Chapter Thirty-four: Sam Finds Love Again

Japan and the Aormori Prefecture

Regions & Cities: Aormori Prefecture

Six Climatic Zones of Japan

Japan’s geographical features divide it into six principal climatic zones: Hokkaido, Sea of Japan, Pacific Ocean, Central Highland, Seto Inland Sea, and Ryukyu Islands.

Ski Plae of Hokkaido

Hokkaido (北海道)
The northernmost zone has a humid continental climate with long, cold winters and very warm to cool summers. Its long cold winter results powder snow. For this reason, Hokkaido is well known for among the best Ski resorts on the earth.
Locate in Google Map

Kurobe Tateyama Alpin Route

Sea of Japan (日本海)
In the Sea of Japan zone where located in the Honshu’s west coast, northwest winter winds bring heavy snowfall. In the summer, the region is cooler and little less rainy than the Pacific area

Pacific Ocean (太平洋)
The Pacific coast features a humid temperate climate that experiences milder winters with occasional snowfall and hot, humid summers because of the southeast seasonal wind. hevy rain in the south, and in the north in the summer days.
Locate in Google Map

Central Highland (中央高地)
The Central Highland has a typical inland humid continental climate, with large temperature differences between summer and winter, and between day and night; precipitation is light, though winters are usually snowy.

Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海)
The mountains of the Chūgoku and Shikoku regions shelter the Seto Inland Sea from seasonal winds, bringing mild weather year-round and having many sunny days. It is often mentioned the similarity with Mediterranean climate of Italy or Greece.

Okinawa beach

Ryukyu Islands (南西諸島)
Ryukyu Islands have a subtropical climate, with very hot summers and warm winters. It has very heavy rain year-round, especially in rainy season and typhoon season in the summer.

The Spring of 1994 rolled around and another change took place. Besides finally getting his promotion, he was transferred to a new base. This particular transfer was quite a shock for him since Saudia Arabia is considered to be one of the hottest places in the world and King Faisal Air Base is one of the hottest bases abroad while Nellis AFB is considered by many to be the hottest air base in the continental US.

Now he was being sent to one of the coldest bases in the world with the exception of the North and South Poles. He was going to Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture. During the months of November – March, Misawa can get up to 200 inches of snow or more. Now, what were they thinking? Were they trying to kill him. When he passed on the news to Grandpa Gordon, his father, he went nearly apoplectic. Papa Sam’s father over his military career never once offered to step in, now offered to do so. Of course, he had to say no. While it is true that they would have changed his transfer if his father asked, it would also essentially end his military career. The only favor he did ask from his father was if he could borrow a little money. While he did have a savings, he did not have enough to buy an entire new cold weather wardrobe. Cold weather boots alone could set him back a couple hundred bucks.

The only consolation he had was that his transfer would not take place until after his next leave of absence. So he would at least get to see his family before he became a human popsicle. There were some upsides to being transferred to his new base. With the exception of the winter, the country was absolutely beautiful there. It was very lush, in sharp contrast to his current location. Hell, maybe he could even borrow his father’s old Contax camera.

Papa Sam’s last leave of absence with his family went by too fast. His parents were finally set in at their new place. His mother absolutely loved it there and having Peter around was a godsend for both of them. It seemed like his parents were getting younger instead of older with the passing years. Sarge was now the proud father of four Kurdish Mastiff puppies. Even his sister Christine was happy with her life and family. It seemed  like things were going well for everybody except him. Little did he know that things were going to turn the corner for him, at least for a while anyways because his role of a tragic hero is firmly set in stone. I am sorry, every epic story has to have a tragic hero, and Papa Sam got the luck of the draw. Besides a wiser man than I, the Greek philospher Aristotle said so.

He believed that a good tragedy must evoke feelings of fear and pity in the audience, since he saw these two emotions as being fundamental to the experience of catharsis (the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art). Besides, who am I to argue with Aristotle.

At least his hop flights were going to be different for a while. Of course, the first leg would be Davis-Monthan AFB, then he would go to Los Angeles AFB then to Hickman AFB in Hawaii and finally to his new home, Misawa Air Base in the Aomori Prefecture of Japan. You may ask why there? Well, this base and its two sister bases in Japan all played pivotal roles in the Pacific Theater.

 Misawa Air Base was the home to USAF’s 35th Fighter Wing, is the only joint-service installation in the Western Pacific, serving the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy, as well as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). Yokota Air Base is the headquarters of U.S. Forces, Japan and home to the 374th Airlift Wing and the 5th Air Force, with a base population of over 11,000 people. Kadena Air Base hosts the 18th Wing, the U.S. Air Force’s largest combat wing. Altogether, the U.S. Air Force in Japan presence supports U.S. interests in the Pacific during peacetime and wartime, and aids in the U.S.’s defense of Japan.

USAF in Japan has been instrumental in deterrence in the Pacific, which has been especially important considering the persistence of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In April 2017, the 18th Wing conducted an “elephant walk” at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa as a show of force to North Korea, and in late-August 2017 USAF conducted 

lidarity. These exercises reinforce the credibility of the U.S. commitment to Japan and its partners in the Pacific, and allow for effective power projection by the U.S. military.

USAF bases in Japan are also active in creating and maintaining the people-to-people ties that reinforce the U.S.-Japan alliance. JASDF join U.S. troops in the 374th Airlift Wing for a bilateral exchange program that takes place three times a year at Yokota Air Base, improving interoperability between the forces and allowing USAF to meet their JASDF counterparts. At Misawa Air Base, the Pacific Partners Air Festival is another platform for cross-cultural exchange, bringing together Japanese and American aircraft enthusiasts and pilots for a day of performances and community engagement.

The Misawa Air Base served another purpose besides the role it played in the geo-politics of Asia and the Pacific, it was also where Papa Sam met the love of his life, Sakura Ito, the oldest daughetr of Hiroko and Aiko Ito.

Sakura Ito, Papa Sam’s future wife

She was the exact opposite of Tammy. She was quiet and reserved and came from a provincial farm family. Her parents owned an apple orchard*. She was used to hard work and austere living conditions. He met her at the Pacific Partners Air Festival which is held every July at his new base.

*Apple is an icon of Aomori prefecture. If Furano is famous for its lavender fields then Aomori certainly is for its apple orchards. Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on the mainland of Japan produces more than half of the total apple production in entire Japan. It produces approximately 50 million tons of apples per year.

It is unbelievable that one single prefecture of Japan produces such a huge volume of apples. How impressive is that! There is no magic behind this scene but one thing that makes Aomori to be so is the passion for growing it naturally. Aomori’s apple harvest begins in June but majority of apples are harvested from July to November.

Apples in Hirosaki, Aomori.

Papa Sam’s life was totally different at the new base. While in Saudia Arabia, he flew just about every day. In Aomori Prefecture, life was more sedate and the Misawa Air Base did its best to maintain a lower profile, so the flights were kept to a bare minimum. As a matter of fact, it was a big deal for him to fly once a week. During the winter months, the base was totally snowed in, so there was no flying at all during this time. Now that he was a 1st lieutenant, he had more managerial duties, so he found himself sitting behind the desk more often than not. As an elite fighter pilot and veteran of the Gulf War, he had attained somewhat of a celebrity status, so he was involved in a lot of public relationship work. It also didn’t hurt that he looked good on television.

Sakura, being an impressionable young lady quickly falls for our hero. Right or wrong, things are a lot different in Japan than they are in the US in regards to relationships. While in most cultures, it is the man who initiates a relationship, however, it’s not uncommon or weird for Japanese women to ask out someone they’re interested in. Additionally many Japanese men often expect the woman to pay her own way on a date – yes, even for the first one.

In many cultures, there comes a time in a relationship where it becomes appropriate for one to ask the other out. In Japan, this stage is called a “confession”.  This step is unique, because in most cultures it is common for a mutual understanding to be built first, and it usually isn’t played out in such a formal manner.  This is important in Japan because many people do not consider going out for lunch or tea to be a date, it is something that friends do. Without making your intentions known in the form of a formal letter, the other person may not realize that you want to take the relationship further.

The other thing that separates dating in Japan from other countries is the content and length of the date. While it’s not untrue for dates to last all day in countries outside of Japan, it’s very common for dates in Japan to take up half, or even a full day. What we would consider a date such as going for coffee or a walk would not be seen as a date in Japan. There’s a certain element of planning involved; fireworks, shopping, theme parks, restaurants, drinking – a date is like an event in Japan.

It’s known for couples that are dating in Japan to speak maybe 2-3 times a week. Japanese people take their work very seriously and, as a result, will not reply during working hours or even during social gatherings.  Instant replies are not something you’ll likely see, and what would be deemed as “ghosting” or MIA in Western culture is completely normal in Japan. It’s definitely something you may need to adjust to if you plan on dating in Japan as a foreigner. 

Another difference in Japan is that saying “I love you” doesn’t really happen there. Japanese people tend to be quite shy and wouldn’t be forward enough to declare their feelings in such a way.  A large part of Japanese dating culture is a sort of “unspoken understanding” in which you know how your partner feels, and vice versa. Of course, every couple is different, but this guide serves as a rough guideline as to what to expect when dating in Japan. There are a lot of additional differences in the dating culture. However, I will only discuss one more and that is the subject of marriage. 

In Western culture, marriage may be a conversation to be had WAY down the line – maybe a few years or so. In Japanese dating culture, marriage is always at the back of their minds – it’s a consideration from the get go. 

Japanese People Think About Marriage When Dating

This is primarily focused on the perspective of a Japanese woman, but marriage is something that is clearly ingrained into the natural progression of relationships. Japanese people tend to be especially marriage conscious when they start reaching their mid-twenties. This is the age where dating becomes more of a search to find “the one” rather than just for the sake of dating.  

It’s Not Common to Live Together Before Marriage

While in Western culture, moving in together is an important step BEFORE getting married – it’s quite the opposite in Japan.In more recent years “semi-cohabitation” has become increasingly more popular. As the name suggests, this is a middle ground in which those dating will spend half the time or weekends at their partner’s homes. 

Meeting the Parents Usually Signifies Marriage

In Japan, while dating, if you decide to take the plunge and meet the parents this usually signifies marriage.This is not always the case, some families are just close and have that sort of relationship, whereas others will only introduce themselves when marriage is on the cards.

Well, one more tidbit, and this is a biggy, Respect is vitally important when dating in Japan, both for your date and those around you. Whether you’re being courteous and polite to your date or the waiter, it is crucial to be polite to ensure your date goes according to plan. 

So now that the reader knows a little more about dating in Japan, it should not surprise you that Sakura does, in fact, make the first move. Even though our hero has been married before, he can be quite dense when it comes to the ways of women, especially those from different cultures. Therefore it came as no small surprise when milling around with a couple of his friends from the air base, a small group of young ladies came up to them and asked if they would like to hang out at local club. This was totally unexpected but guys being guys and being extremely curious said ok. Unfortunately for his friends, they served only as window dressing because the girls with Sakura were there only for support and had no interests in his friends. It soon became evident that this was the case and his friends eventually wandered off. Soon afterwards, Sakura’s girlfriends also dispersed. So engrossed was Papa Sam with Sakura that he did not even notice what was happening. When they were finally alone, she presented him with a small slip of paper that was written laboriously in both Japanese and English.

Unlike in America, where public displays of affection (PDAs) are acceptible, in Japan, the social rules are vastly different, and PDA is considered a big no-no.  This comes down to two reasons; privacy and accommodation for others. People in Japan value their privacy immensely, so partaking in something so public as PDA could take away the personal connection of dating.  The other reason is that it is thought that PDA would make other people uncomfortable – which is something I think we can all relate to. For this reason, PDA is very uncommon in Japan and is something you would most likely want to avoid.  

At this time, Papa Sam was still new to Japan and was not familar with a lot of cultural differences, especially the nuances of the dating world. So, as you can imagine, he was quite taken aback by this turn of events. Thankfully, he was not totally oblivious to her charms, so he accepted her overtures. He took the note handed to him with a great deal of reverence and formality and read it. He had to admit his heart was racing, but he was able to contain himself, and with a slight smile on his face, he nodded his head and said he would like very much to continue seeing her. He knew from previous conversations with his friends at the base and through personal observations that kissing in public was taboo, but he figured taking both of her hands in his and touching his forehead to them was ok. Judging from her response to this action, he was spot on. She turned a little pink around the cheeks, but she smiled just the same.

From that day forward they were inseparable. They went on two to three dates a week, and by the end of the summer she had invited him to meet her parents. By this time, he had studied up on the culture and was pretty well-versed with the customs, and he knew full well what this giant step meant. He was hooked now. For the first time, he had no reservations like there had been with Tammy. Their first meeting, though brief, went well with her parents. It ended with him being invited to dinner the following week.

Over the next six months, Papa Sam was invited to her parent’s house several more times. On each occasion, he felt more and more relaxed. After the first month, they had finally kissed, and of course, they still had not made love. Frankly, he did not even care because he knew that it wasn’t even an option. Their culture was old school which meant that they were going to wait till they were married before they made love. Papa Sam was actually pleased by these turn of events. He had tried it the other way, and it had not worked, this traditional way made him feel like their relationship was special. Papa Sam decided that the sixth month mark was a good time to ask Sakura’s father for permission to marry her. He, of course, had already brought up the subject to Sakura, and she had agreed to the union. On that fateful day, he wore his full dress uniform to visit her parents. He had also chosen that day because he had just been promoted to captain, so it was special for two reasons.

They readily agreed to his request to marry their daughter. They also set the date for the ceremony which was to be at the end of April when the cherry trees blossomed. This was especially appropriate because Sakura meant cherry blossom in the Japanese language.

When Papa Sam got back to the base, he immediately called his parents to tell them the news and invite them to the wedding. They decided that Peter would stay in Las Vegas with his aunt Christine and her family while they were in Japan. The wedding ceremony would be performed in a traditional Japanese garden.


Sakura in her wedding gown
Sakura in her wedding gown

The wedding was a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony with just the immediate family being present. Both the bride and the groom’s parents chipped in and paid for a weeklong honeymoon to the island of Fiji as a gift to the couple.

Sakura at their hotel

Their week in Fiji went by in a blink of an eye. They barely made it out of their room the first day they were there, with room service delivering all three of their meals. On their  second day, they finally made it to the beach. However,  after a couple of hours of lying around in the sun, they had their fill and back to their room they went. Neither one realized how much pent-up energy they had accrued with dating for a year. One  thing was for sure they were making up for lost time.

By the fourth day, they managed to squeeze in some snorkeling.

They had to admit the views were spectacular both above and below the water. Though Papa Sam was kind of partial to the scenery in their room.

When they got back to his base, Papa Sam had to make arrangements for their new housing. The base housing was quite limited, so they took advantage of the housing allowance and moved off base. They found a decent apartment complex not too far away and was in their price range. Their apartment was a small furnished one bedroom unit with an eat-in kitchen and a small living room.