Remnants of the US Air Force Base in Tachikawa, Japan

MJG Haikyo, Military Installations, Tokyo-to 377 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 377

  1. I was born there in March 1965. My brother was born in September 1962. My dad was a captain in th AF. I was able to obtain my birth certificate through the state department I believe; mine was lost and my mother applied for a copy when I was in high school. This is an interesting article, unfortunately, my brother and I were too young to really remember any of our time there.

    1. I was born there on March 3, 1965. My dad was a Staff Sergeant at Yokota Air Base. He was stationed there for 3 years. I have always wanted to visit the area some day.

  2. My Dad was Base Commander from 1955 to 1958 so that was our house! Amazing to think that lovely house and all the others were not put to some use, but abandoned to the jungle.

  3. I was born there Oct 1954. My dad worked in the communication squadron there. He was a Captain at the time with the last name of Norton. Did you know him?

  4. I was in USAF in Tachi from 1960-1962….. 1232nd AACS… then 2132nd Comm. worked in ATCT…. and GCA…….. good memories….. JR OREGON

  5. Was stationed there from Jan of 62 to Dec of 63. Was in the navy. VR7-Det.Alpha. A swabby on an air force base.? Met my first wife over there. She worked at the Civilian Club on the Eastside of base. We flew and maintained 4 USAF C-121 A/C while there. The photos shown at the beginning of this artical titled Reminants of tachikawa AF Base is very depressing. Would love to visit the AFB again. But with permission and a guide.

  6. Stationed there from Sep 1957 through Sep 1959 with the 6th Troop Carrier Squadron under the 1503rd Air Wing. C-124s. There were C-119s there early on but they were eventually transferred to Okinawa. I believe that was the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron.

  7. Greetings MIKE CARNEY HERE. Yomato HS. CLass of 66. Oh what great times. sister Patty also 66. Ran with Kurt Smith, Steve Carey, Greg McKean. Father Comd. Of Tachi. Hosp. Brought from States first Ford Mustang, 64.5 to Japan. Cost 2600, sold 3 years later to Japanese family for 10 Grand. Anyone out there remember the Senior room, Den of Sin?
    Living in Lakeway TX 512 706 5672

    1. We were stationed at Tachi from ’58 to ’62. I was born there in ’61 but had older sibs, Ron Green, who graduated Yomato in ’61 or ’62, David Green–class of ’63 or ’64, and Susan Green, ’66. We moved stateside when I was 9 months old, so Ron was the only one to actually graduate from Yomato. My family settled in South Texas in late ’62 and has been there ever since.

    2. I was a civilian brat. Lived at 119 American Village. Graduate first year, 1960, fm Yamato HS. Also attended Zama high school. I have many grt memories of my time in Japan. My girlfriend and I would take the train into Tokyo and get lost in that grt city.

  8. I was stationed there from early 57 thru late 59 . 1503 troop carrier wing and 22 troop carrier squadron . Think those numbers are correct . Was a scanner on C 124,s. . MSGT Bob Dixon was my sqd. Commander
    Lived in barracks near the base theater . Fond memories of Tachi

  9. Landed there in September, 1962, on way to being stationed at Kamiseya, Japan; 1962-1964. Hard to believe it has been abandoned, but then everywhere I was stationed has met pretty much the same fate. Left Japan in 1964 by air from Yokosuka.

  10. My former husband was stationed there from late 1954 to early 1957. He was in trouble all the time. He was tried for “black market” with the Japanese He got out of it, how I don’t know. He told his family that he fathered a child there. We married May 1957 and he was discharged “conditions other than honorable. Anyway of ever finding out about child. His #15527302.

  11. We lived outside Gate 7 in 1970-71. There were many couples like us living in that neighborhood who were not eligible to live in base housing because we were not career families. We did have medical and base privileges, though. There was a commissary, a BX, a USO, a theater, lots of housing for career personnel, and barracks. There was also a huge hospital there. Many babies were born to Air Force wives there. I remember we had very good medical care. There were lots of doctors stationed there. I remember there were 7 Pediatricians there during that time. My baby got excellent care! Also, sadly, there was another part of the hospital where wounded Vietnam Nam soldiers were receiving acute care in ICUs, waiting to go back to the states after their condition stabilized.

  12. I was born there in 1961. My dad was Sgt Elmo Chris Jensen. He worked in flight operations. He had a German Shepard named Prince that used to catch soccer balls with his chin and paws.

  13. Lived on Tachi as a Brat from 9/67 to 4/69. Great little teen club, but just a nice quiet place to live. Finished High School at Yamato AS. Bus trips to Yakota and all of the scattered bases around the area made for a great time.

  14. Flew into there for R and R from Korea twice in 1953, courtesy of the USAF. The war had just finished, though the base still had anti aircraft defences at this time. Shorty before my first trip a Globemaster had crashed there killing all on board.

  15. Arrived at Tachikawa August 1, 1962. We lived off base in “Tachi West Court” by my parents preference. My father was with the Military Airlift Transport/Command. The Buildings near by said “Kanto Base Command.” They transported young men and equipment to South Viet-Nam for the 22nd Troop Carrier Squadron. I was always surprised that the Japanese we met seemed friendly so soon after WWll. I loved Japan and still do. The Japanese are a peace loving and peaceful people. We visited all of the Island of Honshu and Kyushu with friends. In June of 1965 we were ordered to move into Base Housing. At the end of the year we transferred out . I knew the base was to be knocked down but those photos are depressing. We should have done a better job of cleaning it up. Not abandoned it.

  16. I arrived at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan in early May, 1962 for duty with the Navy M.A.T.S. Squadron “Airtransron Seven, Detachment Alfa (VR-7A), which was part of the U.S. Air Force 1503rd Air Transport Wing. For the next 18mos I was a member of that squadron aircrews, which had a 211 flight to Kimpo, Korea 7 days a week, 365 days a year. My aircrew duties were as flight attendant, and emergency flight engineer on the C-121C aircraft that were assigned to VR-7A (4 aircraft). We also flew project missions to Clark Air Force base in the Philippines, and Hong Kong. My enlistment was up on Jan. 6, 1964. So, I was transferred from Tachikawa, to Treasure Island, California in early December. 63 for seperation. Epilog: This was the best duty the U.S. NAVY had to offer any Naval flight officer, or enlisted man.

  17. My family arrived at Tachi in January of 1962. I attended jr. high and then Yamato High School from 1963 until I graduated in 1966. My dad was in the Band and assigned to Ya,mayo AS. We lived off base for a couple of years outside the Laundry Gate. Then moved on base near the Nakagami Gate. I remember exploring the two buildings above.There were long tunnels I later learned were used to house aircraft during the war. My buddies and I used to hang around at the Teen Club,loved the rice and gravy the snack bars. Had some great times out in Nakagami and out the main gate at night. I visited Tachi again in 2002 , as recall. I had worked for the Air Force at Kadena AB from 1973-1977 and met my wife there. We returned to Japan and I took a bullet train to Yokota AB from Fukuoka. Met an HS classmate there who was working for the AF at Yokota. He drove me to see the remains of Tachi and Yamato. I even ran slap on the track we ran on in high school. It ant the baseball field we’re all that was left in them middle of high rise housing and a nice park. Then we found my old house outside the Laundry Gate at Tachi. Still in use a by Japanese . I was told the house were still used by people assigned to Yokota. Most of the base (West Side) was over grown or torn down. The East Side was used for Japanese Civil Defense Preparadness.
    AJ

    1. Zak, you most likely were born at Yokota Air Base as the Tachikawa Air Base was closed when you were born in 1989. Many of the birth certificates for Americans born at Yokota stated the town was Tachikawa.

  18. My dad was stationed there in the late ‘50’s. He met my mom there when she was working as a civilian on the base. I never lived there but did live in Yokota AFB for 11 years. I do remember going to the city of Tachikawa when I was very young during our time in Yokota!

  19. i was living on Tachikawa when my dad was stationed there. We flew in from Guam. Our first temporary housing for a few days was in a place right across the movie Theater. We finally moved to our house just a few blocks from a Grade school it was not far from a gate, I forgot what gate #. We arrived on Oct1, 1967- 1970. I use to speak decent Japanese while living on Tachikawa Base. Our house was a few 100 feet from a river that ran right through the base. My father was working by the Airfield. We met other families from the Island of Guam. I had a blast as a kid growing up on Japan. We went to alot of trips to see many places in Japan.

  20. I came across several hundred photo slides in a auction from a local service man. He took great pictures. I have been transferring them over to the pc.. He even wrote on most all of them great history.

  21. STATIONED AT TACHI FROM APRIL 1966-SEPT 1967 6100 CAMRON SQD C-130A,S DIDNT SPEND MUCH TIME THERE MOST OF TIME SPENT TDY AT CAM RANH BAY VIET NAM OUR BARRAKS WAS AT THE END OF THE FOOT BALL FIELD ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE BASE JOHNPERELLI@AOL.COM

  22. In reply to Ted Gorton;my dad was a pilot there from about54-57.I was born there in 56. I believe that dad was a newly minted pilot,and flew C119’s,but don’t know.Dad passed in 1983,and never talked about any of his military carreer,so,hoping that someone out there may remember a Grant G Dean,who had a 1954 Chevy convertible at that time. I also hope that this is not a stale dated,old post,with no responses.Thannks

  23. I lived on Tachikawa AFB from 1972-74. I was 10-12 years old. My Dad was a Lt. Col and an Orthodontist. Me and my friends would sneak out of holes in the fence and buy candy at Yen Stores. Really fond memories. From our house we could see Mount Fuji. I learned a bit of Japanese from watching TV. Fun times would love to walk the Air Base now and see it!!

  24. My mother Naneyo Suzuki was born 1951 in Tachikawa, Japan to Terumi Suzuki and father unknown and placed for adoption. She was adopted by a military family and eventually settled in the US. I am searching for any information on her biological parents. I believe her mother Terumi Suzuki also eventually moved to the US, i know nothing about her father but suspect possibly he was in the military.

  25. Mike Carney, Yamato class of ’66. Let’s see…if I remember, you, or your sister were tennis players, were you not? I was an outsider, always looking in, my older sister being the “popular” one!

  26. Sometimes when helicopters weren’t flying my Ambulance Company would take our busses used to haul litter patients to the 249th General Hospital during the Vietnam War. I was attached to the 249th for quarters and rations (food and shelter) June of 1967 until November 1968.

  27. arrived on tachikawa base in 1961,squadron 1861st,over by the nco club,the squadron close up approx.june 1963,i was in other parts of the far east, when the squadron closed,was ordered back to the states,approx july 1, 1993.can not fine anything of the squadron I was in,?>(we were the last of the 1861st squadron in tachikawa, my records, can not be found,any where,that I was part of 1861st squadron .,that checked all air fields through the far east at that time.i was on flights status,an have no records, of where I was ,for the two years,in japan ?.

  28. everyone has forgotten about the hundreds of wounded vietnam vet that were treated at that hospital until they were strong enough to fly back stateside.

  29. My father, Loyd E. Pyer, was stationed at FEAMCOM and worked in hospital administration during 53-54. My oldest sister was born while he was away for 18 months. I found a cut out photo (Observer Staff Photo) taken from a helicopter of new hospital buildings that had recently been built. The photo appears to be from a base newspaper. He owned a bar during his stay and traveled often. My father brought back many special items and photographs from that period, which I greatly enjoy. Sadly, he passed in 2012.

  30. WHAT EVER HAPPEN TO A SQUARDON 1861ST BASED IN AND AROUND 1962M1963,AT THE AIR BASE IN TACHIKAWA,JAPAN,A USAF CHECK FLIGHT COMMAND.? I was stationed their, for 2 years,till they closed in 1963 ?I need info,lost records ?.

  31. I was stationed there from 1959-1961nad got discharged early as I almost had my 4 yrs in. I flew from travis AFB
    on a 1049 or the USAF C-121. It took 30 hours and several refueling stops, I lived in what was called a H-shaped quansit hut near the Airman’s club. I was in aircraft refueling (POL). We had one good typhoon while I was there and I remember almost getting blown off the refueler (F-6) as we had to refuel all the aircraft so they could leave.
    We had J-P4 & 155/145 for the prop jobs and the C-130’s took Jp-4 well they are prop jobs also. One could get a tailor made suit for 10,000 yen or 36.00 US money. I had 3 suits made while there, U could get silver cuff links for 5 bucks in the BX. I bought 3 Remington pump guns in the BX and the 270 or 30-06 was 77.00. My friend Freddie and I bought a 125CC Honda Motor cycle ea. Gas was .11 a gallon on base and about 1.58 off-base. Freddie smoked and he got cigarettes for 1.25 a carton

  32. My dad was in the AF and we were stationed there from 66 to 70. I was born there in 68 and don’t remember much but this site has sparked many conversations and memories shared by my parents and older siblings who were 4, 6, 8, and 10 when we moved there.

  33. Pappy was stationed at tachikawa fab from 67-70 we lived at grand heights then he was stationed at yakota fab from 70-72 and we lived at Johnson family housing. Lots of great memories.

  34. My husband served with VR7 out of Moffett 60-62. Flew into here many tines. Looking for anyone who also flew on missions into Vietnam. Wondering if flight logs were by chance kept by Air Firce instead of Navy..cannot find his flight logs. Any help greatly appreciated. Husband is James E. Knabb from WV

  35. I was born there in April 1965. I don’t know where we lived as I was 3 when we left. My Mom used to tell us a story of one of my sisters going to a store across the street to get ice cream and the shop girls when bring her back for the money for it. I hope that one day I can go visit. My Dad was an avionics tech there.

  36. I was born at Tachikawa AFB Hospital in February of 1968. My father is Jimmy Dale Baughman, my mother Cheryl (Cherie). They don’t talk a lot about it there, I find myself looking for pictures and history of that time.

  37. Hello everyone. I am am American who wirks in Tachikawa next to where the Base was . The local library in Tachikawa contains Tachikawa Base materials such as maps and facilities guides. I guess many of these materials were donated by someone connected to the base.

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