Ham Fair Tokyo - 2003

by Roger G3SXW - Article written for CDXC Digest - Nov 2003

The last weekend in August each year sees the "Tokyo Ham Fair". This equates to Dayton (USA) and Friedrichshafen (Germany) with some 20,000+ hams attending. Neither Nigel/G3TXF nor I had ever been to this event and we were vaguely thinking of a CW-Trip out to the Western Pacific so we decided to investigate whether a visit could be bolted together. In the end this put some shape on our DXpedition aspirations - we travelled to Tokyo for this weekend and then operated in Guam (KH2) and Micronesia (V6).

To Japan

London/Tokyo non-stop is a long flight! We flew North of Russia, over the Barents Sea and then turned South, not over-flying Chinese air-space. We arrived on an overnight flight on the Saturday morning of the Ham Fair. The first thing we noticed about Japan was the immaculate dress of all airport employees. Customs officials were wearing crisp white gloves and shirts ironed with razor-sharp creases. They were also extremely efficient and extremely polite. In fact, throughout this article describing our visit to Japan you might come across that word "extremely" quite a few times!

We had been told that our transfer-bus to the hotel would take 65 minutes. This turned out to be the case. Not 64 and not 66. Whilst waiting for the bus we noticed a passenger accidentally drop a bottle of water which caused a small puddle on the floor, about two inches diameter. A couple of minutes later a passing security-guard spotted this puddle and radio-ed it in. He stood over it until in less than a minute a plastic yellow sign was erected over the blemish and a further one minute later a lady arrived with a bucket, mop and various cleaning and drying implements. She worked for several minutes until that floor was dry and polished clean. I couldn't help thinking that the reaction in a European airport may have been somewhat less vigorous.

The large bus transferring us to the hotel was new and shiny. We were only four passengers. We watched the driver as he proceeded down the middle-lane of the motorway. He matched exactly the speed limit of 100 km/h the whole way except at one point he dropped speed precisely to 90 km/h for about five minutes. We concluded that he must have passed a marker and was running a few seconds ahead of schedule. He too was wearing immaculate white gloves, as were the baggage-handlers.


We checked into the Tokyo Bay Ariake Washington Hotel, a few yards walk from the exhibition area. On meeting up downstairs after depositing our luggage in the bedrooms there was only one topic of conversation: the electronic loos. Amazing creations! The first time, it is a little disconcerting as the flushing mechanism is pre-set to activate at regular intervals and also of course you are expected to set the seat-temperature before commencing operations.

Naturally, we had been in touch with several JA friends to let them know we were coming, including JE1CKA, JE1JKL, JP1NWZ, JA1NUT. Tokyo is in the first call-area (JA1) so most of the attendees at this Fair were "Ones". We also decided to get in touch with Watt, JA0DAI, as being by far the most prolific JA DXer, in our opinion - we had worked Watt on so many different DXpeditions on so many different bands. We had already decided that he must live permanently in the shack and never sleep.

And so it was that JA0DAI met us at the hotel. There was no difficulty in finding each other – he spotted our ski-bag containing the vertical antennas! He spoke good English which was very much appreciated. My Japanese is somewhat limited - "Arigato" and "Sayonara" are about as far as I can get (thankyou, goodbye).

The Ham Fair

At Ariake there is a massive exhibition-facility consisting of several separate suites of halls. Inside "Ham Fair 2003" we found to our surprise that most exhibits were local clubs or individuals selling second-hand gear (as in Dayton's flea-market). Of course, all the major manufacturers were there as you would expect, especially as they are all Japanese companies! But their exhibits were all rather smaller than one might expect and much smaller than would be seen at Dayton or F'hafen.

Also, we noticed that few people were actually buying anything. Usually at ham fairs you see folks hauling away boxes of goodies. Not here. We saw almost no-one taking home purchases. I couldn't help feeling that there was a lot about Japan that I did not understand.

A focus of attention for us was the stand of the Nancyatte DX Club, where we were welcomed and provided with a Club tee-shirt and a cold beer. There was also a lecture programme but of course in Japanese language, except the "LogBook of the World" presentation by N7NG.

Evening Celebrations

Before we knew it we were whisked off as guests of the JARL (equivalent of RSGB) at their welcoming cocktail-party. This consisted of several formal speeches, followed by a sumptuous buffet, with lots of delicious suchi. Each of the foreign guests was invited in turn to say a few words through the microphone. Also present were N7NG of ARRL, Miranda - VP6MW, and Rich - 9M2/G4ZFE.

Then Watt escorted us to another nearby building for a gathering of DXers. Again, there were some brief speeches and then another sumptuous buffet. This was accompanied by free-flowing beer and several choruses of "Kampai" which I took to mean "Bottoms Up". I also discovered much to my delight that sake is not one drink, but similarly to wine comes in a very wide range of flavours, according to the region. I didn't try all those on offer but managed to force down a good selection!

Both Nigel and I much appreciated the hospitality that we were shown that evening. It was wonderful to meet for the first time so many call-signs that we recognised from the DX pile-ups and to put faces to the calls. We had been asked to provide a presentation of our DX-ploits. Nigel had prepared a super PowerPoint presentation and I took along the new XT2DX video. Unfortunately the PA system was simply not man enough to cope with the background hubbub of 100-200 DXers enjoying their beer!

First Impressions

I really had little chance to experience what Japan has to offer on this brief visit - a mere 48 hours spent in one locality. All I can describe is first impressions, as they hit me. This cannot, in any way, be representative but nonetheless they may prove interesting to recount.

The thing that struck me most was "uniformity". Everyone looked, walked, behaved the same. Of course, that is an exaggeration but I got a strong sense of conformity. Another thing I noticed, in that locality at least, was a lack of colour - everything was in pastel shades. There was almost no advertising, no posters. Even the café that we used to get a quick sandwich had no sign outside.

Everyone is immaculately polite. In one restaurant someone knocked over a glass of Coca-Cola. Instantly 2-3 waiters escorted us to a clean table, cleared the mess and replaced the (nearly empty) beverage. The food was the equivalent of "nouveau cuisine" - small portions, delicately presented.

But let me emphasise again that these were first impressions, gained over a mere 48 hours. Much more time would be needed to be able to present a rounded picture of Japan. Suffice to say that I quickly sensed a very different life-style, perhaps with very different sets of values. It could be that suppressed individualism leads to a more ordered society, or perhaps the other way around.

But in the world of amateur radio we are all in one, big club. Particularly when a group of DXers gets together there is camaraderie and boisterous good fun, sharing of experiences, mutual respect and a meeting of cultures.

Thankyou JARL, Watt/JA0DAI and Nancyatte DX Club for your warm hospitality. We appreciated it very much and look forward to a longer visit one day soon.