Former Hitachi Aircraft Factory Substation
A unique site in Tokyo
: a war ruin still standing! It's a former electric substation whose front façade is completely pockmarked with bullet holes caused by strafing from US fighter planes during the final stages of WWII
More background info:
As with the Chofu hangars
, information about this site is scarce and so we have to rely on the information panels erected at the site itself.
From that can be gleaned that the structure was originally built in 1938 as an electric substation and soon after became part of the Hitachi Aircraft Company Tachikawa factory, for which it transformed high-voltage power-line electricity into lower voltage to be used in production.
From early 1945 the place came under attack from American carrier-based fighter planes, and in April the factory and surrounding area were bombed by a squadron of B-29 bombers. However, the substation survived the destruction and after the war was still usable. Although the outside damage with all those bullet holes was left as is was, the substation remained operational until as late as 1993. (By the way, this also explains that, while the walls are so pockmarked, the windows are intact – obviously these were replaced after the war.)
City planners then wanted to demolish it as part of a park development scheme in the by now densely built up residential area. However, there was local resistance, and citizens campaigned for the preservation of this unique relic. With success. Since 1995, the site has been a protected cultural asset. The Higashiyamato City Board of Education has since erected a set of information panels, and a few salvaged relics from surrounding sites that could not be saved from demolition have been moved here too.
What there is to see:
The main thing here is just beholding the sight of this incredibly rare relic. Nowhere else in Tokyo
will you find such evidence from the war still standing, as practically the entirety of modern-day Tokyo was built after the war. So to find such a striking war-damaged structure out here is truly remarkable. The pockmarks from the US strafing of the building (see above
) still look like they were inflicted only recently.
The setting of this site couldn't be more incongruous. Right in the middle of a suburban park surrounded by residential buildings and sports fields. When I was there it was Golden Week (a major holiday in Japan
), so plenty of people off work were in the park enjoying the day and playing with their children and dogs, including right by this war ruin.
There are a few information panels that provide background, about the main building itself as well as for some additional items moved here to complement the site. This includes part of the water tower that used to supply the factory and also survived the war standing and remained in use into the 1990s. But unlike the substation it could not be saved, and eventually was dismantled in 2001. Just this small section on display in front of the substation remains.
Similarly there is a part of a protective wall that once secured electric power lines and also shows signs of war damage and was salvaged from another site.
The inside of the former substation building is normally not accessible to the public, except every second Sunday of the month … but unfortunately I could only make it to the site at the end of April. So all I could try to do was peek in through the windows. You can make out some stairs and various remnants of electric equipment.
A lot of electric parts are also strewn around the outside area and have become part of the recreational park's furnishings, as it were. There are large ceramic isolators and obscure objects whose original function you can only guess (unless you're an industrial electrical engineer and know these things). Also to be seen in one of the flower beds next to the substation is an aircraft engine with a two-blade propeller. I presume it may have been the sort of aircraft part that the former Hitachi factory manufactured.
A more recent addition is a young Chinese parasol tree – offspring from one of the 'survivor trees' in Hiroshima
that was later transplanted to the Peace Park
and is still thriving, according to an info panel here. This sapling was planted here by a UNESCO club in 2011.
it may seem quite a disproportionate effort to come all the long way out here just to look at a pockmarked concrete building and a few extra relics. But given how unique a relic this is in the context of Tokyo
I think out of the various excursions to more obscure sites that I made the effort to research on my latest Japan trip in April 2019, this was the one most worth it (see also combinations
far, far out of central Tokyo
in the commuter suburb of Higashiyamato, over 30 km (20 miles) from Tokyo Station and Ginza.
Access and costs: very far from the centre, and very restricted as far as the inside is concerned; free
Details: Getting to this rare sight is a bit of a time-consuming effort. You have to get a local train on the Seibu-Shinjuku Line (departing from the Tokyo station of that same name, just north of the main Shinjuku Station, which has many connections to other areas of the city … but can be quite confusing and busy). The ride takes almost 50 minutes.
Get out at Tamagawajosui Station, and from there walk. First right into the residential-blocks area to the north of the station, then turn right and on the edge of the park/sports fields turn left and after ca. 200 yards turn slight right into the park and you'll see the iconic building in front of you.
From 2016 the inside of the substation has also been made accessible to the public, yet only on guided tours and these take place only on the second Sunday of the month (between 1 and 4 p.m.). Since I couldn't make it to that restricted time, I cannot say what this would be like. I'd be very surprised if the tour wasn't in Japanese only. What I also cannot say is if these tours are free of charge or not.
Time required: Not long at the site itself, perhaps 10 to 15 minutes at best, but getting there and back can take almost two hours, so it's a big time investment nevertheless.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Nothing in the vicinity, though you can possibly combine this with the even more obscure WWII
relics that are the Chofu hangars – from Tamagawajosui get the Tama Monorail south to Takahatafudo and then the Keio Line bound for Shinjuku to Musashinodai or Chofu. See more details under Chofu hangars
Not totally inconceivable is also the combination with the Yoshimi caves and tunnels
, though this really is stretching it a bit. I actually did this combination in reverse (i.e. coming from Yoshimi where I went first), and it takes a long time on trains combining the Tobu-Tojo Line to Kawagoeshi and then the Seibu-Shinjuku line via Kodeira (or the other way round when coming from Tamagawajosui), which takes something like two hours alone.
Otherwise better head back to central Tokyo
Combinations with non-dark destinations: None. The area around the site is strictly a sleeping town for commuters only, with zero tourist facilities.
- WWII ruin 1 - possibly the only one still standing in Tokyo
- WWII ruin 2 - closer up
- WWII ruin 3 - remnants of a water tower in front
- WWII ruin 4 - electric remnants inside
- WWII ruin 5 - looking up the stairs
- WWII ruin 6 - rear of the building
- WWII ruin 7 - little balcony
- WWII ruin 8 - remnant of a former protection wall on the side
- WWII ruin 9 - electric remnants strewn around the park