FROM 1985 ONWARD, military and security topics became an important part of my photojournalistic 'territory.' The Japanese government was beginning to loosen the political strictures that until that time had kept the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in what had been in many ways a less-than-ready posture to carry out their mission if the need had arisen. It was a period of great change as the Cold War moved toward its end. I had a front-row seat as I watched things unfold. Most of the work I did centered on Fifth Air Force (the United States Air Force component of United States Forces, Japan) and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force.
During the same period, I was often working with Japan Air Lines and so had numerous chances to glimpse the behind-the-scenes world of a first-class airline. The military and civil aviation photography complemented each other, even though I would usually write the accompanying article texts for the former while the latter was more often photographic work shot to order for both internal and external corporate PR.
In September of 1986, I first qualified to fly in high-performance aircraft. Photographing while flying in the back seat of the F-15 and F-16 was no simple task, especially as I was often in those back seats during full-on training missions and exercises; such flights were not 'photo orientation flights' for the sake of some nice images of the jets in a tidy and picturesque echelon formation such as we see in calendar photos or aviation enthusiasts' magazines. I am sure that in many cases when "fight's on!" came over the radio, the pilots in front of me momentarily forgot that I was in the rear seat. The G forces imposed by the jets' edge-of-the-envelope maneuvers combined with the basic physical constraints of the cockpits sometimes made even holding the camera in place a significant challenge. Because of the varying degrees of difficulty in keeping the viewfinder straight in front of my left eye (this due to G forces, relative position of the aircraft being photographed, interference from the helmet or oxygen mask, or the angle of my torso in the seat) at times I just had to sight over the top of the camera and use a TLAR ('That Looks About Right') technique that was gradually refined by experience. After a few disastrous early attempts, it actually came to work fairly well.