Aircraft Spotting in Japan
An extensive adventure in 18 days: Exploring the land of the rising sun in search for their exotic aircraft.
This trip had it all: freezing temperatures, hot sunny days, thunderstorms, and even a very special encounter with the police. Take your time wand enjoy this report!
Where? all around Japan
When? October - November 2005
How everything began
Going to Japan has been a long time dream for me. After having missed the 50th anniversdary of the Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) in 2004 with all the numerous special colour schemes I finally decided that 2005 will be the year to discover this exotic country.
I soon found out that 2005 coincided with the farewell of the Mitsubishi F-1, and the days of other exotic types like the Mitsubishi T-1 or the V-107 are also nearly counted. Looking for a way how to get around in Japan I also discovered two usefull reports by Dutch spotters that travelled Japan a few years ago. These reports were a great help to find out what will expect me and also helped to motivate two good friends, Florian and Patrick, to come with me on the trip as well.
As the autumn is generally regarded as the best travelling season in Japan due to convienient temperatures and a low probablity of rain a time span for the trip was soon fixed. Finding the exact date was not difficult as it coincided with the planned farewell show for the F-1 at Tsuiki on November, 12th. The week-end before another show at the Flight Test Center at Gifu was scheduled and on Thursday, 3th, a public holiday in Japan, the traditional show at Iruma would be on our plan.
The Tour Planning
The tour was then planned already in April accoring to the holidays we had around these days:
We wanted to use the the Saturday before the Iruma Show to fly to Japan and arrive there on Sunday. Later we should find out that on Sunday at Hyakuri, which is not far from Narita Airport, a fly-by of the JASDF will be presented to the Japanese President. This added later to our list as well.
On Monday we wanted to visit Matsushima and the civil airport of Sendai because our main goal was to go to very North of the main island Honshu to see the famous and unique blue Phantoms at Misawa.
Nearby was also Hachinohe and on our way back South to the Iruma Show we planned another stop at Hyakuri.
Friday after the Show in Iruma we wanted to have a basevisit at NAS Atsugi and use the Saturday for tourism at Tokyo or spotting at Haneda, as the drive to Gifu was not very far.
However, these and all the later tour plans had to be changed in August when we learned that the Tsuiki Show was brought forward one week and now coincided with the Gifu Show.
So we could start all the planning from the beginning...
The decision to go to Tsuiki because of the F-1 was very easy, but also meant that we had to drive around 1400km within two days. On Friday we envisaged a first visit at Nagoya/Komaki to get the T-1, which was also on top of our "to do" list and the tourism part was switched to Hiroshima on Saturday. Leaving early there on midday we wanted to have a first look at Iwakuni and would reach Tsuiki late, being able to visit the Airshow on Sunday.
Monday and Tuesday were blocked for Nyutabaru and Kanoya, a Navy base. Nyutabaru is the southern counterpart of Misawa regarding the presence of fighter wings and because of the most interesting F-15 Aggressor Squadron we wanted to be there fortwo days to be sure to get good photos in case we had bad luck on one day.
Going North again another stop at Tsuiki was planned for Wednesday to have a full day of operational F-1s, F-2s and F-15.
The next day we wanted to get up near Hofu, taking photos at Ozuki and see the Shin Meiwa in the afternoon at Iwakuni on Thursday.
From Iwakuni a nightly drive to Akeno, the famous helicopter base, was considered with a second visit at Gifu Airbase and a museum in the afternoon. Leaving there we wanted to get as close to Tokyo as possible on Friday evening as Tokyo tourism and photography at Haneda was envisaged that week-end.
On Monday we planned to make another southern loop visiting Atsugi, hoping for another chance to see a Shin Meiwa US-1 and Hamamtsu and Komaki on Tuesday or have an optinal tourism day at the Mt. Fuji.
Wednesday was regarded as a spare day to have a look at a base where we might have had bad luck, or to recover before the flight back, do some civil spotting at Narita…
But it should become different….
Andreas "Flying Wings" was the brain behind the organisation. As the only Canon equipped digital photographer he had sometimes a hard stand against the analog Nikon guys. But he remained digital also on other fields. He checked out how a all Japanese car navigation systems works, handles the GPS and really enjoyed driving in downtown Tokio at night. At the bases always looking out for better photo spots and at supper time always looking for the next best fast food restaurant.
Florian, our number cruncher, did most of the hard hand work during the trip as he is still using a fully manual equipment and thus had to concentrate to focus all of the aircraft properly. Furthermore he has been always busy in choosing in between one of his 3 cameras or writing down the numbers. He succeded quite well in this, with only Nyutabaru and Hyakuri being the exception. He was also always send forward to call the youth hostels and therefore earned an extra degree in telephoning by hand and feet with the Japanese.
Patrick was the only professional aviation journalist of the team. So he was always hard working. He had some problems with his equipment and a strong flu blocked him from having real fun. But after some good Phantoms, the smile on his face told more than words. He did also a important job in planning: the bible of our tour - a very detailed collection of maps and information of every base, museum and airport was put together from him.
Our Euipment consisted out of:
* Canon EOS 1DII, EOS 30, Sigma 15-30mm, Canon 28-135mm, Canon 100-400mm, Canon 300mm, Sigma 500mm, 1,4x & 2x teleconverters, Canon Powershot S1 IS
* 2x Nikon FM-2 with MD-12, Nikon F-70, Nikon 28-80mm, Nikon 28-105mm, Nikon 100-300mm, Nikon 500mm 1:8, Nikon SB-22
* Nikon F4 & F5 (both of them needed an intensive inspection after our trip), 28-70mm, 80-200mm, 300mm 2.8, 300mm 4, TC-14, TC-17 and the small and handy Olympus Camedia
Together we brought back around 8000 digital files, filled +170 roles of slide and ~90 roles of regular films, but most importantly experienced many many things that we will never forget!
Our trusted, tough sometimes also misused, Honda Isis, brought us from Narita to all the airfields and back. 6729km on Japanese highways and farm tracks, he always showed us with its navigation system where we could find the next airfield or supermarket. During our trip he consumed a total of over 500L of fuel . No wonder when rolling 1XXkm/h on the highway, where the general speed limit is 80km/h...
On three nights he also served us as a hotel room and offered just enough space for our luggage, the photobags and three ladders.
However, we do not think that he will roll any longer after our trip ;)