Japan, the land with many mysteries and many splendid airfields.
Our trip to Japan in the month of April this year, started as always at Schiphol. Checking in, transfer in HongKong, landing at Narita. All went effortlessly as usual. After clearing Japanese customs,it was time to find my travel companion and pick up the rental car. As always the lady at the car rental counter was very friendly and helpful. After explaining the Japanese built in GPS in the car we were off to buy the stepladders. Always the first stop in Japan.
Next stop our first Toyoko Inn hotel in a long row. After a quick dinner it was time for a good nights' rest. The next day was the real start of our spotterstrip in Japan.
We opted to make it a little trip this time, visiting only the bases in the vicinity of Tokyo. But as we planned the trip expanded and the usual bases on the Westside of Japan were added. And even a first for us, a base in the North of Japan.
The following bases were on our list:
Misawa (first time)
Matsushima (first time, “Blue Impulse”)
Although the spotting towers were officially closed we received some rumors that they were reopened again under new management. We were anxious to find out what was possible. After a phone call on the night of our arrival in Japan, we set a date and time to meet the new owner of the site. When we arrived he was already waiting for us. After paying the entrance fee we were allowed to go inside. We had the place to ourselves, which was a blast. Not to mention the perfect view over the airfield and the various aircraft parked outside. Our first security check went like breeze. Thanks to the aid of our itinerary list, and photocopied passports. Now the trip would start in earnest. We saw a lot on those two days around this base. The Blue Phantoms (all three of them), the grey Phantoms. Phantom galore. And some nice visitors. Splendid.
I developed a tooth problem after arriving in Japan. This day the pain was very intense. So I was forced to find a Japanese dental office. The communication via Google Translate and the fact they had never seen a Western customer made me forget my troubles for a while. The giggling nurses and dentist helped me out with medication, and off I went back to Atsugi. Where I had already dropped off my travel companion earlier in the morning. I arrived around late afternoon to find the action dwindling down. But still a very nice catch of jets and props.
Due to the wind coming from the East we had to look for some other place to spot the aircraft. Which turned out just fine. We went for the spot near the hospital. On a sunny day this means shooting pictures towards the sun. Standing at the fence you can look onto the aircraft on the taxiway and on to the base due to the elevated position. Luckily it was cloudy that day. Eliminating the problem of having the sun in front of us. As always a nice collection of aircraft passed in front of us.
Always a gamble this one. On our first visit (2013) we saw nothing. On our second visit (2015) it was action all day. With the highlight being the red and white F-2 test plane with test missiles under its wings. This time the action was less but we were treated with some special aircraft flying by. We saw the oldest Phantom in the Japanese inventory, the prototype for the C-1 transport plane and the prototype for its replacement, the C-2. And to top everything off a F-15 with some converted underwing fuel tanks filled with instrumentation. Needless to say we left with a smile on our faces that day.
Since all the F-15’s are stationed here, expectations were high. We planned to stay two days here. But as always something has to go wrong. This time it was the weather again, Wind from the east, this had never happened before, which meant we had to look for some alternative spots to see the aircraft. Not easy and it took us a while, but finally we found the spots. So not the biggest and best collection of pictures but still worth a look. The second day due to cloudy weather we even experimented and charted some new places for our next visit.
This was really a first as we both never visited this field. So I explored it using Google Streetview and marked some spots which could work. The first day the planes landed from the west and after missing our mark at the first spot. We found some locals in a field, yep this was the place. Nice view over the valley and a good view of the aircraft when they landed. Only drawback was the presence of heat haze. A real pest in some pictures. But a full day of flying soon made us forget that. The second day was cloudy and the wind was blowing from the West. So landing from a eastern direction. We thought we had it made. We parked our car besides a SevenEleven. Soon the first jets appeared and to our shock most of the turned in very short, so only the underside of the jets were visible. No long ILS approaches as they all did the day before. This made everything very difficult and I went and scouted for some other places but no luck. Well you win some and you lose some.
Matsushima / Huyakuri
The next day we had a epic drive off 900 km planned. Passing by Matsushima. A cold and rain front passed over Japan that day. So we opted to leave Matsushima for what is was and drive to straight to Huyakuri to see what was happening there... even worse weather.
Although the weather was more cloudy as usual. The sun was more shy as usual, but luckily not too much rain, but we still had a blast, met interesting people and took some very scenic routes through the mountains and the countryside. And not to forget the hours spent in the car already making plans for another trip. Our sights are on the Island of Okinawa. Of course the planes but they are there all of the time off course :-)
Text & Photography: Ludo Kloek