Finally found Tama Hills on the second try. Tama Hills is a US Air Force recreational facility located west of Tokyo. Primarily, it’s purpose is for religious retreats, golfing, and camping for folks stationed at the nearby Yokota Air Base. However, amongst the easy going atmosphere lies the ruins of a massive World War II munitions storage and manufacturing facility that was used by the Imperial Japanese army since 1938. Please enjoy my photo-walk through the largely intact Tama Hills Arsenal.
Previously, I had made the trip to Minami Tama station only to get lost looking for the Tama Hills area. It’s in a suburban area, so it’s quite easy to lose your way if your not sure where it is. This time, I took a cab and promptly “face-palmed” because it is really not far at all from the station. Just take a right at the main road and you are there.
In any case, I arrived at the Tama Hills Recreation Area where I was confronted by a Japanese soldier who wanted to see some identification. Thankfully, I had my military ID on me. The Tama Hills area is not opened to the general public. It is reserved for the use of military personnel and their families only. Perhaps, they might let non-military in with an escort but I am not positive on that one.
A short walk from the enterance, I encountered the usual military recreation stuff: baseball fields, playgrounds, and tennis courts. But further in, the area took on a different atmosphere. I saw no one at all on my 5 hour hike of the Tama Hills area (aside from the enterance). The eerie silence created the classic feeling of visiting a haikyo.
In Japan, an abandoned place that is lost to neglect and time is known as a haikyo. There are a certain group of people out there that fancy exploring these lonely forgotten places. I am now officially one of them. ^^
The first sign of the weapons factory was this large stack standing by itself. The primary purpose of the Tama facility was to produce explosive weapons-grade chemicals so I wonder if this is the remains of the foundations of one of the factories?
Throughout Tama Hills, there were a few information signs around but they were few and far between. I really wish there were more of them because a few times I did not know what I was looking at. ^^;
Not far from the stack were a few cement tunnels leading to a large clearing. Throughout Tama Hills, these are quite common. The clearings look to have been destroyed buildings of some sort as you could could see parts of the walls still standing. I’m curious to just what purpose they served?
After following the road from the stack while keeping to the left, I came to a bunker of some sort. It was heavily covered with overgrowth and spiders but I came prepared.
For Japan exploration of this nature, I always bring my oldest pair of military boots and my most powerful flashlight. During this particular trip, I would be needing both as I would have to wade through ankle deep mud-water and travel through pitch blackness. ^^;
Inside the bunker, it was dark and lonely. The ceiling was caving in (somehow surviving the war) and a barely standing chair were all that remains from this relic of war.
After leaving my first Tama Hills bunker, I almost stepped on some protruding metal. ^^;
After the war, the Japanese soaked Tama Hills in picric acid to render the land unusable by the American military. Later on, the Americans cleaned the place up while looking for live ammunition. Still, even though Tama Hills has been open a while, I still limited how much “off the trail” hiking I did. I don’t fancy stepping on a landmine or something. ^^;
While there are a lot of intact buildings from the Tama Hills Arsenal still standing, there are many more that range from ruins to barely recognizable. During the weapons factory’s prime, it housed over 2,000 people. Consequently, besides the three chemical factories and bunkers, there were also normal buildings, houses, a hospital, and even a school….
This single wall standing in the overgrowth is all that remains of a munitions storehouse. It had only one cement wall that faced the road. It’s purpose was to minimize the effect of an accidental blast to folks driving by.
Next to the store house is the tallest surviving munitions elevator in Tama Hills. Due to the hilly terrain of the area, there was a need for many elevators to transfer the heavy cargo.
The elevator is much larger then these pictures show. It really has to be seen in person.
As I went deeper and deeper into the forest, the insects began to increase 10 fold. I have at least four mosquito bites on my head alone. ^^;
The insects to watch out for are actually the large spiders, Japanese centipedes, and the bees. Thankfully, I didn’t fun into any snakes on this little adventure. Tama Hills really is like going into a jungle after all.
After wandering on the trails for some time (while pulling the spider webbing off my glasses ^^;), I arrived at the first formal munition bunker. Most bunkers are open to the public but a few were locked up. This particular bunker was one of the locked ones.
I inspected the locks and one of them was actually broken! In I go! ^^;
Inside the bunker, it smelt heavily of gun powder and it appeared to be functioning as a storage shed for the Yokota Air Base. Was kind of hoping to see empty shells and Imperial Japanese flags. Those are probably long gone by now. ^^;
These old looking buildings were support structures for the Japanese stationed at Tama Hills. The building on the left was a public bathhouse while a the other buildings served as an office building and a dinning facility.
After seeing the support buildings, the real fun started. ^^;
The best bunkers and facilities are actually located at the very back of the hills (close to the golf course). By the way, the golf course used to be the site of the third chemical factory. Thankfully, the Americans decided to keep some of the historic buildings intact but I kind of wish the third factory was still there as well….
Ah, the “test of courage” tunnel. This tunnel was unlike the other ones as it seemed to go on forever. In addition, like my last “test of courage“, this tunnel was also riddled with Japanese centipedes that were larger then my hand. Against my better judgment, I once again walked through ankle-deep mud to find out where the path led. ^^;
Unlike last time, I had an extremely powerful flashlight that I foolishly shined directly on the centipedes. Do not do this! Due to the intense light, the centipedes jumped off the walls and tried to bite me. Needless to say, I ran out of the tunnel at a fast pace. ^^;;;
After seeing a few other things, I came back to the tunnel (like an idiot). ^^;
Curiosity killed the cat and I wasn’t leaving without fully exploring this place! ^^;;
This time, I shined the flashlight on the deck, taking care not to disturb the centipedes…
The tunnel lead to another munitions elevator. Unlike the last one, this one was entirely underground.
Kind of anti-climatic. I was hoping for a massive complex of underground caves but I suppose I should be thankful that I escaped without getting bitten. Bites from Japanese centipedes are extremely painful and I have heard that they can even be lethal. ^^;;
If you didn’t want to take the elevator, you could always take the stairs. The path led to where the elevator came out and also to the nearby bunkers were the munitions were stored.
There were actually around three bunkers at the top of the elevator. They were all the two door design that I saw earlier. Note, the doors and wooden frames are all blown off or missing….
Also, if you thought that these bunkers look like something out of NAZI Germany, you are very correct. The Imperial Japanese Army used the same design specifications that the NAZI’s were using during the war. In fact, these bunkers and several of the buildings are nearly identical to those found in Bavaria munition facilities.
The whole area kind of reminded me of the game Medal of Honor (or Call of Duty). I felt like a Japanese soldier holdout might jump out of the woods any moment. ^^;
In 1940, the war in China and elsewhere was picking up and Japan was needing more room for bigger bombs. Thus, these massive three door bunkers were constructed around the second chemical plant.
There are signs posted throughout Tama Hills warning against defacing Japan’s historic sites. But, like most other haikyo, graffiti comes with the territory.
There was at least four times the space of those tiny two door models. At least it felt that way.
The second three door bunker I ran into was my favorite in Tama Hills. Although it had “do not enter signs”, it was the most complete three door that I ran into.
Like the previous “do not enter” bunker, this one was also left open.
The interior was similar to the first one but it looks like folks were dumping trash inside. ):
Along the path, I spotted a forgotten building covered with overgrowth. It was also being used as a storage shed. ^^;
These are a few more unnamed buildings that feel lost in time. They kind of look like concentration camp buildings don’t they?
These stairs used to lead to the Tama Hills Shrine which was erected to provide the chemical plants with good luck and safety. ^^;
At the top of the staircase used to be a torii with the shrine just beyond. Today, it is an archery field for the US military. ^^;
I thought this one was a bit creative. The US military made a tennis court out of this set of ruins. I actually got a chuckle when I saw that they painted the blast proof walls. ^^;
Well, that concludes my lengthy exploration of the US Airforce Recreation Center known as Tama Hills. It was a facinating walk through history and one of the most fun walks I’ve had in Japan.
Oh, in case you are wondering, the reason why the Tama Hills buildings are in such good shape is due largely to the fact that the Tama Hills facilities were not discovered until after World War II by the allies. The hills are overgrown with vegetation so this is not surprising at all.
*Before I say anything, this is the equivalent of entering a US military base. Proper military ID (or escort) should be shown at the gate. Tama Hills is not open to the general public!
1.) From Yokosuka: Take the Keikyu Line from Yokosuka-chuo station to Keikyu Kawasaki station.
From Tokyo: Take the Keikyu Line from Shinagawa station to Keikyu Kawasaki station.
2.) From Keikyu Kawasaki station, walk to JR Kawasaki station.
3.) At JR Kawasaki station, take the Nambu Line to Minami-Tama station.
4.) From Minami-Tama station, walk straight out the station till you get to the “main” road. Take a right and walk past a hospital. Tama Hills will be on the left side of the road.