Double Blue Impusle

On two occasions last year, we indulged my need for a "flying fix" by going to "Air Festivals" put on by Japan's Air Self-Defense Force featuring their aerobatic team "Blue Impulse".

The Blue Impulse team flies Kawasaki T-4s, a Japanese designed and built jet trainer used by its Air Self Defense Forces (JASDF).

Article 9 of Japan's Constitution prohibits the use of military force for any reason except self defense. This is why the armed services in Japan are not called "Navy, Army, and Air Force", but rather "Self Defense Forces". The law has been stretched over the years, largely to accommodate the wishes of the USA (and some reactionary Japanese politicians), but the idea of the rejection of military force as a means of addressing problems is still strongly supported by a majority of the people of Japan. In fact, there is a movement to get other countries to adopt a "peace amendment" to their constitutions.

The T-4s, being trainers, are designed for lower speeds than the fighter planes used by some other military aerobatic teams and as a result have more graceful lines. They also fly a bit slower which, in my opinion, is much better for putting on aerial demonstrations than the higher speeds of combat jets.

Drawing a music staff in the sky - bass clef, definitely bass clef.

Our first experience was on September 9th at Hyakuri Airbase in our own Ibaraki Prefecture. Hyakuri is home to F-15J fighter planes (built by Mitsubishi), as well as some Kawasaki T-4s, (aging) F-4EJ Phantoms, utility and rescue helicopters, and a Japanese version of the Hawkwer 800 twin business jet, the U125, which is used for maritime patrol as well as sea search and rescue work. Most fly over our house from time to time on their way to and from a training area off the coast, but I was looking forward to seeing them up close.

Great place to meet people?

At first, I could not believe how many people turned out for the air show at Hyakuri. It was amazing. Hyakuri is the middle of Ibaraki Prefecture and pretty much "out in the boonies". We had to park in a field about a kilometer from the viewing area. Of course, being used to this, the JASDF had everything very well organized to put it mildly. In fact, they had people stationed as far as several kilometers from the base to direct traffic in the most efficient manner to the parking areas. Ibaraki police manually operated traffic lights to assure a smooth flow to and from the base. We had been to Hyakuri once before, but the route they directed us on was unknown to K and turned out to be much shorter than we could have imagined.

I'll skip the details of our personal trek, and just get to the planes, which I am sure is what is of interest. I'll only caution anyone wanting to experience an Air Festival in Japan to be prepared for BIG crowds. Bring some water and perhaps a snack. Yes, they have lots of concession stands that sell food and drinks, but they can and do get sold out. At lunch time the lines can be daunting. Something to drink is the far more important of the two and late in the day at Hyakuri they ran out of everything - water, teas, sodas - as it was a hot day. We finally got relief by finding a base water faucet on the way out. One last suggestion - earplugs. The Blue Impulse planes are not so loud, but some of the fighter planes and especially the old F-4s sure are.

A U125 "Peace Krypton" used for search and rescue. Note the bulge on the bottom which houses a Toshiba 360 radar for spotting objects on the sea and in the air, the tall window next to the door for visual observation, and bump under the nose which houses infrared detection equipment for seeing people or ships in the ocean at night or poor visibility conditions. The plane can also launch flares, marker bouys and a life raft. In 1996, one of these planes is credited with saving the 22 member crew of a Russian fishing vessel that was in distress.

In addition to the planes which call Hyakuri home, other types were flown in and put on display and the private aerobatic team called "AIRock" put in a nice aerobatic performance with a Pitts Special 2S biplane.

Pitts Special 2S aerobatic biplane

Blue Impulse was great. I've seen the US teams Thunderbirds and Blue Angels perform and Blue Impulse was every bit as good. My personal favorite maneuver was the "Corkscrew" - in which one plane flew straight and level while inverted as a second one performed barrel rolls around it. Beautiful...


Here are some more pics I took that day:

Unfortunately for me, Hyakuri will not host an air festival this year as the field is being modified to accommodate commercial flights - a dumb idea which was decided by the prefectural government BEFORE they consulted the airlines who subsequently panned it and told them the number of passengers they can expect are a fraction of what the prefecture had in mind. With global oil production flat and set to decline, the resulting rising fuel costs are making it harder for airlines everywhere to stay out of the red. Since there was no real reason to have commercial flights to Hyakuri in the first place, the failure of the project is now "baked into the cake" and it promises to be a big financial loser for taxpayers. (You may quote me on that.)

In October, Martin, who writes the blog Kurashi-News from Japan (for which I now write a post on occasion), invited us to come out to Saitama Prefecture, the other side of Tokyo from us, to see the Iruma Airbase Air Festival, which was held on November 3.

There is a train station next to Iruma Air Base and there were so many people going there that they added extra gates on an adjacent field for passengers disembarking the train for the air show so as not to overwhelm the platforms and station proper. We managed to meet up with Martin and made our way out to the flight line, sometimes contorting our bodies to squeeze by as we tip-toed between spectators sitting on picnic mats, like a game of "Twister". A little further back, and at at either end of the huge aircraft parking area being used for visitors, it was not nearly so crowded.

A couple of wild and crazy guys.

The aircraft on static display as well as flying were a little different because the base has different functions than Hyakuri. For one, Iruma has transport aircraft rather than fighter planes and they put on an impressive performance of the large two engined Kawasaki C-1 transports flying in formation as well as dropping paratroopers. Later, we did a walk through of a C-1.

There was a rescue demonstration showing how the U125 "Peace Krypton" jet coordinates with the UH-60J Black Hawk rescue helicopter, and how they use the basket to lift a person to the helicopter. Also on display were a P-3 Orion anti submarine patrol airplane. I used to watch them practice landings on Maui (yes, they'd fly all the way to Hawaii). There was an E-2CJ Hawkeye with its wings folded (an aircraft carrier adaptation which Japan does not use since it cannot have any aircraft carriers). The Hawkeye is for electronic information gathering and has a large radar disc on its back. The Hawkeye's long-range radar and other electronic surveillance systems can simultaneously detect and track hundreds of ships and aircraft more than 200 miles away.


Blue Impulse put on a longer show than at Hyakuri. When we first arrived the weather was gray which made for less than perfect photography conditions, but by the time Blue Impulse took off it had improved to blue skies and pretty scattered cumulus clouds.

Here's a short clip I took of the "Corkscrew" and another of a close pass that looks like they are going to swap paint (don't try this at home):

My slide show of the Iruma Air Festival -

Here is an official Blue Impulse video put to the music of a Sony Playstation game called "Gran Turismo 3 A-spec": 3 minutes 5 seconds:

And for you hardcore aviation buffs who can't get enough, this video is a bit longer and has even more scenes from the cockpit. Set to the song "Blue Impulse" by "NAOKI featuring YUKI" :

The schedule of JASDF Air Festivals and performances of Blue Impulse can be found here: Event Information JASDF Official Site - English; and here:Event Information JASDF Official Site - Japanese (Unfortunately, they haven't updated the English site for 2008).

Well, I sure got my aviation "fix" last year. For 2008, I'm thinking of going up in a glider - something I haven't done since I was a teen. :D



Häagen-Dazs - Japanese Style

One of our favorite treats is Häagen-Dazs ice cream. In Japan, we have some different flavors that are not marketed in the USA (nyah-nyah-nyah). On the down side, I admit it does cost about twice as much here. :P

Two new seasonal ones we like are "White Peach" and "Cassis-Orange". Cassis is the French name for black currant berries. Both of these flavors are sooooo oishii (delicious). They are actually good enough to take my mind off Hawaii's wonderful Roselani Ice Cream that I have written about.


This is not the reason I (ahem) gained weight over the winter - that was primarily due to inactivity.

We do stock up when we find it on sale, but only eat it a few times a month and besides, Häagen-Dazs comes in 120 ml cups (about 4 ounces) here and we share one of those, so we're only getting about hundred calories or so each.

There are a lot of reasons I like being in Japan, but before moving here I never would have thought that Häagen-Dazs ice cream would be one of them. I hope you are enjoying your summer (or winter as the case may be).


Ume Ume Everywhere...

And Even Some To Drink! - "Rhyme of the Ancient Plum Blossom"

March was ume (Japanese Plum) blossom season and while there are many plum trees in our neighborhood and even four of them in our own yard, there is nothing like a visit to Kairakuen - Mito City's hilltop park with 3,000 ume trees of 100 varieties overlooking beautiful Lake Senba - to celebrate Ume Matsuri. We went twice this year, as we often do, in order to see the blossoms in different stages. The air is filled the sweet scent of the blossoms ~ heavenly. No wonder this park was an inspiration for poetry during the Edo period.

(There also sugi trees (Japanese cedar) adding their pollen to the air, bringing allergy attacks to some folks, like the Moody Minstrel.)


In addition to the Japanese plum trees, there is a grove of cedars and another of bamboo, plus gardens, ponds and Kobuntei - a villa which you can walk through, built in 1841 by 9th Daimyo (Lord) of Mito, Tokugawa Nariaki. You can read about the history of the park in one of the previous posts here: Umematsuri - Plum Festival

The blossoms were awesome, there were the usual young women dressed in Kimono as "Ume Abassadors" to pose with visitors, various shops selling delicious bento lunches, potted ume plants (K bought one which she is shown holding in our St. Patrick's Day post), that infamous fermented soy health food "natto" for which I have actually acquired a taste, ume flavored tea, and more. The post office even sets up a booth and sells stamps featuring the park and other stamps showing flowers of different parts of Japan.

As for "even some to drink" - there is "umeshu" (plum liqueur), pictured at the top of this post, which is made with whole plums in shochu (distilled spirits from rice or sweet potatoes), and honey. A bit sweet for my taste, but very good none the less with a definite aroma and flavor of ume. A lot of people make their own and in our neighborhood tarps can be seen under plum trees to collect the falling fruit. Plum wine is also popular.


Our view as we sat on a log railing eating our bento lunches.

People enjoying a picnic with Kobuntei in the background. The first picture was taken on February 23rd and the second on March 8th when the blossoms were closer to full bloom, thus more people. The large tree represents a cherry originally given to Tokugawa Nariaki by Emperor Ninko as a wedding gift upon his marriage to Imperial Princess Tomiko in the mid 19th Century. The original tree died and in 1963, a request was made to the Imperial Household Agency to replace it. This tree was then transplanted from the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

Ume Ambassadors

This spring called "To-Gyoku-Sen" (to eject-jewel-fountain) has been in use for centuries. The water tastes excellent, and is said to cure eye diseases. The current stone was placed there in 1989 and is marble from Mt. Mayumi, north of Mito.

These two ancient cedars have stood guard over To-Gyoku-Sen for many centuries, no doubt benefiting from its waters.


Bamboo grove - I like the fence too.


K buying a potted ume tree.


Pandabonium, holding K's ume tree flanked by Ume Ambassadors.

One of the gates within the park.

Some visitors get their photo taken with characters in Edo period costumes in front of Kobuntei.

In neighboring Tokiwa Shrine, I found this lion statue which looks like it was modeled after one of Momo the Wonder Dog's Shi-tzu (lion dog) ancestors.

A slide show of some of this year's blossoms...

This Koto and Shakuhachi music from CD "En Affinity" available at Koto Music


Suntory Mermaid II Update

Ocean adventurer and promoter of recycling and sustainable technologies (human, solar, wind, and wave power), Kenichi Horie, is still making his way solo across the Pacific from Hawaii to Japan aboard the radical wave-powered boat Suntory Mermaid II. The boat is powered solely by the wave action of the sea through a set of "flippers" mounted on the bow of the catamaran between the hulls.

As reported here March 21st in the post, Riding The Waves From Hawaii To Japan, the trip was expected to be completed in late May, but progress has been slow. In a recent diary entry, Mr. Horie wondered if the current was working against him. Speed through the water is often around 2 knots, but at times it has dropped to 1/2 knot, leading him to write on May 30th, "My position is static since yesterday. I'm afraid I might move backwards."

However, Kenichi is comfortable and enjoying the hot food from his microwave oven, like rice and sardines, and an occasional fresh gift from the sea, such as the squid that jumped into the cockpit Friday morning that he ate as sashimi.

Here is a map showing his position on June 9th at 24°22'N, 143°16'E -

You can follow the daily progress of the Suntory Mermaid II and read Kenichi's daily dairy entries here: Suntory Mermaid II - What's New?. On that website you can click on the boat's graphic and get a more detailed view with Google Maps.

Ganbatte (keep at it), Horie-san!