Kim and I lived and worked at Misawa Air Base for three years. From March of 98' until March of 01'. While there, I was assigned to the 301st Intelligence Squadron. Misawa AB is located just outside of Misawa city, in Northern Japan on the western shore of the Aomori prefecture. A Map might help. Kim and I lived on base, in a high rise apartment building (The Towers). The housing area was located in an area of the base known as the "North Area".
Before we arrived in Japan, we had some preconceived notions. One of those notions was that the whole place was sort of like an extended Tokyo. All urban, no wild, or forested area. When we got to Japan, and Misawa, we found those preconceptions shattered. Misawa is a rural agricultural area. With lot's of wild areas nearby. As a matter of fact, most of Japan is mountainous terrain covered by varying forest types. The base itself is a wild life area of sorts. There are a lot of wild animals on base.
There are numerous species of endangered birds on the base, including many birds of prey. I've seen colorful pheasants (kiji) alongside the roads, and graceful cranes stalking the shores of the lake. Aside from birds, there are also plenty of ground bound critters on the base. I have often seen fox running to and fro. Dashing across roads, and through the fields. My favorite encounter occurred one day when I decided to walk to work. It was rather early, and I was walking along the road. I was in a rather marshy area between two lakes. The morning mist was barely lifting when I heard a soft scuttling noise. I stopped to listen and saw an animal emerge from the underbrush. It wore a mottled coat with hues of red, black and brown. It's eyes were dark and small, and it had a short dog like snout. Tanuki! I was lucky enough to see Tanuki (Raccoon Dog) in the wild. He had a small vole, mole, mouse thing in his mouth, and he seemed not to notice me at all. About half way across the road he stopped, lifted his head and turned to look at me. He nodded his head slightly, then turned to continue on his way. He did not speed away in haste, but kept a leisurely pace. I watched as he left the road, and scuttled into the brush on the opposite side of the road. The rest of the day was a blur, I kept returning to the Tanuki's glance, the nod of his head, that brief but wonderful, chance encounter on the way work.
Aside from the wildlife on base, the countryside is rife with wildlife. Another chance encounter reminded me that northern Japan is more wild than most would give credit. In the winter of 2000, I went snow shoeing in the Hakkoda's. A mountain range not far from the base. While snow shoeing, we stopped at a cabin for lunch and a brief rest. At the summit someone took out a pair of binoculars. After a few moments of scanning the mountain sides, he gave out an excited shout and pointed. Everyone looked to see a bear! No one needed the binoculars, as the bear was less than a mile off. We could clearly see a black bear running about on the side of the peak opposite ours. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the bear. I managed to get a look at the animal through the binoculars though. I'm not sure how large it was, but I was glad that it wasn't on our side of the mountain.
Wildlife abounds around the base. You can see wild horses, snow monkeys, and mountain goats with little effort at all. There are numerous lakes, forests and national parks to explore. If you are ever stationed at Misawa, I urge you to get out and enjoy your tour.
Note: Photo of Tanuki on this web page, and at the link referenced above are copyrighted material used without permission. Photos are used for educational, non-commerical illustration.
Author: Robert L. Vaessen e-mail:
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