
Now, while meeting the soldiers was a great experience, I have to confess that one other memorable thing happened at the meet and greet. Yes, I’m talking love folks. To be blunt, I was struck by Cupid’s arrow. I mean absolutely taken and love struck from the moment I laid eyes on her . . . she was absolutely the cutest little baby girl I might have ever seen . . . American father, Japanese mother, both incredibly nice, and just the cutest baby ever. If Luis hasn’t uploaded the pictures yet, I’m sure he’ll get it posted soon so that you all can fall in love with her, too.
So, after I fell in love with this little girl, and her father absolutely refused to relinquish custody of her to me (lol), we moved on from our official duties at Camp Zama. That night, we had our first opportunity to get off base to check out some of the local culture. First we had a light dinner at the sports bar on the base and caught up on some of the college football and basketball scores from back home. That is where we met our soon-to-be tour guide for the night, and one of the more entertaining characters we’ve met on our trip so far. His name is Mike Larkin, but he specifically requested that we refer to him as “Mike Lowery” (based on the character from his favorite movie). Lol. What a guy. He’s been managing restaurants on the Japanese military base for more than 20 years and was like the unofficial mayor of the town who knew everyone.
So after getting to know Mike and asking for his recommendations on places for us to check out off base, he decided to invite himself on our outing for the night and serve as our honorary tour guide for the night. Hilarious. It was good to have him, though. Not only was he a constant source of comedy and jokes all night, but he also was a useful guide. We wanted an authentic experience for the night, so we decided to do it like the locals and, instead of hiring a van or taxi for the night, we schlepped it on foot, from our hotel to the base exit, then from the base to the local train station. Mike showed us the way and then helped us navigate the Tokyo train system – which is easily the most complex train and subway system you’ve ever seen in your life. They have like four or five different trains running on the same track and same color line, and about eight different train/color lines all weaving in and out of one another. It’s enough to make your head spin before you even get to the fact that IT’S ALL IN JAPANESE CHARACTERS, TOO!! Haa. So, suffice it to say, we would have been in some serious trouble but for our man Mike.
Once on the correct train, we made our way to a little town called Machida, which is like a little mini-Times Square and took in some of the local culture there. We all were pretty spent by that point in the evening though, so we didn’t stay long and made a short night of it so we could be fresh for our journey to the navy base in the morning.
On Monday morning, we journeyed down to what was an incredibly cool military base – theYokosuka Navy Base, which is the U.S.’ largest navy base in Asia. They have more than 25,000 people (navy sailors, family/civilians, and Japanese nationals) who live or work on the base!! This place literally was a full city, with its own shopping district, eight-screen movie theater, restaurants, etc. And, boy were the views beautiful out over the Tokyo Bay. The ships in the U.S. fleet there also were some kind of impressive. While we had a very enjoyable experience doing the baseball clinic with the Yokosuka base’s high school boys’ baseball and girls’ softball teams, and doing the meet and greet with the sailors that evening, the highlight of the day was touring the USS George Washington – the aircraft carrier docked at Yokosuka. Now if you want to talk about an impressive piece of machinery, you’re talking the USS George Washington! This ship is essentially a city at sea . . . it is several stories tall, the length of a 10-story office building, and has several different cafeterias & eating areas, and seven different gyms on board! This ship has everything needed to hold thousands of sailors at sea for several months at a time. Truly remarkable.
Seeing the flight deck and hearing the details on how the fighter jets take off and land on the carrier while at sea also was unbelievable. Given how precise and advanced these tactics are, it just makes you feel like what you do every day is just elementary level stuff – both in terms of complexity and importance. These sailors are at sea for months at a time keeping the borders of our territories and those of our allies safe, so we owe them an incredible amount of gratitude. And their sacrifice is especially great because they not only are stationed away from America for multiple years at a time on their tours of duty, but those stationed on the ship have to live on the ship at sea for several months at a time. You talk about being separated from your family and loved ones . . . Wow, what a sacrifice.
So the activities at Yokosuka wrapped up our official business for the Tokyo area. Even though we were dog tired, it was our last night in Tokyo before flying to our next destination, so a group of us decided to rally and made our way all the way into downtown Tokyo (75-90 min journey) for the night . . . and yes my friends I am talking Roppongi!!! I mean you can’t go out in downtown Tokyo and not go to the Roppongi district, can you?!? Lol. And let me tell you, it lived up to the advance billing. Beautiful, colorfully-lit downtown streets with all types of activity going on . . . restaurants, bars, lounges, shops, street vendors, etc . . . it was like Times Square on steroids! Just imagine Times Square, but cleaner and slightly more modern, then multiply the size by five . . . now you have Roppongi. And this was a Monday night, so I can only imagine how active it would have been on a weekend night. In any event, given our schedule, we weren’t up for the full “Roppongi experience,” but we did want a taste . . . so we found a nice authentic restaurant to enjoy some of the local cuisine (yes, that meant taking off the shoes and sitting on the pillows on the raised floor – which was pretty good). After dinner we popped in and out of a couple places then settled on a very cool New-York-style lounge called Vanity on the 13th floor of a building and had a breath-taking view of downtown Tokyo out of the large windows of the lounge. So we stayed for a bit then finally called it a night and headed back to prepare for our travel the next day. So that concluded our activities in the Tokyo area.
Given all that we experienced in our four days in the Tokyo area, it’s hard to believe we still have two-thirds of our trip still ahead of us. I can’t wait to see what our next stop has in store for us. From what I understand, we’ll have an opportunity to do physical training with the troops at our next stop, so that should be really cool. I can’t wait. So, please check back in a couple days for my next entry.
Again, I want to thank Armed Forces Entertainment (by the way – please follow them on Twitter as well (@armedforcesent), the men and women of the U.S. military, and the Marlins management for giving our group this incredible opportunity. It’s truly been the experience of a lifetime for all of us, and we hope we’ve been able to represent the Marlins family and general civilian population well and provide some joy and excitement for the service men and women we’ve met on the trip.