Japan December 2009
"Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, the flight time to Tokyo is 10 hours 30minutes…" Once again a trip to Japan starts with a long stay on-board Lufthansa' convenient direct flight from Munich to Narita on an Airbus A340. But this time fortunately with the stretched -600 version, offering personal video screens also in the economy class, which really helped for the time fo 'fly-by' a bit faster than usual. However, after 8 hours or so the flight appeared to be endless...
Where? Kyhusu, Southern Japan
The arrival in Tokyo was unfortunately dominated by a very hazy sky and photography at the domestic airport Haneda, while waiting for my transfer to Fukuoka, was a bit frustrating.
This was even more boosted by the fact that 4 special coloured aircraft (the two ANA Pokemon Jumbo Jets and two ANA B777s: Green Eco Jet and the " Kobukuro Calling" scheme). The flight to FUK on the Southern island of Kyushu was unspectacular – besides the fact that I have been the only Western face on the densely occupied B767. The service was very nice, but the apple juice surely had a 'Japanese' taste.
In Fukuoka it was already dark, so no use to take any photos, but time to get the rental car and get to the traditional youth hostel near Tsuiki. With the help of the car navigation it was once again found without any problems and my basic Japanese language guide assured a nice place to stay for the next two night.
For sure the hot bath before going to bed was priceless after this long trip!
I decided to get up early the next day as rumours said that the rehearsal display for the next day's Airshow might take place at Tsuiki. When I arrived at the favourite spot near the Ocean this seemed to be true, as there were already lots of people, making it very difficult to find a proper parking place. As in the plane the day before I also got some weird looks for being the only foreigner there (yet, as some English guys followed later on) and doing such a long trip only for two Airshows. But I quickly met some interesting people which led to interesting talks about a bit of everything. Even Yasu, who remembered me from last year, was again there and I was very pleased when he greeted me with a familiar 'Mr. Andreas'.
The weather was very fine and the JASDF was flying a lot of F-15s and F-2s. Though the position was not very good for the flying display, taxiing and landing photos were very nice. After the display of Blue Impulse shortly after midday the weather was still very good and many of locals were staying around, I also decided to do so in the hope of some nice arriving aircraft. JGSDF did, but approached the airfield directly and were not photographable.
I thus enjoyed the nice weather and returned once again at sunset to the youth hostel, where once again the hot bath was waiting for me. Just the right thing for the early wake-up call at 0430h the next morning…
The report about the airshow at Tsuiki can be found here on a separate page.
JASDF Airbase Nyutabaru
After waking up somewhere near Nyutabaru the next morning I was really surprised how much the airfield has been changed by the construction work since my last visit. Photo opportunities along the runway were really bad due to all the trucks driving up and down as well as the new runway, which is slightly higher than the old one. I thus decided to try some taxi and landing shots and make the best out of it.
Unfortunately the F-15 fleet was still grounded during the whole day, foiling my plans to photograph the striking Aggressor jets, let alone seeing a rehearsal display for next Sunday's show of them.
As only some F-4EJ Phantoms were flying and the weather was far from perfect I decided quite early in the afternoon to hit the road again and drive back the ~250km – or 6hre on Japanese roads… - to Tsuiki, to see at least some of the way during daylight.
After another night in the meanwhile well-known youth hostel an marvellous sunrise welcomed me at Tsuiki, and waiting in the early morning sun I could hear the first jet engines running. But this was only the test run, as when they finally taxied out, the clouds were there was well… The only thing that raised my humour was the fact, that the first F-2A was the special marked one, which was nearly un-photographable two days before during the show.
And to make a long story short: F-15s were still grounded, and the F-2s flew three times that day, but not once the special marked jet either taxied, took-off or landed in good light. Well, sometimes you win, sometimes you loose... But if it is on such a trip, such things are especially annoying.
For the last landing shortly before dawn I decided to try the 'Spotter Hill' on the other side of the airfield which gave some nice results of the F-2s rolling out, trailing their bright yellow breaking chutes behind them.
On the hill an elderly man also approached me and told me stories when Tsuiki and Kanoya where the starting point for Kamikaze, or Tokkotai as he called them, pilots and when these airfields have been attacked by F6F or F4U. Quite a memorable meeting once again! The evening was marked again by the long drive from Tsuiki to Nyutabaru along Route 10, a trip that is around 270km, takes around 5,5h and – I counted it during this drive – brings you along approximately 270 traffic lights!
Wednesday morning started very well with the full moon being visible at sunrise and the first Phantoms taking already before 8am. Fortunately the Eagles were also airborne after the two-day grounding and the Aggressor left for their first mission of the day at 9, just after the Phantoms have returned. But after they take-off the first two aircraft did an unusual fly-past over the airfield, which was a vague indication that their solo display might start. I thus headed from the famous morning taxi-spot to the field on the south side and was delighted by the rehearsal for their display routine, during which the F-15s presented their topsides very nicely!
All along the day there was then an uninterrupted activity of the Phantom Squadron, the Aggressors and the Eagle Training Squadron, providing enough possibilities to try out some new photo spots for the take-offs and landings. And those were necessary as the construction all along the runway was ruining nearly every photo of the take-offs or landings when the aircraft were still close to the ground. And with the airshow coming the next week-end many Japanese photographers were already besieging the airfield to get a glimpse of all the rehearsal taking place and the photograph the regular flying activity.
When the last F-15 finally touched down at the last rays of sunlight, it was also time for me to leave and head towards the Youth Hostel at Miyakonojo.
With the help of the GPS it was found without difficulties, but I unfortunately had to learn that it was full that night. This was a completely new experience for me as I have never been in a Japanese Youth Hostel before that was completely occupied. Fortunately I was granted to use the hot bath and then headed on towards Kanoya.
Thursday morning started at 5:00am, with raindrops dripping on my car. After the last bad experience at Kanoya in 2008 and a whole day of rain and fog I did not dare to stay any longer. Even before I was completely awake, I was again on the road driving back the 2h to Nyutabaru in the hope that the weather might be at least a bit better there. And if not, there would be at least some jets flying.
Unfortunately the weather did not change that much, but it wasn't raining. The flight activity was normal, however due to the overcast any display rehearsal was cancelled in the early morning and looking and the grey background taking photos did not make that much sense… Fortunately the clouds broke up a little around midday and the second take-off of the Aggressors this day saw some sun.
As they did not do any display training I decided to drive back to Kanoya for several reasons: I wanted to see the route at least once during the day and I was also hoping for nice photo opportunities at this naval base in the evening, when all of their maritime patrol aircraft should come back.
The drive was very interesting, passing a big statue of and seeing a lot of bamboo forests. How nice, if it just wouldn't have been that cold!
Kanoya in the evening came true to be a good choice as many helicopters were still flying and I got to see UH-60Js in three different colourschemes as well as the OH-6 training helicopters and P-3 Orions returning from their mission.
My presence on the fence did however attract the attention of some of the JMSDF personal inside the base, who interrupted their daily their daily jogging tour and nervously pulled out their mobile phones to call the base security. Shortly afterwards the well known (as it hasn't changed since my last two visits there) white van appeared and the usual polite questioning ritual started. Fortunately this did not take too long and I could continue to take my photos until the end of the day.
The evening offered a nice opportunity to have a look at the Christmassy decorated Kanoya downtown.
Friday morning was gorgeous: the sun was shedding its first rays above the bamboo trees, which made a huge difference to the previous day, and one Orion already had its engines turning. This aircraft then left at7:20am, nicely illuminated by the rising sun, but then it became quiet again. Busses turned up along the runway and brought people for a FOD check, and then it became quiet again.
At least it was warm and I got time to get into position for the photo that I eagerly wanted to get at Kanoya. And there was also plenty of time to read a book, until after around two hours after the first take-off that day the helicopters started their flying. The chosen spot was a bit too far off for these, but some fly-bys were not too bad.
Then it was time again to read the book with looks at the base every now and then to see some activity. And suddenly I saw some, but not on the base, but in the background several miles away: the Sakurajima volcano was spitting clouds of ashes hundreds of meters high in the sky, and these eruptions were still clearly visible at Kanoya. On one hand I was hoping that it was not getting worse, but and the other I was also hoping that I would continue as Sakurajima was my destination for the late afternoon.
That also killed my time while waiting for further P-3C Orions to leave. Finally four of them did, but they were also difficult to catch due to the heat haze and their sometimes high climb rate. But as some more were leaving in quick succession I had at least some chances to change my photo positions.
Then it got quiet again, but fortunately the runway direction was changed in the meantime, enabling the photos that I have been waiting for hours (on that day, not counting the experience at the airfield one year earlier). It even got better when a YS-11 appeared in the circuit to land at Kanoya.
Getting this shot I was nearly ready to leave, but of course I also wanted to have some Orions from this spot. When the first one came in for a full-stop landing I was a bit disappointed, but it did not return to a parking position, but taxied back for another take-off. And with the YS-11 also leaving shortly afterwards and all the other Orions performing several touch&goes upon their return I was more than happy at Kanoya and left in the early afternoon.
The trip to the youth hostel in Kirishima then brought my way along the Sakurajima vulcano and some nice photo spots. It was still smoking and spitting some ash clouds in the evening sky from time to time, but he did so very peacefully and for the locals it was obviously nothing thrilling, as they just want quietly after their daily business. But for me it was very exciting to drive so close by this vulcano!!
The hostel at Kirishima was chosen because I wanted to visit the Kirishima mountains the next day, where amongst others parts of the James Bond movie "You only live twice" were filmed. The hostel was excellent, even with a sulphur Onsen on the roof, giving a nice view of the starry sky, the nearby shrine and even the Sakurajima in the far distance! What a way to finish an exhausting week of spotting and to prepare for the final two and half days in Japan.
The clouds on Saturday morning were varying a lot, and during my drive to the mountain range I saw some very nice spots and even a smoking sulphur field, but unfortunately the mountain tops, my goal for that day, were covered with clouds. Combined with the strong and cold wind the decision to cancel this walk was quickly, but not easily, made and I only went for the crater lake. During my way up there the clouds came lower and it did not take long until I was within the clouds and the rain, and only got a slight impression of the lake. That was a real shame as the colours of the water must be marvellous during sunshine. But staying up in the clouds and the bad weather did not make any sense, thus I drove to the nearby Kagoshima Airport to photograph some more aircraft.
Kagoshima was not bad as there was a constant coming and going of aircraft. Mainly JAL was flying with different types, with ANA coming now and then with a B777 and even some foreign airlines such as China Southern Airlines or the Japanese Fuji Dream Airlines as my highlight of the day. The Japanese Coast Guard was also on duty and did ground runs with their AW139 as well as patrol flying using the Saab 340. The weather was quite ok and at least better as in the mountains, which were covered in clouds during the whole day.
Towards the end of the afternoon a Japanese spotter, who remembered me from my last trip to Hyakuri in Spring this year, came to the same spot and we were talking quite a lot. He was also touring the Southern island and the Nyutabaru show the next day was also on his schedule. It was from him that I learned about the landing accident of another F-15J the previous day at Komatsu, resulting in another grounding of the fleet! Subsequently no F-15s would fly at Nyutabaru, which cancelled around 30% of the flight program. Somehow I gut the impression that something was going wrong during this trip...
Another drive during the night led to Nyutabaru where I was looking for a good place to sleep near the airfield. There some JASDF people approached me and tried to tell me something about a parking place somewhere, but we did not understand each other. When the finally asked where I was coming from and I answered "Toitsu (Germany)" they said "aahhh, Toitsu, Volkswagen!!!" and it was not problem staying where I was. Knowing how everything would work the next day it was then time for a 'restorative' sleep.
Tokyo Haneda Airport Planespotting
Waking up on Monday morning in a real bed in the hotel near Haneda was a strange experience, as the last week was completely spent either in the sleeping bag or on the tatami. But it was an early wake-up call as usual.
The hotel even included a "Continental breakfast", but looking at some of the dishes I decided to stay with the rice and coffee. As the return flight to Munich was in the afternoon, there was still some to spend at Haneda before taking the shuttle bus to Narita.
The visit to the visitors deck on the JAL side of the airport at sunrise provided a stunning view of the snow-covered Mt. Fuji being illuminated by the first rays of the sun, as well as a view of the whole downtown Tokyo with another chain of snowy mountains in the background. Furthermore the deck offered a good view of the construction of the new International Terminal, which will surely put up a competition for the Narita Airport. After enough 'red' JAL photos I changed to the 'blue' ANA site, though the light at this time of the day is not that good.
The change however was worth it and I was rewarded with a shot of the brand new B767 ANA retro jet as well as the view of the yellow Pokemon jet.
Then it was finally time for bus to Narita, and get on-board my plane back to a cold and hazy Munich, right in time for the Christmas season.Thank you for rating this article.