Spottingtrip Japan 2015
Visiting the land of the rising sun. Somehow this always intrigued me. I heard many stories of people who came back with amazing pictures. So after many years of making plans Peter and myself joined 4Aviation for their annual Japan tour in April. Not knowing what to expect, we joined the 4Aviation tour because there was next to nothing to be found in those days concerning travelling and spotting in Japan. So venturing out on our own was a no-go.
Soon we discovered that both were pretty easy if you know how and where to go. We visited the most bases on the main island during a two week trip. Although sometimes the pace was really fast. Spending too little time at one base at a time. During this trip we already made plans to go back again, but then on our own. With the plan to stay a whole day, at least, at each base. Making it a longer but more relaxed trip.
Japan is a strange and wonderful place to visit. The people are friendly, but they have their own sometimes strange customs. At least from the viewpoint of a Western guy. And if you can allow yourself some time away from the aircraft to visit the beautiful temples and gardens and such more in the weekends.
Now for the practical side of things. Flying over there is no problem. Many airlines offer international connections to Tokyo Narita, either with a direct flight or with a stopover. Booking hotels is no problem either. During all of our trips we used the Toyoko Inn hotel chain. An all female run super clean low budget hotel chain. Most of them have their own parking lots. Which is very handy in Japan. Especially in the cities. They have a simple to use English booking site.
Renting a car is a problem for us Belgians. Our driving license is not valid in Japan. You can rent a car online but it will not be handed over at the rental car desk. Even our International driver’s license will not be accepted. A Japanese translation of your European driver license is a must. Online you can find several organizations who will, for a modest fee, arrange this translation for you. So problem fixed. And yes keep in mind they drive on the left side of the road.
Another must to do is buying a little stepladder in a local hardware store on the day of arrival. So you are able to take pictures over the fence inside the airbase. Now you are ready to enjoy the sights and sounds at the different airbases. Japan is spotter friendly to say the least. They are even honored that Western spotters travel so far to take pictures around their bases. Sometimes gifts will be exchanged.
What you can expect at every base is a friendly chat with the base security officer upon arrival. Sometimes a questionnaire has to be filled in. Those guys stand out between the spotters in their three piece suits and briefcases. You can make things easier for them by bringing along sufficient color copies of your passport and planned itinerary. They really appreciate that. And another plus is that you will be greeted with by name, on your next stop at another base.
Spotting itself is no problem and anything goes. Standing right beside the fence on your ladder is a familiar sight. Just enjoy the many waves of aircraft during the day. From early morning till late in the evening. In a nutshell going to Japan on your own for the first time is fine, if you are the adventurous type. Which I’m not. But I can recommend going with a travel organization or someone who has already been there. After that you are hooked for life. I promise you.
Text & Photography: Ludo Kloek