Corporate museums are part academic and business and occupy the grey zone in between. It is an organization that works with several departments in a company including public relations, branding, advertising, and HR. This series aims to look at the role, function, and future of museums run by corporations through interviews with PR professionals.
JAL Sky Museum: The Greatest Contact Point Outside Air Travel
JAL Sky Museum is a corporate museum that is difficult to reserve, with tickets selling out within a minute or two after bookings begin a month before the desired date. This article introduces JAL Sky Museum, a contact point that updates the relationship between JAL and society and delves into how the museum provides entertainment that transcends generations and nationalities and impacts and contributes to society.
Yuta Ishii, PR Consulting Dentsu Inc.
A popular museum that’s tough to book
JAL Sky Museum opened on July 22, 2013, in the Shin-Seibijo area near Haneda Airport. The museum is an evolution of JAL Aircraft Maintenance Factory Tour that had been part of the airline’s social contribution activities since the mid-1950s, shortly after the company’s founding. The museum popular because it offers visitors a first-hand look into the airline industry and history of aviation in Japan, as well as a chance to see aircraft up close in the hangar. Since opening, the museum has hosted more than 600,000 visitors, and its popularity can be seen from the number of visitors, which reached a maximum of approximately 140,000 in 2018.
The facility was renovated in January 2021 with the concept of digitalization to increase the volume of information several times over to make it a place visitors can enjoy over many visits. After a year of planning, about six months of construction, and a suspension of tours due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility reopened in May 2022 and became one of the world’s top airline museums in scale, boasting extensive content. Admission is free. Reservations are accepted from 9:30 a.m. exactly one month before the desired tour date, and all slots are full within one or two minutes.
A typical visit is a tour of the museum (60 minutes) and a look around the hangar (50 minutes). Tours are conducted three times a day, with 40 participants each time (as of May 2023). We had Mr. Toshiya Yoshida, Group Manager of the Social Contribution Group, ESG Promotion Department at Japan Airlines, talk to us about the museum’s role and highlights. The museum takes on the mission of conveying the history of flying in Japan as the country’s first commercial airline after World War II, and seeks to deliver the appeal of the airline industry to aviation enthusiasts, students seeking employment, and children.
Toshiya Yoshida, Group Manager, Social Contribution Group, ESG Promotion Department (Photo taken by the writer)
For everyone in the world—creating a place that can be used for a multitude of purposes
JAL Sky Museum attracts seniors in their 50s to 70s on weekdays and parents and their children on weekends. Before the renovation, few couples in their teens and twenties visited, but the museum digitized exhibits, transforming it into an enjoyable place for adults and reducing the generational bias. Due in part to the museum’s location adjacent to Haneda Airport, tourists from overseas who stop by before or after their trip to Japan account for about 10% of all visitors (as of April 2023).
“I believe that no other airline museum in the world welcomes as many visitors as we do. We would like to continue to welcome visitors from around the world by preparing for their arrival and strengthening our communication through social media and other means. The renovations have also made the space more versatile, allowing for internal uses such as employee training, recruitment briefings, and collaborative events with other industries, lectures, news conferences, and more. We have also seen an increase in requests from our public relations department to use the space for filming TV programs, and in the future, we hope to hold public viewings of sports, concerts, and other events,” Mr. Yoshida said.
And with the renovation, discussions were held with people with disabilities regarding exhibition methods and implemented them, resulting in an inclusive area that more people can enjoy with all five senses, regardless of disability.
Respect for the people who support air travel, an exhibit where the JAL philosophy comes to life
When the elevator doors from the museum area entrance open, a Sky Runway reminiscent of a runway appears before visitors’ eyes.
The Sky Runway (Photo courtesy of @aircord inc.)
Here, Job Introduction booths are installed so that visitors can learn about JAL staff’s work, with displays of aircraft cockpits and cabins where visitors can enjoy the cabin atmosphere. Multilingualization is advancing, and online bookings can be made in Japanese and English. Descriptions are available in the two languages, with simplified Chinese accessible by scanning the QR codes.
On the runway with large digital signage, visitors can watch Job Introduction videos featuring current JAL staff. Life size images of employees speak about their jobs in their own words, created in response to visitor requests to speak to people on the job. Starting with the booth closest to the entrance, these Job Introduction booths are arranged in the order of mechanics, ground staff, ground handlers, cabin attendants, and cockpit crew.
“We decided on the content based on our desire to convey to visitors that to offer safe air travel, we must pass the baton from the mechanics to the flight crew, and every one of our employees strives to be aware of “the best baton pass,” which is one of our JAL Philosophy items, and to offer great services,” Mr. Yoshida explained. JAL went bankrupt in 2010, but the JAL Philosophy that had supported the company in its subsequent recovery thrives in the exhibit.
Everchanging exhibits that stimulate the senses and satisfy people’s curiosity
Sky Runway also features a wide range of exhibits that can be enjoyed with all five senses, including large aircraft tires and cargo containers. Whether young or old, visitors can enjoy the extraordinary experience of entering the cockpit (mockup), where a voice reproduction of the airline radio is played to give visitors a sense of the tension among cockpit crew or sit in the JAL Sky Suite or JAL Sky Premium seats.
The cockpit (Photo taken by the writer)
Of particular note in terms of the five senses is the In-Flight Meal Experience Course. It was realized in cooperation with a group company in response to visitors who wish to enjoy an in-flight meal while viewing aircraft. The tour course, which includes an in-flight meal in a lounge overlooking the runway, is truly a trip for all five senses. Another characteristic of the museum is its willingness to change the tour program based on visitor opinions.
Furthermore, the exhibit is guided by former JAL employees who have retired. It feels more three-dimensional with these people who have experienced a variety of airline jobs and tell real stories of their working days. I felt a sense of the unique effects of a corporate museum in creating a place where retirees can fully demonstrate their abilities.
The Archives Zone: Mission to tell stories on the history of Japan’s skies
Following Sky Runway is the Archives Zone, where visitors can come in touch with the history of JAL and Japanese aviation history based on conveying the history of aviation culture rather than aviation history. Visitors can enjoy a digital timeline, cabin attendant uniforms, actual historical artifacts, and model airplanes. Of particular interest are the timeline and presentation of historical artifacts.
“JAL is proud to be the only airline that can tell the story of the history of Japan’s skies, and we have spent a great deal of time and effort building our archive. This is the only place where visitors can relive the aircraft and air travel of the 1950s and 1960s when flying and watching aircraft was an extraordinary experience. Visitors spend the most time at the Digital Timeline exhibit. It is well received by visitors, who find it easy to delve deeper into their interests, and we have been delighted to receive high praise for our efforts,” Mr. Yoshida said.
A digital timeline and various items in the archive (Photo courtesy of Japan Airlines)
The exhibit includes original aircraft design drawings by world-renowned film director Akira Kurosawa. Future Zone also introduces JAL’s initiatives for the future, along with displays of imperial and special flights, making the museum so rich in content that an hour-long tour may not be sufficient to view everything. Rather than provide a set route for tours, the museum allows visitors to explore the museum freely according to their interests.
Future Zone (Photo taken by the writer)
On display are active aircraft and real work scenes. The highlight of the impressive hangar tour is the hangar itself. The moment the doors open, visitors can’t help but gasp and then let out an exclamation.
The JAL hangar (Photo courtesy of Japan Airlines)
At this hangar, aircraft are checked and maintained 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The sight of mechanics working hard on the aircraft in the vast area and the dynamic sight of planes in service is nothing short of overwhelming. Visitors can also see up close aircraft taking off, which is a sight to behold. The tour guides’ detailed explanations give visitors a better familiarity with the planes when they complete their tour. The hangars are not air-conditioned, and the harsh environment in summer and winter generates a sense of gratitude to the mechanics who work around the clock to protect passenger safety.
“Many visitors are aware that members of our staff, such as mechanics, whom they do not regularly have an opportunity to come into contact with, also play a key role in supporting safe air travel. Meanwhile, having visitors watch the mechanics also boosts their sense of pride and awareness in their work, and I feel that a positive reciprocal effect is created here,” said Mr. Yoshida.
The greatest contact point between JAL and its audience outside air travel
Outside air travel, JAL Sky Museum is the largest contact point for JAL, and it may be the most powerful PR device that spontaneously generates better relationships with the public (society), including all internal and external stakeholders. The museum plays a significant role in heightening familiarity with JAL for a vast audience—employees visiting for training, students attending recruitment fairs, aviation fans and influencers from around the world, young people making pilgrimages to sites where dramas were filmed, partner companies holding joint news conferences, government and municipal visitors, local elementary, junior and senior high school students and students on school trips from throughout the country, and creating various connections and ties.
A museum that embodies purpose to exhilarate everyone
JAL Sky Museum has a life of its own. Visitors can wander around as they wish, the digitized materials are regularly updated, and the guides’ commentaries are unique, making the museum enjoyable no matter how often a person visits. During my, Mr. Yoshida shared his ideas for further evolving the facility: “We would like to make Future Zone a place where visitors can enjoy videos as well as still images.” Another visit is sure to be met with new discoveries.
I couldn’t help but squeal with childlike glee during the tour and recalled JAL’s purpose: “Japan Airlines will aim to realize an exhilarating society and future where many people and various things come and go freely, as it strives to become the world’s most chosen and loved airline group.” Jal Sky Museum is indeed a free and exhilarating place that gives shape to JAL’s purpose as it continues evolving to become the most chosen and most loved airline group in the world.
On tour in the hangar (Photo courtesy of Japan Airlines)