Remnants of the US Air Force Base in Tachikawa, Japan

MJG Haikyo, Military Installations, Tokyo-to 563 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 563

  1. I am an Assistant Professor of Japanese History at Yonsei University, South Korea. I am looking for any info about a US serviceman, Sgt.(?) Elmer L. Hawkins, a young African American man stationed in Tachikawa around 1952-1954 for my current research on the early history of women’s professional wrestling in 1950s Japan. With his amateur wrestling background, Mr. Hawkins briefly trained Japanese female professional wrestlers in Tokyo around 1952-54 and also served as a second (or referee) when Mildred Burke and other US female wrestlers came to Tokyo in November 1954. He is said to have been transferred to South Korea around 1955. But nothing else about him is known. If anyone recognizes anything about him, please let me know. My email is:  tseto@yonsei.ac.kr 

  2. I was stationed at Pope AFB in North Carolina from 1966 to 1969 working as and aircraft electrician on C130’s. On several occasions we would go to Tachikawa for 90 days for training etc. It was a long flight on those planes. We would refuel on Wake Island that still had remains from ww11. It was pretty interesting for a 19 year old.

    This site is very interesting unfortunately I don’t recognize anything

    1. Hi! I’m trying to piece together my childhood. I know this is a long shot, but my dad was stationed at Pope AFB. Do you have any photos of the base or housing or anything that you could share with me via email? He was transferred there in June 1962. Thank You in advance! Just trying to see some of the places where I grew up!

      We were in Japan, N. Carolina, Florida, Utah, Texas, Missouri, & Ohio just in case you or anyone has pictures of any of these & they’re willing to share them via email!

    2. I was stationed at Tachi 66 -68 and remember a group like yours who stayed at the military police barricks very close to the chow hall and post office. had an idea today to see what the place looked like. Surprized to see the comments here on this site. I remember one fellow from that group who spent an great deal of time grooming himself at the sinks every morning. I mean much much more than average. I was there for 2 years, age 18 to 20 and when I left it felt like I was leaving home.

      Tim L.

  3. I lived in American Village just off base 1968-1970. I went to 1st and second grade at the school on the base. I have lovely memories of the cherry blossom trees and the snowy winters. These pics are kinda spooky for me and make me feel old lol. Thanks so much for sharing though.

  4. Hey Bob, my Dad took a contract job with Western Electric in 1967 And was hired to to put in telephone installation units for the US government. We lived in Tachikawa right next to the base in a neighborhood called “American Villiage”. I attended Tachikawa elementary school on base in the 5th & 6th grade, played football for the Tachikawa Oilers, Basketball & Baseball and evening took Judo. It was probably the best time of my life. In 1969, my Dad and I, climbed Mt. Fuji to watch the Sun rise above that beautiful country! In 1970 my Dad’s contract ended and we returned to the States, settling in San Bernardino, CA.

  5. Sounds like your Tachi tour was similar to mine except I was stationed at FEAMCOM Area (A) Showa AB. HQ 6400 Maintain. Gp. Who knows we could have passed each other downtown.

  6. I was stationed at Tachikawa from mid 1969. I was in the Com squadron,
    worked on teletype. We had a great crew in the shop. Had a lot of fun in Japan. the last 7 months I went up to Hokkaido at Chitose.
    Went to see Tachikawa in 2018 and the main gate road looks the same The old Headquarters building was still standing. The place really changed except the 5 way intersection just outside the base is still theere!!!

    1. Hi Carl, I was born in Tachikawa Air Force Base Japan in 1962 when my dad was stationed there. I’m looking for anything to see what the Air Force Base & housing looked like to help piece together my childhood! Is there anyway you could take a picture of anything you have & you email them all to me? My email is jangus1962293@gmail.com ~ Thank You in advance for helping me get a piece of my life story!! God Bless You! Jodi

  7. I loved in the housing area just outside the Laundry Gate on Tachikawa AFB from1958-1962. I went to to the elementary school and the junior high school.

  8. As a person who loves to venture into old over grown housing ruins it was easy to experience your adventure at the Air Base ruins. So well written… and the photo’s were marvelous.
    Thank you for sharing.
    1963-1966

  9. Joe,
    I was stationed at Showa in the Air Police (2711th Air Police) from Dec 56 to Aug 58. Transferred to Fuchu until I rotated in Feb 59.

  10. Joe Landsberry,
    I was stationed at Showa in the Air Police (2711th Air Police) from Dec 56 to Aug 58. Transferred to Fuchu until I rotated in Feb 59.

  11. We lived at Tachi until 1976, I remember American Village and the cherry blossoms along the canal. I went to grade school and Jr High on the base and was then bused to Yokota High School. So many great memories. We went back to Tokyo for a visit last year and even though we never made it back Tachi or Yokota it was so good “to be home again”.

  12. I lived in Japan near Narimasu in 1968-1969, very young aged 3-5. I have a lot of memories of the base. I thought the base was Grant Heights but my mom says Tachikawa. Was Grant Heights a housing neighborhood for the base? I remember being able to walk with my mother to the commissary. I went to Nursery school and kindergarten there. And we (sister and I she was 6) were able to go off base from our first house and play with Japanese children. I have lots of memories. Does anyone know grant heights? Are any of the base housing complexes standing?

  13. Hi! I’m trying to piece together my childhood & happened upon this site today! Thanks for sharing the pictures & your adventure! I was holding my breath as you ducked in & out of safety!

    My dad was Air Force 26 years. They lost all their pictures, so I have no pictures of anywhere we lived. If anyone has any pictures of the base or housing or just anything, of any of the following places would you please email me some?

    Tachikawa AFB, Japan
    Pope, North Carolina
    Florida
    Salt Lake City, Utah
    San Antonio, Texas
    Lee’s Summit, Mo
    Dayton OH

    He joined the service 1952.
    I was born in 1962 in Japan.
    He retired in 1978 in Dayton Oh

    Thank You So Much if you’re willing & able to share any pictures via email with me!

    “Air Force Brat” without any pictures!!!

    Thanks again, Jodi

    1. I wa stationed a Tachi in the early 60’s-probably was there when [or right after] you were born] I have some photos of Tachi in the early/mid 1960’s. I can email them if you give me an email address.

      Bob

      1. Hello Bob. I don’t know if your offer of photos of Taki was specific to Jodi or not, but I would really enjoy seeing them. My uncle was stationed there before his C-133 crashed in June of 1961. I’m trying to piece together some details of his life in Japan before the crash and have very little to go on. If you’re inclined, you can reach me at:

        richard.h.ober@gmail.com

        Many thanks.

  14. Hello,

    I’m doing some research into the June 10th, 1961 crash of a C-133 “Cargomaster” that departed Tachikawa for Travis AFB and went down in the Sea of Japan. My uncle, Cpt Donald E Holmes was the pilot of that flight, but given that I was 18 days old at the time, I never met him. Just trying to learn what I can about life on the bast at that time and, of course, anything I can uncover about my uncle, Cpt Holmes.

    Any and all info, even just anecdotal, would be welcome!

    Many thanks,

    Richard Ober

  15. I was born at Tachikawa hospital in ’64 and I need to get a copy of my birth certificate. Does anyone know how I can acquire it?

  16. My dad was stationed at Showa AFB from 54-57. We lived in the quonset huts for enlisted men. The dormitory for young Japanese women who worked as maids was close to us. My favorite memory of the base is the playground behind our housing.
    One of my favorite toys was the telephone pole. Surely that’s an odd toy but, it was a favorite of all the kids. The long, blackened length of wood was horizontal, attached to a sturdy frame at each end by chains, and swung side to side. As many kids as it could hold would jump on and off. It didn’t go more than 2 or 2 ½ feet off the ground although that doesn’t mean it would meet today’s standards of safe toys. We would have contests over how long we could stay on, how many were on it, or how few were on it to make it go. I loved that telephone pole. It was one of the things I really missed when we left Japan.
    I attended 1st and 2nd grade at Tachi.

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