Tama Hills Arsenal

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.
Tama Hills WWII Bunker

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. ^^
Tama Chemical Factory
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. ^^;
Tama Hills Tunnel 1
Tama Hills Tunnel 2
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?
Tama Hills Bunker
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. ^^;
Tama Hills Bunker Inside
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.
Tama Hills Barrel
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. ^^;
Tama Hills Ruins 1
Tama Hills Ruin 2
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….
Tama Hills House
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.
Tama Hills Elevator 1
Tama Hills Elevator 2
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.
Bee Hive
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.
Tama Hills 2 Door Bunker
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! ^^;
Tama Hills Bunker Inside 1
Tama Hills Bunker Inside 2
Tama Hills Bunker Inside 3
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. ^^;
Tama Hills Buildings
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….
Tama Hills Elevator Tunnel
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. ^^;
Tama Hills Elevator Tunnel 2
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. ^^;;;
Tama Hills Elevator Tunnel 3
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…
Tama Hills Elevator 2
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. ^^;;
Tama Hills Stair Case
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.
Tama Hills Bunker 2
Tama Hills Bunker 2
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.
Tama Hills
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. ^^;
Tama Hills Three Door Bunker
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.
Tama Hills Three Door Bunker Entrance
Tama Hills Graffiti
There are signs posted throughout Tama Hills warning against defacing Japan’s historic sites. But, like most other haikyo, graffiti comes with the territory.
Tama Hills Three Door Bunker Inside 1
Tama Hills Three Door Bunker Inside 2
There was at least four times the space of those tiny two door models. At least it felt that way.
Tama Hills Three Door Bunker 2
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.
Tama Hills Three Door Bunker 2 Inside
Car Doors
The interior was similar to the first one but it looks like folks were dumping trash inside. ):
Tama Hills Forgotten Building
Along the path, I spotted a forgotten building covered with overgrowth. It was also being used as a storage shed. ^^;
Tama Hills Building 1
Tama Hills Building 2
Tama Hills Building 2 Inside
These are a few more unnamed buildings that feel lost in time. They kind of look like concentration camp buildings don’t they?
Tama Hills Shrine Ruins
These stairs used to lead to the Tama Hills Shrine which was erected to provide the chemical plants with good luck and safety. ^^;
Tama Hills Archery
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. ^^;
Tama Hills Tennis Court
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.

Direction time!

*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.

23 comments on “Tama Hills Arsenal

  1. alex says:

    wow that was great. thanks for such an awesome tour.

  2. Tammy Eggen says:

    Wow, It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, brought back lots of memories. I’m always telling my kids about “Camp Tama” and all the spiders and the old abandoned bunkers. As a kid of 13 or 14 in the early 70’s. I didn’t think about having a camera on my outings. but thanks to you I now have some proof of my wild stories. Thank you so much, excellent photos.

    • punynari says:

      Happy to be of help! I try to take pictures of just about every adventure and trip I go on out of habit, even though it sometimes gets me into trouble. ^^; Worth it in the end I think. :D

  3. madi says:

    This was so great!!! I camped at Tama Hills with my girl scout troop back in the 80’s. I remember a few of the buildings and walking through the tunnels! thank goodness we decided to scrap the night hike after the talk about unexploded munitions! Thanks for sharing! you were brave going in those dark places! :)

  4. Art Gowie says:

    My wife and I, along with our two children spent many summers on camp staff at the Boy Scout Camp at Tama. I was Camp Director in 1976. We explored nearly all of Tama over the years. Great to see these pictures. There is a picture (about 23 pics back) of three buildings. I believe the one on the left was the showers and bathrooms for camp. The ne on the left was the Camp Store and the one in the center beyond the tree was the Camp Office, sleeping quarters and quartermaster. Up the hill to the left was the chow hall, swimming pool, parade grounds and static display areas. Anyone else remember?

  5. Bill Fry says:

    Thanks for the pictures.
    My family attended a church retreat there once or twice in the 1970s. Our church nursery attendant (Japanese) who went with us said she worked there in WW2 in the headquarters building. It was the building we slep in. I remember there was an old concrete swimming pool in front of the building.

  6. Awesome!
    The Tama Hills is near my home. It’s a pleasure to go to the Inagi Festival at the Tama Hills every July.

  7. kokusaispy says:

    I spent weeks at a time at Camp Tama as it was called in the 60’s. Most of it was cleaning debris up that was left behind from the postwar days. The worst part of it was dealing with the poisonous Mamushi snakes that lived there. They grow to be about a foot long and are the thickness of a pencil and blend it with the twigs and leaves on the ground. Always wear leather hiking boots when visiting places like these to avoid bites. They were everywhere even near the Boy Scout camping grounds.

    Bill Fry if you read this send me an email. We know each other from Hawaii.

  8. Tim Lockwood says:

    Thank you for a trip down memory lane! I spent two years(1965-1967) frequently camping in the area with Scouts as a volunteer Scoutmaster from Fuchu AS. We camped on the high ground by the huge elevator shaft. Spent the 1966 summer there as summer camp staff and explored and roamed the ruins a lot. Recall us finding an air shaft that went down 159 ft to the bottom. Lots of Mamushi and Bamboo snakes to be found and a whole host of unusual big bugs. You never knew what a kid would find there. Each campout was a real adventure for the boys.

  9. Worked there as a summer hire in 1968 and spent many days there as a scout, picked up some martial arts and survival books but dad trashed them in case the OSI came to visit.

  10. Gary says:

    I was at Camp Tama with my friends who were scouts, though I did not stay overnight. It was a spooky place back when I was 12 yrs old.

  11. jim mcclain jr call sign "banzai" says:

    Thanks for a trip down ptsd lane. ha. In 60s and 70s our boy scout troops would go there for order of arrow and campouts with ourselves, jamborees, and with japanese troops.
    i remember the eerieness of the place. the darkness and the solitude.
    we waited out a horrific storm one night inside a bunker and there was about 2in of dust on floor. we stayed in front part from the amount of stuffiness as well as a fire in front and the ghost stories.
    During the early morning about 12midnight, some of us heard noises. In the morning we found boot prints in the back area where it was clean before. I had also taken flash pics for a bit until told to stop. They are someplace but showed the dust balls and some moving lights.
    Thanks for the memories. Going to show this to my dad who was a scoutmaster.
    Cub Den 35? and Troop 44.

  12. Henry Hironaka says:

    Thank you very much for the wonderful pictures of Camp Tama. It brought back lot’s of memories of Boy Scouts and Explorer camping I enjoyed there in 69-72.

  13. Art Layne says:

    WOW! i had completely forgotten about this. I was the AF Medic from Tachikawa assigned to the scout camp the first two years. Spent 60-80 days each summer including the treks to the seacoast and climbs up Mt. Fuji with the scouts. Mr. Spalding was the scout director. The first summer I had a nurse come up periodically, Marva Bruner. The second summer, a Navy corpsman (John) joined me. We had about 200 scouts come in for seven days and then a three day trek. I also did some exploration of the ammo facilities. There were many keep out signs but no one seemed to be around. The little clinic was across from the shower hall and down from the cafeteria. the swimming pool was very small but enjoyed by all.


    Art Layne

  14. Patricia Kascsak says:

    We use to go there a lot. I was in Girl Scout 69-73, and my dad and my brothers were big in the Boy scouts. My brother John and my Dad work the summers doing Boy Scout Camp. It was a great time back then hanging out at the camp. This article brought back good memories..

  15. Sam says:

    Camped with Troop 34 from Camp Zama between 63 and 66. Like a ghost town with so much to explore. Nice pics and nice to know it is still there! Needs proper preservation.

  16. Cindy says:

    Loved seeing the pictures. I spent time there when I was in jr/sr high school in the 1970s as a girl scout and also going to my dad’s office picnics. I was last there in the 1990s as my husband was stationed at Yokota. My son ran a couple of cross country meets there and it was cool to revisit it.

  17. John Love says:

    In 1986 or 1987, Yokota Base Commander’ Col. Barry Howard started a huge clean up of Tama Hills Recreation Area using Squadrons from Yokota as volunteers to improve areas that were overgrown and no longer accessible. We spent many days each summer making the old munitions storage area a better and safer place to visit. BTW in the picture with the signs “Primitive Area” Welcome All TAMA Bunker Maintained by 475 Fuels Yokota Air Base. I was the First Sergeant of 475 Supply Squadron, Yokota Air Base, and my Fuels division people contributed a massive amount of work at Tama recreation Area and often stored tools and parts there instead of bringing them back and forth every work session.
    I got a Torii Gate, that had stood in front of the Officer’s club at Johnson Air Base from the 1950s, from the Japanese Air Self Defense three star General who commanded Johnson Air Base in the late 1980s and our fuels people restored it to like new condition. We placed it next to Tama Recreation’s Lodge. The Torii had been dedicated to the memory of All who died in World War 2. The old Officer’s club was being torn down and the General, Col Howard and I felt that Tama Lodge would be a fitting location for the Torii’s future.

  18. Matthew Beauregard says:

    Wow. I remember tama hills scout camp in 95 where I got my first class with troop 49 from yokota. Remember the shower house being in scout camp. It looked boarded up. Do they not use it for BSA anymore ?? And the stairs next to the tunnel I remember we called the snake stairs

  19. Steve Hill. (I was a Lt. And pilot at that time) says:

    I was stationed at Tama Depot in 1958 and 1959. A good part of our activity was contracting
    demilitarization of ammunition used in WWII and Korea. I have quite a few pictures taken on the depot at that time if anyone is interested. There were about 500 JN’s and 50 USAF personnel. It was quite beautiful at that time. Very well maintained; not at all like the pictures. I would love to visit the old depot one more time.

    Steve Hill
    Moorpark, CA

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