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Chofu Hangars

   
 2Stars10px  - darkometer rating: 2 -
  
Chofu hangars 9   half shelteredA set of relics from WWII, namely three surviving concrete hangars for fighter planes around Chofu airport in the west of Japan's capital Tokyo. They thus belong to a very small number of remnants from the war within the city. 
More background info: There isn't much specific information about these sites other than what the info panels put up next to two of the hangars present, so we have to rely on those.
 
Going by them, Chofu airport was begun 1938 with the purchase of land by the Tokyo Prefecture, apparently some of it was not voluntarily sold by the previous owners, and in 1939 construction started, also involving “mobilized” high school students and even prisoners. By 1941 two runways were operational, one nearly 700 metres in length, the other 1000 metres.
 
Although initially conceived as a civilian airport, the Imperial Japanese Air Force soon took over and stationed Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien fighter planes here, initially for the defence of Tokyo. At some stage Chofu airport was also used as a transit airfield for “special attack units” (that is: kamikaze units) en route to Chiran.
 
As aerial attacks by US carrier-borne planes and long-range B-29 bombers intensified towards the latter stages of WWII, and some damage was also done at Chofu by air raids. Many of the fighter planes were lost too – as they weren't a match for the massive defensive guns of the B-29s. In order to save some fighters so that they'd be available for the expected US invasion of the mainland, a set of concrete hangars were built to protect the remaining fighter planes from falling bombs. Again, “mobilized” high school students, as well as local gardeners, were conscripted to take part in the work, which started in 1944.
 
These hangars were actually rather small reinforced-concrete “caps” each fitting one fighter plane individually – hence their odd shape. In total at least 30 such hangars were built, dotted all over the land surrounding the airport (i.e. decentralized, presumably as an additional safety precaution). Of these, three survive today.
 
After the end of WWII, some parts of the airport's area were used to grow vegetables, while the US Army Air Force used other parts of it for basing reconnaissance planes here that surveyed the war damage for a few months until early 1946.
 
Eventually the airfield was handed back to Japanese control and a small-scale civilian airport was re-established. These days it's in use for small-scale private services by light aircraft and helicopters.
 
The three hangars (and a few other relics, such as remnants of anti-aircraft gun emplacements) were preserved through local initiatives. And it shows in the openness with which the additionally dark aspects of forced labour and kamikaze missions are mentioned on the info panels. Compare that with the narratives at the Yushukan!
  
 
What there is to see: Not much. In fact rather little when gauged against the effort it takes to make it out here and see all three hangars.
 
One of them is located to the west of the airport in the middle of what is now a residential area. Once you've found it, the object is semi-accessible, there's even a wheelchair ramp! But you can't go inside the hangar, which is fenced off. You can only look in.
 
Unfortunately, however, there isn't much information other than in Japanese at this site. The panel erected here also features historic photos, though, so you can get a rough idea. It also has drawings of the design of the hangars and a map of the area and its general attractions, plus another map of Chofu airport and surroundings with the locations of the hangars marked. Here, 33 such locations are marked.
 
Not directly related to the hangars but a remarkable little extra is a small green tree with a little plaque at the bottom that is mostly in Japanese but also has the single line in English: “Second-generation A-Bombed Chinese parasol tree from Hiroshima”!
 
The other two hangars are located on the other side of the airport to its north-east. These carry the names “Ohsawa 1” and “Ohsawa 2”, as info panels at both of them state. Apart from the names, these are identical in content and unlike the panels at the third site these two are bilingual, with a good English translation.
 
They provide historical background (see above) as well as a chart showing the locations of the hangars. Here only 30 concrete hangars are marked – so apparently there is a bit of disagreement between the panels.
 
“Ohsawa 1” is different from the other two hangars in that it's closed, and the front shows a large mural of a plane inside the hangar instead. Next to the real thing is a scale-model-cum-bronze-sculpture of a plane inside its hangar, with half the roof missing so you an get a better look inside.
 
All in all, it may seem like too much effort for very little to make it out here just to see these three small hangars. But given the scarcity of such relics in Tokyo they are worth a look, at least for those with a deeper interest in Japanese war history.
  
 
Location: Far from Tokyo city centre in the western suburbs.
 
Google Maps locators:
 
Hangar in a residential area: [35.6678, 139.5132]
 
Ohsawa 1: [35.6765, 139.5284]
 
Ohsawa 2: [35.6776, 139.5274]
  
 
Access and costs: far from the city centre and a bit tricky to track down; but free.
 
Details: To reach the hangar in the residential area first get a train to Musashinodai (JR Keio Line) and walk. Take the street leading north from the station and after four crossings and where the road hits a flyover turn left and after ca, 50 yards you're there.
 
To get from here to the other two hangars, walk back a short distance, take the underpass under the flyover and then walk in an easterly direction until you come to Asahi-cho dori. Now either walk all the way north to Hitomi-kaido Avenue and take this to the right until you come to Ohsawa – it'll take a good 20 minutes. Or you can take bus line 52 for part of the way. At the north end of the airport walk down the street running parallel to it on its eastern side and you'll see the two Ohsawa hangars.
 
To get back to the city centre from here, you can take the little local bus from outside the Chofu airport terminal (Line 40) that links it to Chofu Station, from where the Keio Line links back to Shinjuku Station with plenty of links to other lines for onward travel.
  
 
Time required: Quite a lot for very little. The train journeys there and back alone take at least an hour and a half in total, plus walking time / bus journeys at the site. So in total something like two hours … for just a couple of minutes each at the hangars themselves.
  
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: When you've made it all the way out here you could just as well take a quick look at Chofu airport, although these days it only has one runway and is just a sleepy little local airfield. Across the road from Ohsawa 2 hangar is a mound that allows a view over the airport from the north.
 
Those who like wandering around cemeteries can do so till they drop in the nearby Tama Cemetery – the very largest municipal cemetery in all of Japan – the south-easternmost corner of which is a few hundred yards to the north-west of Chofu airport. I didn't go there myself but I've read that some high-ranking members of the Imperial Japanese military, including the War Minister at the time of the surrender, are buried here, and also that some parts of the cemetery allegedly still show bullet holes from strafing by US fighter planes.
 
Further away, but not too convoluted a journey to combine this with, is travelling on to the former Hitachi Aircraft Factory Substation ruin: first get the JR Keio Line further out west, then change at Takahatafudo to the Tama Monorail heading north to get to Tamagawajosui and walk from there.
 
See also under Tokyo in general.
  
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: None.
  
 
 
  • Chofu hangars 1 - one is in a residential areaChofu hangars 1 - one is in a residential area
  • Chofu hangars 2 - wheelchair accessibleChofu hangars 2 - wheelchair accessible
  • Chofu hangars 3 - light at the end of the hangarChofu hangars 3 - light at the end of the hangar
  • Chofu hangars 4 - another one by the old airportChofu hangars 4 - another one by the old airport
  • Chofu hangars 5 - old airportChofu hangars 5 - old airport
  • Chofu hangars 6 - yet another one near the airportChofu hangars 6 - yet another one near the airport
  • Chofu hangars 7 - this one has a mural of a plane on the frontChofu hangars 7 - this one has a mural of a plane on the front
  • Chofu hangars 8 - and a modelChofu hangars 8 - and a model
  • Chofu hangars 9 - half-shelteredChofu hangars 9 - half-sheltered
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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