Paragliding in Japan is quite popular, and a couple of aspects of the sport here are a little... unique.
One, there are a lot of middle-aged and even elderly people involved in the sport, compared to other countries.
Two, when paragliding in Japan it is not uncommon to find that the slope is actually the side of a volcano rim. Japan is well known to be prone to earthquakes, and this is related to the presence of volcanoes. Have you read or heard about the 'Pacific Rim of Fire'? This refers to the volcanos, fault lines and so on, in the land areas surrounding the Pacific Ocean.
Let's look at one volcano in particular, Mt. Aso. It is situated in the Kumamoto Prefecture of Kyushu, Japan's southern-most main island. Such is the spectacle in and around the volcano rim that the area was officially reserved in 1934. This area is now called Aso-Kuju National Park.
This volcano is one of the biggest on the planet! No wonder the locals like to paraglide on the slopes of its outer rim. Which, by the way, is more than 120km (75 miles) around, and about 600m (2000ft) high. Large volcanoes sometimes have multiple peaks, or cones, inside the rim. Mt. Aso has five of them. They all qualify as named mountains in their own right! Mt. Taka is the highest, at 1592m (5200ft).
I guess it's possible that someone paragliding in Japan has flown off there, but they would have to inflate in a hurry if Taka looked like having one of it's occasional burps. Yep, it smokes all the time and sometimes erupts! Now wouldn't that make a great story for my Paragliding Tales page! Can you imagine the thermal lift... DHV 2 maneuverability would come in handy for dodging the odd white-hot boulder climbing past.... ;-)
The weather on Kyushu is classed as sub-tropical, with Kumamoto having the highest rainfall of any prefecture on the island. This would be because of the mountainous terrain pushing the moist sea air up to higher altitudes as it arrives from the coastal regions.
If considering paragliding in Japan, bear in mind that the typhoon season is from August to October each year. So occasionally everyone has to 'batten down the hatches' during wild and wet weather. Most of the time, the wind blows from the NW to NE. When it happens to come from the south, there can be hazy conditions due to smog generated in industrial areas in the south.
Now let's run through some temperature stats. The coolest month is January, with an average temperature over the last 30 years of 5°C (41°F) brrr. Warmest month is August, with an average of 27°C (81°F). The lowest recorded temperature was -9°C (15°F) which occurred during January and February in separate years. The highest was 39°C (102°F) in July one year.
Now for some rainfall stats. Driest month is December with an average of 58.4mm (2.3in), while the wettest month is June with an average of 368.3mm (14.5in). Yearly rainfall is 1849.1mm (72.8in). June and July are the wettest months, with an average of more than 12 days of rain in each month!
That's pretty wet. If paragliding in Japan, it could be a little harder than usual to keep your canopy dry.
Since around 2003, the sight of older people floating past in paragliders is nothing unusual at the popular paragliding sites in Japan. Clubs have been popping up for years, with names like the Silver Eagles, the Mt. Tawara Silver Fliers and so on. Silver, grey hair, get it? Anyway, moving on...
These Aging Aviators paragliding in Japan have realized that the sport is actually pretty easy and pretty safe these days. A lot of strength isn't required either. They have saved more than enough during their working lives to be able to afford the basic paragliding equipment. Quite a sizable percentage of the Japanese paragliding population is 50 years and over. In 2003 it was around 13%.
Let's zoom in on the Mt. Tawara Silver Fliers now. I'll paraphrase a few facts from an article on paragliding in Japan which I spotted on the Web some time ago. This club of older men, with ages ranging from 60 to 74, fly their paragliders on the slopes around Mt. Aso in Kyushu Island's Kumamoto Prefecture. They got together in 1990 and have mostly been gathering on the side Mt. Tawara, near the rim of Mt. Aso, ever since.
This spot boasts a 1,095m (3590ft) launch zone, overlooking very scenic and lush countryside. Most of these guys had a love of flying in their blood from their early years, but just didn't have the opportunity. That was certainly true of the club's founder, a 74-year-old former railroad employee who got inspired while watching someone else paragliding in Japan. In fact, it was in the Kumamoto area.
That's one of the great things about paragliding, it can give ordinary people the gift of flight. Flying cars never happened, but in a sense, paragliders have taken their place.
In case you are considering paragliding in Japan, or are on your way there as a tourist, here are some tips for getting to the Mt. Aso area. You can drive there from the city of Kumamoto which is only 40 minutes drive east of Mt Aso. Another option is a train ride from Kumamoto, either by normal train or the 'Aso Boy' steam locomotive.
'Aso Boy', how Japanese is that. Sounds like something your kids might watch on a Saturday morning. Ahem, I digress... Kumamoto International Airport is actually between Kumamoto and the volcano rim, making it quite close to the volcano. The airport is just an hour and a half by air from Tokyo, which is to the north of Kyushu.
Get inspired watching old guys paragliding in Japan!