Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Johnson Airbase

My grandfather was in the Air Force for most of his life, and in the 1950's he was stationed in Japan with his family for a couple of years when my dad was a kid.  I heard stories and saw a few pictures when I was growing up, but I never felt very connected to it, even when John and I decided to move here.  

In April, however, I had the chance to tour the old Johnson Airbase where they lived.  It was really a crazy stroke of luck that I even found a tiny advertisement about the tour, and managed to sign up just in time.  It happened to fall while Sarah was visiting, and so she and Raku came along as well.  I was really excited, but I wasn't sure if it would be interesting at all for either of them, but I think it turned out to be a really great day for everyone.

Johnson Airbase was retuned to the Japanese and is now the Iruma Self-Defense Force base.  It's about an hour outside of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture at the Inariyama koen train station.

I love the cartoon!
 Most of the original base has been torn down now, but the airfield and the chapel both remain.  There were three people on the tour with us that had lived or gone to school at Johnson when they were children, though I think they were all there when they were older than my dad or aunt.

Reunion in front of the chapel
As part of our tour we also got to see the museum for the Iruma base.  Our group was so excited and enthusiastic that our wonderful tour guides kept taking us to see more things, and were kind enough to let us take pictures even though we didn't think we would be allowed to.  One of the most startling things we saw was a lovely blue plane with a cherry blossom painted on it that we learned was a kamikaze plane from WWII.  There are only 14 of these remaining in Japan!

Kamikaze Plane

Crushed Kamikaze Propeller
We also saw a helicopter that was used for rescue missions after the Niigata earthquake in 2004.  We were even allowed to walk around inside it!

After lunch we explored Hyde Park, named for the childhood home of President Eisenhower, which was the officers' housing compound.  The houses were torn down in the 80's, but the sidewalks, outdoor stairs, and driveways remain.  It's quite haunting to see, but it's been turned into a lovely public park.

Replica of Hyde Park

Stairway to Nowhere
The park is beautiful, and though Sarah had missed the sakura in Tokyo there were still some blooming up here.  We learned that during the occupation the Americans planted 300 sakura trees in Hyde Park as part of a cultural exchange.

Sakrua Petals

Enjoying the Train Ride Home


  1. Wow, this is great - what a nice outing! I'm glad you found out about it in time.

    1. Thanks! It was crazy walking around the park knowing that they had lived there.

  2. Hi,

    I lived on Johnson Air Base for most of 1952-1954. I was 8-10 years old at the time. My father was stationed there. I have almost no records or pictures from this part of my (and my sister’s) life. We lived in right in the middle of Hyde Park (I recognize our house in the replica in the Iruma museum). I found a map of Hyde Park online, but this is the closest I (now) have to a picture. So, thank you.