If you’ve followed the news recently you might have heard that North Korea is planning a rocket launch “test” sometime this week or the following. It’s not the first time either, but this time the Japanese Self Defense Forces are taking precautions, and I was a little bit surprised to see a patriot missile system passing through the gates of the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo’s Ichigaya district the other day. It reminded me of the couple of times I saw these very same weapons systems up at the Air Force base in Saitama’s Iruma City in 2009 and 2010 as part of the 1st or 4th Air Defense Missile Groups. On the news we could see these trucks readied among the blossoming cherry trees inside the Ministry of Defense gates, a rather bizarre contrast. You can read about it here if you want to know more, along with some more recent photos of the missiles. The batteries (there’s three of them in the area) along with three naval destroyers have been deployed to shoot down the North Korean rocket should it threaten Japanese territory, something I really hope we don’t have to see. I hadn’t expected to ever get a use for these photos.
There’s some very conflicting claims as to how efficient these things really are at shooting down incoming rockets and missiles anyway, with a hit rate ranging from less than 10% to 97% (the higher claim coming from former US president George H.W. Bush himself). I don’t think they have ever been really tested in Japan.
As excited we are at all this hardware I added a couple of photos of one of the handsome young soldiers attached to this unit, he probably didn’t mean to look so fierce, only the sun was very very bright that day! In the photos you can see the missile battery itself as well as a mobile antenna, Antenna Mast Group with an antenna that extends 9.23m above the truck.
Having left Tokyo we traveled north on the Tohoku Expressway, that had opened for general traffic a few days before. It was a slightly bumpier road than usual and the speed limit was set to 80km an hour, which was wise considering the fact that there were almost no lights turned on to direct us. We drove for as long as safely possible but just before dawn we pulled into the Adatara SA (SA stands for Service Area and is one of many kinds of places to stop, eat, refuel or use various restroom facilities) in Fukushima Prefecture. After about an hour of not very successful sleep we managed to fill the tank up before taking off again.
Traffic was very light, consisting of an even mix of military vehicles, private cars and truck carrying supplies north, one of them shown here, apparently on it’s way from Kyoto.
It’s still very early in the morning, the sun has just risen over the horizon and a little bit before the Nihonmatsu Junction we overtake a convoy of green military vehicles, three jeeps and several trucks from the army’s 11th Brigade, based in Sapporo, Hokkaido.
The countryside is hilly, with pine and evergreens mixed with still bare wintery trees reminding us it’s still technically winter. We pass a few houses and isolated farms and none show any real signs of damage from the earthquake, a testament to the strict Japanese building codes and excellent engineering.
The few gasoline stands we pass have been full of cars waiting in line, and the further we get from Tokyo the longer the line gets. No one wants to get stuck without gasoline without knowing when the next transport is coming. Gasoline shortage ended in Tokyo just a few days earlier, but there are still serious shortages here in the north east. Passing a convoy of gasoline tankers from Idemitsu really cheered us up and we waved to each driver as we passed by. I doubt they saw us but it felt to good to see these behemoths on the way north to deliver their vital fuel. It might look like the tanker is parked, but with shutter speeds at up to 1/8000th of a second even the wheels will be frozen by the camera.
While taking a quick rest break at the Zao PA (Parking Area, like a mini SA) I found this map showing us just how close we were to the Fukushima Daichi Power Plant. Not very as it turned out.
It wasn’t long until we reached Minamisendai, the southern suburbs of Sendai which is the largest city in the north east with well over a million people. On the news I had seen reports of the local train lines all being unable to operate and we passed this train depot fully stocked, waiting for the lines to be repaired and opened. The service train bears a text identifying is as belonging to the department of transportation, Sendai City.
Thankfully, we could see no signs of damage, despite reports as we drove through Minamisendai still on the Tohoku Expressway.
Soon however, as we passed Sendai we saw the first signs of destruction. Fields strewn with debris and damaged but still structurally intact residential buildings. Earlier we had passed a couple of slightly damaged factories but nothing that couldn’t be fixed in a day or two.
But we were still on the highway, heading for Higashimatsushima City, still a quite a long way to go. The way the highway is constructed you don’t see that much out of the road as you pass the city, and so we were unaware of the destruction near Sendai Airport even as we passed it.
(to be continued)
Here’s some more pictures I took at the Japanese Self Defence Forces Festival in Saitama prefecture last month. I’ve posted about this event before but those photos were mostly of the parades and this time I’d like to show you three photos taken near or around the parade grounds.
The first two are pretty self explanatory, but I liked the last one with the little girl marching past a group of medic with a fierce look on her face! She looks like she’s ready to take on the whole JSDF by herself!
(I originally posted this without any notes or text – as one sometimes do when one is in a rush – here’s the text, finally)
At the JSDF event in Asaka last month I saw more than handsome people in uniforms, there were these rather awe inspiring tanks and fighter jets as well. I was wandering around the base and saw a column of tanks lined up getting ready to enter the parade ground. It seems like even the Japanese Self Defence Forces have their own version of “hurry up and wait”. Still, the tank crews didn’t seem to mind. I had plenty of time to take the shots of the stationary tanks, but somehow walking in between stopped tanks is a very daunting task and I remained sheepishly on the sidelines.
When the tank column finally roared into action it was with flying banners and colorful scarves! As you can see in the first picture of the moving column, all is fine, but in the last, the exhaust gas of two dozen tanks made the smoke almost unbearable and even spectators tried to take cover. Just look at the looks on the faces of the two crew members caught at the end of the smog cloud! I am not envious!