Breaking news: Taking flight / Airports look to harness the power of female plane enthusiasts

”Oh! What a cute plane!” Amid a flurry of clicks and flashes, a group of shutterbugs aimed cameras mounted with telephoto lenses at the arrival of a Japan Airlines plane at Osaka Airport.

Decorated with Disney characters on its fuselage, the plane was the main attraction at a women-only photo session held in late March at the airport. Eighty-four women of all ages traveled from all over the country to participate in the event. A professional photographer even gave them pointers on how to take good pictures and showed them the best photo spots around the airport.

More and more young women are flocking to airports to snap photos of passenger planes. They are dubbed “sorami-chan,” which means a woman who enjoys the beauty of the sky.

A fuselage of a plane decorated with Disney characters at Osaka Airport

The reasons behind the hobby vary. Some are attracted by the designs of the planes, while others said they are looking for a taste of the extraordinary.

Yuko Nagai, 32, a company employee from Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, who took part in the session, said she saw a green plane one day on the way to work and became interested in the unusual color.

“The same type of planes can look totally different from the front if they’re painted differently. So many planes with colorful fuselages now, which is exciting for us photographers,” Nagai said.

After photographing the planes, sorami-chan often enjoy shopping or eating at the airports. Some even write about their experiences on blogs.

Looking to revitalize their business, airport operators are seeking ways to attract more sorami-chan, such as holding professional photo sessions, with the aim of harnessing their consumption power and ability to spread news about new planes.

Humble beginnings

The sorami-chan boom first began at Narita Airport.

Volunteers from the public and private sectors created the Narita Kuentai (airport supporters’ club) to organize tours of the airport. From there, the group came up with the term sorami-chan to rival “tetsuko” (female train fans) and “yama girls” (women who enjoy mountaineering). Since then, the rapid spread of high-quality digital cameras have also helped sorami-chan grow in number.

Kuentai, in collaboration with camera makers and hotels, also organizes photo sessions for sorami-chan and other events at the airport.

According to the group, when participants write up their experiences and impressions on blogs, it helps attract new sorami-chan.

Local airports have also caught onto the sorami-chan craze.

In February, Chubu Centrair Airport in Aichi Prefecture set up an airport tour called “Centrair sorami joshikai” (women-only gathering). About 150 women applied for 20 available slots, and the winners were treated to a special course at a French restaurant in the terminal.

Mieko Kato, a spokesperson for the airport operator, said: “We never thought the program would be so popular. In the future, we want to organize a ‘sorami-chan summit’ in cooperation with other airports.”

In March, Kansai Airport offered a seminar about planes that also came with a business class meal. The 40 available slots for the seminar were filled within 30 minutes. Other events, in which participants enjoyed in-flight meals and desserts from two European airlines, were also popular.

Haneda Airport in Tokyo also tries to lure sorami-chan by opening popular brand boutiques and sweets shops.

Aki Shikama, a photojournalist who writes a column on sorami-chan, said: “As women enjoy traveling, they may become interested in planes. They’re also good at exchanging information. Airports could improve their image if they know how to make good use of them [sorami-chan].”

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