The “U.S. Military Town” that flourished together with Yokota Air Base has become a “Multinational Town”…Walking in the Deep Town of Chaos in Fussa City, Tokyo | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The “U.S. Military Town” that flourished together with Yokota Air Base has become a “Multinational Town”…Walking in the Deep Town of Chaos in Fussa City, Tokyo

The "deep town of chaos" in Fussa City, Tokyo, has become a "multinational town"...Fussa City, Tokyo. The hustle and bustle of the red-light district has become sparse, and now the American-style streets have become a tourist attraction.

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
A transport plane landing at Yokota Air Base. The urban area stretches right across the street. Aircraft take off and land very close to residents’ living areas.

It wasn’t the sound of a plane. It was the sound of insect wings flying behind my ears.

The young Ryu Murakami begins his debut novel, “Blue as Close to Transparent as Possible,” as follows.

The novel, which depicts the chaos of the city of Fussa, Tokyo, home to the U.S. Yokota Air Base, remains synonymous with the city to this day. At the same time, older residents have criticized the film for its depiction of graphic sex and drugs, which has given the city a decadent image.

Since the 1970s, many artists, including Eiichi Otaki, have been active in the creative process in Fussa. The city certainly had a certain fervor that attracted artists to the area.

Walking around Fussa in Reiwa, 2025, one can sense the obvious changes that have taken place since then. We followed the transformation of Fussa, a city with a total area of more than 7,000 square kilometers and a population of about 11,000, including military personnel and their families, who have spun out a history together with the U.S. military base.

Fussa is sometimes referred to as the “America of Tokyo.

The JR Fussa Station and convenience stores are frequented by Americans, and stores with English and dollar price lists can be seen in the city. Many of the cars in the city have a “Y” license plate number, indicating U.S. military personnel, and car dealerships and insurance agencies catering to Americans are also prominent. The abundance of churches is probably another characteristic of the city.

At the same time, the noise from transport planes flying low over residential areas is startling.’ In 2008, residents living near the base filed a lawsuit against the government for noise damage, and a court ruling ordered the government to pay over 112 million yen in compensation. Many people are still opposed to the base.

Fussa, home to approximately 56,500 people, is symbolized by “Fussa Base Side Street,” a 1-kilometer stretch along National Route 16 facing the Yokota Air Base. It is a shopping street dotted with about 65 stores, and its official name is the Fussa Musashino Shopping Street Promotion Association.

In the past, young people who admired the hippie culture gathered on Base Side Street, and the area boasted a thriving reputation as a center of music and fashion. However, as the hippie culture declined, people gradually moved away, and from the mid-1990s, an increasing number of business owners closed their stores.

Misa Igarashi, 67, a member of the Fussa Musashino Shopping District Promotion Association and a storyteller at the Fussa American House, a community space in a renovated U.S. Army house, explains, “Around the 1970s, the hippie culture was in decline.

Around the ’70s, there were a lot of people who moved to Fussa because they liked the hippie culture. On the other hand, there has always been an opinion that the decadent worldview depicted by Ryu Murakami is detrimental to the image. The founding store owners have been replaced due to old age, and Base Side Street has changed a lot in the last five years or so.”

The people who came to Fussa in the 2020s were young people who were attracted by the atmosphere of Fussa, which reminded them of the West Coast of the United States.

The number of stores run by young people who want to do business in Fussa, which has an American feel, has increased. Perhaps because of this, the number of tourists, mainly in their 20s, from outside the prefecture has really increased, and some stores have long lines on weekends,” Igarashi said.

Today, Base Side Street is being led by a “second generation” of business owners. Walking around the area, one can certainly see young people in their teens and twenties, especially female customers. When we talked to them, they all said, “The atmosphere of this American town, including the restaurants, is interesting because it is unlike any other town.

Construction began around 1950 near this street of one-story, white-walled wooden houses for U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan. In the past, there were as many as 2,000 of these houses, but the number has dwindled to about 150 as the base has improved its on-base dormitories. Today, the U.S. soldiers no longer use them, and civilians who want to enjoy the old American culture renovate and live in them, or, like Mr. Igarashi, reuse them as stores and other facilities. It has become a cultural asset.

The Rise and Fall of the “Red Line

Fussa City, where about 4,300 foreigners reside, is becoming increasingly multinational.’ According to data from 2010, the number of nationalities reached 68, the highest percentage of foreigners among the 26 cities in Tokyo. Incidentally, 116 Americans, which is not a majority, was a bit surprising.

Casey Cooper, Dominican-born owner of The Big Bamboo, a Caribbean restaurant not far from Yokota Air Base, said, “I’ve lived in New York and many other cities.

I’ve lived in New York and many other cities, but I’ve never felt any prejudice based on racism in Fussa. I feel this is because over the years, mutual understanding between the local community and foreigners has improved. The fact that it is not overly crowded like in central Tokyo has also made it an attractive environment for foreigners to raise their children.”

Another indication of Fussa’s rise and fall is the old red-light district that stretches in front of the station. A five-minute walk out the east exit reveals its neon district. Prostitution was legal here from the postwar period until around 1957, when it disappeared due to rezoning. Bars and cabarets gathered on the former site, and until about 20 years ago, it was the largest entertainment district in the West Tokyo area, attracting many drunken customers. A restaurant owner who knew the area in those days said, “The peak of the entertainment district was between 1970 and 1970.

The peak was in the ’70s and ’80s. Many U.S. military personnel came to the area, and young girls gathered there to see them. There were probably more than 300 bars and cabarets. It’s calmed down now, but there were many fights in this small corner of the city every day, and it was a town that never sleeps. Locals still call this area “the red line.

Since the 1990s, however, the red-light district, like Base Side Street, has been gradually losing its foot traffic. This is due to the disappearance of clubs and bars as a result of redevelopment due to aging buildings. More than 100 restaurants and bars closed last year as well. The huge mural painted by Lily Franky, which had been a monument of the city, was also torn down, and the store owners felt threatened by the serious decline in the number of customers.

What was interesting about walking along the “red line” was the clear demarcation of the entertainment district within a radius of about 500 meters.

Across Fujimi Street, which runs east-west from Fussa Station toward the base, the area is divided into two districts: an Asian snack bar area with Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese people, and a multinational bar and restaurant area with a concentration of mainly American soldiers, and the two districts do not intersect. When I entered one of the snack bars, a Taiwanese mom told me what was going on.

Most of the snack bars on the Asian side have banned Americans,” she said. This is because Americans who grew up in a cash-on-delivery culture and do not understand the Japanese post-payment system often cause trouble. In this area, there used to be many cases of Koreans going into restaurants that had been let go by Japanese owners, but now they are almost exclusively owned by Taiwanese and Chinese,” he said.

The other area has a rich international flavor, with a mix of Thai, Brazilian, and Peruvian restaurants, bars, and live music venues. The customers seem to be mostly foreigners, but the age range is relatively high. An American man who works at Yokota Air Base told us, “The younger kids go to Roppongi for fun.

The young ones go to Roppongi for fun. We older people have enough to do at the stores inside the base, so even if we go out, we don’t stay long, just for a change of pace.

I visited the area several times and found only three stores crowded with U.S. soldiers, and the rest were sparsely populated. The rest of the shops were sparsely populated, with only a few Asian vendors attracting my attention. When I entered a bar where a Filipina woman was working, I heard the following story: “About 10 years ago, I started working in this area.

About 10 years ago, there was a shooting incident in this area, and since then there is a curfew at the base. People have to be back by 1:00 a.m., so the number of people drinking heavily has decreased. There have been fewer fights and other problems. It doesn’t mean they have disappeared, though. Even so, 60% of the nighttime clientele are base personnel and 20% are Japanese, so the money lost by U.S. soldiers is still significant for this town.

Fussa City, which is facing the sensitive base issue and its aftermath, is focusing on public relations. Noise problems and incidents involving U.S. soldiers and others are immediately reported in detail on the city’s website. A city official in charge of base and external relations said, “The five cities that have Yokota airbase are all in the same boat.

The five cities and one town that host Yokota Air Base and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Urban Development Bureau work together to deal with base issues. In particular, we receive many inquiries about noise, which we report to Yokota Air Base in cooperation with neighboring cities.

The town, which flourished together with Yokota Air Base and built an era as the largest entertainment district in West Tokyo, is quietly being reborn as a multinational town.

Part of the base is open to the public during the Yokota Air Base Japan-U.S. Friendship Festival, which is held once a year. Last year, the festival attracted 190,000 visitors.
In the entertainment district near JR Fussa Station, visitors who appear to be U.S. soldiers can be seen. Compared to the past, the number of visitors has decreased considerably.
Akio and Mari Saito run the general store “APRIL TONE. Both were born and raised in Fussa City.
The charm of Base Side Street is the collection of restaurants and eateries that are reminiscent of America in the 1950s and 1960s, from the outside to the interior.
The number of Asian restaurants, including Thai cuisine, has been increasing on Base Side Street, and the area is becoming more and more multinational every year.

Shimei Kurita
Born in 1987. Covers a wide range of topics including sports, economics, incidents, and overseas affairs. Author of “Surviving the COVID-19 crisis: Taxi industry survival. Aim for Koshien! The Insatiable Challenge of a Preparatory School Baseball Club” and many other composition books.

From the May 31, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • Interview and text by Shimei Kurita (nonfiction writer) PHOTO Takayuki Ogawauchi, Shimei Kurita (4th photo)

Photo Gallery6 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles