Aircraft Spotting in Japan

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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!

Japan Top

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.
Week 1
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.
MapNearby 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.
Week 2
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.
Week 3
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….

The Team

TeamAndreas "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.

RollsOur 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!

The Car

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 ;)

Car

 


 

Day 0, Munich, 29/10

29102After a long preparation the day has finally come - we are going to Japan!
I pick up Florian and we are driving to the airport to meet Patrick there who will arrive from Cologne and fly with us to Tokyo from Munich.
At the check-in we get some strange views because of our luggage which includes some stepladders. These were properly cut to a length of 119cm, as 120cm is the limit where bulky luggage begins ;) But we had no problems either with our ladders or with the heavy photo bags as hand luggage. Thank you, Lufthansa!
However, we would not have planned everything exactly on the minute to get shocked at the last second: while checking in our bags the nice lady at the counter says that there is a message for us on her computer: Patrick was not able to fly to Munich because of fog in Cologne, so he would take a later flight from Frankfurt and arrive at Tokyo 4 hours after us. All right, bad luck, the first visit to Hyakuri can already be cancelled…
29101A bit depressed we boarded Lufthansa flight LH714 and took-off at around 15h30. The flight onboard the A340 was fine, and already for dinner we had Sushi and could try to eat with sticks. Welcome to Japan (Yokoso Japan)!!! After a nice drink I had a long sleep while Florian was watching some strange movies (e.g. The Beetle Herbie) and got fascinated by the Japanese woman sitting opposite on the aisle with her mouth mask and playing a computer game non-stop during the 11h flight. What a preparation for the next 17 days...

Day 1, Tokyo - Narita Airport, 30/10

29103At 09h49 we landed on rwy 34R, finally got out of the aircraft, passed the immigration formalities and saw even more people wearing these masks (we should get used to it during the next days…). That took some time, but due to that we did not have to wait long at the baggage claim for our bags and our two ladders which arrived immaculate. After another short stop at the customs (due to our ladders *no comment on that*) we finally entered Japan.
Our first task was to get the rental car. Looking for a Hertz counter we have been quite surprised as we finally discovered the rental car counter for the whole Tokyo International airport: about 3 meter wide and with 3 nice ladies behind the desk. Conversation was not very easy but after no more than 10 minutes we had arranged everything and one of the ladies accompanied us to the car and checked everything. What an excellent service! At first we have not been that sure about our Toyota Isis Minivan which should be our trusty companion for the next three weeks, but it offered just enough space for all of our luggage (including Patrick's, who was still in the air at that time) and, fortunately, had a navigation system. Even if it was in Japanese, we at least had one and knew where we are. Next we had to find the Shobunsha Road Atlas for Japan, which had been recommend to us. So we took the shuttle bus to the other terminal and even before entering the described shop I already saw the map from outside. So far everything was perfect, despite the small delays the mood improved a lot, as not everything was sooo strange as we still thought some hours ago. Time for some spotting!
The weather was far from being perfect but we had to pass the time until 15h, that's why we decided to go on the observation deck on Terminal 1. During the two hours waiting and photographing there we already got controlled by the security twice. But please do not ask me what they might have thought from the two Europeans who just got out of the plane after 11h and spend their time spotting on the deck while it was cold and nearly raining…

Narita Airport

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After several 747s Patrick finally arrived, we packed him in the car and tried to make our way to Sendai, where we had already pre-booked a Youth hostel for the first night.
30102The way from Narita to the Joban expressway was a mess and confirmed the warnings from others that on country roads, even if they are well build, an average of more than 50km/h is not possible. I don't know why, but I had the impressions that the Japanese were keen to put a traffic light at every single crossing on the way… Driving on the expressway was OK however, even if the (official) speed limit there is 80 (eighty!) km/h. On the expressway we also had our first encounter with the 'Japanese cuisine' and one of the many food ticket distributors.
As we did not know how everything works we took the cook without further ado out of the kitchen and showed him what we wanted to eat. He looked quite irritated, did not understand us but managed to show us how to choose our food: choose your plate, go to the ticket machine, pay, choose the appropriate photo, get your ticket and give it to him. The food was ready soon and we needed to get used to our first soup in Japan, but at least we had some warm food that we would need for the rest of the drive.
Even that we had the GPS-coordinates of the youth hostel at Sendai it took us a really long tome to find the small house in the middle of the city. We nearly managed to approach it via the GPS but unfortunately we came out on the wrong side of a rail track or in some narrow lanes. When we finally arrived, we took a hot Japanese bath and layed down on the rice mat for a short sleep.
The adventure began!!


 

Day 2, Sendai - Matsushima, 30/10

After a short night, during which we heavily felt the jet lag and woke up several times our first day in Japan began early at 6 o'clock in the morning. After some souvenir photos in front of the youth hostel we made our way to the civil airport of Sendai. The schedule for that day was already very strict because we also wanted to go to Matsushima airbase.
During half an hour on a grey and hazy morning we took some photos of, for European relations, rare civil aircraft at Sendai and continued to Matsushima.

Sendai Airport

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Matsu 3Arriving at the Matsushima airbase there we were welcomed by three F-4EJ Phantoms taking off and disappearing in the clouds. That sight pleased us a lotbut originally we came there to see the blue Mitsubishi F-2Bs trainer aircraft of Rinji F2B Hikotai. The morning was already busy with 7 F-2Bs and we experienced our first control at a military airfield:
Matsu 2"Excuse me, may I ask you one question?" "When did you arrive?" "When will you leave?" "May we take a photo of you?" Nothing to be afraid of, the two officers were really polite and very obliging and also allowed us to continue taking photos while they checked our passports. Fortunately we already prepared some copies of our passports at home together with our tour schedule and an explanation what we were doing. That was even translated in Japanese. These papers helped us a lot of times during our trip to finish the checks in no time.

 

Matsushima Airbase

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Matsu 1During the morning it cleared up and the 4 Recce-Phantoms from Hyakuri that we spotted on the ramp in the morning even caught some sunshine during their take-off. When there was no activity we took photos of dragonflies and spotted spiders. Up in the air in the afternoon were also 8 F-2Bs and we changed to the other side of the airfield to take some photos during taxiing. Unfortunately the clouds came out again and we noticed that it did not make a lot of sense to continue photography after 4pm up in the north of our trip at that time of the year. Regarding the fact that we still had a very long drive towards Misawa it was even better to leave early.
Matsu 4Once again our supper was a noodle soup in a highway restaurant. We have already planned a stay at a youth hostel near Misawa, which we did find quite fast, but unfortunately it was closed at that time of the year. Bad luck and time for our first encounter with one of the famous "Love Hotels": the stay at the "Lake Hotel" near Mukaiyama was not too bad and we even had a warm room and a hot shower there. Paying for the room (5.800Yen) though was a bit difficult, as we could not communicate very well with the owner. During the rest of the trip we should find out that this was one of the best and even cheapest hotels during our trip!


 

Day 3, Misawa - Hachinohe, 01/11

MisawaMisawa was the reason for our detour up high in the north of the main island because of the famous blue Phantoms that are based there with the 8 Hikotai.
After the dull day at Matshusima we have been greeted by a sunny, and very cold, morning on the northest point of our trip. Driving through the city centre of Misawa we all quickly realized the connection of Misawa with aviation as we saw the silhouette of a red plane throughout the city, but more on that later. We arrived a bit too early at the airport because the visitor's deck was still closed. "Open 8, open 8" we were informed by an employee and while waiting for the opening I enjoyed my first can of hot coffee(!) out of an distributor and tried to recover from my cold. Standing there we already heard jet sound and spotted a blue single-seater F-2A. Of course our arrival at the airport was not unnoticed because after some minutes on the visitor deck, that finally opened after the F-2 has been towed away…, some "guards" already arrived and were followed shortly afterwards by two officials. The control was very friendly once again and we were also once more allowed to continue photography while they were checking our passports. But on the same time that was also very demanding because the traffic became really busy: 2 squadrons of American F-16s with the WW tail code and the 8 Hikotai of the JASDF were already very busy with flying and during the interview we heard the familiar sound of the J79 and some grey F-4EJs appeared from behind some trees. In between an E-2C Hawkeye of 601 Hikotai also took off and during the day we should also see an EP-3E! From others we have learned that the blue Phantoms are very rare to see, but suddenly 1 … 2 … 3 phabulous blue Phantoms appeared on the last chance and we fired away. Photographs of course. One single F-4, all three of them, two with some other grey Phantom taking off in the background. I do not know how many photos we have taken there, but that sight and feeling is unforgettable!

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When they all took off we went back to our car and were looking for the spot in the approach, which is the only other possibility to take photos there, though the jets are still quite high. With a changing cloudiness it was a lot of gambling to get a sunny Phantom, and did not have a lot of luck. Besides an RF-4E and the unique EC-1 that we could photograph with light :)

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Around midday we furthermore had a look at the Misawa Aviation & Science Museum that is also located at the airport and discovered the red bulky plane, "Miss Veedol". We learned that it was the first aircraft to cross the Pacific Ocean and started here at Misawa in 1931. We hurried taking photos of the exhibition and also encountered our first T-1 there. While we spent our time there the second (or third?) wave let we airfield and we tried once again tried our luck at the beginning of the afternoon. After finally one well lit Phantom and even two Hawkeyes we left to Hachinohe.

Misawa Aviation & Science Museum

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Hach SpotHachinohe is a base of the Japanese Maritme Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) and home of the 2 Kokugun, that mainly operates P-3C Orions within the 2 and 3 Kokutai. Around one and a half hour before sunset we arrived at the base and were able to take some nice photos from the fence. Of course we were not fast enough there with our ladders and had another security check. But no problem once again and some nice Orions were on film/chip. We decided to also have a look at the spot in the approach, which was in the middle of industrial plants. After waiting for a long time we saw a smoky trail on the horizon right as we wanted to leave and were able to photograph a flying Orion at the end of the day.

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What a wonderful time we had in the north!!
Scenic NorthWe made our way back to the highway and started driving back south again to Hyakuri. I was very silent in the car, besides the radio that was playing a Dire Straits CD. We were blessed with a marvellous landscape, wooded hills with no houses in sight and the sun was about to set. Even if we did not know what would still await us, that prelude was perfect.
After some hours on the road (11.800Y toll) we arrived at Hyakuri at half past ten and were not able to find a hotel, not even a love hotel. No wonder as we were nearly in the middle of nowhere. As it was nearly midnight it did not make a lot of sense to continue our search and pay for a room for some hours. So we decided to drive to the airfield and look there for a quiet place that we soon found along a small farm track in between some trees. Time to get some sleep in our sleeping bags that we badly needed because of the low outside temperatures.


 

Day 4, Hyakuri, 02/11

Hyakuri 1The next morning we woke up as the sun was just rising and the morning fog was still hanging over the fields that we did not see when we arrived in the dark some hours ago. We also did not see that cemetery some 50 meters away!!! Quickly we got in the car, were looking for the next coffee distributor, that we found nearby the main gate of Hyakuri airbase, and had a look around the airbase.
Our first photo that day was one of a dumped T-33, and I even forgot to mention, we had once again a splendid morning with a glorious blue sky! Might we be able to get the green Recce RF-4E(J) Phantoms after the blue ones at Misawa yesterday?
Looking around the airfield we noticed that some thing had changed and spots that were still mentioned on our maps were no longer accessible. As we were keen on taking some taxi shots we searched and finally found a nice spot. Before going there we had a look on the ramp and all three Hikotais (204 & 305 with F-15(D)J Eagles and 501 with RF-4E and RF-4EJ did roll out their jets off the hangars.
Hyakuri 2On the spot we took nice photos of 3 F-15s that taxied to the last chance, but did not take of from the runway and rolled back to their hangars. Also there was no Phantom activity and were therefore not very motivated to photography the T-4 trainers that circled and the two C-1 that landed in the morning. Sitting, waiting, sleeping we spent the morning. The countrymen that were working not far away were surely a bit puzzled because of us. And we were even more surprised when the countrywomen approached us and gave each of us a tangerine and something to drink! What a nice gesture. Around midday the light became worse and worse and we said goodbye to the countrymen and changed our position.

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Hyakuri 3Hyakuri 4During the afternoon we finally took some nice photos of F-15s, but only one RF-4EJ was taking of with no sun. So even with a lot of Eagles we were not completely satisfied and already decided that we needed to come back here because of the excellent photo positions and the missing Phantoms on this day. We also had our check at this position- finally, as we have been awaiting it already in the morning. At that spot we met also some British spotters with whom we have also spend the afternoon on Misawa.

 

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Hyakuri 5When we left this spot we also saw a 'dump' with several heavily weatherd helicopters. As we wanted to approach them we quickly realized that they were guarded by some aggresive guarddogs. Fortunately they were on chains, but we also preferred to take he photos with our telelenses.
We drove back towards Tokyo afterwards and had our first impression of this mega city while we drove round the city and saw nothing but houses and traffic jams, the latter ones fortunately on the other lane! Our target that day was to get as close as possible to Iruma, where the airshow was held the next day.
Finding a love hotel was impossible; because of the bank holiday a lot of couples seemed to enjoy the night not at home. Bad luck for us three men, but we finally managed to find a business hotel near a train station.
A real hotel, perfect after the last night in the car.


 

Day 5, Iruma Airshow, 03/11

Iruma 6Once again we got up early on the 5th day of our trip, because that we would have our first Japanese Airshow at Iruma. Japanese friends we met the year before in Europehave told us that they have never been to Iruma, because "there are too many people". We could not understand that totally, but we should learn during the course of the day! Though the airfield in the middle of the suburbs of Tokyo we found it quite easily and soon got stuck in a traffic jam, which led to a parking place. Of course we were more clever, drove by and were looking for another lace to park our car nearby. In a small street we finally discovered a space and parked there. As we got of the car a Japanese woman was shouting at us, but we could not understand her. She also tried to speak English, but everything we understood was "…friend…". Well, nothing serious, as the signs did not indicate that it was forbidden to park there, so we continued to get our bagpacks and ladders out of the van and went to the queue to get. It was 7 o'clock in the morning…
Iruma 3There were already quite a lot of people who also arrived from Tokyo by train and we realized that airshow freaks of the far east did not differ that much. We saw stepladders, vests and caps with patches, radio scanners and so on. However the procedure to get in was really really strange. Officially the show opened at 9a.m., but already one our earlier the queue began to move. But only a little bit inside and was stopped a bit afterwards. As this was repeated three times we suspecetd that they did not want the people stand on the street outside. In the meantime it also became cramped and we could not nearly move, furthermore the typical Japanese politeliness seemed to have dissappeard as everything was trying to be as ahead as possible. While waiting I also stepped on the ladder and took a photo of the crowd from above. The people look amazed as they supposedly did not expect to see an European there. The stop-and-go-game was reapeted some more times and was really a pain in the neck, because we could already see the flightline around one kilometer away.
Iruma 4Suddenly, the rope in front of the queue was lifted and everybody started to run. It was a real revolt and a battle to be the first. Some people even stumbled and fell on the ground. Our only chance not to get overrun was to join in - with no breakfast, heavy bagpacks and the ladders that was no fun and a real sportive test. Patrick was a bit behind while Florian and I kept up with the Japanese and played of our airshow experience to look for a good photo spot on an unknown airfield wile running like hell. We spotted a nice corner, settled down there and recovered from the morning sport.
Exhausted we had a first look at the nice static display: nearly one type of every JASDF aircraft was present as well as some helicopters.

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Iruma 7Unfortunately the weather was not very good during the show with only minor bright spells during which we splitted up and tried to do our best to get at least some good photos of the parked aircraft. That was demanding because inthe meantime the wholeapron was covered with visitors and their plastic blankets. Of course we tried to be polite and not to step on them (the blankets ;)), but with only some centimeters of free space beetwen them and a lot of photos to take we also stepped on that "private property" several times, and earned angry looks. Sorry for that, but it was necessary…

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Iruma 8

 

The flight program was sparse with a lot of local T-4 flying in front of a gray sky, a very impressive 6-ship formation of C-1s during bad weather as well and other demos of Iruma based aircraft as the YS-11 flightchecker or helicopters.

 

 

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Iruma 10

 

At the end of the day the Blue Impulse performed, accompagnied by several thousands of visitors screaming "AAAaaaaaa" s and "OoooooOOOoooooo"s. That was very amusing to us and at least they had some sun during their performance.

 

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Iruma 11

For the fly-out of all the guests the weather was bad again. Unfortunately, because it would have been really great to capture the departure of the F-15, F-4 and all the helicopters with the sun. As the last aircraft left, the whole crowd was fastly sweeped out and we had a look at the souvenirs, but did not find anything exciting, so we returned to our car as well.

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Iruma 2Strangely all the cars around ours had already disappeared and we saw a small orange plasticbag chained to our bumper. With all the chalk writing on the street it did not take a lot of time to realize that we got a ticket. On the notice inside the bag everything was of course written in Kanji. Fortunately we found a helpful walker who pointed us the way to the nearest policestation.
Iruma 1Driving there we already calculated how much our vacation fund would shrink within the next hour… At the station we were treated really friendly, but the main problem was to find someone who speaked English. During this time we explained our situation several times but only earned questionable looks. Iruma 5After some time an officer disappeared with our papers and we got a bit worried. Waiting some more veeeery long minutes finally an English speaking policewomen arrived to whom we could explain the situation once more. We learned that they have been called (guess by whom…) because we 'blocked' someones doorway. With the help of the photos the police has taken we argued that there was still enough place and no signs around. Fortunately they agreed on our view and we did not have to pay anything. Only Xxxxx had to sign a paper stating that he would not park illegally anymore in Japan. That was OK for us as we had two more drivers left for the next time ;)
After nearly one hour we left the station relieved but nevertheless with a strange feeling and continued our drive towards Gifu. It was foggy and grey and the drive was very tyring. After some bad food along the highway we found another strange love hotel (7200Yen) near the airbase, took a shower and slept well once more.


 

Day 6, Gifu - Komaki, 04/11

Gifu 3After the not very satisfying day at Iruma yesterday this day began with another bad surprise: we were not able to open the doors in our room!! After close inspection xxx (name withheld ;)) succeeded in opening it using a spoon that has been shortly before used for a good warming green tea. We paid directly at the cashier desk, though no one was present at that time there, and left quickly… with our deepest trust in Japanese honesty.
Gifu 4At 09h15 we arrived near the approach at Gifu Airbase, home of the Flight Test Centre of the JASDF. Beforehand we drove around the airfield and inspected several spots which did not seem very suitable for photography. Adding to a lot of spiders that hang their horrible nets across a small footpath we discovered also two YS-11 parked in front of a hangar at the airfield, but the activity on base tended towards zero. As there seemed to be no flying at all we went to the Kakamigahara Museum (Link) right nearby and visited the very interesting collection there. (In the case of hearing some jet sound we could reach the photo spot within some minutes). At the museum we also had our first encounter with the huge Shin Meiwa flying boat! Other interesting exhibits include several prototypes and test aircraft from a small Saab S 91 to the UF-XS, the testbed for the technologies that were later used in the Shin Meiwa. Of course we were also attracted by the museum shop as we were keen on getting some souvenirs in from of models, model kits, cups, stickers and so on. The fact that we were a little bit frustrated because of the recent happenings surely added to the fact that we left the shop heavily loaded, and leaving the lady at the cash desk back with a big smile in her face.

Kakamigahara Museum

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Gifu 2Following the visit, and no activity at Gifu, we decided to drive to Komaki. The former civil airport of Nagoya is nowadays only used by JAL Express operating Canadair CRJs, but our main interest were the based C-130 Hercules of 401 Hikotai and the Mitsubishi factory which might be good for some surprises. But the main and most important goal there was to get one flying Mitsubishi T-1. Only four examples of the trainer based on Gifu 9the F-86 Sabre are still in active service and planned to be put out of service in 2006, so the chances to see them once again were zero for us.
A J-Air CRJ welcomed us at our arrival and some helicopters, of which the most important one, a JMSDF SH-60, used a slightly different approach pattern and was thus not photographable. Also the ramp was full of green and blue C-130 and we were confident to get at least one of them. As we waited longer and longer, all the local spotters have left in the meantime, some British spotters that we have already met at Misawa arrived and told us that today was a non-flying day within the whole JASDF. Bummer… One wasted day, but at least we took some nice photos at the museum.

Nagoya - Komaki Airport

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Gifu 8One of our guide books told us that there was a "Zero" displayed in the Terminal, but after looking in every corner there was no sign of one and furthermore the visitors deck was closed, which resulted also in no photos of the C-130. Disappointed we left and declared Komaki already the worst airport on our tour. We went back to Gifu and tried to take photos of the gate guards (including a marvellously painted C-46 testbed), but access to the collection was denied after a long talk with the responsible persons.
We were fed up finally and went to the local McDonald's to have a Teriyaki Burger and other good and tasty food.
Gifu 5Then we started another long leg (450km) with the destination Hiroshima. Driving through the night after this disappointing day was not easy and we did not talk a lot that time. Florian took over the car most of the time and kept himself up with the help of two Airmen's Beans. After this dose there was no sigh of sleep for him for the next hours. I also cannot remember who often we have listened to our three CDs (Dire Straits & Fleetwood Mac Best Of and the Top Gun Soundtrack) that I brought to Japan, but Florian and Patrick got fed up with them and finally decided to turn the radio off.
Gifu 6We wanted to spend the night in a youth hostel in Hiroshima but could not find it after more than one hour of driving through the district where it should have been. We called the hostel several times but after no one answered the phone after around 11pm our nerves laid blank. First the big disappointment and Gifu and Komaki and now no place to sleep at Hiroshima…
Subsequently the tourist visit the next day was cancelled and after a short photo stop at the "Atomic Bomb Dome" memorial commemorating the drop of the atomic bomb "Fat Boy" on August, 6th 1945. Sleeping nearby the "Peace Park" would have been on option for us, but was rejected because of the 'No parking'-signs around and mainly because of the fact that we were really fed up with this city! So we decided to leave the city (and never come back…) and stopped at the next rest area on the motorway and spend there another night in the car…


 

Day 7, Iwakuni - Fukuoka, 05/11

Fuku 6Fuku 7Patrick and Florian woke up quite early in our Honda that day, but I was totally tired and decided to sleep on the rear seat during our drive to Iwakuni. The highway to Iwakuni was closed due to a landslide and we had to take a long detour that did cost us nearly one hour. The airfield at Iwakuni was quickly, though not easily, found and we spotted three Shin Meiwas on the apron there. The chances for some flights of them even on a Saturday were given and we decided to stay there for some time. I finally got awake there and had a warm coffee on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
After some time we got bored and worried about the long distances to the airfield. No activity in sight and also the chances to take some nice photos of the rescue flying boat even with our long lenses seemed very low.
Fuku 2For another time our schedule was modified and we hit the road again to leave the main Japanese island and to cross the bridge for the southern island, Kyhusu. The drive was one of the few during daylight for us and we enjoyed the scenic landscape with a lot of hills and Bamboo forests. Fuku 4Fukuoka, the main city on Kyushu, the land became more populated again and in the city we encountered our first "double-decker highways".
At the civil airport we were able to photograph two nice surprises on form of a rare civil operated YS-11 of "Japan Air Commuter" (JAC) and a L1011 TriStar of "Thai Sky Airways". In the civil terminal we also had a look at the visitor's deck, which is behind thick and dirty glass, thus not suitable for good photography, and did check our emails at an Internet terminal.

Fukuoka Airport

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Fuku 8During the afternoon it got more and more hazy and the light was really bad, so that we left to Tsuiki quite early. Crossing the island was really nice and we enjoyed once more a scenic landscape, because we had a lot of time…With some small stops the 60km trip took nearly 3h. But it was worth it, with the ricefields along the road, typical Japanese houses, some industry and everywhere there was a smoky smell in the air.
Exceptionally the youth hostel, that we also called while we were on our way, was found really fast that day, but that time no one spoke English there. That Fuku 3coincided with the fact that it was a real Japanese one and we had to spend the night on rice mats again. Fortunately we learned from the last stay on how to use the mattresses properly and would not have an aching back the next morning. Furthermore Patrick and Florian got used to the "Eastern Style" as there were no western toilets available. Before going to bed we once again we took a nice and warm Japanese bath and went to bed at 8.30pm. At that time it also started to rain, as it was also predicted on the internet forecast that we saw in the afternoon. Of course we were worried with the show the next day but hoped that the rain might stop sometimes during the night.


 

Day 8, Tsuiki Air Show, 06/11

Tsuiki 7Another big event and one reason for our trip: the Farewell Show of the Mitsubishi F-1 at Tsuiki.
Tsuiki 15Unfortunately the rain did continue dropping on the roof when we woke up in our cold room on the rice mattress. Though it was still 5am we got up quite quick and left the hostel half an hour later. Getting up that early turned out to be a good decision as the parking was already well occupied at 6.30 despite all the rain still pouring down. We were flabbergasted because of so many people at that time and with that weather!!! Later on we found in the program that the flying was scheduled to begin at 8am, so the early arrival was clearer to us.
Tsuiki 2But at first we sat down in our car and were waiting. Waiting for the rain to stop, the sun to come out, drinking some coffee and we were also really unsure about what to do. As the windscreen got foggy we finally decided to get "combat-ready", packed the full equipment (bag packs, raincoats, stepladders) and took a shuttle bus that brought us on the other side of the runway were the apron and the static display was. This proofed to be a good Tsuiki 12decision because the rain decreased from time to time and the flying really started at 8am. The weather changed a lot that morning, from some sunny spells during which we ran around and tried to get some photos of the static display, to rain pouring down. During that time we searched for cover in of the hangars right beside an F-1 and even met some Japanese friends that we knew from European shows. We had a nice chat and tried to make the best of the day, as everyone else did as well. At least the show was not that crowded as Iruma and everything was more familiar. In between the rain I also headed out and was looking for some F-1 patches, but unfortunately the rare "Last year" ones had been sold out to the one in the queue standing just one meter in the front of me :(…

Farewell Mitsubishi F-1

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Fly-Out Update: on March, 9th 2006 six Mitsubishi F-1 took off from Tsuiki airbase for the last time shortly before reaching 4000 flight hours on the respective airframes. With their landing the nearly 30 year long history of this aircraft uniquely employed within the JASDF came to an end.

Mitsubishi F-2A

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Tsuiki 14Just like the rare opening formation of an F-1, F-2 and F-15, representing the three jet types based at Tsuiki, most of the flight display in the morning was either cancelled or Tsuiki 10regarded from the hangar. Fortunately a bit later it at least stopped raining and we headed out to place ourselves in front of a row of seven F-1. That was really great because they should participate in the flight display and we could closely look at the start-up preparations, which was one of the highlights of that show. Excellent as well was the two-ship demo of the F-15J Eagles with a marvellous take-off and great fly-bys. Two F-15 also taxied towards the crowd line in the afternoon and a weapon loading demonstration (4x Sidewinders and 4x Sparrows) was presented. After it was completed they did not take-off, but taxied back to their parking positions.

F-15 Demo

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Tsuiki 9Unfortunately the whole flight display was interrupted by showers during which we ran for cover to the shelters and back when we heard some jet engines again. Due to this it was impossible to get the blue F-2 with sun, the same was for all displays of the F-1, with the exception of the last jet taxiing back after the last flight display of the day. One shed of sunlight nicely illuminated the green and brown camouflage and we were happy!! Hours of cold rain from above were forgotten, even if it stated shortly afterwards once again. But at least we could get some more photos of the static display in the meantime and leaving the show was a bit easier for us after we knew that we got at least some nice photos at one of the most important stops during our trip!

Static Display

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Tsuiki 6Of course we were in the last bus back to the parking and used the possibility to take some photos of the F-2 flightline right beside the road. On the parking we had severe problems locating our car at first but finally Tsuiki 5found it, because there were not that many cars left.
What a show… We were soaked with water, I was looking at the torn back of my trousers (the only one which I took with me for the warm south), Patrick at his socks, and Florian at both of us. Then we tried to arrange our stuff in the car the best to let it dry until the next day and drove out of the airfield. As we took the same way as with the bus some minutes ago we drove really slowly and made some quick stops taking photos of F-15s and a stored F-1 and T-33.

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Tsuiki 4Then it was time to hit the road again. Fortunately it was only around 4pm and we first stopped at a supermarket. To our surprise the prices there were a lot cheaper than in the convenient stores which we only knew until that time and we used the possibility to by water, chips, cookies, even some fruits, beer and also found some pizza. On the parking Florian dropped his proudly purchased piece on the parking and we had a good laugh on that.
Tsuiki 17The 150km drive on country roads took us 5h with a small break to get something to eat at a the most delicious "Hokka Hokka Tei". In the middle of nowhere we entered the take-away shop and three Japanese girls stared at the three of us, marked by an exhausting airshow day and I had problems to hide my torn trousers. With a lot of laughing and showing around the menu we succeeded to get some good tasting "bentos" with meat from the wok and rice.
Kanoya 3The following part of the trip through the night was hard, especially for Patrick, who nearly got sick because Andreas was driving quite peppy through all the curves. At least until he demanded a driver's change and proceeded in the same way. Of course we also listened to our three favourite CDs during these long hours on the road. If it wouldn't have been dark that part would also have been very scenic, but in the night we could unfortunately only get a small idea of the deep valleys through which we were driving.
Close to Nyutabaru we found the "Sunrise" love hotel (7000 Yen) and a look at the sky showed stars, which was very very promising for the next day. Our room that evening was fitted with a Polaroid machine that time, which we did not inspect closely and preferred to go to bed, because once again we had to get up early.


 

Day 9, Nyutabaru - Kanoya, 07/11

Kanoya 1After the disappointment the day before it seemed that we were lucky once more. When we left the hotel the sky was clear and we headed towards the airfield. From narratives we knew about a spot that is only suitable in the morning for 1 ½ hours, but excellent for head-on photos of the jets, that turn afterwards nicely into the sun.
Kanoya 2Already at 7am we did found it and the sun was rising behind some trees. The first rays of warming sunlight felt really good, and even better was still the crowded ramp with the F-4 and F-15 squadrons at Nyutabaru, among them the famous coloured Aggressors of the "Hiko Kyodotai". It did not take very long until the security appeared from the inside and the outside and the usual procedure started. Of course only the three of us were controlled, the other Japanese spotters were standing unaffected besides us…Kanoya 10
The first aircraft of the day was a T-4 which was very useful because we could adjust our position at the fence afterwards and were well prepared for the 3 Phantoms that followed shortly afterwards.Kanoya 12 "Only" 4 Aggressors came afterwards and while they were on the last chance the first F-4 already returned and performed several touch-and-goes. It was quite busy, but the sun was already turning around and we went back to the car to be on our next spot for the return of the F-15s. They returned 45 minutes later, unfortunately with no go-arounds. During the morning several more normal F-15s and F-4 flew their missions and it became hazy. We discussed with some Japanese spotters and they were not sure if the Aggressors would fly once more in the afternoon because there was also night-flying scheduled for that day. Therefore we decided spontaneously to go to Kanoya at midday.

Nyutabaru - The morning spot

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Eagle Aggressors and Phantoms

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Kanoya 9Kanoya 8The few kilometres to Kanoya took us 2 ½ hours due to a lot of traffic lights and the country roads. Shortly before arriving at our southernmost destination I had a look at the GPS is it indicated an air-line distance to Misawa, our northest point, of 1400km. That's Munich-Madrid, a journey through Europe.
At first we did visit the Navy museum there which includes very interesting exhibits: inside the Museum there is among interesting historic facts that are solely explained in Japanese, a Zero and the main exhibit at the outside is the huge Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat. We also saw another Shin Meiwa there, Kawasaki license-built P-2J and P2V-7 Neptunes, a C-46 and a Tracker amongst others.

Kanoya - Navy Museum

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Kanoya 6Kanoya 7Then we hurried up to have a look at the JMSDF base nearby as we already saw helicopters circling above our heads during the stay in the museum. When we arrived there we say that a P-3 Orion was just returning home from its mission and was cleaned in a huge washer. We hasted to get out the car and take some photos of it. Standing at the fence it did not take even a minute until our observers arrived. These were the fastest ones during our whole trip for sure. The check and the following conversation were relaxed and the next 45 minutes the most dense during the whole trip: as it was late in the afternoon all the based aircraft were returning on after another: Orions, SH-60s, OH-6s and we even saw a Coast Guard YS-11. And everything in perfect light, until the sun disappeared.

Kanoya Airbase

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Kanoya 5It was then time for us to get back as well and really exhausted we returned to Nyutabaru.
Kanoya 4With the colourful F-15, the F-4s and all the Navy aircraft this has been the most multifaceted day of our trip. And even though Patrick did not feel very well he was happy about the results as well. For supper we had a hot soup once again and decided to stay in the same hotel as the night before. Unfortunately we arrived there already at 9, but could not enter the room before 10pm. So we still had to wait for one hour in the cold car. While waiting I even fell asleep after that perfect day!


 

Day 10, Nyutabaru, 08/11

Nyuta2 01"Groundhog Day"… Once again we woke up in the same love hotel as the day before and were at the spot at the "fighter paradise" Nyutabaru at 07h15. It was colder than the day before that morning, but the sky was even clearer and we could see the mountains in the background. Once again a T-4 was the first aircraft and Phantoms followed afterwards.
While the sun was turning we were waiting for the Aggressors who left quite late that day at 9am.Nyuta2 04
The sun was not that good anymore at that time, but we did not mind that much because a camerateam placed themselves directly in the line of sight for the frontview pictures that day. Furthermore the sun was not out at that moment as well.
Nyuta2 03Happy enough about the photos we have already taken the day before we changed our position to the southern side of the runway. Masses of F-4EJ Phantoms and F-15(D)J Eagles of all Nyutabaru based Squadrons flew that day and two T-4s from other bases visited the airfield as well. During midday it got a bit hazy but we continued shooting because all the aircraft departed with different configurations of tanks and training weapons. In the afternoon it got completely sunny again and we were able to shoot all aircraft in perfect light.

Perfect photo spots

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Phighter Paradise

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Nyuta2 10

Shortly before the Aggressors left for their second round in the afternoon we decided to change our position once more and move a bit more to the west in order to try to get them airborne. Unfortunately the starting direction was changed soon after we arrived there and we still only saw them during rotation. However at this spot there was a really nice green background and we got the possibility to see their camouflage from the other side.

 

Afternoon flight of the Aggressors

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Nyuta2 09

After filling many more rolls of film and gigabytes on my mobile harddrive it was nearly time to say good bye. But before leaving we headed for another spot at the very end of the runway where, after climbing up a step slope, some nice photos of Phantoms were possible that were illuminated by the setting sun. As standing there felt not very comfortable and quite unsafe Florian and Patrick preferred to take some scenic shots of the sunset, the landscape and returning F-15s. But the last photo of that day was one of a Japanese Phantom!

Bye bye Nyuta!

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Nyuta2 13Nyuta2 12Then it was time to move again, back to Tsuiki. Shortly after leaving Nyuta we discovered a shrine and still took some photos there in order to proove back home that we did not solely photograph aircraft. That shrine was just besides a kindergarten and a lot of black eyes stared out of the windows when we jumped out of the car with our cameras. I think we are looking the same way when we see Japanese tourists ;)
As it got dark we refueled somewhere along the coastal road (~5.800Yen) and had dinner at Moe's. Among other tasty things they offered also some nice riceburgers, exactly the right stuff after such a long and hard working day…
The way back to Tsuiki led us to the same winding road as two days before and took around 5 hours. Despite calling the youth hostel it was closed when we arrived there and we got really angry. This would have been the first (and only!) time during our trip that we did not have to search for hours for a youth hostel, but now we had to look for a love hotel once again. Fortunately we found one not far away and after the usual problems (payment, 3 male persons…) and discussions we got our room. As Patrick did not feel very he slept in the double bed, Florian and I preferred to stay healthy and therefore chose the floor to spent the night...


 

Day 11, Tsuiki - Ozuki, 09/11

Tsui 10Tsui 8We only woke up not very far from the sunny and warm Nyutabaru, but once again it seemed that we would have no luck at Tsuiki. It was cold again with around 10°C and cloudy. As we already knew the location of the airfield the spot was quickly found in the morning, after the usual stop at a coffee vendor machine of course. The spot at the quay turned out to be very nice for taxi and take-off photos of the local F-15s, F-2s and of course the few remaining Mitsubishi F-1s. But in the morning it was still quiet and we spend our timelooking around, freezing and dreaming of the warm morning the last two days at Nyutabaru. With the blue Phantoms at Misawa and the Aggressors only the F-1 was missing on our list of the important jets to be nicely photographed.
Finally the first round of seven F-15s took off at 08h45 and was followed by some F-2s, only two F-1s and also a T-4. All of these types had even some sunny spells of the sun that was trying to fight against the clouds, but unfortunately lost on the long run during that day…
Tsui 9Of course we were controlled there as well, this time from the inside of the base andfrom the outside as well. Tsui 7After the second round on midday we left this position when the first F-1s took-off and were looking for a new spot at the other end of the runway. We found one, but unfortunately we had to look over a very high fence with our ladders, and the aircraft were still very far away when the dropped of their landing brakes. The combination of the cloudy weather and very long lenses reulted unfortunately in very poor photos. At least it made our farewell to the F-1 not too hard and we got our car ready to leave Kyushu, heading to Iwakuni.

F-15s & F-2s

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F-1s

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Tsuiki visitors

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Tsui 5Tsui 3Driving along the coastline on the highway was really fast compared to the route we took some days ago from Fukuoka. This even allowed ous to make a short photo stop at the bridge that is connecting the two Japanese islands that we visited during our trip.
On the way to Iwakuni we planned a stop at Hofu and Ozuki, but did not have enough time anymore to do both. We decided theefore to give Ozuki a go, as this would bring us a new aircraft type. The JMSDF airbase with its local Fuji T-5 (the official designation is Fuji KM-2A) is responsible for the training of young Japanese Navy pilots. With a lot of arcraft circling above the airfield it was found in nearly no time and a good photo spot was also available. The fence with its height of around 1,50m around the airfield was no obstacle for us, a lot less then the tree line which gave only some small gaps for good photos. Obviously the soldiers were not very used to spotters there, because a ot of joggers stared at us with open eyes, and one was even afraid that we might try to jump over the fence. But a short conversation resulted in "Photography, OK!". We only took some photos there and left before the security arrived, because we were not in the mood to answer the same questions as that day in the morning once again.

Ozuki

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At the local 7/11 I got some nice noodles to prepare for the rest of the drive to Iwakuni. Unfortunately the highway was still blocked due to a landslide Tsui 2and we got stuck in a traffic jam that did cost us a lot of time. The search for the youth hostel was once again very difficult as the indication in the guide was once more a spot that could be everywhere in the next few kilometers, additionally surrounded by many one-way streets. But finally we found it, of course…, and once more and were warmly welcomed. As the hostel was nicely located highabove the city on the edge of a forrest and near a temple it was obvious that it was very hard to find. To get something to eat that evening we had to go back to the city, where we also found a supermarket and got something for our next day's breakfasts, and some fruits for a change.Tsui 4 At a Hokka-Hokka-Tai nearby we bought some take-away dishes that we enjoyed back in the youth hostel together with a good beer because of the success on the southern island! Before going to bed we did not take a bath that time because it did not look to confident. Furthermore the room was not very warm and with our colds that might have not been a good idea as well. Once more we said "Good night" on the rice mat…


 

Day 12, Iwakuni, 10/11

Iwa 3Getting up it appeared to become a lucky day once again. The sun was shing from a clear blue sky. Of course we were eagerly to see a Shin Meiwa flying boat, but we made nevertheless some photo stops on our trip to the harbour. Especially the quarter around the youth hostel and along the river was very scenic and we still had some time because after our first visit we did not have to spend time looking for a good spot.
Iwa 5Only some minutes after we have arrived we saw a Shin Meiwa taking off!! We wondered, because the other Japanese spotters, that have been with us on the same spot for some time, have left. And soon we found out why: the Shin Meiwa was climbing quite steep and turned right above our heads, so that were were only able to take photos against the sun. That was the reason why they have changed their position. Travelling such a long way and seeing the fly-by of what might be the start for a very long mission was very annoying for us, additionally to the fact that someone might have warned us before and - as we found out at the end of the day - this was only fly-by with a retracted landing gear.Iwa 6Iwa 9
Of course we changed our position as well and still got some nice Shin Meiwa photos, even with focal lenghts of around 500mm. Also a US Marines C-130 was nicely banking into the sun, as did a JMSDF YS-11 and a P-3Orion. There was also some activity of the based AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18 Hornets, but they were very small in the viewfinder, though they did use the same nice photogenic departure route. We wondered a bit because at this spot, far from the base, we got controlled 3 times by the civil police…

The mighty Shin Meiwa Flying Boat

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US Marines

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JMSDF aircraft

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Iwa 10Iwa 11As this was quite boring, we go tour shots with perfect light and there was no more suspicious acitivity on the airfield we decided to leave at around 2pm. Once again we passed Hiroshima and around 50km from the city we had a look at its airport, that was build on top of a smoothed mountain. We were able to photograph a ANA B777-300 and a JAL A300 from the visitors deck in the evening light and used the internet terminals to send some eMails home, which was a big relief after the long time without access since Fukuoka.

Hiroshima Airport

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Iwa 8Then we continued our looooong drive to Akeno. In retrospective this was by far the longest and most exhausting drive on our trip, but we had to be at Akeno in the morning, because only then the light was good for photography there. To get there as fast as possible we chose to take the direct way from Osaka via some main roads to Akeno. Driving during the night was allright as there were not to many lorries and other cars on the road. However, it already became dark, xxx nearly crashed our car while changing the lane after one of the many toll gates and we realized that a stop and some refreshments were necessary.
Iwa 7And if that would not have been enough we got into a police control, nearly at midnight and after driving more than 550km since Iwakuni. They just wanted to see our driving licenses, which were, together with the official translation by the German embassy, in our suitcases in the back of the car. They made us stop along the road and when we handed the translations together with our old driving licences over the amazement among the policemen was huge. Soon several officeres surrounded us and decided that our driving licences were not valid. They therefore stopped us and prohibited the further use of our car. To move around they gave us the possibility to use busses our trains. Of Iwa 2course it was not funny enough for us anymore from that moment on and we even thought about aborting our trip at that time if this should be true. The translation was useless without a 'valid' license, they repeated continously. We therefore saw no other possibility to call the emergency hotline at the German consulate in Osaka and described what wasgoing one. Nearly half an hour, which seemed to as as many hours, has passed at that time and the policemen decided that it was not save to have us standing along the road and they wanted to bring us to the policestation - Matsuzaka Police Station - the second one during our trip to Japan. As we were not allowed to drive any car Iwa 12anymore we were driven by an officer. After around a quarter of an hour at the police station, we were given our passports and licences back and told "It's okay"… We had a puzzled look at each other, did not totally realize what was going on, but quickly decided that it might be the best option to f**k off as fast as possible. However we did not miss to take a photo of the police station…
After the Hiroshima Matsuzaka became therefore another place that we did not want to see again, anytime!
So it was nearly 1am and we did not have a hotel yet, but we found one easily as our demands were nearly non-existant at that moment. Therefore we checked in shortly past 1am and set our alarm clocks to 7am. We did not speak a lot that night…


 

Day 13, Akeno - Komaki, 11/11

Akeno 2Akeno 3As expected the weather was not very good that day. It was cloudy and gray, besides rain by far the worst conditions to photograph the colourful camouflaged helicopters of the JGSDF.
After the happenings the day before that was not very beneficial for our spirit, but nevertheless we took some photos as the possibilities were gorgeous with no fence but only some barbed wire and a deep trench between us and the helicopters. Early in the morning there was a JMSDF SH-60 coming and we observed two ground runs of AH-1 Cobras, but besides a CH-47 Chinook no more helicopters were flying. Further down the airfield we saw some helicopters parked and that seemed like a small static display to us, so there might be some flying in the afternoon, but for the morning our hopes soon disappeared.
Impatiently we therefore decided to drive on to Komaki to give this airport a second try.
Near Akeno we also stopped at a drugstore and look for some more food and water, I even bought some fresh fruits, salad and barbecue chicken sticks, which were delicious btw.

Akeno

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Akeno 5Akeno 4Komaki once again was a huge disappointment with only one C-1 and a BAe125. Even two shy security guys showed mercy and did not control us that day.
Our spirit was on an all-trip low and Patrick even thought about going back home from Tokyo, which was also caused by the severe cold that he had caught during the last days.
The weather forecast from our last check at the Internet also showed no amelioration until Wednesday, the last real day on our trip. But we had no choice…

Komaki

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Akeno 6Akeno 7At least it was Friday and we were looking forward to our week-end in Tokyo, a good hotel, during which we would stay on two consecutive nights - in the same room. A unique happening on our trip!
When it was already dark we passed the Mt. Fuji along the motorway and had a stop at the rest area there, but could not catch a glimpse of Japan's most famous landmark in the dark.
Driving right into downtown Tokyo on the high streets was OK, because most of the traffic on that Friday evening was going out of the city and with the help of the navigation system we did not even loose our way!

First impressions of Tokyo

Tokyo 1 -- Tokyo 2 ---- Tokyo 3 ---- Tokyo 4 ---- Tokyo 5

Akeno 8However we were speechless when entering the city and its street system. Gliding along the road many meters above the ground. The haze furthermore created a special mood and we felt like in a movie playing in 2050.
Akeno 9Arriving at the Hotel Intercontinental Tokyo Bay was quite cool when we parked right along a luxury Maybach car and a very polite hostess rushed out and helped us to unload our van. We were really worried about this fragile Japanese girl when she tried to grab our suitcases and bag packs and felt somehow misplaced at that exclusive hotel. But on the other hand, we enjoyed it a lot!
The view from our room in the 23rd floor was overwhelming, and after getting some (fast) food just around a corner we called home, returned to our room and enjoyed a well fitting duo: a warm shower and a cold beer…


 

Day 14, Tokyo - Sightseeing, 12/11

Toky 1As always we got up at 7am to discover this mega-city Tokyo, but Patrick preferred to stay in the room due to his severe cold. Looking out of the hotel room we saw in contrast to the gray night yesterday a marvellous blue sky. No wonder, because we did not plan to photograph any aircraft today… However our first stop was the Yasukuni-jinja Yushukan War Museum.Toky 2
Three interesting aircraft can be found at this Museum, which also gives a broad overview - mainly in Japanese language - of the Japanese war history, with a special interest in the Kamikaze attacks during WWII: a Zero, a Suisei and a Ohka. We then went back to the underground station once again and once more did need some assistance in finding the right line and right direction. Fortunately the Japanese are very polite and life is highly service-orientated, because it did not even take one minute looking in our plan until a servicewoman approached us and went along with us a little bit to show us the right train! Then the station counting began and we got out at the city hall building, the To-cho. From there you can get a breathtaking sight of the city from the 45th floor - for free. As we got out of the lift and had a look outside the windows we were speechless … Houses up to the horizon, in every direction. Far away, unfortunately behind a cloud, Mt. Fuji was hiding. What a sight! And it did take some time to realize all this.

Yasukuni-jinja Yushukan War Museum

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Tokyo Tourism

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Toky 5The next stop, not too far by foot from these two skyscrapers, was the Yoyogi Park nearby Tokyo's biggest Shinto Shrine, the Meiji Shrine, can be visited, and we were lucky to attend a children's festival and also saw a Japanese wedding. In style we sat down for some fried noodles and observed everything that was happening around us. We have been in Japan already for quite a long time at that moment, but the sights and sounds were still uncommon, but not that strange anymore.
Leaving the park we listened to a Punk Rock band near the train station, before driving to the Ginza Street where we wanted to buy some model kits. Unfortunately there were only department stores for clothes, so it was a cheap shopping trip for us, but we were disappointed not to find one good Hasegawa or Tamiya kit there.
We walked back to the hotel, because the sun was already setting down and we wanted to get some nice evening photos from our room.

A room with a view

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Toky 4

Patrick did not leave the room for the whole day, but that really helped him to gain some strength for the last few days. After a dinner at the nearby "Wendy's" (we did not dare to have a look at the menu in our hotel) we went to bed quite early. This was also the only time during our trip that we could sleep in the same bed as the day before, and the long walk helped for sure fall asleep quickly.


 

Day 15, Tokyo - Haneda, 13/11

Haneda 1With the prospect of spending our next nights in youth hostels, love hotels or our car leaving the hotel was not easy at all, but we still had to photograph some aircraft, and we decided to be again in Akeno the next day. Going south was good, because this Sunday we went to Haneda to photograph some civil aircraft once again for a change. We met Lars, who helped us from Tokyo with very useful information during the preparation of our trip, in the hotel lobby and he showed us the way to Haneda. Amongst a lot of Tokyo citizens, who obviously spent their week-end with the family at the airport, we tried to snatch some of the photo holes in the fence to take the mainly blue and red aircraft of ANA and JAL.

Tokyo Haneda - General Overview

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ANA - All Nippon Airways

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JAL - Japan Airlines

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Pokemon & other special colours

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other (inter)national traffic

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Haneda 2Chatting with Lars the day passed by quite fast and was highlighted by severely special coloured aircraft. Especially the Pokemon Jets seemed to drive the whole crowd on the observation deck mad, including us because it was really difficult to get good photos when you get hustled all the time. At around Haneda 33pm clouds came up and got boring because we have already taken enough photos, and had a long drive before us. Going to Akeno took a really long time and we arrived there sometimes during the night. I cannot remember the exact time, but it did cost around 10.000Yen and, the most important thing, we did not run into a police control around Matsusaka!!!
Once again we found a strange love hotel, and there was also a strange chair in our room that you will usually only find at the gynaecologist. But I will not go into details now…


 

Day 16, Akeno - Komaki - Gifu, 14/11

Fortunately the hotel was right beside the airfield in Akeno, and we therefore slept a bit longer. But unfortunately the weather was only slightly better than three days ago, but fortunately there was more flying activity! Until half past nine we got some photos of AH-1 Cobras and the OH-1 and OH-6 observation helicopters. It did not appear that the weather would get any better we decided to give Komaki a third and final try.

Akeno

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Gif 2The driving to Komaki was around 2h and shortly after we have arrived two RF-4Es took of. Unfortunately the light was not perfect yet, but at least there was some flying activity. A F-2A without squadron markings also came out from the Mitsubishi plant and started for a test flight.
In the far distance we were able to spot two of the Mitsubishi T-1s and it seemed that the ground crews were preparing both of them for a flight, which was the case!! During one of the our last days we still got the chance to see two of them. Two C-130 Hercules on the ramp showed up as well shortly afterwards, one in blue and the other in green/grey camouflage. Before the 2 T-1 started, we furthermore got the chance to photograph a F-15. While waiting for all of them to come back a F-4EJ Phantom of the nearby Gifu Flight Test Centre performed a low approach and we could not await to go there also once again.

Komaki

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Gif 4The F-2 and both T-1 landed with sun finally shining, and they did not even have left the runway when we were on our way to Gifu. This time we did not need the navigation and knew quite well where to drive and how much time it would take.
Though Gifu is not that far away from Komaki the weather was not that perfect there with a lot of clouds, but there were two F-4s in the pattern, a T-4 and an F-15 came in and - Gif 1to our big surprise - we also had the chance to photograph a T-2. This example must have been one of last ones of this type that is still airworthy! We also encountered some kind of strange vegetation there that attached its seeds to our trousers and it was very hard not to have them everywhere in our car. After the T-2 landing we also decided to stand on the hill on the other side of the road. That place was a lot better for photography, but unfortunately the sun was gone at around 4pm and we went once again to the museum. Not for photography, but Florian and I still had too much money left and we knew that we could some nice aircraft and souvenir stuff there. I only bought two Japanese Phantom model kits and a coffee mug, but the salesgirl smiled a lot more to Florian…

Gifu - Flight Test Centre

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Finally all three of us smiled as well after this day, which was not bad at all. We got some helicopters, even not perfect but better than nothing, C-130s and the two T-1s with sun, and some nice stuff at Gifu. Everything without a single control. Maybe we would have a comparable successful day tomorrow at Hamamatsu? But before taking more photos we had to find a place to sleep. Gif 5For the last time we decided to go to a youth hostel near Hamamatsu, so we relaxed cruised back towards Tokyo, the same way that we arrived the night before. Getting to the hostel was once again a catastrophe, of course. The maps in the guide are really #*$§%§& and we were happy that this was the last hostel to find! That time, after a lot of asking, we were escorted by two friendly Japanese and they showed us the way with their car. Very polite - at the Youth Hostel we thanked them hearty with a deep bow. The check-in was a bit different, because this was the first hostel where they asked for our passes; until now we have thought that they had been useless.
For diner we went back into town and wanted to have a pizza for a change, until we realized that they are a lot more expensive than Japanese food here in Europe. So once again our choice was the McDonald's. Interpreting the giggling three girls behind the counter we were the first Europeans there.
Getting back to the hostel I accepted the bet to find back to the hostel within 15 minutes. Unfortunately I relied a bit to much on the navigation system of our car and suddenly we were on the football court of a school?! But after a total of 20 minutes we were back and Florian was quite impressed. The bunk beds were also furnished with rice mats, but fortunately we already had enough experience to avoid an aching back the next day…


 

Day 17, Hamamatsu - Atsugi, 15/11

Hama 3Waking up at 6:30am that day was a real pleasure, the sun was already shining into our room. Should we be even more lucky today than yesterday? However our first action that day when getting into the car was to symbolically destroy the hated Youth Hostel guide. We would not need it anymore, anytime. Fortunately!
Hama 5Along the coastline we drove to Hamamatsu and enjoyed another scenic part of Japan. The weather was fine and we already saw some T-4s circling around the airfield. A spot was found quickly that offered a good view on two parked E-767, a type that we eagerly wanted to photograph there, as well as the rare V-107 helicopter. Furthermore there was another T-1 behind the AWACS aircraft, but it turned out that they were only doing engine tests on that one. The control patrol was quite fast there, but once again we had no problemsHama 6After checking our passports they stayed I their car for some time, but left then. We continued taking numerous photos of T-4s because the light was really nice and we could experiment a bit without the risk of loosing a shot. After some time we heard thy typical helicopter rotor noise and were curious if this was the V-107, a license-build CH-46, or something else? Furthermore there was now also activity onone of the E-767! Hama 4Shortly afterwards the V-107 came outfrom behind the hangars and started hovering along the taxiway. It was still quite far away, but just in range of our 500mm lenses. Patrick was just about to change a roll of film, when the helicopter finally took off right over us. Fortunately he still managed to get some shots, but was not that happy about it. The same goes for me, because I missed a nice photo opportunity for a C-1 take-off. I was too slow this time, and just enjoyed the view. As there no more activity on the 767 we decided to go to the museum.

Hamamatsu

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Hama 8The museum at Hamamatsu is the official JASDF Museum and has a lot of interesting exhibits. The exposition is split up in two hangars, one of them contains view boards, cut-away aircraft, a library and so on, and the other one, which was the more interesting for us, is full of aircraft. Form a Zero to the F-2 there is every aircraft or helicopter included that the JASDF flew in its history. We were amazed to even already a see a V-107 in the museum. The same type that we just photographed outside. The same goes for the T-1 and clearly showed us that this very special Air Force is going to loose a lot of interesting aircraft in the near future. Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time and rushed through the hall and furthermore did not forget the aircraft parked outside: C-46, Blue Impulse F-86 and an F-104J. While photographing we always had a look outside through the glass facade in order not to miss an interesting aircraft.

JASDF Museum

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Hama 2We then hurried back to the spot were we have been in the morning, and within 10 minutes the B-767 started to taxi. Right in front of us and we were able to get perfect photos of this rare type. That was really surprising, because in all of the reports that we read beforehand everyone wrote that this is one of the hardest aircraft to get. Maybe, but not for us ;)
Afterwards another V-107 started to hover, but did not take-off. As we were rally happy with that airfield as well, we hit the road to have at least a look at Atsuigi.

Hamamatsu

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Hama 7Driving this highway for the third time we had once again no look to descry Mt. Fuji because of clouds preventing a clear, so at least that is a reason for us to go back one time.
Getting to Atsugi was difficult, because a lot of traffic lights slowed the traffic really down once we got off the highway. It was cloudy as well there, but there was some activity. Not a lot, as the carrier was off-shore for training mission, but we saw some US Navy F-18F Super Hornets, C-2A Greyhounds and Japanese YS-11 and P-3s. It was already dark and gray, and I was shooting at ISO800, so I did not really make a lot of sense. But being there I wanted at least to get some photos.

NAF Atsugi

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When it got really senseless we started the last long leg of our trip:
Hama 11Hama 12Passing Tokyo and going to Hyakuri. That should be all right, because we already knew the surroundings of Hyakuri well - even knew that we would not find a hotel nearby and therefore already mentally prepared to sleep in the car - and getting to Tokyo on Friday was no problem as well.
But today everything should be different. Monday evening, 2 accidents and traffic jams all along our way through this megapolis. The 50km through the city took us 3 hours!!! At least we had an automatic car and nerves of steel. The traffic jam also gave me the Hya 4time to Hama 10have a look and our navigation system, and I finally found out how to activate the guidanceto waypoints. On our last day… The drive to Hyakuri was relaxed and we had dinner at a Japanese Denny's. Unfortunately they did not have burgers as anywhere else, but also noodle soup and everything that we rather did not want to have there. After another short stop at a 7/11 to get some beer and Sake we found the parking place near the airbase (and right besides a golf range) really fast and prepared our bivouac in the car. The night was silent, only Florian heard some birds padding on the roof. It was cold and narrow in the car once again, but at least there was a coffee distributor within some meters for the next morning…


 

Day 18, Hyakuri, 16/11

Unbelievable. After a cold night with temperatures around 5°C once again a splendid morning with slight clouds, but nevertheless a nice blue sky welcomed us at Hyakuri. Nevertheless Florian felt quite cold because the evening before he was of the opinion that he would not need his sleeping bag... It was just before seven when we drove to our morning photo spot, but not before I got two cans of hot coffee. The wind had also the right direction that day, and around 10 minutes after being at the fence a dark green camouflaged RF-4EJ taxied to the last chance. We captured this moment that we have been waiting for since more than two weeks ago at the same place in a beautiful morning light and at that time we had everything we wanted to photograph in Japan:
Green, gray and blue Phantoms, F-2s, F-1s, a T-1, the Shin Meiwa… Everything else that day would be an extra give-away. And these were marvellous! We stayed at the spot until the first take-off after the lunch break and photographed several Recce-Phantoms, F-15 single- and doubles-seaters, all of them in different configurations and in perfect light. If got really busy there that Florian once again did not manage to write down all the numbers and photograph at the same time. The security people, that passed inside the fence with their cars, even greeted us friendly. Life can be so good…

Hyakuri Airbase

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Phantom Paradise: RF-4E and RF-4J Kai of 501 SQN "Woody Woodpeckers"

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Shortly after the afternoon take-offs we rushed to the other side of the airfield with a short stop at the 7/11 to get lunch (fried noodles and Spaghetti Bolognaise, which are very exotic in Japan) and went once again to the fence near the bamboo forest. Photography there was difficult that day because they took-off from the other direction than during our last visit and appeared suddenly from behind the trees at different heights. Fortunately the take-offs were numerous and we also got some nice photos there, even from the formation take-offs and another RF-4E during a fly-by which they did also in the morning. Whereas the morning was really nice and refreshed our sunburn it got chilly at that place in the shadows of the trees. Sometimes it was too easy to forget that it was already November..

Afternoon run

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Hya 3So the last day of our trip was very forgiving, giving us the chance to complete and expand our collection of JASDF aircraft, reconsidering the last weeks and forgiving all the troubles we had during this trip.
Being quite late it really made no sense to photograph anymore. Florian and Patrick forced me into the car and I made my last photo at this base. Before we left Patrick said good-bye to his faithful ladder and left it in the forest. So if you see one standing near the airbase Hyakuri, it is his! You can use it, but please leave it there if we come back the next time ;)

Eagles return

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Hya 5The airport hotel at Narita was our next stop, and while we drove towards our last destination we listened once again to the Top Gun soundtrack. When "Take my breath away" was playing, we saw one of the missing Recce Phantoms from the afternoon returning, passing through the sunset. What a way to finish this trip.
Good bye JASDF, and thanks for all the nice moments during our trip!
But all off a sudden this romantic mood was interrupted, because we discovered a praying mantis inside our car and got quite scared because it was walking along the roof of our car. Patrick fortunately put away this danger after a chaotic stop along the road.
Hya 2The further trip back to the airport was quiet, we reminiscenced about the past days and weeks. At the arrival at the hotel at Narita we earned once again strange views, because with all the luggage that we had to get completely out of the car, and probably also because we also looked a bit strange because of our last night. Adding to this came the fact that we had only booked a double room for the three of us, but we got our prebooked room without problems. Out of the window we could watch some nice take-offs of Jumbo Jets, but now it was time to say good-bye to car and return it. After a bit more than 6729 kilometres - around 420km per driving day - we handed over the key. They did not say anything, because we left the car clean, however we do not think that this car will have a long and prospering future afterwards *g*.
Once again the service was excellent, because after returning the car they drove us with our own car directly to the Airport Terminal. The drive was strange, because we nearly spent most of the time during the last 18 days together in this car and were happy to finally go back home, but on the other side we had a really great time in the Far East that was over. We even could not realize it that we did it, everything that we had planned half a year in advance.

Hya 7Hya 6But we did not have a lot of time for reflections, because we wanted to buy some souvenirs for our girlfriends and have at least once Sushi in Japan. I preferred to have a Chicken Yakitori, but took a Sushi take-away and a beer back to the hotel, were we arrived really tired at half past 8.
In the room we extensively used the dustbin to get rid of dirty and worn stuff and everything unnecessary that we did not have to take back. Then we took a nice shower and slept in real beds…


 

Day 18, Narita - Going home, 17/11

On the last day of our trip we also got up at 6:15am and had a really good breakfast. After going to the terminal by the bus shuttle it was a great relief to check-in without any problems. Florian and I even took our ladders back with us, and Patrick had his bag-pack and our unused tent. For half an hour we still had time to have a look at the visitors deck in Terminal 1 and to take our last photos. Then we rushed back to Terminal 2, proceeded efficiently through the check-in and to our gate.

Tokyo Narita Airport

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We entered Lufthansa B747 flying us back to Germany, and left Japan. The trip was over…
Thank you very much for reading our story!! I hope you as much fun (and pain ;)) as we had in Japan. For any input please make use of the guestbook!
THE END


 

Last words

Reading the report I hope you have got a good idea how travelling to and in Japan was. It is not as complicated as you might think but a thoroughly preparation will help a lot. Our preparation phase took about 6 months and we would like to thank the people behind the following webpages for their valuable tips and motivation:
www.dappa.nl/jwings.htm
www.afterburner.nl/japan.htm & www.franknoort.nl/japan.html
Furthermore Patrick has published his own impressions from the trip on his homepage http://www.flight-insight.com/
Even furthermore we would also like to thank the German consulate in Nagoya for helping us with the Japanese Police :)
And do not rely on a Japanese youth hostel guide!!!


 

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