It was an event full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences!

On June 3, 2023, Iruma Air Base, a Japan Air Self-Defense Force base northwest of Tokyo, opened up a portion of its runway for its Iruma Air Base Runway Walk event. This is a highly popular event that all Japanese Air Self-Defense Force bases hold, offering the rare opportunity to walk on a military runway and check out Japanese military facilities.

This year’s event required pre-registration, and admission was determined by a lottery system. Apparently, 11 times more people applied than could be admitted, meaning the 1,000 people who scored tickets (and the 500 people who received personal invitations) were extremely lucky. Our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma was privileged to be one of them. He chronicled the event in great detail for those who weren’t able to attend.

Masanuki arrived on the day of the event at nine o’clock, which was precisely when it was scheduled to begin. It had been sprinkling rain all morning, but umbrellas are not allowed on the air base, so many of the guests wore raincoats. Masanuki sorely hoped that the rain would stop by the time the runway walk began at 11.

Until then, guests were free to view the various aircraft and vehicles on display, which were all regularly in use at Iruma. Some of the aircraft, like C-2s and CH-47Js, were even open for touring, and lines were quickly forming. Masanuki had plenty of time, so he decided to hop in the one for the C-2, nicknamed the Blue Whale.

The C-2 is a transport aircraft proudly made in Japan and famous across the world. It is operated by two to five people, but the cargo area can seat as many as 110.

When Masanuki went inside, he saw a row of blue fold-up seats lining one wall of the aircraft. The ceiling was ridiculously high, with enough room to fit vehicles, storage containers, and even a helicopter.

On the electric noticeboard, which is normally used to relay instructions to the passengers, “Welcome to Iruma Air Base” scrolled by.

But the coolest part was that you were allowed to check out the cockpit!

That might have been an even rarer experience than getting to walk down the runway.

According to representatives, the transparent Head-up Displays in front of the pilots’ seats display important information like altitude and speed and are placed strategically so that the pilots can still view the stats while looking out on the airspace. That was super cool.

Next, Masanuki checked out the CH-47J, also known as the Chinook. This aircraft is used all across the world and was vital in the rescue efforts of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

The inside of this craft had red fold-up seats lining its walls.

In the cockpit, the right seat was for the Captain, and the left the First Officer. Since the Chinook can land almost anywhere, the cockpit had lower windows for visual confirmation during hovering and landing.

Apparently, the CH-47J has no toilets or air conditioning. Masanuki found it hard to imagine having to bear extreme temperatures and needing to pee for up to four hours, which is the longest the Chinook is usually in flight.

Some lucky people were also able to ride in a C-1 Transport Aircraft as it taxied along the runway. They won the opportunity in a lottery, but sadly Masanuki wasn’t one of them. Still, he could watch it cruising along. The intensity of the engine noise was no joke.

With all there was to do, eleven o’clock came quickly.

The rain had finally abated, just in time, and the Runway Walk started off without a hitch to the sound of a pistol signal.

The path was four kilometers (2.5 miles) long and included the two-kilometer (1.2-mile) long runway. Masanuki, gazing down at the tracks left by aircraft tires on landing, followed the great migration of people.

The runway was far longer than Masanuki expected. The walk felt almost endless. The crowd that had chattered excitedly at the start of the walk gradually subsided into silence by the time they reached the turnaround point.

No matter how far Masanuki seemed to go, the scenery never changed, and the runway seemed to stretch ever onwards, yet he plodded slowly on. He was glad that the rain had stopped–though a great downpour would have been pretty memorable too.

These thoughts flitted through his mind as he progressed step by step.

Along the runway, men and women in service uniforms held up signs showing how much longer the walkers had to go, which made Masanuki think he wasn’t the only one glad that the rain had stopped. They also offered warm words of encouragement like, “You’re doing great!” “Keep it up!” and “Halfway there!”

Finally, Masanuki reached the goal. There wasn’t anything to mark the end of the path, but it felt good to make it nonetheless. It had been an interesting 45-minute experience, and despite the endless feel, Masanuki would recommend it to anyone interested. If you didn’t win the lottery this time, definitely give it a shot next time.

▼ The goal line area

Within the grounds of the event they also held a performance from Iruma Nobutake Taiko, as well as demonstrations of police dog drills, so there was plenty to do even after reaching the goal.

Of course, Masanuki also made sure to try Iruma Air Base’s special Sayama Tea Sora-age, a type of fried chicken karaage that won a silver medal in the Air Self-Defense Force Cooking Competition. Seasoned with matcha salt for an extra dose of umami, it was tender, juicy, and extra delicious after the long walk. The recipe is also available online, so you can try to make it yourself if you’re feeling adventurous!

Masanuki had a great time checking out the base and its facilities, so he’d highly recommend it if you have the chance to check it out for yourself. Iruma Air Base’s official site keeps up to date with all the events, including an aviation festival in the fall, so there are lots of opportunities to experience the base and all it has to offer. Masanuki definitely plans to check out other events, so you might see him there!

And if you happen to visit Iruma City with an empty stomach, you may also be inclined to check out Koto, a restaurant loved by locals for its huge portions.

Photos © SoraNews24
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