My wife has finished her Ph.D degree last month. We were in a
month-long celebration and were visiting Japan for the last two weeks.
We used All Nippon Airways again. U.S.-based airlines are cheaper.
But, the service quality is magnitude lower. We liked Continental
Airlines, which no longer exists.
An economy class ticket of U.S.-Japan round trip from Japan-based
airlines is typically about $200 more expensive than U.S.-based
airlines. However, if you consider international flights are an
important part of your trip, and want a comfortable flight, the
additional cost is worth investing. Or, if you think the flight is
just a waste of time that you need to endure to get to the destination,
go for a cheaper airline and fly like a cargo. For me and my wife,
international flights are an important part of the trip that we want to
enjoy. So we choose All Nippon Airways or Japan Airlines when we
visit Japan. This time we picked All Nippon Airways.
rented mobile Wi-Fi router from JAL ABC shop at Narita airport. I
was expecting it to something similar to the one I am using in
Pittsburgh. But, oh man, it was powerful. My mobile Wi-Fi
router's battery lasts only up to 3 to 4 hours. But, the one I
rented lasted 30 hours once fully-charged. I really had 24-hour
Wi-Fi connection everywhere. The mobile internet connection in
Japan seemed to be more advanced than in the U.S. This mobile
Wi-Fi router later allowed me to see a training flight of T-4 Blue
Impulse over Matsushima air base during the trip.
We woke up very
early, around 4:30am, due to the jet lag in the next morning. We
took advantage and left the hotel early heading to Haneda airport.
My wife was going to fly to her home town of Fukuoka, and I was going to
fly to Aomori. We were traveling separately for the first half of
the trip. My airplane was scheduled to depart in the afternoon,
and I could spend several hours for taking pictures from the observation
deck. My main target was All Nippon Airways' Boeing 787 in a
special commemorative painting scheme. All Nippon Airways was the
launch customer of Boeing 787, and they put large "787" on the fuselage
of the first several 787s they received. According to what I
heard, this special painting will be erased as the airplane go into a
regular maintenance. So, I wanted to take good pictures before the
painting is gone.
Boeing 747 of Cathey Pacific
of ANA in the commemorative painting scheme.
I took some pictures of B787 in the
commemorative painting, but the heat haze obscured the picture.
I stayed two days in my parents' home in Hirosaki. Hirosaki
is famous for apple production and 2500+ cherry trees in the Hirosaki
castle park. If you have chance to visit Japan, it's a good place
Iwaki mountain from the Hirosaki Apple
Hirosaki castle. This castle will
undergo a maintenance work staring later this year. This view
won't be available for the next several years.
I was off for the four-days of expedition. Very original plan was
to go to Sendai to join up with a friend, and then go to Matsushima air
base together to see Blue Impulse's over-the-base aerobatic practice.
Matsushima air base was completely under water after the disaster in
March 2013. The Japanese Air Self Defense Force's aerobatic team,
Blue Impulse, was the only squadron saved from the Tsunami among the
ones based at Matsushima because the team happened to be deployed to
another base for an aerobatic demonstration. The base was damaged
and could not accommodate aircrafts for a while, but the team finally
returned to the original home base last year. I wanted to go there
and see the aerobatic practice over the base again. But, he had a
medical condition and we gave up the plan. My new plan was to go
to Iruma air base instead to see aging YS-11 and C-1 fleets on the first
I packed up stuffs the night before, and did not check E-Mails.
I left home early in the morning and got on a local train at Hirosaki
station headed to Shin-Aomori station where I boarded the Shinkansen
train, aka the bullet train. The mobile WiFi adapter worked very
well this time. Last year, I also rented an adapter, but it only
worked while the train was stationary at a station. But, this
time, it worked almost whenever I could see a civilization. I
opened up my laptop and checked E-Mails in the train.
I then noticed
an E-Mail from him saying the Blue Impulse was scheduled to fly over the
base twice on that day. I was completely giving up and didn't
bother looking at
official web page of the team, on which you can check the schedule
of the over-the-base practice flights. But, he kindly checked and
notified me about the schedule.
at the train schedule.
To go to the nearest station of the base, I need to get off the train at
Sendai, change to Senseki-line. Since a part of the Senseki-line
is still recovering from the Tsunami disaster, I need to change to the
substitute bus at Matsushima-Kaigan (means Matsushima shore) station and
get off at Yamoto station. If I took this route, the train
schedule showed that I would arrive at Yamoto station at 12:44.
Although I would need to walk 0.6 miles from there (or take a taxi), I
can arrive at the base in time for the second aerobatic flight over the
base scheduled for 14:45.
That was a decision. The train was
passing Morioka station. Sendai was the next stop. The sky
was clear. I was still recovering from jet lag. Would I be
too exhausted to continue the expedition if I change the plan and go to
Matsushima base? I could use a taxi to reduce the total walking
distance. I could also drop most of my stuff at a coin-operated
locker. The station map indicated that there is a locker stack
immediately outside the Shinkansen gate. It is the time to take
advantage of the Japan Rail Pass, which allows me to get off and on the
Japan Railways trains, including the Shinkansen trains, at any station
as many times as I want. I divert! New destination was
I was also chatting with the friend in Sendai over
iMessage. I told him I was going to divert, and got off the train
at Sendai station. In fact I had plenty of time. I put my
suitcase in the locker and reserved a train seat of an evening
Shinkansen train to continue the travel. It took a while to figure
how to get to Senseki line. I remembered that Senseki line was
departing from an isolated platform in Sendai station, but now it seemed
to be connected to other train platforms. But, I arrived at the
platform more than 15 minutes before my train was departing.
train departed exactly on time. Yes, exactly within one-minute
precision. One of the things that surprises international
travelers in Japan is the time accuracy of the trains, even local
trains. The train arrived at the Matsushima Kaigan-station also
exactly on time, and the transition to the bus was smooth. The bus
cannot be that accurate because of other traffics on the road.
But, you know what? It arrived at Yamoto station within one-minute
precision. I wish PA Transit to be that accurate.
Dai Yu Do is open for business again!
I took a taxi to a convenience store near the main gate of the base.
I used that store many times in the past. Unlike convenience
stores in the U.S., you can find pretty good-quality food in Japanese
convenience stores. One of my favorite things to do is buy lunch
there and watch airplanes on the perimeter fence all day long.
Then I stopped at a local store called "Dai Yu Do", which is translated
as Grate Brave Store. A perfect name for a shop right next to an
air base, isn't it? Despite its name, it is a modest small shop.
I often bought some souvenir from the shop when I visited the base.
According to the owner of the shop, the resident building next to the
shop was still under restoration, but the shop and employees all
survived the disaster. I was glad to hear that and was glad to be
there again. Since I forgot bringing a hat, I bought one there.
Also I bought a box of sweet branded as "Blue Impulse" as a souvenir.
Photo a hat I bought from Dai Yu Do. Blue Impulse logo on it.
I walked about 0.3 mile to get to the approach end of runway 25. I
had more than an hour before the aerobatic flight was scheduled.
Since the air base is under the massive re-construction, I was expecting
to see some cargo airplanes carrying whatever needed. But, I saw
only one flight of a rescue helicopter practicing auto rotation.
Maybe anything that could be carried by cargo airplanes are already
Four Blue Impulse jets started the engines around 14:30. The
engine noise that I heard many times. Unfortunately, the afternoon
practice was flown by four airplanes, not by full six airplanes.
Also the sky over the base was getting cloudy, although the sky stayed
clear over Sendai. It was no longer a good photography condition.
But, it was ok. Then I could watch by my naked eyes rather than
through my camera lens. Four T-4 airplanes took to the air in
front of my eyes!
ago in January, I was with my friends about half a mile closer to
the shoreline. I was watching white smoke trails in front of the
perfectly clear blue sky coming from the six Blue Impulse airplanes
flying an over-the-base practice without knowing the area was going to
be totally destroyed by the Tsunami in two and half months. Now I
cannot hear the noise from F-2 fighters flown by the trainees.
But, T-4 Blue Impulse is back. I was so glad to see them flying
over the Matsushima base again. I couldn't take a very clear and
crisp pictures this time. But, I'll be back. Next time, I'll
see all six airplanes in front of the clear blue sky. The base
should be much more active when I come next time.
I arrived at my hotel in Tokyo around 22:00. This time I took
a hotel nearby the Akihabara station. This area was known for
electronics shops. But, for some reason, this area is known for
center of the modern Japanese culture now a days. Still there are
bunch of computer-pats shops that entertain computer geeks (like me).
The second day of the expedition was rainy all day. I met with a
professor from my previous college for lunch, and met with other friends
The third day. It was easy for me to wake up early
due to jet lag. I left the hotel early to avoid the morning rush
hour and headed to Iruma air base. I couldn't take enough pictures
in last July of YS-11s and C-1s both of which may retire in several
years. Those were my main targets.
I did some survey and
developed strategies to capture YS-11s and C-1s in full frame.
Since it's the beginning of the air-show season, and I was still
recovering from the time off, I missed first several opportunities.
But, I got some nice crisp shots, too.
Electronic-Warfare version of
YS-11 (called YS-11E) taking off Iruma runway 17.
U-125 (top) and YS-11 (bottom) of
flight testing squadron. They are in charge of testing and making
sure navigation aids and instrument approach systems of the airports are
C-1 (left). It has a
incredibly short take-off and landing capability. But, it cannot
fly very far compared to the modern cargo airplanes.
Scattered clouds started covering over the base around noon.
I was about to leave the base. Then, the sun suddenly popped out
again. I could stay there only until 13:20 for the next
appointment. The base was in the lunch break until 13:00.
So, I had only 20 minutes or so. But, anyway I decided to stay
rather than having lunch. Actually I could see one YS-11E and two
T-4s coming back. I had to skip lunch and was quite hungry, but it
By the way, someone flew a last flight in CH-47J. I saw a small
ceremony in the base.
Someone apparently flew a CH-47J for
the last time.
The last day of the expedition.
The sky was clear as forecasted. I took advantage of jet lag and
woke up early again. I checked out the hotel and dropped my
suitcase in a coin-operated locker in the Tokyo station, where I was
going to take a Shinkansen train back home. Then I headed for the
The visibility was incredibly good from the
observation deck over the passenger terminal 1. In fact, it was
unlikely for the air over Tokyo. I have been there many times, and
I could see Mt. Fuji many times. But, on that day, Mt. Fuji was
particularly visible compare to my past experiences. Wind was from
the north. Runway 34L/R were in use. Runway 34L is visible
from the passenger terminal 1 observation deck and is apparently used
for landing, while 34R is for take off. But, since it was too
early for the first flights from other domestic airports to arrive, the
tower directed two departure airplanes to runway 34L. The second
one was a ANA Boeing 787 with the commemorative painting, big "787" on
the fuselage. Strong northerly wind allowed the 787 to lift off
with about half the runway, and the airplane was climbing up right in
front of Mt. Fuji! What a photo opportunity!
Early bird catches a worm.
It was nothing difficult to capture a
landed airplane or an airplane on the taxiway with Mt. Fuji.
An airplane's wings bends upward more
or less while the wing is producing positive-G lift. But, the
bending of B787's wings is particularly visible.
Heat haze was not as intensive as the
last time since it was early morning and the ground temperature was not
This 787 no longer has bit "787" on
the fuselage any more. It's a normal painting scheme of ANA.
The lighting condition is good for the observation deck of terminal
1 only in the morning. I moved to terminal 2 and stayed there a
From terminal 2 observation deck, you
can capture a departing airplane with the new TV tower called Tokyo
That concluded my four-day expedition, and I came back home. I was
looking for an old book from a pile of my stuffs left at home.
During the search, I accidentally found a pamphlet of the T-4 Blue
Impulse distributed in the first year of the team. That was 1996
when the team changed an airplane from T-2 to T-4.
T-4 FIRST YEAR pamphlet.
I am collecting pamphlets of aerobatic teams. I hope some day I
can scan all I have and put them somewhere on this web site.
flight from Tokyo was not crowded and very comfortable. Maybe it
was not so good for All Nippon Airways to fly a Boeing 777 with many
empty seats, but it was good for passengers. Again, if you are
looking for a comfortable air travel to Japan, you should try Japan
Airlines or All Nippon Airways.