Remnants of the US Air Force Base in Tachikawa, Japan

MJG Haikyo, Military Installations, Tokyo-to 389 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.

Exciting.

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.

History

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 389

  1. my name isdavid marquis I was at tachi from 55 to 57 iwas in the af in hq sqd I worked indata processing I amlooking foor a girl namedsatachicoho worked in data processing does anyone know of her ???….

    1. When I was about 4 yoa, my Father, Norman Martin was a civilian assigned to a logistics group of sort tracking aircraft parts in the region. My sister Debbie was born there in 1957 Could you have possibly met him?

  2. I was born at the Tachikawa Hospital in 1971. My younger sister was born there in 1973. My Dad was stationed there – he was a CDR – Naval Aviator.

    1. I was born at the base in ’71 also. My father was in the Army
      I plan to go back in 2020 for the Olympic games…can’t wait!

  3. Arrived at Tachikawa Jan 1958 tell Jan 1960. In supply with 6 troop carries sq. loved my tour in Japan.

  4. My family arrived Tokorozawa army depot in September of 1961. My dad was in Civil Service working for the Army as a Supply Maintenance manager. We lived there for about a month (going to Johnson Junior High) before we moved into our home at 305 American Village next to Tachikawa AB. I transferred to Tachikawa JH and went onto graduate in 1967 from Yamato HS. So many great memories of growing up as a teenager in Japan during the 60s!!

  5. I was born in Tachikawa in 58, my Dad had a pic of me climbing the water tower in 61. He always said I was 80 feet up, but looking at the photo I was only about ten feet off the ground. Was anybody there for that?

  6. Michael, I was born in 1964 and lived at W-21 West Tachi Court, Akishima-shi, Nakagamicho, right near the Laundry gate. A friend found the map as it looks today and I have no idea if our street was nearest the main road or one little street back from the main road. Do you happen to know if the street was renamed since the ’70s? Kinda desperate to find out.

    Thanks!
    Shelley

  7. I was considered a ” war baby”. I was born in 1949 to a single Japanese lady. My real Dad left her & returned to the States. She put me up for adoption and I was placed in Ms. Sawada’s orphanage right outside the base so she would not “lose face” with her family. I was adopted by a military family while they were stationed at Tachikawa. My adoptive Dad was a T/ Sgt with the 6100 Support Squadron, if I’m not mistaken. I remember when my he would drive from the Eastside of the base to the Westside. I thought it was fun, like an amusement ride. I also remember the huge moose statue located in front of the NCO Club. I was so afraid of the statue because it was huge & it was threatening. Even though I was young I have this memories.?

  8. I was 8 yrs old then and lived off base and it was probably some of best memories in my life. We had a Japanese nanny
    who’s name was Kyoko. I loved
    her very much, she treated myself and 2 sisters like we were her on. I had a friend that
    lived down the street named Utomison I loved like my on brother. Precious memories!!!
    I am 67 now but seems only a
    beautiful thought away. My Dad
    coached the airmans basketball
    team back then and he played
    fast pitch softball and coached.
    Would love to stay in touch with anyone from that time.
    May God bless all of your lives

    1. Hello Keith
      My name is ed hoppe. I was in Tachikowa in 1955 and 1956. Basically, I was a photographer for the Air Force at Feamcom AFB. Had many assignments on base as well as off base. I remember photo assignments from Tachi to the Philippines and some of the out islands. It has been a long time for sure. You may be interested in my images that I just uploaded recently; 815/2018. most were shot of me with buddies on the base at parties or gatherings when some were about return to the States. You should be able to do a search under (vet ed hoppe) then some of my “stuff” should pop up. I made most of my images a sepia color to set the photos apart from the others. Most were in only black and white. You will see me with Santa and maybe at that same orphanage with some kids. Also other images of me with captions with key words looking for my lost buddies. Bill Wallace was one of them. Anther person as i remember is Louis; he is the one next to the jeep with with me with my white socks. I had orders at the time to wear nothing but white socks because of the jungle rot that I picked up when I was on photo assignment in the Philippines. Keith, I still find it amazing what an old photo can trigger a memory. Take a look at just a few or my images that I found. I’m still a retired photograher; and have a web site. I’m 83 but have some health issues but still love photography. When were you in Japan again? Good luck on your search. ed hoppe

  9. My father, John Verlin Post, was in the US Army, stationed in Hiajima in 1945-46. In 1946 he was in Tachikowa Hospital for an infection. Is this Hospital still in existence? Wihile in Hiajima he was in charge of construction at a military base. One building was a theater which burned shortly after construction. Is there any information about the US Military role while there?

  10. Thank you for a look inside the wall and writing about it. I was born at Tachikowa AFB in 1949 and my parents left the base 2 years later so I have no recollection of it, just a lot of excellent photos of the base quarters, the movie theater, NCO club etc. I’ve never been back to Japan and will go on a cruise there next month. Is there a place that might have some sort of marker that describes the Tachikowa AFB so I can photograph it and put it with the venerables that my parents (departed) left with me? Anyone been back and seen such a marker? Thanks again, Michael. . .good photos and insight.

  11. I believe we were stationed at Tachi in 65,66&67. I still have the branded hiking stick that my dad got me when we climbed Mt. Fuji. My dad (Col. Justin C Gunnison). flew many missions to Nam and always brought us little gifts upon his return. Dad flew C-124, C-130 and C-133 cargo planes while we were there. It was truly a great experience living there!

  12. Was stationed there 1974-1976 stated hospital there moved clinic emergency room yakota in mid 1975 than hospital moved over and I helped set up. Put chairs etc to gather while covering sick call. Vietnam, operation baby lift /operation New Life.

  13. I worked in base housing from June 1955 to June 1957. Was responsible for dependent travel to the Tachi area. Loved my tour of duty there.

  14. My name is Harold Amidon, I was stationed at Tachikawa in 1956-57. It was an active repair base at that time. I do not remember a squadron being assigned to the base at that time. I had about 25 Japanese mechanics work for me. They were very good repairmen were great at their work assignments. Enjoyed most of my assessment, but worked alone because of my AFSC. Kind of sorry to hear it has been abandoned. Take care and enjoy.

  15. I was stationed there 1957-1958. Remember the riots in July. I was working with Col Martin & Ltcol Mauck. 2712th Maint Sq Had a good friend Nobutoshi Tanaka staff car driver. Really enjoyed Japan.

  16. I arrived at Tachi in October 1945 from Phiillipeanes Via Okinawa. At that time it was a reception center. I then went to Murriyam and then to Irmagawaw AF that was renamed Johnson AF. Life was rustic, barracks were old Jjapanese barracks ,no heat ,outside plumbing no PX.
    I was the only Aircraft electrician on the field. No security and could leave the field without passes. CO was a Major or Col. Crabb. The field upon arrival had grass runway for P5i.P38, B25,B17 ,C47,C63 and small recons.
    Later ,when field became Johnson AF. put in a concrete runway and a Tower. I had to climb onto thr roof and install a rotating spotlight.
    If you should get this message and have questions about the time I was there, please contact me at eagdad@aol.com. I live in New Jersey and am 92.
    Best wishes and thanks for the memory. Ed.

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