Remnants of the US Air Force Base in Tachikawa, Japan

MJG Haikyo, Military Installations, Tokyo-to 249 Comments

The abandoned US Air Force (USAF) base in Tachikawa is a bramble-choked memento from the early days of Japanese/American war and peace. It was annexed by the USA shortly after World War II, in co-operation with the still-active nearby Japan Army (SDF) Base, then abandoned in the 1970’s as the Vietnam war came to a close.

Its three huge chimneys are still visible from the exterior, brick-red and lined up like masts on a rudderless ship, slowly sinking deeper into the smothering sea of green jungle. Its airstrip now swims with weeds, and bamboo forests have grown through the foundations where buildings once stood, patrolled by old men on bicycles keeping a watchful eye on the 10-foot perimeter fence.

Storage bunker, one of the few remaining structures on base.

As with the Fuchu Air Base, I’ve been here before. The first time was some two years ago, in the early days of my haikyo exploration. I must have walked the perimeter circle 4 or 5 times, as dusk fell around me, wondering if I had the chutzpah to scale the fence. At no point was it easy to climb, and at no point in an isolated spot. It got dark, and I became antsy. The guard in the guard box out front didn’t leave, except to occasionally drive carefully around the interior, or cycle around the fence. In the end, I gave up. It didn’t seem worth it, so I backed off.

Map of the whole base. The central part is now the huge Showa Kinen Park, site of Tokyo`s only full disc golf course. The left oblong, 1km long, is the abandoned base. The right oblong is the still-active SDF base.

The second time, around a year later, I arrived with my chutzpah turned on, knowing what to expect. After circling the base to my desired sport, I just went at it. Over a fence, and in.

After that, my memory’s a series of frantic snapshots as I ran around looking for things to shoot. It started to rain, reducing visibility, and that just amped me up further. Roads criss-crossed in every direction, and I knew that the old security guard could use any of them. I didn’t doubt I could out-run him if it came to a chase- but I didn’t want it to come to a chase.

And so even with the sense of real risk pretty absent, I still ran from cover to shelter like a hunted animal. When taking shelter in buildings, I became acutely aware of my heart thumping, and more worried every second about stepping back out of my new-found safety, and into the open.


This massive bunker hosted me for around 30 minutes, as I planned my next line of attack-

It is pretty huge, covered in ivy, and built to withstand serious punishment. The walls and doors are several feet thick.

Covered in ivy.

The central part of the bunker had probably once been an office, with desks, machinery controls, and grilled windows looking into the hangar-like storage area alongside.

The two doors left and right lead to the hangars.

Filing cabinets belie it was an office.

Empty storage shelves in the bunker’s back room

The hangars either side were filled with old equipment. The southern wing (below) had what looks like a lot of air conditioning equipment. The northern wing had chairs and assorted engine parts. In the back was a staircase, going up to the roof.

Of course I clambered over everything to get to it. and up- affording me the best view of the remains of the base anyone’s had in years.

Elevator and lift gear in storage.

Looking back towards the entrance, the stairs to be climbed.

Up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs was a small room, smashed in rot and weather, then more stairs, then the roof.

Signalman`s room?

Rickety stair-case.

One of the hazards of haikyo- stairways whose rungs have fallen away. I walked with great care.

On the roof the view was excellent, dominated by the forest, and the three chimneys.

Roof and chimneys.

Roof ruins.

After leaving that sanctuary, again I was on the run, bobbing in and out of the overgrown forest and through clumps of bamboo, head ducking in search of the old dude on his bicycle. I heard there were immense apocalypse-emergency tunnels underneath the old base, perhaps some kind fall-out shelter for Tokyo’s elite. I saw a few hatch-like structures emerging above ground, which had no doors of any kind. Could those be the air circulators, for such a massive complex?

This from Wikipedia.

Consolidation resulted in the establishment of the Tachikawa Disaster-Preparedness Base, involving hundreds of miles of tunnels designed to support 5,000 top government members for a year in the event of a catacylsmic disaster. The bunker building is one of only a few remaining structures on the large base lot.

I didn’t linger around them.

After a while I got pretty turned around inside. Even seeing the three massive chimneys, that I’d seen clearly from outside, didn’t really help orient me.

The guards had buckled a ladder into the chimney flues, so it is possible to climb up inside them.

I climbed up inside one, and again briefly relaxed. What were these chimneys for, remnants of some kind of power plant, or a waste incinerator? Did they cremate bodies here?

Inside the flue.

Looking out.

Looking at the inside of the base of the chimney.

Looking down at the base of the chimney.

Dreaming of the past.

After the towers, dusk was falling and I really thought I was pushing my luck to stay any longer. I wasn’t sure any more which way I’d come or which way was out- all the straight grid streets of the base looked equally overgrown, and I’d zig-zagged through so much bamboo I had no idea where my entry climbing fence had been.

I got out my iPhone and pulled up the map feature. Then, working myself up into a lather, I started to run.

Which way was I going? Where was the exit?

Watching the little screen with me inching down an overgrown road, peeking up to check I wasn’t slaloming into some obstacle, I felt weirdly like a World of Warcraft character running to his next battle. I ran in a straight line for a few minutes, until at last one of the easiest fences- also closest to the guard’s box- emerged, and I plunged for it. At last I hit it, vaulted over the top, and landed on the legal side, out of breath.

An old lady looked at me confusedly. I nodded, and went on my way. So it goes.


The Tachikawa base started life as an Imperial Japanese Army airfield, though that role later morphed to also cater to civilians by the 1920’s. In 1929 Japan`s first regularly scheduled commercial air service departed from this base to Osaka, a three hour commute that was in operation for 4 years, until the service was moved to Haneda airport on Tokyo Bay. After 1933 the base returned to being an Army airfield, and remained so until the end of World War II. During the war it was defended by the Shintentai, an anti-aircraft kamikaze group. Near the end of the war Tachikawa was subjected to heavy bombing, and in the aftermath was occupied by the US.

From Wikipedia Disaster struck Tachikawa on June 18, 1953 when a U.S. Air Force C-124 Globemaster II transport experienced an engine failure on takeoff, crashing shortly after. The accident claimed the lives of 129 people, and was the deadliest air disaster in history at the time. With a runway only 1,500m long, Tachikawa was not adequate for the largest aircraft, and the U.S. decided to extend the runway into the neighboring town of Sunagawa.

The July 8, 1957 Sunagawa Riots resulted in cancellation of the plan. The U.S. instead developed Tama Airfield (the present-day Yokota Air Base) and moved its operations there. By 1969, the U.S. had largely left Tachikawa, and in 1977, after the end of the Vietnam War, it returned the base to Japanese control.

The Japanese government put the land to a variety of uses. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force established a base there, as did the Japan Coast Guard, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and the Tokyo Fire Department.

Comments 249

  1. Steven Foon

    Anyone here was at Tachikawa or Fuchu around 1958-1960 and played youth touch football? This is the team that won the championship and went undefeated. Please send me an email. My dad was the head coach and has wondered whatever has happened to those he coached. Thanks.

  2. Pete Retondo

    I remember playing soccer on the school fields – can’t remember whether it was Tachikawa, Washington Heights in Tokyo proper, or Yamato H.S. – and seeing chimneys and smelling the unmistakable odor of cremation. Not likely to have been Wash Heights, must have been either Tachikawa or Yamato.

  3. catherine Headley

    I was in Tachikawa in the early 60’s. Lived off base. Love every minute of it. My husband was an airman worked on 124s. I took children into Tokyo to private school. I made many friends there and met friends from home there. Small world.would love to hear from any one who remembers us. Kitty and Richard Headley.. R ichard has passed.Lost track of so many of these friends. Even the Japanese natives that i became friends live to hear from so many old friends. We live in Fugimicho ni chome. Debbie clayton,Joy sherri Clayton,Marryanne Spalding Larry Owens(worked as pilot for Cats.Sue lugo from texas. TAMMY and sargent White, Noe Knight from znew York.took typing class with some G.I.s’ i took doll making classes. We went to the lap. And bought stones and polished them. We women would play cards in the mornings with our coffie. Just great memories

  4. John christoff

    My family lived on Tachi in 1954. The whole base was heated by steam piped to radiators. These smoke stakes may be the remnants of the steam plant

  5. Felicia Moore

    I was born in Tachikawa, Japan March 25,1963. My Father was a staff sergeant in the US Air Force. I lived there for 3 years with my family before returning to the United States to a small town in North Mississippi, Rienzi MS. Of course I don’t remember anything about living there however my Mother and Father loved the culture and my Mother worked on base as a housekeeper. I found out that the base was no longer in existence when I had to order my birth certificate after losing the original. This is very interesting and I hope to learn more about my birth country and the base.

  6. Kathleen Browning Welch (Deitle)

    I was a nurse at Tachi from July 1970 to June 1973. I worked in OB but spent most of my time in the newborn nursery. My husband at that time was Roy Bruce Deitle and he worked in admitting at the hospital. I also was the Pediatric Clinic nurse and did well baby exams at Tachikawa, Yokota and other housing areas.

  7. Paul K Powell

    My father Clyde C.Powell served at Tachibana Air Base in 1955 and 1956 as a staff sergeant and went on to retire as a Senior Master Sargeant in the United States Air Force. My twin sister Pamela K and I were born December 29th 1955 at Feacom Air Base Hospital Tachikawa Tokyo. We left Japan before we were a year old. I have no memories of Japan other than what my Mother Charlene and Father Clyde shared with us. They both spoke highly of the Japanese people and their culture.

  8. Joe beang

    I was an air policeman stationed at tachikawa from 2/63 to 8/64 when I was transferred to Kadena air base Okinawa
    Enjoyed every minute in the far East

  9. Linda Hudson

    Looking for any pictures from 11/1957 to 7/1959. My mother was football queen in November of 1958. Her name was France’s May Ellis Cook. My fathers name was Aubrey Pierce Cook



  11. Scott McNary

    My dad was stationed at Fuchu in 1967. . We lived in a housing area called Kanto Mura (spelling approximate) and attended Chofu HS. I remember Tachikawa because my high school played sports against the high school on base. My dad got sick and we returned to the States early, but I recall attending basketball games at the school gym on Tachikawa. It was a bustling place back then. Fuchu was HQ for 5th Air Force in Japan. At that time in the mid and late 60’s there was a huge American military presence in Tokyo. I don’t recall all of them, but believe there were at least 7-8 American high schools in the area. I was a summer life guard at the enlisted pool on Kanto Mura. On Saturdays we took the train into downtown Tokyo and were admitted to night clubs, casinos and strip clubs even though we were only 16 and 17. During the week we went out the back gate and drank saki with the locals. We drag raced our parents cars at the airstrip. It was an amazing time for military brats in Japan!

  12. Richard Dojcak

    My name is Richard (RICK) Dojack, fomerly from Duquesne Pa. I was a radio operator and stationed at TACHIKAWA AFB, 22nd TCS. I was in ground school training, prior to making my first flight. I arrived there July 2 1953, and was just getting acquainted with Airmen in my Squadron. The crash of that huge C-124 and the loss of all those lives was un-nerving, but didn’t discourage me. I remained in Japan for about a year and a half, and was tansferred to McClennon air base until being discharged. My radio operator training was responsible for getting employment with the FAA as an Air Traffic Contoller. I am hoping that this little note will reach some of hte guys that shared this experience with me!


  13. Pamela Homan

    My name is Pamela Homan. I lived on Tachikawa AFB and worked as Executive Secretary for Colonel Schulz (JRE Commander), Colonel Kennedy (JRE Commander after Colonel Schultz), Major Nakada (Deputy Commander) and Mr. Kulakoff at the Japan Region Exchange Command HQ in 1973. Fond memories.

  14. Hank Hansen

    My father was stationed at Tachikawa from March ’59 to June ’63 attached to the flight check squadron. I was 8 when we arrived and 12 when we left. It was a great time in my life, made greater by not having TV. One program, The Defenders, was broadcast in English twice a month. Bonanza was dubbed in Japanese and it was pretty funny hearing Hoss speak in a high, Japanese voice.
    I played on LL tackle football teams and I was on the swimming team. In ’62 the team I played on was the Lions and we won the championship that year.
    The swimming team competed in meets on bases throughout the Tokyo area.
    Great memories that drew me to this site.

  15. Donald J Gyuro AC7B

    I was TDY from Forbes AFB, Kansas for 90 days Feb -May. My TDY was because Korea took the Pueblo ship. I had a fun time there. I was there for the 15-inch over nite snow storm. I dont remember a whole lot else. Donald Gyuro

  16. Donald J Gyuro (AC7B ham call sign)

    I was TDY from Forbes AFB, Kansas for 90 days Feb -May 1968. My TDY was because Korea took the Pueblo ship. I had a fun time there. I was there for the 15-inch over nite snow storm. I don’t remember a whole lot else. Donald Gyuro

  17. Fred Matthews, Wilmington, Ohio

    I was stationed at Tachikawa AFABfrom December , 1951 until April, 1954. I was with the Chaplain section at the base hospital. Chaplains were a Lutheran , Chaplain Schoerader and Chaplain Clinton Wendland. Loved the duty there. I remember well the crash of the C124 in 1953. Chaplains were all called immediately to meet grieving troops. I was a Protestant assistant, but remember when Cardinal Spellman made a visit to our Chapel. He was a wonderful man. Also saw and heard Billy Graham when he came to Johnson or Yokota to speak.I played in the base band. We played for football games and also for Wing Reviews on the flightline each month. We flew to other bases that did not have a band to perform as needed. A highlight of my tour of duty was a chance to fly to Iwo Jim with a USO group. Went to Japan and back on an MSTS troop ship. Over on the General Breckinridge and back on the General Meigs.
    Went back a few years ago to find the base was JApanese park. Could not recognize the town of Tachikawa. Anyone else there during those years. I still have fond memories of this base and the Japanese people I met and worked with on the base.

  18. D. Nichols

    Visited there one time while we were stationed at Kami Seya in 66. We shopped at either Atsugi or Yokohama most of the time. I attended school at Camp Zama and Sagamihara. Worst traffic in all of Japan as the major roads from Yokohama to Tokyo were two lane at the time.

  19. Doyle Siglin

    Doyle Siglin I was at tachi from Dec 1970 to Sept 1972. Most people knew me as the Kid. I was a medical service specialist working on the med surgery ward and at the 20th in Yakota

  20. kathy peterson

    We are the Surfer’s the mighty mighty Surfer’s! We used to have winter swim practice at the American School. During the warm months we swam on base.

  21. Mike Elliott

    I was flown to Tachikawa AFB Hospital around September 1969. I underwent surgery there. Dr. Wannabe (spelling uncertain) assisted the USAF surgeons and we became good friends following my surgery. The USAF nurses provided excellent care during my time in the hospital there. In December 1969, I was flown to Chanute AFB in Illinois for additional medical care. Following my hospital stint at Chanute AFB, I was honorably discharged in February 1970 and returned to my home in Iowa.

    I would really like to re-connect with with the nursing staff and Dr. Wannabee and again express my appreciation for the excellent care they provided during my hospitalization at Tachikawa AFB. Anyone remembering me from Tachikawa AFB or if you know of any contact information for Dr. Wannabee or the nursing staff, please contact me. LTC. Dalphana Jones was the nurse in charge and as I recall, she was from Montana.

    Thanks…Mike Elliott /

  22. James Ptak

    My name is Jim Ptak. I was born at Tachikawa April 23rd, 1952 and lived there for 6 years until my Dad, Eugene S. Ptak – Chief Master Sgt. Was transferred to Malmstrom AFB, Montana. We returned to Yokota AFB for my grades 4, 5, and 6. My Grandmother and my two Uncles lived in Tachikawa as well. I remember my parent’s best friends – the Tanaka’s who lived in Ogikubo. I had such a wonderful time in Japan!!! I also remember my Dad getting the different squadrons to compete in assisting the area orphanages. WOW – seems forever ago!!!

  23. Rick Theobald

    My name is rick theobald . I served at Tachikawa from 1969-71 with Kathleen Browning Welch (Deitle) and Bruce Deitle i was at Tachi Hospital working in the Records Section and also was a member of the 657 Tactical Hospital. I was reassigned from Tachikawa and sent to Yokota Ab Clinic. Tachi was a great assignment. I retired from the Air Force in 1987.

  24. Belinda C. Stratton

    I too was born on Tachikawa Air base on May 5, 1960 and my brother in 1962. Our father was a master sgt. in the air force. I have no memories just stories and pictures. One picture I always loved was of myself as a baby on the lap of a woman that helped my mom clean and take care of us. Her name was Sitoko. Dad is gone now and so are the stories.

  25. Nancy Vega England

    Nancy Vega England

    My dad, Carlos Vega, met my mom, Kyoko Baba in Japan and were married there. I was born on July 26, 1966 at the hospital on Tachikawa AFB. Felicia Moore (or if anyone else knows), I’d love to hear how you went about getting your birth certificate as I am needing to get mine replaced. Would love to hear if anyone knew my dad or mom. My dad did administrative/office type work, delivered mail, I believe, and is pretty quiet, reserved guy. My mom worked in a local night club as a waitress and loved dancing. My dad was born in AZ and my mom was born in Japan. After getting married, they spent some time in Hawaii and New Jersey. My mom is deceased and my dad lives in FL currently. Thank you!

  26. Beverly Rollins

    Hello, my name is Beverly Rollins. I was born at Tachikawa AFB on Aug. 17, 1956. My sister was born there on Feb. 24, 1958. We had a babysitter named Toshiko. Our parents, Stan and Fran Rollins were stationed there from 1956-1959 (about). My dad was a Tech Sgt. He is now 90 years old. I would love to tell my dad that I connected with someone that was there around this time.

  27. Chuck Jones

    My dad, Charles Jones, was a nurse anesthetist at that time at the Tachi hospital. He may have put you to sleep for your surgery. He was there from ’68-’72.

  28. Bill Cade

    My name is Bill Cade, was stationed at Tachikawa, 1956 to 1959
    My assignment was in the Data Processing. Our equipment was mostly punched
    card systems and an IBM 650 drum system, 50k character, “the latest” in the AF Supply system

    Most of my time playing football for Tachikawa West. Col. Mel Bray was our coach. At the time the
    AF had 11 men football teams on all bases. FEAMCOM, Tachikawa East had its own team

    I would like to hear from anyone from that period.

  29. Gary Fichman

    In 1968/69 lived at Yokota (actually Ushihama), my Dad was a civilian contractor. Going to Tachikawa AB was the big time, it was larger than Yokota and had more to offer. I would take the Later I figured out how to get around by train from Ushihama to Tachi and became accidently involved in some anti Viet-Nam demonstrations—kind of hard to blend in being 6’2.
    Great place to be a high school kid.

  30. Sharon Stempson

    I was at Tachi from 9-63 to 5-66. I believe my husband worked for Col. Schulz. Would that be the right time frame? My husband was a Capt. at that time. Jim Stempson was his name. We loved our time in Japan and I have many great memories.

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