Visiting United States military bases in Japan

Visiting US military bases is fun for me. The US Army, US Navy, US Air Force and US Marine Corps use 75 facilities within Japan and Okinawa, 51 of which are dedicated and the rest 24 shared with Japan Self Defense Force. Though those facilities are usually closed to civilians, they are open to residents around them once or twice a year, and you can get inside the military places during these festivals.

Visiting those facilities is one of the few occasions to get in touch with the United States. You can eat American-made hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, turkey legs, and other American foods. You can pay foods, sodas, beer, sweets, and souvenirs with US dollars. You can talk to Americans in English. And, you can find out how average Americans live their daily life. What kind of groceries do they buy? What kind of foods do they eat? What kind of newspapers do they read? What kind of school do they make their children attend? You can catch a glimpse of those things without flying more than 12 hours to get to mainland America.

I have visited US bases and facilities in Japan and Okinawa for more than 15 years. With respect to what I have experienced, I’m grading each of these out of 5 by categories of accessibility, smoothness of entry and exit, freedom of movement, and availability of on-base building. 5 is the most excellent, and 0 the worst.

Yokota Air Base, Tokyo

Operated by: Air Force
Open in: September
Easiness of access: 4
Smoothness of entry: 5
Fare: free
Security checks: id check, bag check, body check (if necessary)
Freedom of movement: 3
Food stalls: 4
Displays: aircrafts of US Air Force and JASDF
Use of on-base food court or restaurants: No
Use of on-base ATMs: No
Use of on-base vending machines: No
Use of on-base mailboxes: No
Availability of on-base buildings: 2
Smoothness of exit: 5

Yokota Air Base holds an annual friendship festival for two days every year. It opens Gate 5 on Route 16 and let people in to the venue.

Yokota’s friendship festival is the biggest open-gate event of US military bases in Japan. People are allowed to stay in an open space beside the runway, where food stalls sell American and Japanese foods, snacks, T-shirts, baseball caps and souvenirs, and airplanes, helicopters, and an Osprey are displayed. Also, a hanger is open.

There are two stages in the venue performing music, dance shows, a muscle man competition, and a taiko drum performance. Some demonstration flights are carried out on the runway.

In recent years, the stalls sell only the amount of sweets that can be consumed on base.

Camp Zama, Kanagawa

Operated by: Army
Open in: April, July, August (and sometimes September)
Easiness of access: 4
Smoothness of entry: 5
Fare: free
Security checks: id check, bag check, body check
Freedom of movement: 5
Food stalls: 3
Displays: a helicopter
Use of on-base food court or restaurants: Yes
Use of on-base ATMs: Yes
Use of on-base vending machines: Yes
Use of on-base mailboxes: Yes
Availability of on-base buildings: 3
Smoothness of exit: 5

Camp Zama opens to civilians for the cherry blossom festival on the first Saturday of April, the Independence Day event on Saturday around July 4, and Bon odori festival on the first Saturday of August.

During the festival, you can freely walk anywhere on the premise. You can reach a post office, a bank ATM, a high school, a kindergarten, a gas station, and a golf course. (But beware! If you are found taking pictures of buildings by military police, you might be asked what you are doing.)

Though you cannot get inside the post office, the mailbox in front of it is accessible. If you have US Forever stamps, you can place one on an envelope and put it in the mailbox to send it to the mainland.

There is a long line in front of every food stall in the open space. Subway, Popeye’s and Burger King in the building are easier to access. Credit cards are available for payment in those stores.

A stall sells foods, sweets, and groceries. Unfortunately, in recent years the number of purchases for each person is restricted because of the change of sales policy.

Yokosuka Naval Base, Kanagawa

Operated by: Navy
Open in: March, August, October
Easiness of access: 3
Smoothness of entry: 2
Fare: free
Security checks: id check, bag check, body check
Freedom of movement: 3
Food stalls: 3
Displays: a battleship
Use of on-base food court or restaurants: Yes
Use of on-base ATMs: Yes
Use of on-base vending machines: Yes
Use of on-base mailboxes: Yes
Availability of on-base buildings: 3
Smoothness of exit: 3

Yokosuka Naval Base is open in the cherry blossom festival (in March), the bon odori festival (in August) and the mikoshi festival (in October).

There is an extremely long line in front of the entrance. It takes you more than an hour to get inside.

There is an exhibition of US ships. The deck of a ship is open to civilians, but it is too crowded for all visitors to accept. You must wait in a line more than an hour to reach the deck. The exhibition usually closes early.

The number of food stalls is moderate. Besides the food stalls, some food vendors inside a building are available for lunch. Manchu Wok (Chinese restaurant) is comparatively uncrowded. Cinnabon offers sweets. Baskin Robbins offers ice creams.

An ATM is available for you to get cash. Visitors have access to USPS mailboxes which allow you to send first-class mail in the same conditions as you are in the mainland.

Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Kanagawa

Operated by: Navy
Open in: April, August
Easiness of access: 3
Smoothness of entry: 2
Fare: free
Security checks: id check, bag check, body check (if necessary)
Freedom of movement: 3
Food stalls: 3
Displays: aircrafts of US Air Force and JASDF
Use of on-base food court or restaurants: Yes
Use of on-base ATMs: Yes
Use of on-base vending machines: Yes
Use of on-base mailboxes: No
Availability of on-base buildings: 3
Smoothness of exit: 5

Atsugi Naval Air Facility can be reached by bus or by 15-minute walk from Sotetsu Sagami-Otsuka train staion. It usually holds events for visitors in the middle of April and in the middle of August.

There is usually a long line in front of the entrance gate. It takes you dozens of minutes to get inside.

Airplanes are displayed on the ground beside the runway. There are also some helicopters on your way to the runway.

A stage and stalls are on one field. There are long lines in front of food stalls. Taco Bell and some other food vendors are in the building, and you have access to them. Beside the building is an ATM where you can get cash. Navy Exchange in the building is not available for civilians. McDonald’s is near the building, and you can buy hamburgers.

I could not see any mailboxes within an area where visitors are allowed to stay.

Ikego Housing Area, Kanagawa

Operated by: Navy
Open in: April
Easiness of access: 5
Smoothness of entry: 5
Fare: free
Security checks: id check, bag check, body check (if necessary)
Freedom of movement: 1
Food stalls: 3
Displays: none
Use of on-base food court or restaurants: No
Use of on-base ATMs: No
Use of on-base vending machines: No
Use of on-base mailboxes: No
Availability of on-base buildings: 0
Smoothness of exit: 5

Ikego Housing Area is just beside Keikyu Jinmuji train station. This station has a wicket exclusive to the residents of this housing area.

The festival venue is limited to a track and field in the Housing Area which is 5 minutes walk from the station. Food stalls in the field are all to which visitors have access.

Tama Recreation Center, Tokyo

Operated by: Army
Open in: July
Easiness of access: 3
Smoothness of entry: 5
Fare: free
Security checks: id check, bag check, body check
Freedom of movement: 1
Food stalls: 1
Displays: none
Use of on-base food court or restaurants: No
Use of on-base ATMs: No
Use of on-base vending machines: No
Use of on-base mailboxes: No
Availability of on-base buildings: 0
Smoothness of exit: 5

Tama Recreation Center is a military recreational facility alongside the Tama Hills. Very limited area of it is open to public for a friendship event in July.

There are a few food stalls available during the event.

Camp Hansen, Okinawa

Operated by: Marine Corps
Open in: varies
Easiness of access: 4
Smoothness of entry: 5
Fare: free
Security checks: id check
Freedom of movement: 5
Food stalls: 4
Displays: none
Use of on-base food court or restaurants: Yes
Use of on-base ATMs: Yes
Use of on-base vending machines: Yes
Use of on-base mailboxes: Yes
Availability of on-base buildings: 3
Smoothness of exit: 5

Camp Hansen is open to public for the festival once a year. It varies year by year when it is open. I went there in September 2016, but in 2019 it opened in March.

When it is open, it is accessible by car. You can drive into the gate, park at a designated parking lot in the camp, and walk to the festival venue. You can get in the building which has restaurants, shops and PX. Notably, you can get inside the PX and look around what are sold. (You can buy foods, drinks and sweets only, though.) Credit cards (Visa or Mastercard) are available for payment as well as cash.

Kadena Marina, Okinawa

Operated by: unknown
Open in: all year round
Easiness of access: 5
Smoothness of entry: 5
Fare: free
Security checks: none
Freedom of movement: 5
Food stalls: n/a
Displays: none
Use of on-base food court or restaurants: Yes
Use of on-base ATMs: No
Use of on-base vending machines: No
Use of on-base mailboxes: No
Availability of on-base buildings: 5
Smoothness of exit: 5

Kadena Marina is probably the only US military facility in Japan that is always open to public. You can freely get in and out of this place by car at any time.

This marina has a restaurant where you can order and eat dinner. Waiters will take you to the seat inside or outside the building as you please. Payment is available by cash or credit card. Only US dollar is acceptable.

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