Abroad in Japan: SOTA and POTA
by Ara (N6ARA)
Getting the License
Several months ago, my wife and I were planning our first trip to Japan, and I couldn’t help but look at all the nearby SOTA summits and POTA parks and entertain the idea of activating one of them. While stunned by the sheer number of high point summits and local parks (many of which are easily accessible via Japan’s incredible public transport system), I realized one question I hadn’t asked myself yet: Can I even operate in Japan?
I recalled the concept of a reciprocal licenses from the ham test, but never really looked into it. A quick Google search yielded the JARL (the ARRL equivalent in Japan) foreign amateur radio license website, which details the process for submitting your documents to obtain the license.
However, I quickly learned that the application must be submitted at least 60 days prior to the date of operation. Problem was… I was 58 days out.
Around this time, I let my friends, Waka-san (JG0AWE), Kazuhiro (7N1FRE), and Ted (JL1SDA), know that I would be visiting Japan. They leaped into action and helped me figure out if there would be a way to obtain my reciprocal license in time, and advised me on which summits and parks would be doable with my constraints.
Thankfully, Waka-san was very generous and offered to make an appointment with Japanese government to apply for the reciprocal license on my behalf. I was absolutely stunned by this. I struggle to make appointments at the DMV office for myself, let alone for someone else!
Two weeks later, I was surprised to learn that my license had arrived. I was now JJ0XMS in Japan. This news fittingly arrived around Christmas, making it easy to remember the “XMS” part of my call. The reciprocal license I received was classified as “1AM”, meaning 1st Amateur license for mobile. This meant I could operate on all bands at power levels below 50W, which is perfect since I tend to operate QRP most of the time anyway.
It helps to have friends around the world, but please learn from my mistake, submit your JARL-96-04 application at least 60 days (plus margin) prior to your trip and obtain your license the right way. If you have any questions about the form or the process, contact Mr. Ken Yamamoto (JA1CJP) via email at [email protected]
With my license sorted, the next step was to familiarize myself with the Japanese Band Plan. After careful review, I learned it is entirely possible to accidentally transmit out of band or mode if you are not careful. For example, in the US the 2m band ends at 148 MHz, but in Japan the band ends at 146 MHz. So in theory, an operator with a US radio could accidentally transmit on a forbidden frequency.
It’s also important to note that the calling frequencies are different for all bands and that some bands have dedicated emergency communications frequencies. Thankfully, the translated Japanese Band Plan covers these extensively.
Planning the Activations
I started planning my activations by setting the goal of activating at least one SOTA summit and POTA park. I figured I’d gain the experience of doing both to see how they differ from what I’m used to in the US (and writing this blog post).
For this trip, we mainly stayed with our friend in Tokyo, so I was limited to the summits and parks near the city. To start, I figured I’d take a look at the POTA map since Tokyo is a flat city (read as, no SOTA summits to be found within the city itself), so worst case, I’d only do a POTA activation.
Much to my delight, I learned that Tokyo has 146 POTA parks within the city alone… and best of all… they are accessible via Tokyo’s public transportation system! Overwhelmed with all the options, I figured the best thing to do next is to try and see which nearby parks had the most space and activation count. I figured that would improve my odds of activating without any issues.
To be honest, my main concern was putting up an antenna in a park which I’m not allowed to in, or folks approaching me to ask what I’m doing, only to run into a language barrier issue. After looking through several options, I landed on Yoyogi Park JA-1255. The park was near where I was staying, fairly large, and had almost 100 activations.
Next was planning the SOTA activation. Since there are no SOTA summits in the city proper, it meant I would have to travel a little to get to one.
Coming from Los Angeles, one of the most car-centric cities in the world, I did not expect to find that most Tokyo residents (including my friend) don’t own a car. Renting one is an option, but I figured it’s not worth the effort. Especially since Japan drives on the left hand side of the road – which I’m not used to. That meant driving to a trailhead was out of the question for this trip. Thankfully, that wasn’t as much of a problem as I initially thought.
Looking through the SOTA map, I found several trailheads to the east of the city that are easily accessible via train/bus and short walk. Again, I looked at the activation count to get a sense of what is attainable and found Mt. Arashiyama JA/KN-032. The summit had 84 activations with a relatively easy 762ft gain across 2.25mi and the trailhead is a 15 minute walk away from the train station. The only downside was that the train ride itself was about an hour and a half away from Tokyo. But as those who do SOTA know, the commute to the trailhead is part of the journey. (I think there’s something wrong with us.)
With a game plan settled, it was time to configure the kit. One important thing to note here is that when I submitted my paperwork to apply for the license, I forgot to include the radio make/model I planned to use (required for the application process). Thankfully, Waka-san registered the ICOM IC-705, an HF/UHF/VHF all mode transceiver (which I so happen to have). This afforded me the flexibility to work a wide range of bands and maximized my odds of having a successful activation.
With the radio figured out, I thought to pair it with a portable antenna that strikes a good balance between volume/mass and performance. My hope was to cover 10/15/20m for DX and 40m for working locals, so naturally I gravitated towards my trusted K6ARK End Fed Half Wave EFHW with an added load coil, making it resonant on 10/15/20/40m. I like to use this antenna in an inverted-V configuration using a 7.2m fishing pole. Since I had one shot at each activation, I figured it would be wise to pack a back up antenna just in case something broke mid-transport, so I also decided to pack my Elecraft AX1 vertical whip antenna and T1 tuner.
For CW paddles, I couldn’t resist packing my recently acquired Ashi Paddle 45 from Mr. Haraguchi 7L4WVU in Japan. Only seemed fitting! Finally, I thought to print out copies of my US and Japanese ham radio license, and a translated note describing ham radio, SOTA, and POTA just in case someone asked what I was doing.
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- Arc’teryx Mantis 16 Backpack
- ICOM IC-705
- K6ARK EFHW and EFRW
- 7.2m Fishing Pole w/ Guy Ropes
- Elecraft AX1 (I really should have also packed the 40m load coil)
- Elecraft T1 Tuner
- Ashi Paddle 45
- TinyPaddle Jack and Plug
- Comet 2m/70cm whip
- SOTABeams 2m Filter
- Foam Hiking Seat Pad
- FRDM Vigor Lightweight Liner Gloves
Welcome to Japan
As soon as we landed in Japan and settle in at our friend’s apartment, we couldn’t help but go out for a nice bowl of warm ramen at Ichiran. It was a cold night, I was jet lagged, and this was exactly the “reset button” my body needed to adjust to the new timezone. I slept like a log that night. Highly recommend.
Since this was my first time in the country, I tried my best to absorb as much of the food and culture as possible. From the Yakitori, to the Tonkatsu, to all the various Japanese curries, and Onigiri, I was glad to be walking around the city to burn off all the calories I was consuming. Everything we ate tasted incredible!
One of the first orders of business was to visit Akihabara, the electronic town I had heard so much about. Walking through shops, I found every possible component imaginable. Want a transformer? There’s a small shop that has every variant you can think of. LEDs? There’s a shop with a selection that will make you see floating dots when you close your eyes. It was like living in a Digi-Key or Mouser warehouse.
Walking through streets and multi-story markets, I was constantly running into small radio shops. Some selling commercial radios, many selling various ham radios and ham radio accessories. One golden nugget I found was a shop that sells home-brew radios, one of which was a 47.1GHz Transverter! Where else are you going to find something like that for sale in a shop?!
One last stop in Akihabara was Rocket Ham Radio, one of the largest ham radio shops in Japan (think HRO in the US). I couldn’t help myself from buying a 2m/70cm whip antenna for my IC-705 for portable VHF and UHF operations while in town. Would feel wrong leaving without buying *something*!
POTA Activation and Logging
POTA activation day was finally here, and much to my delight, Mr. Haraguchi (7L4WVU) reached out to say he was available to meet me at Yoyogi Park for a joint activation. Continue reading SOTA and POTA in Japan: Ara combines travel and radio with a little help from friends