Photographing Planes near Narita Airport

Having written post about taking photos at and near Haneda Airport, this time I’ll write about taking photos near Narita Airport, the other major airport in the Tokyo area.

For getting to these sites (particularly if you’re trying to do them all in one day), you will almost certainly need to hire a car – easily done from Narita Airport itself (and staff there seem quite used to people doing a short hire to go and take photos). Keep in mind that while you pick up the car from the airport, the return location is likely to be further away and require a shuttle bus back to the airport, so allow sufficient time if you have a particular plane or train to catch.

The first first thing to notice is the rather odd shape of the airport itself. This dates back to the problems with building the airport, which will be discussed further below and in the post about taking photos at Narita Airport itself. Although the runways are parallel, they are not aligned – this can lead to it being a bit confusing driving around and I would not recommend trying it without taking a sat nav with you. Google Maps now allows you to download the map of Japan, so you should be able to find your way easily enough with that. Of course, if you have data, you can then also use an app like Flightradar24 to see when planes are landing or taking off.

Let’s start at the top of the map and work down – you may not want to visit the sites in this order, but it’s the easiest way to navigate the map on this page.

The first site is Toyomi Shinonomeno Oka. Located at the end of one runway, this is a small mound that has been built to help people watch and photograph planes. There is sufficient parking for a few cars. I have only been to this site once, but got some great shots there. I probably should have also taken videos as on that day, as often happens in Spring, there were strong winds near the airport and I counted at least a dozen planes within an hour have to do a go-around and try to land again (at least one needed to this more than once). Watching the planes wavering as they came in was quite something. Collective sighs – and almost cheers – went around those gathered when planes managed to land successfully. But on many occasions the roar of the engines as a plane started a go-around were met with both relief (that the pilot has decided better than to try to land) and gasps of “again?”.

From this spot you will also be able to see planes landing (or taking off, depending on the wind direction) at the other runway, but you will need at least a 300mm to get a good shot.

Moving on, the next place is Toho Shrine. Yes, there is a shrine at the end of the runway above. There are large fences around most of the shrine and road approaching it. When I have been there, the wind has been in the wrong direction to get a shot of planes landing and get the shrine in the same shot. Taking-off planes are usually too high to get a good shot. You will also be able to get a shot of taxiing planes with the shrine – but due to the fence, you won’t see much more than the tail fin, so the shot is much use other than to remind you of the opening scene of Airplane! with the Jaws music as the tail fins cut through the clouds.

Spot the tail fin!

The next spot is the most well-known and used photo spot near the airport, Sakuranoyama Park. You can find it on the map by looking slightly down and to the left of the second viewing spot (marked by a pine tree on the map). Built on a hill, with flowers and trees that can be used to add interest in the foreground of photographs, it provides a perfect vantage spot for taking photos.

As with the first spot, from this spot you will also be able to see planes landing (or taking off, depending on the wind direction) at the other runway, but you will need at least a 300mm to get a good shot.

The next spot isn’t really for taking photographs so much (at least I haven’t taken any there), but for learning about planes and also about the dark history of Narita Airport itself.

At the far end of the same runway you will find the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences. Next to it is the Narita Airport and Community Historical Museum. Although the displays are largely in Japanese (at least when I went there in 2016), it’s still worth a visit and you may be able to find additional information online to help add details to what you see. Given my interests in memorialisation (see for example, my article on developing a model to explain modifications to public transport memorials), as well as my general interest in aviation in Japan (see also my chapter about contents tourism and planes in Japan), I found the museum particularly interesting.

The Narita Airport protests is something I have touched upon in my books Japan: The Basics and Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan, but so far haven’t had a chance to research and write about in detail. It’s one of those projects which just keeps being bumped down the list by other projects. Hopefully one day I’ll get the chance to do something with it.

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