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Planespotting Tour Japan 2008

Another spotting trip to Japan, this time a larger tour covering Kyushu island with its two main airbases Tsuiki and Nyutabaru and an extension down South to Naha for the airshow that celebrated the Okinawa "Phantom Pharewell".

BackShortly after my trip in 2005 I decided never to come back to Japan again. Never ever...
The reason for this lay mainly in navigation difficulties (to find a place to sleep), bad weather towards the end of the trip and the infamous "Matsusaka police incident".
However, looking back at the trip some time later, Japan is a country where so many things are completely different to the way we (Europeans) are used to it, and nevertheless everything is usually running very enjoyable and smooth, so harmonic and colorfull - like the way their aircraft are painted.
All of this, combined with the drive to find out how Japan feels with some of the knowledge learnt the last time, led me to the decision to go there a second time

This time the main target are the shows at Nyutabaru and Naha, and hopefully I will find some time in between Sushi, hot baths and taking photos to write some lines here!

Welcome to Japan!

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After a ~12h flight from Munich we arrived quite well at Tokyo-Narita. Sleeping during the flight was ok due to the nice Lufthansa service including already the first tastes of Japan and some drinks... After picking up our luggage at the airport our two stepladders attracted the attention of the customs officer, but everything went really smooth. As did the transfer to Haneda for our connecting flight to Fukuoka. We quickly found the counter of the Limousine Bus Service (not actually a limousine...) and 3000Y pP and 5 minutes later we were on the way. Without a traffic jam we arrived at Tokyo’s national airport around 75 minutes later.

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Checking-in for the flight was ok due the nice ANA ladies, who had their uniforms already decorated for Christmas. All this gave us even enough time to go to the visitors deck and take some photos. The weather was OK at first with temperatures a lot warmer than originally expected, but also with quite a strong wind. The wind was also the reason that we saw the first ‚crossed arms’ (a typical Japanese expression to say „NO“) shortly afterwards: the visitors deck was closed, obviously just minutes before we could have photographed another special coloured JAL B767-300. Well, anyway we took the photos through the windows and went to our gate afterwards. As no meals were expected during the 1h30min flight to Fukuoka we got a Sushi box and a green tea at a shop. The departure was already delayed for around ten minutes, and the ladies at the counter bowed several times to excuse for this.

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When we finally got on-board the B767-300, we saw that the aircraft was nearly full, but the seat pitch was, contrary to what we have expected, really comfortable. At least for a 90min lasting flight… The departure was delayed due to heavy thunderstorms that hit the airport when we had just boarded the plane. And they also brought many clouds, who were the reason the we missed once again an opportunity to see Mt. Fuji. A last and final chance to do so will be the last days in Tokyo during this trip. Getting the rental car at FUK is another story: we had to pick our Hertz-booked car up at a Toyota shop, which caused some confusion at first.
Then followed the usual procedure with the handing over of the Japanese translation of our drivers license, and how to get the car started… Somehow I couldn’t her the engine when starting to drive, which is no wonder as it is a hybrid car. But that we learned many kilometers later on the motorway. Driving to Beppu was the same as we experienced driving through Japan in 2005: in the night, on an empty motorway, with 80km/h… But this time we managed to operate the navigation system as you can even enter a phone number and it leads you to the destination. Quite a useful feature to get to the booked hostel, our – in our case – Ryokan.
The place at Beppu, a town on the Eastern coast of Kyushu, is very famous for its hot springs and the place is said to be the most active volcanic region of the world. Everywhere around the city hot water with ~40-50C is coming out the earth. Therefore also nearly every place has also a hot bath.
Our typical Japanese hostel even had three, and we used them well before going to bed after the long journey. Hopefully the weather will get better during the next days, because today we even had some slight snow showers, the forecast for tomorrow announced snow in Northern Kyushu and our rental car company provided us with snow chains… Nyutabaru, we are coming!

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Winter in Kyushu Island

SNOW!!! When we woke after our night on the tatamis we discovered that some of neighbouring roofs were covered with snow. Tat was something that we really did not expect at that point of the trip. But the first concern was the ‘typical Japanese breakfast’ that was included at the Ryokan. Fortunately we found out it was quite ok, but for to some of the things that were served you really have to get used to it.

 

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The food gave us strength for our discovering trip around Beppu and its famous hot springs. The city is really amazing: especially during the cold winter season there is steam coming out of nearly every hole in the street and you can discover seven springs around the town. We decided to visit only two of them: the ‘blood one’ and the geysir. They were really interesting to watch, especially with the combination of snow coming down and all the Japanese tourist groups around ;)

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We left Beppu around 11am as the drive to the south to Nyutabaru was scheduled to last around 4~5hours, though the distance is only around 200km. As during the last time the trip brought us along the Route 10, but now during the day and we were able to enjoy the amazing valleys and woods of Kyushu, and also along the Pacific coast. At some places it looked like summer, but we nearly had more than 5C.

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Nyuta we remembered a lot of places from last time as well and arrived at dawn, just early enough to have a look at the airfield, its surroundings and the preparations for the show. At a local fast food shop the decision was taken to spent the night near the airfield to guarantee an early start for the show the next day.

Airshow at the Superbase Nyutabaru

SUCCESS! Well, somehow we survived the night in the car with temperatures easily below 0C and walked the gate around sunrise. The base opened around half past seven and we rushed through the static display. Conditions were far from perfect there, but to our pleasure three special coloured aircraft – all of them from Miho and painted for the air base’s 50th anniversary – were present at the Nyutabaru Air Show

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After photographing the base collection we made our way once again out of the show and were looking for a spot along the southern fence of the airfield to get some nice photos of the show. Fortunately we arrived there shortly before the flying display started and spent a perfect day there!

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As the first stop the next day is planned to be the airport of Kagoshima, we planned to stay at a youth hostel nearby. By entering the phone number in our navigation system, which already worked to find the place at Beppu, we hoped to get there easily. But somehow it did not work this time, and even if we would have found the hostel it might have been closed, as no one answered the phone… This brought us to Kirishima a really strange place in the mountains. It is smelling everywhere from sulfur. We really have to find out about it via the internet after our trip. The town offers a lot of hotels, but obviously more during the summer season. Nevertheless we got a room in a business hotel and discovered a nice Sushi bar, where we had Sushi, a beer and Sochu, a local alcohol. And a lot of fun!

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Unfortunately the forecast for the next two days is not very good after this splendid day, but we will see…

Kagoshima - the Airport and its Vulcano

We left our hotel early to arrive in time for the sunrise at the Kagoshima airport. The drive was once again very scenic and we saw a lot of mountains that were still covered by darkness the night before.

 

Unfortunately the forecast was right and it was raining, which continued nearly the whole day. Nevertheless we stopped for some photos of JAL and ANA airlines and when we discovered the Kagoshima also hosts some aircraft of the Japanese Coast Guard. As we arrived at their hangar their Saab 340 was just pulled inside, subsequently causing some frustration. This was however overcome when a Bell 412 appeared together with the service’s new AW139. After some more photos of civil airliners we decided that there was no use staying any longer and started our drive to Kanoya. But despite the bad weather we will remember Kagoshima as an airport with a really good accessibility and comfortable photo opportunities.

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The drive brought us past the Sakurajima, Kagoshima’s ‘famous’ landmark. This volcano lastly erupted in 1914 and even today it is still featured in the local weather forecast with the announcement of the direction of its trail of smoke.

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The weather in Kanoya was not any better than in Kagoshima, so we gave the Air Base museum a visit. This time we concentrated on the exhibition and the museum shop, as the photo possibilities outside were far better in 2005. As we also wanted to spend the next morning at the airfield we drove around the fence looking for some suitable photo spots and discovered that the airfield had some excellent places to photograph the local P-3 Orions. Our presence did not remain unobserved for very long and shortly the friendly base security paid us a visit. After the usual exchange of passport and trip details we stayed until around 4pm.

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The search for the hotel was frustrating, the whole city did not seem to have a place to sleep and no one could give us understandable information about where to find a “hoteru”. The advantage of our excursion of Kanoya was however that we bumped into a model shop, which was not very advantageous for our budget… But to make a long story short, we finally found a hotel downtown and had a nice dinner in a restaurant with the help of our dictionary.

JMSDF at Kanoya

On Tuesday morning the weather was not different to the day before, so we took the same gray photographs at Kanoya, got a visit by the base security once again, had a look at the museum and decided to drive to Nyutabaru around midday.

 

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Along the way we found a Hooka Hokka Tei, a Japanese fast food chain which I was anxiously looking for.

Long before arriving at Nyutabaru we already saw some Eagles and Phantoms climbing into the sky and even the clouds were about to disappear. So we were lucky at this airfield with some nice views during the last hours of the day, and temperatures around 15C make this spotting in December also very enjoyable.

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For the night we did not stay at the love hotel near the base, but at the youth hostel in Miyazaki, a city that really surprised us when we walked through the city center searching for a place to eat. Somehow the whole place seemed like a nightclub district. But maybe this is owed to the fact that we have been around the countryside the last few days…

Nyutabaru - Fightertown Japan

December, 10th, and 20C at Nyutabaru.
We spent the whole day at the fence of “Fightertown Japan”, partly even in T-Shirts. Once again the JASDF was flying like hell. The waves were:
6x F-15s
4x F-15s (Aggressors)
8x F-4s
8x F-15s
3x F-15s (Aggressors)
8x F-4s
6x F-15s
4x F-15s (Aggressors)
and several T-4s, with some visiting from Iruma or Hamamatsu, and we even got a C-1. As we had filled enough memory cards already in the afternoon we decided to leave at 3pm for Tsuiki, as the ~220km drive would last around 5h.

 

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Tomorrow Tsuiki will hopefully be finally the chance to get some of their blue F-2s.

Tsuiki Airbase

After a bl… cold night at a strange hostel without heating at around 4C we got up at 0530am. After waving good-bye to the puzzled host our first target was to find a coffee dispenser to get a warm drink. After the first one even a second was necessary...
The famous morning spot at the small harbor near Tsuiki was found without problems and we even remembered the surrounding area very well from the last trip there, even the gray heron was still there.

 

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Besides not being afraid of spiders – once again they had with around 15cm the same size as the ones at Nyutabaru – you usually need at least a small pair of stepladders there. But actually there is no need in bringing them there, as we did, because the local spotters left some beer boxes and stepladders for "everyone's" use there.

In the morning we had some mixed emotions about the day as we heard the first engine sound already at 7am, but it was shut down shortly afterwards. And as even the fire brigade disappeared after the landing of a local T-4 we feared that we bumped into a non-flying day.

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But fortunately the engines were started again, the cloud layer broke up and the first four F-2s taxied by in glorious morning light. This was what we wanted to see and photograph here, which we did not succeed twice in 2005 at this airfield. After this sight the long wait and cold feet, and also the night in the youth hostel, were quickly forgotten. 2x 4 F-15s launched shortly afterwards and these 12 jets returned around 90 minutes later after a runway change, so that we were able to witness the chute dropping of the F-2s. In between there was not much activity besides two T-4s coming in.

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Around midday the same procedure (4 F-2, 2x 4 F-15) was repeated, but this time the weather had already turned bad, as there was not much sun anymore and it even started to rain. Therefore we decided to leave after having a final look around the airfield, during which we also wanted to see some stored aircraft. However, this was not possible anymore as a high wall has been erected at this spot.

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Already on our way to Fukuoka airport we saw that an official spotter hill has been erected at the south-western corner of the airfield. After a quick look we decided that it is suitable for “watching only”, but not for serious (looking) photography ;)

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At that time the clouds had somehow broken up a bit and looking at the watch we saw that it was time for the jets to come back. So we made the quick decision to return to the harbor spot and try to photograph the jets recovering from their mission. After less than 10 minutes all of them came back nearly in a row and after the landing of the last F-2 it was also time for us to leave to Fukuoka to take our flight to Naha.

Naha, Okinawa - the final stop

Unbelievable, but after one week after we nearly had snow this morning at Naha was already comfortably warm. We made once again an early start, which was not difficult for us, as the hostel we are staying in is not that 'cosy'. Nevertheless, it was a bit hard as the last night was not very long.

 

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The visitors deck at the airport opened at 8am and we quickly found a place behind a window, as the view at the outside was blocked by solid wires. However, some minutes afterwards some local spotters arrived and showed us how to get at least some decent photos from the terrace itself. Though we did not have the window in front of our, photography was really hard as we had to stick our lenses through the wires and a lot of light poles were in the view together with some parked aircraft.

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But the traffic was high enough to practice for these circumstances and a P-3 Orion performing several tough&goes was used as a training object. Fortunately the Phantoms were also flying that day and in the first wave the special colored one also took off. Though they were quite small, the light was very nice with the blue shining waters of the Pacific Ocean behind.

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But somehow we once again had mixed emotions as we had finally completed seeing all JASDF Phantom Squadrons, but the conditions here in Naha were far from being perfect yet as we were used from other bases. Due to the light conditions we decided to stay at the terrace until around midday and wait for the return of the by now 10 Phantoms, that were in the air. They returned around one hour later, but only two of them taxied back on the near taxiway, with the others going back out of the reach of our lenses. But already some guests for the airshow arrived (2 F-15s & 1 F-2) and the civil traffic brought interesting aircraft without interruption to Naha, though we really did get bored of the ANA and JAL fleets, which are nearly the only ones flying there.

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Around midday the sun is in the runway direction and it is pointless to continue photography, so we used that time of the day to have a look at the terminal building and to change to a point for the landings. To get there we took Naha's monorail, from which a view of the airbase’s gateguards was also possible. From the stop of the monorail our desired spot was reached with a taxi without problems. Arriving at this point we saw some of the locals from the terrace once again. Obviously they had already changed their position there shortly after the take-offs to shoot the landings from there as well.

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The spot is nicely located along the shores of the Pacific Ocean and we spend an excellent afternoon at 23C and more than 100 different aircraft altogether. In December...

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In the evening we discovered Naha and its active nightlife. That was a real change, and challenge, after the quiet life at Kyushu.

Touristic Tour at Okinawa

Saturday was spent with Tourism and cultural activities, as the visit of the Shuri Castle was on our schedule. The castle was the home of the king of the Ryukyu empire and was completely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 (this is mentioned on nearly every board that is placed there...). After being rebuild it became part of the UNESCO's world heritage sites. The visit was really interesting to learn about the islands early history and the behavior of Japanese tourists in their same country. Actually it is the same as when visiting Europe. Obviously we tried to adapt ourselves ;) Afterwards we had a quiet day for the show tomorrow including a visit to the local fish markt.

Shiru Castle and its garden:

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Santa Claus delivering pizza:

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Okionawa's speciality: pork ears (we didn't ry that...)

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Habu in a bottle:

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Fish market with the famous Fugu fish:

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Seasar's, preventing the local evil spirits from entering the houses:

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Naha Airshow - 302 Hikotai F-4EJ Phantom Farewell

OK, the final report for this trip.
The show at Naha had been better than expected, at least regarding the weather: despite some slight raindrops it has not raining as ‘promised’ by the forecast, but only stayed cloudy with some spells of sun in the morning. This was advantageous as anyway the light would only have been good in the morning. This we got the special colored Phantom quite well and it additionally even had its fuel tanks with “Good bye Okinawa” markings attached. The rest of the show will be fully reviewed in the final report around New Year.
The last days of the trip are spent in Tokyo, a really amazing city!!! Today we had a nice walk and a great evening out with some friends at a Sushi bar. My personal highlight were the ovaries of a sea urchin and some baby eels.

 

Impressions from the show at Naha:

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Some sights of Tokyo:

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Sayonara from Japan!

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