Last summer, my daughter Toni said to me, “Dad, we know you are collecting SOTA associations. Next December, Sam and I are going to Japan for several weeks. Would you like to join us for a week for some activations?” Of course, I’ll jump at any chance for a new association! (Think about it: how many daughters would make this offer? I’m very blessed!!)
However, I didn’t realize the challenges that awaited me!
First, Japan is not a CEPT country, you need a guest license. The process takes months. The forms to fill out are all available on the web, all must be printed out and not completed on a PC, and filling them out can be tricky. Here I want to mention two people who deserve special thanks. Toru JA1CTV, the JA Association Manager, who guided me through the forms each step of the way, and Ken JA1CJP of the Japan Amateur Radio \league/ International Section, who interfaced with the telecom authorities and responded to their various questions.
Now comes an interesting point: your license is granted for use with a particular radio, which you indicate in the application. And because Japan does not allow use of the 5 MHz band, my stock KX2 is not type certified by the authorities. Would I have to purchase/borrow a type certified radio and learn it before the trip?
But once again, Toru to the rescue! He offered me the use of his own KX2; he worked with Elecraft to get a software mod that deactivates 5 MHz, Toru proved this to the authorities, and he got his rig approved for use. So on my application, where it asks for radio, I entered “KX2 in possession of Toru K, JA1CTV”. That resulted in some extra questions and paperwork, but it did work. And I did finally get my license: JK1VXF, good for one year.
I needed the KX2 for a good reason – I am visually impaired, and I need a radio I can operate “blind”. I know where all the buttons are. And this leads me to the next challenge, which applies to me personally: entering the country. I was meeting Toni and Sam in Tokyo, so after the flight from Zurich I had to go through immigration and customs on my own.
Well, the Japanese have certain ways of doing things, they are very organized and systematic, but they don’t deal well with outliers like me. Obviously I cannot read the tiny print on the forms, I am unable to fill in any forms at all. So there I am, standing alone in the middle of the immigration hall with my red-tipped white cane (my secret weapon – always gets attention), looking like a lost forlorn puppy.
A young lady approached me and took me to the head of the line to the next counter. They put out a form for me to fill out. I pointed to my eyes, to my cane, and their response was to give me a pen to use. Again I tried to explain with hands and feet the situation. (I was in general surprised at the few Japanese who are reasonably fluent in English – and here, almost none.) After a consultation, they finally found a young man who with great trouble helped me fill in the immigration form. At the end, I asked if I needed to sign somewhere, and he responded, “I already took care of that for you.” Hi hi.
Now the same drill at customs, another form I could not fill out. The man in charge first gave me a pen. That’s no help. Then he found a small magnifying glass in his pocket – but that also was no help! Pulling out his hair in frustration, he called in a colleague who took me to a separate booth and did an interview, again with some difficulty. At one point he pulled out a photo book – pointing to a big picture of a gun, asking if I had one? No. A photo of a marijuana plant. No. and on and on and on… This time I did sign the form my self, and after an extra hour finally made it into the arrivals hall where I met Toni and Sam.
Here I want to say that I was so very impressed with how Toni and Sam navigated Tokyo and Japan in general. If you’ve been there, you know how confusing it can be. But they made it seem like they had lived there for years, finding the correct subway line out of a dozen choices, managing the ticket machines, always getting us to our destination on time. They were amazing! All I had to do was make sure I never let them get out of my sight.
Now finally on to SOTAs. The next day was reserved for the JA association. And here we finally got to meet Toru JA1CTV in person. We took subways and trains to the Hashimoto train station, about an hour northwest of downtown Tokyo. Toru met us at the station and took us to the bus stop, which was well hidden. We rode the bus for 20 minutes to the trail head, and then we made the steep hike, about an hour to JA/KN-022, which is popular with visitors because it is one of the more readily accessible summits as a day trip from Tokyo.
I did the activation, and then I found that Toru had brought a propane burner along to prepare some hot miso soup as a celebration. In the brisk weather is tasted just great!!Thank you Toru for a wonderful SOTA experience and in all your assistance leading up to my trip. I do hope you will come visit me in HB9! (Toni and Sam did comment, “Your SOTA buddies are all such really nice people!” It’s true.)
We got back to our hotel in early afternoon, picked up our bags and then took the bullet train to Okayama. The next morning we picked up a rental car – which was special because this was Toni’s first attempt at driving on the “wrong” side of the road. But with the calm, soothing navigation of Sam, we got through the day without a scratch on the car.
Our destination was across a huge suspension bridge leading into the JA5 association. The bridge and the views were spectacular. Then came the road to the summit parking area – a narrow single lane, curvy road for several kilometers. Luckily it was somewhat foggy and nobody else was tempted to drive up to the summit, and on the way down we again got very lucky and had no opposing traffic at all. We must have said a prayer at the proper shrine!
The summit area has an observation platform along with many benches in the park, and between breaks in the fog Toni and Sam had some wonderful views. I set up and quickly got the activation in: JA5/KA-015. Then back to the hotel, which was one of the nicer ones on the trip. The rooftop onsen (hot springs / steam bath) is open all night long and they have free ramen to snack on until midnight. After a few hectic days, it was great to relax for a few hours.
The next morning we took another bullet train and then a local train going to the JA6 town of Yahata. It’s an industrial region and we were bar far the only tourists! But Toni chose this businessmen’s hotel because from there you can walk to the cable car station that goes up to JA6/FO-024. We didn’t have to get up too early because the cable car starts running at 10 AM (but note – it runs until late in the evening; they claim to have one of the three best nighttime views in all of Japan. It’s also a convenient way to do a gray line activation.)
The summit area is jam packed with a dozen communication towers and countless dishes and other antennas. Forget any 2m operation up here! Bu I had no trouble at all with my hf on 7 and 14 MHz – and this was Association 100!!
We wrapped up around noon, then we took the local train for an hour or so to the Fukuoka regional airport and a flight to Tokyo. That evening Toni and Sam helped me celebrate by booking a private dining room and some beautiful Kobe beef, which I’ve heard about all my life. What a fitting conclusion to an amazing trip!
Again, thanks to all who provided tips for summits and logistics, in particular Andrew VK3ARR, Toru JA1CTV and Ken JA1CJP.
73 Paul HB9DST