As written several times in this blog, I like to visit US military bases in Japan when they are open to public. They are usually off-limits to Japanese civilians, but open a few times a year for friendship festivals. Once you pass through the gate, you can see the same landscapes in the United States as seen on TV which you can’t see while off base.
Why do Japanese people find so amusing about what are seen in the United States? Going to the United States is, for most of them born after WWII, a dream and an exciting unordinary experience. They long, they attempt, and some lucky ones carry out, to do it. Yet most of them have not enough time, budget or physical strength to take a long leave from their employer, buy airline tickets for hundreds of thousand yen, sit on a plane for many hours and stay for one week in the mainland America or Hawaii. Visiting a US base in Japan is a one-day trip, costs only train fares to it, and offers visitors almost the same experiences as going actually to the mainland USA.
Yokota Air Base, Camp Zama, Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Yokosuka Naval Base, Negishi Heights, Sagami Depot, Naval Support Facility Kamiseya and Ikego Heights are all I’ve been, out of 85 US military facilities within Japan.
Yokota Air Base (Fussa, Tokyo): the only US Air Force Base in the Kanto Plain. There is the biggest Friendship Festival in late August every year, with the most stalls selling the most kinds of products. Visitors enter from the Supply Gate to the festival venue. Some hangers are open for a stage and stalls. Restaurants and food courts are not open.
Camp Zama (Zama, Kanagawa): opens twice a year, in early April for cherry blossom festival and early August for bon odori festival. Although no buildings but a food court, a theatre and a bowling centre are open to public, you can walk around in almost all open areas in the camp site. Soda vending machines (both Japanese and American) are available. ATMs are also available and you can withdraw cash with an ATM card issued in the US or an international ATM card. You can have access to mailing boxes so if you have mail with an American stamp affixed you can put it in the mailbox to send it to an address in the US for the same fare as in the mainland US. Food stalls are lower in number so you’ll have to wait in longer lines to get foods.
Atsugi Naval Air Facility (Ayase, Kanagawa): opens a few times a year, in the cherry season, on the Independence Day of the USA, and in August. Entrance is narrow so you have to wait in a long line to get inside. Bag check is strict at entrance and there is sometimes a dog inspection, where a working military dog checks your bag put on the ground to smell it to check if there’s nothing suspicious in it. David O. Taylor Field, a wide football field, is usually open for a stage, food stalls and a playground. In many cases, the apron area of the air facility is open and some carrier-based planes are displayed.
Yokosuka Naval Base (Yokosuka, Kanagawa): opens a few times a year, in the cherry season, in summer, and more. The entrance is the narrowest so there is the longest lines in front of it. You have to wait for more than two hours! Besides, the exit is narrow, too, so you must wait for a long time to get out. McDonald’s and a food court are open to visitors in the base. There are various kinds of stalls, ranging from American foods to American sweets and cookies.
Negishi Heights (Yokohama, Kanagawa): opens in late April and in late August. The Community Center building, Negishi All Hands Club (a bar and restaurant complex) and the open space around them are available for visitors. An ATM is on the first floor of the Community Center and visitors can freely use it. US mailboxes are available too. There are fewer visitors than in any other US bases so you can have access to food stalls without waiting so much time. Bowling lanes, arcade games and a movie theatre are available for visitors. Billiard and dartboards are available at All Hands Club, but darts are not allowed to bring inside the venue.
Sagami Depot (Sagamihara, Kanagawa): opens not every year. I was there in September 2007 for Music Festival. Admission fee was 500 yen. High-pressure Japanese officers at the entrance refused my taking pictures of the entrance gates. Visitor’s areas were strictly limited but there were no signs indicating where visitors may stay. Some visitors lost their way in a restricted area and captured by military police.
NSF Kamiseya (Yokohama, Kanagawa): opens in late March or early April. The festival venue is an open space where food stalls and a playground area are set up. People wait in long lines in front of the food stalls.
Ikego Heights (Zushi, Kanagawa): opens in May. The easiest-to-access site of military bases in the Kanto Plain, within a 5-minite-walk from the nearest train station. The festival venue is only within a football field, where food stalls and a playground area are set up. Visitors should stay within the field and aren’t allowed to go any other place. There’s no need to wait in front of food stalls so much time.