Tachikawa, Tokyo 立川 東京
by Johannes Schonherr
Tachikawa is a city of about 180,000 inhabitants on the western outskirts of Tokyo. The city serves as a major traffic hub, shopping center and industrial zone.
Tachikawa Station and Surroundings
JR Tachikawa Station, located in the very heart of the city, serves about 160,000 passengers per day.
The JR Chuo Main Line runs in one direction to Mitaka, Shinjuku and Tokyo Stations, in the other to Hachioji, Takao, Kofu (Yamanashi Prefecture) and Matsumoto (Nagano Prefecture), usually necessitating a transfer at Tachikawa.
In short walking distance from JR Tachikawa Station are two stations of the Tama Toshi Monorail connecting the outer western suburbs of Tokyo in a north-south direction. Tachikawa Kita Station is just a little north of Tachikawa Station, Tachikawa Minami just a little south.
This crossroads of rail lines makes the Tachikawa Station area not only one of the busiest train transfer points in western Tokyo, it makes the station area also a crowded retail business center.
Several department stores are built right on top of Tachikawa Station, many more stores are open to customers right outside it.
The densely built-up high-rise area in the immediate vicinity of Tachikawa Station with its endless flows of pedestrians on the third-floor bridges spanning between the concrete structures, the buses and taxis down below and the monorail trains silently whizzing by on their elevated tracks gives the Tachikawa Station surroundings a decidedly urban, almost futuristic air.
For the most part, Tachikawa is a very modern city even beyond the station area. Tachikawa is located on the Musashi Plains, the wide flatlands covering much of Saitama Prefecture and stretching south into the outlaying western parts of Tokyo.
In the distance, the mountains of Okutama are in clear view but up to their foothills, the area is covered by modern industrial facilities - not of the old smoke-spewing variety but of their quiet, almost anonymous edition of today. From the outside, they are sprawling, non-descript buildings with huge parking lots. Inside, most likely rows of sophisticated robots work the fully automated assembly lines, the parking lots serving the technicians and an army of sales representatives.
Equally large are the concrete blocks belonging to various national research institutions and the many administrative office buildings of the western Tokyo region.
Tama Toshi Monorail
Cutting through that landscape in north-south fashion is the Tama Toshi Monorail, an elevated train line connecting Higashi Yamato City to the north with the giant housing projects of Tama New Town to the south.
Seen from the ground, the elevated tracks and their trains just add to the general atmosphere of Tachikawa - an atmosphere of a city shaped by technology.
Riding a monorail train on the other hand offers great views of the vast expanse of Tachikawa and its enterprises and institutions, interspersed by grand-scale housing projects and swaths of single house neighborhoods. On clear winter days, Mount Fuji towers in the distance.
Tamagawajosui Station is named after the Tamagawa Josui, a historic fresh water canal closely running by the station. Almost the entire length of the Tamagawa Josui from Hamura further west on the Ome Line right into Shinjuku has been designed as historical walkway.
You can join that walkway right outside Tamagawajosui Station in both directions. It is a pleasant walk along the narrow, tree-lined canal, offering quiet, green relief from all the concrete of Tachikawa.
Modern-day Tachikawa was founded only in the late 19th century, in 1889 to be exact. In April of that year, Tachikawa Village became officially recognized on the cadaster - in exactly the same month when the Tachikawa Train Station opened.
History took its course from then one might say. It did - but that is not to say that there aren't any much older historic structures surviving on the grounds now covered by Tachikawa City.
The most notable of those historic buildings is certainly Suwa Shrine. Founded in 811 A.D. as a branch of the Suwa Taisha Shrine in Nagano, the shrine stands in stark contrast to much of the rest of today's Tachikawa. Surrounded by ancient trees, the spacious shrine is a quiet place of natural beauty, worship and traditional ceremonies.
Suwa Shrine is about a 10 minute walk from the south exit of Tachikawa Station, along a street named Suwa Dori. Suwa Dori itself is a sort of old-fashioned shopping street, leading through a residential area of detached houses with gardens in front.
In the same area you find a southern equivalent of the Tamagawa Josui walk in the north of the city. Named the Zambori River Pavement, a walkway leads along a small river lined with cherry trees. During the cherry blossom season, many people will congregate there.
From close to Shibaseki Taiikukan Station, the river walk offers good views to the Tama Toshi Monorail trains passing by behind the cherry blossoms (and alternatively, behind the autumn color leaves of other trees).
Fusai Temple, the main historic temple of Tachikawa, is situated in the same area as Suwa Shrine. Believed to be founded in 1353 by the ancient warrior clan of the Tachikawa, the temple served as both fortress and spiritual Zen ground during the clan wars prior to the Edo Period. The Tachikawa clan was defeated in the final days of those wars but the temple lived on nonetheless.
It's most fateful day came in 1995 when most of the temple burned down in an accidental fire. The temple has since been rebuilt but it still looks new - somewhat fitting the rest of Tachikawa. The Inner Gate however survived the blaze and is one of the few original structures still standing.
There is no Outer Gate. Instead, a giant stone lantern marks the entrance of the temple - quite an interesting sight.
Modern history intensified in 1922 when the Japanese government chose Tachikawa as the location of a large airfield. The area was flat, the train connection already established. From 1929 to 1933, the Tachikawa Airfield served as Tokyo's first international airport, with flights scheduled for Osaka, Seoul and Dalian, China.
After 1933, the airfield became a military aviation hub as well as a major airplane production facility. This led to heavy American bombing campaigns during World War II.
After the war, the U.S. Air Force took over the airfield. It became a major supply center for American troops during the Korean War (1950-53) and, to a lesser degree, during the Vietnam War.
In 1977, the airfield was returned to Japan. Today, the Japanese Air Self Defense Forces operate a part of the former Tachikawa Airfield as an air force base. Large parts of the airfield were turned over to Tachikawa City. Today's Showa Kinen Park was built on the grounds of the former airfield as was the current Tachikawa City Hall, a large IKEA furniture store, the National Hospital Organization Disaster Medical Center as well as the "Wide Area Disaster Prevention Base", a large empty plot of land to be used as an evacuation zone in the event of a major earthquake.
Showa Kinen Park
Showa Kinen Park is a large park opened to the public in 1983 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Showa (which actually took place eight years earlier, in 1975).
The park offers multiple attractions for people of any age, ranging from Japanese gardens to children's playgrounds to lakes, fountains and forests to restaurants and cafes.
Close to the Akebono Gate of Showa Kinen Park, the closest park gate to Tachikawa Station, you find a huge IKEA store. The Swedish furniture retailer, very popular across Europe and the U.S., has arrived in Japan relatively late, in the first decade of the 2000's. Their Tachikawa store was one of the first to open in the country, luring its own stream of visitors to the city.
Besides furniture, the store also sells Scandinavian foods in a small shop on its ground floor. That food shop is a great place to swing by to purchase some Lingonberry jam, Swedish knäckebröd (crisp-bread) or marinated sour herrings, northern European foods otherwise hard to find in Tokyo.
Polar Science Museum
Walk north along the Tama Toshi Monorail from the IKEA store, then turn left at Takamatsu Station. After passing the Court House, you encounter the huge building of the National Institute of Polar Research.
Right behind that building is the Polar Science Museum. Signs in English point it out. The Polar Science Museum is inside a one story building somewhat shaped like a piece of drift ice.
Japan has its own history of polar research - both of the Arctic and the Antarctic variety.
The focus of the Polar Science Museum is clearly the Antarctic and the Japanese research there, though the Arctic is also covered to a certain extent.
The museum is admission-free and offers a wealth of information. Exhibits range from a life stream of the current situation at Showa Base, the Japanese research base in Antarctica (construction of a new building is going on there, the live stream shows) to an actual tank tread truck that drove all the way to the South Pole in 1968 as part of a small fleet of similar vehicles. There are historic Antarctic explorer suits, a historic dog sledge, and an actual Antarctic ice in a freezer display. Multiple screens play documentary footage of Japanese Antarctic research expeditions.
Most exhibits come with explanations in Japanese only though some also carry English information.
Most of the exhibits are easy to understand even for someone not being able to read Japanese. If you have a real interest in the subject, though, you should visit with a Japanese friend who can translate.
Opening times: 10am to 5pm, closed on Sundays, Mondays, public holidays including the New Year holidays.
Address: Midori-cho 10-3, Tachikawa City, Tokyo
Tel: 042 512 0910
Website in English www.nipr.ac.jp/english/science-museum/index.html
Tachikawa Tourist Information Corner
The Tachikawa Tourist Information Corner has a useful tourist map of the city available for free.
The Tourist Information Corner is not that easy to find, though.
From the North Exit of JR Tachikawa Station walk to the nearby Tacross Building. That's the highest building in the surroundings of Tachikawa Station. Enter the LABI LIFE SELECT electronic goods store and take the elevator down to the first floor of the building. There, the Tourist Information Corner is close to the elevator.
Tel: 042 527 2700
Website in Japanese and English http://www.city.tachikawa.lg.jp/
An English-language PDF file tourist map can be downloaded here.
JR Chuo Line Rapid from Tokyo Station (40 minutes) or Shinjuku Station (25 minutes) to Tachikawa Station.