Misawa Air Festival
Misawa Air Force Base is uniquely located in the flatlands on the southern shore of Lake Ogawara on the east coast of Aomori Prefecture facing the Pacific Ocean, with a backdrop of the Hakkōda Mountains in the Tōhoku region of Japan. Misawa being a small city with its outskirts basically rural, the base is a city of its own within this city. The base is occupied by the United States Air Force 35th Fighter Wing and the Japan Air Self Defense Force’s 3rd Fighter Wing Force. One day a year Misawa’s Air Force Base opens it’s gates to the general public. This year the Air Fest takes place on Sunday, September 10th, 2017.
Last year's event was a blast. The following account is from the 2016 event, starting with a quote from the Misawa Air Fest 2016 project officer:
"We wanted to open Misawa Air Base to the public in partnership with our Japan Air Self Defense Force allies and demonstrate goodwill and build trust with our local community through flying demonstrations, static aircraft displays and positive personal interactions with U.S. and JASDF military members. It also allowed us to demonstrate the strength of the bond between the United States Air Force and JASDF and showcase our combined capabilities in the Pacific Air Forces’ area of responsibility."
—Major Michael Handy,
Misawa Air Fest 2016 project officer with the 35th Fighter Wing.
They Came In Droves...
Two days prior to the air show on Friday, people started rolling in to Misawa. The base main gate was backed up until it closed late Saturday night. Military V.I.P.’s, celebrities and dignitaries alike from all over the country even as far as Okinawa came. People literally camped out in their cars and on any patch of grass they could occupy. This was not your ordinary air show, this was an “Air Festival”.
The cultural food vendors and merchandisers who mainly sold American shoes, coats, memorabilia and just about anything American which at first I did not understand until later in the day, had their tents up as the Sky Plaza Mall parking lot attendants wheeled in a portable stage located at the entrance to the main gates of the base. The music started playing, food started cooking, it was on!!! A one day show is actually a 3 day event. Everyone’s eyes on the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of the mighty JASDF's "Blue Impulse", the best of the best, the highly respected pilots and Japan’s pride flying into Misawa. They did not disappoint the crowds as thunder was heard in the distance. Everyone stopped what they were doing pointing toward the horizon and in an impressive thunderous entrance they appeared screaming through the skies, the fans went wild! Shouts were heard all over the city "Karera wa koko ni arimasu, Karera wa koko ni arimasu!” (they are here, they are here).
Saturday the city filled with even more people. Bands played throughout the day into the evening as people strolled through the quaint city curiously checking out all the shops, eating anything BBQ’d on a stick, beer in hand, creating a seemingly very large tailgate party if you will, although keeping it family friendly.
Visitors sat on the ground by the base gates hoping to see someone famous drive by and waiting for the airplanes to practice. Around 9:00 a.m. planes started taking off and thrilling the crowds with their skills which went on all day at different intervals. Bus upon bus were dropping off passengers from different parts of the country. I did not pay them that much attention until I saw a bus with Chiba written on the side and realized this was the overnight bus from Tokyo and then one from Kyoto and the list goes on. To give you some perspective, Tokyo is 686.1km from Misawa—around an 8 hour drive, 50 minute plane flight or door step to Tokyo Station, 4 and a half hours including a 1 hour train ride to the Shinkansen (bullet train). Plainly, ‘it’s far’! I was amazed at this sight and the distance people had traveled to our little city by the sea.
Sunday the sun came up and all traffic on base came to a halt as the Friendship Gates opened and were flooded with people well prepared carrying mini chairs, mats and supplies for the day as the walk to the flight line is a good distance and the event lasts for 6 hours, 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Over 80,000 people passed through the gates that day according to security forces duty officer at the gate, just unimaginable for this small city.
What may seem normal for foreigners, a special treat for the Japanese public is they get to experience American fast food, some for the first time. Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Pizza Hut, Charlie’s Cheesesteaks made with American ingredients, not a Japanese interpretation, are open to everyone and the lines were massive. Whole cakes made by military wives were a hit as they are sweeter with a stronger taste than Japanese confections. Usually it is us the foreigner excited about all things Japanese, this weekend was in reverse and an eye-opening experience.
The event included introduction ceremonies and JASDF flying demonstrations of the Mitsubishi F15J, Mitsubishi F2, CH47 Chinook, U125 Peace Krypton and a UH60 Black Hawk. In addition to the flying acts, bases from across the region setup static displays including the F16 Fighting Falcon, A10 Thunderbolt II, C130 Hercules, C12 Huron, UH1N Iroquois, RQ4 Global Hawk, P3 Orion, P8 Poseidon and an E2C Hawkeye. Also there was a rescue demonstration and parachuting demonstration.
The F16’s demonstrations were unmatched until the JASDF’s aerobatic team, the "Blue Impulse" took to the sky ‘wowing’ the spectators with their superior agility and formation techniques made you cover your ears as they were purposely super loud. Barrel rolls, flying wing to wing inverted, going vertical at incredible speeds, it was all packed in this show, every maneuver known to man and reaching the ultimate perfection. They even drew a heart with an arrow through it showing the fans their love and the Olympic logo of the 5 rings symbolizing Japan’s largest project of hosting the summer games in 2020. It was all very exciting!
As the base emptied which took several hours, literally hundreds of buses lined up one after another with thousands of orderly lines of people returning to their hometowns excited to tell their friends about this amazing festival. In what seemed to be an instant, everything and everyone was gone. Streets were cleaned as all things were put back in it’s usual place as if nothing happened here. I turned to my friend who is Japanese and asked, “wow, did this weekend really happen?”, he said, “of course silly, although you are standing on U.S. soil, you know you're in Japan, right? We do it ‘BIG’ on both sides of this gate!”.
Tips & Suggestions
- Make hotel reservations months in advance.
- Take the train or bus if possible. Parking is limited.
- Convert your money into half yen half U.S.D.. (bring cash—no credit/debit cards accepted). There is a machine at the Sky Mall which does not charge to convert. Bills only. Undoubtedly it will run out of money so to be safe bring with you.
- Bags will be checked by security at the gate. Have your passport in hand if you are a foreigner. Nationals have some sort of ID with you.
- Make the bulk of your purchases on Saturday so you don’t have to carry too many bags on base Sunday as you will probably make purchases there and slows down the security line and you don’t want your belongings confiscated if found not allowed.
- No weapons including knives allowed. Common sense.
- Plenty of porta restrooms available.
- Shuttle buses to the flight line and back are available.
- Handicap accessible and you get the best seats on the flight line!
- Get a good night sleep as Sunday is a very long day.
What to Bring
- Umbrella—weather is fickle and the sun is hot, dual purpose (think southern Florida).
- Small folding chair, matt or stool you can carry.
- Good walking shoes, you will be walking a lot.
- Hat, sunglasses or sun visor.
- Wear short sleeves but bring a light jacket, sweater or hoodie.
- Plenty of water to hydrate.
- Snacks, just in case food lines are too long.
- A couple of hand towels (you will be in direct sunlight)
- Backpack or large bag for all this stuff!
Pacific Partners Air Festival Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/720545864799568/?active_tab=about
Misawa Air Force Base: http://www.misawa.af.mil/
See you there!