Jan 20, 2018

Why I Won't Go to Another Air Show in Japan (but a few tips in case you want to)

I've done a fair few things in Japan over my many years here, and almost all of the events I have attended and places I've visited have been memorable and worth the trip. The one that stands out as the worst, however, was the Iruma Yukōsai, or air show. Don't get me wrong, I love air shows, but there are some things that you should know about Japanese air shows before you try to attend.

I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation from a friend in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to head out to Iruma Air Base in Saitama prefecture for the autumn Air Show that takes place there. I've been to plenty of air shows in the States and I was interested to see one in Japan. It sounded like a great event: the "Blue Impulse" demonstration team (equivalent to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds or Navy Blue Angels) would be performing, and Iruma Air base always has a large number of static displays (that is, stationary aircraft) parked on the flight line for folks to see up close.

The event started early in the morning, so I decided to make it to Inariyama koen station on the Seibu Ikebukuro line no later than 9:30.  I tell you what, the train was already packed.  Here's what we looked like coming off of the train:

Why I Won't Go to Another Air Show in Japan (but a few tips in case you want to) photo 

When I arrived, I discovered that the base had set up a special entry flow for air show attendees. Here is what it looked like:

Why I Won't Go to Another Air Show in Japan (but a few tips in case you want to) photo

I figured that the entrance would be a bit crowded but folks would fan out once we got inside.

Not so much...

Why I Won't Go to Another Air Show in Japan (but a few tips in case you want to) photo

It took two hours to get from the train station to the side of base with the flight line.  The throng of people was so thick, I couldn't even move from my little spot in the wave of people.  If I needed to use the restroom I think I would have had to throw a few elbows just to get through.  Worst of all, everyone was on his/her cellphone, which meant that cellular bandwidth was non-existent.  That meant that I could not even call my pal to let him know where I was or ask where I should meet him (let alone pass the time browsing things on the internet).

I wish I could say that things got better, but every thing I tried to do at the Air Show was just a battle with a crowd.  It was impossible to find any enjoyment from it at all, and I like to think of myself as an optimistic person who tries to see the best sides of things.

Ultimately, this event proved to be the worst I've attended, which was a huge letdown considering the enthusiasm I had going into it.

Still, I know that many of you may still want to attend an Air Show (the demonstrations are quite amazing), so allow me to offer a few lessons learned:

1) If you dislike crowds, you should avoid Air Shows.  No matter which air show you try to attend in Japan, they will almost always be crowded like this.  Unlike many air shows in the states which take place in larger areas and usually span a few days, Japanese air shows are typically just one-day affairs with lots of bottlenecks to get in and out of the event.  Add the fact that there are so many aviation and military enthusiasts in Japan (as well as folks who just can't resist a special event), and there will always be a crowd.

2) Go early.  Unless you are the most hardcore air show enthusiast who is camping out overnight, you will encounter a line no matter what time to you show up in the morning.  Still, seeing as the line and the associated crowd only grow exponentially with each subsequent train arrival, it behooves you to be the early bird.


3) Don't rely on cell phone service at the event.  With such a huge crowd, all of the cellular bandwidth will be either gone or frustratingly slow or intermittent.  Pre plan meet-up times and locations, and if traveling alone, bring a book or magazine to while away the time hanging out in line since you won't be able to browse Twitter or Facebook.  

Why I Won't Go to Another Air Show in Japan (but a few tips in case you want to) photo

Unfortunately, this was the best picture I was able to take of any aircraft all day...


Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).