An Air Base Cherry Blossom Festival in Saitama Prefecture, Japan ~
Cherry blossoms are on the way! With the plum blossoms already blooming, much earlier than usual, it is a surely a positive indicator that the cherry blossoms will also be early this year. The “experts” seem to think so anyway, with the sakura forecast for 2020 predicting cherry blossoms from as early mid March.
An Air Base Cherry Blossom Festival
Its got me thinking about where I want to go this year to enjoy hanami and cherry blossom festivals. I try to visit somewhere new every year. But I also like to revisit places that have impressed me in the past. One such place is the Japan Air Self Defence Forces (JASDF) cherry blossom festival on the Kumagaya Air Base. And it would seem its not just me that it left a lasting impression on: it is one of those events that attracts thousands even without advertising anywhere. (Except their homepage).
Kumagaya Air Base Cherry Blossom Festival
Not only are the cherry blossoms on the Kumagaya air base stunning, but the sakura festival is one of the better ones in Saitama Prefecture. Especially if you are a fan of helicopters and airplanes as I am. It was an amazing day out culminating in an electrifying chinook flight display. The festival is worth the journey even without this invigorating pinnacle, but seeing the chinook taking off was personally a highlight for me.
The Cherry Blossoms
There are hundreds of mature cherry blossoms in various locations around the base:
Along the main avenue is particularly resplendent, but constantly crowded so its hard to get a good photo. But each of the avenues have lines of sakura. Some of them are closed to the public, but there are quiet a few that are open. There are sakura around the permanent display of old out of use air craft too.
It is possible to do hanami at the Kumagaya Air Base Cherry Blossom Festival. There is a section of sakura by the “Miizu” field where you can hanami. And there are dozens of food stalls where you can pick up festival type food and drinks. There are also vending machines dotted around the air base.
There are several elements to the sakura / cherry blossom festival at Kumagaya Air Base in Saitama. There is no entrance charge to the base and most of the events are free. Occasionally a craft or hands on experience has a nominal charge and of course all food and drink is charged too.
Gliders: A highlight of the festival for my (then) 9 and 8 year old was getting to sit in and mess around with the controls of single and dual seat glider planes.
Drones: There were several different drone events. This one was indoor and my older kids operated drones that were behind a net. We could watch from the pictured monitor. This one was free, I am not sure about the other ones.
Kids can dress up in mini military outfits ➡ this is a very popular event so if you would like to partake I advise that you head along to the area when you arrive and put your name down. They will give you a time to come back, or if you’re lucky and its not too busy yet, they will give you a choice of costume for the kids to wear then and there. Outfits include the beloved “Blue Impulse” costume.
For my younger two kids, then 6 and 4, they said there favorite part was actually exploring and riding on various different military vehicles.
Mascots: There are several mascots walking around and you can approach them to get your photo taken with them.
Photo Props: There are photo props around the base including this one by the F-1 display. You can do it with or without the helmet.
This is just some of the highlights, there really was a huge amount of things to do as well as spectate. I haven’t even touched on the number of vehicles on display. Some you could go into / ride, but some of them were just for admiring from afar. And then there was a mini air show as well as the grand finale of the helicopter show (with three different helicopters including the Chinook above). That just blew me away – quite literally and figuratively!
JASDF Kumagaya Cherry Blossom Festival 2020
Because I was writing this article, I decided to look up if they had set a date for the 2020 festival, but actually not expecting that they had. But my luck was in, thank you setsubun, and they had just released the date in a press release! The date has been set for Sunday April 5th. You can follow the up-to-date annual information on the event pages of this blog here.
Access JASDF Kumagaya Air Base
The base is close to national route 17 and relatively close to the Yorii Smart Interchange of the Kanetsu Expressway (E17). Please note with a Smart Interchange you need to have an ETC card in your car or you can not exit. The area around the base is very congested during the festival, but there is plenty of parking. Some of the parking is quite far off by car, but there are pedestrian routes which are short cuts. Parking is managed very well. The car parks we have used have been free, but I cannot say for sure if they all are.
By public transport
The nearest train station is the Kagohara Station on the JR Takasaki line. It is about a 30 minute walk to the festival / base from the train station.
Yes. There are a few opportunities to visit a military base in Japan. For example, in Saitama Prefecture, the Kumagaya Air Base is open to the public for one day during sakura season for its annual cherry blossom festival on base. Likewise, the air base in Iruma opens it door to the public every November 3rd for its acclaimed air show.