In the near future, I am planning to write detailed spotting guides for the two main Tokyo airports, as well as some other Japan-focused guides.
Before I do that, however, I decided to compile a list of things to do as an aviation enthusiast coming to the Tokyo area.
So, without further ado, let’s jump right in!
Are you interested in trying business or first class for the price of economy?
If so, you might want to check out Four Ways to Try Business Class Without Breaking the Bank - a free guide that I put together detailing some of the ways I was able to do so - and experiment with some of the methods mentioned in it.
#1: Do Some Haneda Airport Spotting
Haneda airport is the main base for both ANA and JAL. It also sees some of the smaller Japanese airlines such as Air Do, Starflyer, and Solaseed Air. Besides the local airlines, you can also see a growing number of foreign airlines operating out of the airport.
The airport offers excellent observation decks on top of each of the three terminals. If you are into photography, I suggest you visit the Terminal 1 observation deck in the morning. In the afternoon, you will have the sun behind your back at both the Terminal 2 and International Terminal observation decks. Finally, if you feel more adventurous, you can also try visiting one of the numerous parks around the airport.
You can see what spotting at the Haneda observation decks is like in the following spotting reports:
- Spotting Report: Colorful Haneda with Lufthansa Retro and More
- Spotting Report: Catching Up with Tokyo Haneda Traffic
You can also see some more photos in my photo database.
#2: Do Some Narita Airport Spotting
While both the Japanese and foreign airlines moved large amount of their flights to Haneda, Narita still has a lot to offer. Besides some of the interesting airlines such as Air Calin and Air Tahiti Nui, the airport also gets plenty of cargo traffic.
Just like Haneda, and most other Japanese airports, Narita offers great observation decks. The Terminal 1 deck will come in handy in the morning while the Terminal 2 one will offer some photo opportunities in the afternoon. In the afternoon, you might also want to try some of the spots around the airport.
You can see what spotting at Narita is like in the following report:
You can also see some more photos in my photo database.
#3: Do Some Chofu Airport Spotting
Chofu airport is a little-known airport in the western part of Tokyo.
If you are a general aviation fan, this is a good place to go. For the airliners fan out there, it might still be worth going, as New Central Airservice – an airline operating a fleet of Dornier Do-228s – is based here.
The airport terminal offers an observation deck. However, for photos, a park along the whole length of the runway on the other side offers better opportunities.
Recently, I had a chance to visit Chofu airport and catch some of the Dorniers. You can see a Chofu spotting guide I put together here:
#4: Go to Iruma Airshow
Iruma is an air base of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. As such, it will be of interest mainly to military aviation fans. However, it might be interesting even to select airliner fans, as several YS-11 aircraft are based there.
Throughout the year, you can spot under the approach paths around the airport. The easiest way, though, might be to come during the annual Iruma airshow which is held every year on November 3.
#5: Take One of the Free Hangar Tours at Haneda
In Japan, many companies offer factory tours as part of their corporate social responsibility programs. Luckily for aviation enthusiasts, ANA and JAL are doing the same. Except in their case, factory equals hangar. What is more, the tours are free of charge!
Both of the tours start with a short presentation about the airline, and end with a tour of the actual hangar facilities at Haneda airport.
Unfortunately, both the ANA and JAL tours only offer their websites in Japanese. However, for the ANA tour, I prepared a complete step-by-step guide that will help you book the tour even if you do not speak Japanese at all.
If you are a planning a visit to Tokyo and have some spare time, I definitely suggest joining the tour. Keep in mind that they get booked out quite early, though!
#6: Fly to the Outlying Tokyo Islands
While they are far from being the metropolis Tokyo is known to be, Izu Islands off the coast of Honshu are technically part of Tokyo. To get there, you can fly one of the lesser known airlines in Japan – New Central Airservice – out of Chofu airport.
The airline operates Dornier Do-228s, and offers flights to four of the islands – Oshima, Niijima, Kouzushima and Miyakejima. Each of the destinations is operated multiple times a day, and the flights start at 11,800 yen one-way.
If you really feel like island hopping, you can even use the Ai-land Shuttle helicopter service to move between the islands.
#7: Visit Museum of Aeronautical Sciences
The last two things I am going to mention are aviation museums. The first of those is the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences.
Some of the aircraft that are displayed outdoors include YS-11, a Learjet, and a number of other aircraft and helicopters. The museum also features an extensive indoor exhibition including fuselage cross-sections of 747, DC-8, and YS-11.
As there is a direct bus from Narita airport to the museum, it is also a great place to visit if you have a layover in Tokyo.
For more information about the museum, you can see a full review I wrote some weeks ago:
#8: Visit Tokorozawa Aviation Museum
The second museum, and final thing on this list is also the location of the very first airfield in Japan. The Tokorozawa Aviation Museum offers an extensive collection of aircraft displayed both indoors and outdoors.
To an airliner fan, the most interesting of those will be an ex-ANK YS-11 displayed in a park adjacent to the museum.
The museum has its own train station (“Koku Koen” on Seibu Shinjuku line), and so it is fairly easy to get to.
I visited the museum a couple of years ago, however, I will revisit the museum and bring you a full review sometime soon.
Tokyo is a great destination for aviation enthusiasts. The airports in and around the city offer a great variety of traffic combined with great spotting locations. Besides that, there are also a couple of aviation museums worth a visit, and some flights worth taking.
The most interesting and unique experiences are, however, the ANA and JAL hangar tours which the companies offer to the public for free.
What are your favorite aviation-related things to do in Tokyo?
Do you have any favorite photo spots around the Tokyo airports?