Tokyo is without a doubt one of my favorite cities in the world. It is such a fascinating, vibrant city. From 1973 to 1978, I was stationed at Yokota Air Base which is located in the western part of Tokyo prefecture. Ritsuko and I met in late 1974, and were married in April 1975, so the first 3 years of our lives together were spent there. Wherever we go in or around the city, the things that we see evoke many fond memories, and we were happy that on this trip to Japan, we would have the last few days of our vacation to ourselves in Tokyo.
Fussa city is the city near where Yokota Air Base is located. When we get the chance, it is always interesting to go back there, just to walk around the town. Not being in the status of retired military, I do not have access to the base, but I really had no interest in entering the military facility anyway.
The last time that we had been to Fussa was in 1991, so we were both hoping to have a chance to go there for a few hours. Unfortunately, the flu bug found its way to Ritsuko the day before, and she wasn't feeling well the morning that we were to go to Fussa. After breakfast that snowy February morning, she stayed in the hotel and slept in while I ventured out alone.
As the train made its way from station to station on the Chuo/Ome lines westward from Shinjuku, I struggled to remember landmarks as each station name was announced. Between Tachikawa and Fussa, very few things looked familiar. I'm glad that I was paying attention to the station names, because there are now so many highrise buildings in Fussa that I hardly recognized the place. The train station, which used to look like any other small town station, is now more modern in its appearance, complete with escalators and sky bridges connecting it with nearby department stores.
Fussa Station, east entrance
From Fussa station, the skybridge to Seiyu department store
Back in the 70's, Ritsuko used to work in this Seiyu department store at the information counter, and I would go there most evenings to pick her up after work, so just for the sake of nostalgia, I thought that I would step inside. The information counter or サービス カウンター (saabisu kauntaa) is quite different now. The girls behind the counter were constantly moving, and they looked like they were working hard, performing a variety of services for customers. As you can see from the pic below, it was quite different in the 70's, when the Information Counter girls just mainly had to sit there, look pretty, be polite, give customers directions to the various departments, and make announcements on the PA system.
Inside Seiyu -- the information counter is on the right
Ritsuko at work in the Fussa Seiyu Information Counter in about 1976
I was amazed at the amount of development that had taken place around the station and between the train station and the base. I don't know why I was so stunned; a lot can happen in fourteen years. Here are a couple more pictures taken from the skybridge in front of the east side of the station.
This road runs from in front of the station along the track. It used to be where hundreds of people would park their bicycles, and then take the train into the city.
The street in the center of this photo goes from the station entrance toward Yokota AB, and through what military personnel used to call bar row.
I didn't plan to spend a lot of time in Fussa that day, since I did want to get back to our hotel in Asakusa to see how Ritsuko was feeling. I did, however want to walk about and check out a few things, one of which was the apartment building where Ritsuko and I first lived together.
It took me a while to find the apartment building. There were so many new structures around it, and some old businesses that had been landmarks for me were gone. Our first apartment was a one room, cold water flat that was about 110 sq ft in area, plus a tiny area for a sink and counter, and a toilet. The good news is that it was a flush toilet, and the bad news is that there was no bath. Every night, Ritsuko and I would walk a block and a half down the street to use the Sentō (neighborhood public bath). When you are young and in love, amenities don't matter. But then really, when you are older and still in love the amenities are nice to have, but still don't matter that much.
This little apartment building is the first place where Ritsuko and I lived together -- it still looks the same as it did in 1975.
This corner is just about a half block away. The station is about two blocks from here.
I truly felt as though I was in a time warp as I walked onward toward the base. Perhaps contributing to this was the fact that it was an overcast dreary day with a drizzle of mixed snow and rain. As I walked, I would often stop and try to remember what used to be in a particular spot. Highrise buildings of businesses, apartments and condos stood in places that I remembered as rice paddies. It was all so surreal.
Approaching HWY 16, I noticed that only a few of the old Sun Heights paddy houses were still standing. An Italian restaurant and its parking lot occupied the space where most of them had been. I didn't cross the Highway, and only took a couple of pictures of the main gate. Here is one of them.
Yokota Air Base main gate, Feb 2005
I walked down Highway 16 for a while, looking at shops that were not familiar to me. There was a clothing store specializing in hip-hop wear that probably isn't available in the BX. Another store specialized in military wear. I chuckled to myself, thinking that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Being mid morning, many of the stores were just opening. The weather was getting worse, and I just kept walking. The rain hitting my face as I watched the concrete ditch covers beneath my feet brought back memories of the days when I used to run after work with the final mile of my route being along this highway.
I walked down to the street before the west housing area, then turned back toward town. The time warp feeling intensified as I walked part of a route on which I used to run almost every afternoon when we lived in the west housing area. I had stopped taking pictures, and moved onward, dazed but trying to keep my mind sufficiently in the present to avoid being hit by a car as I wandered through the streets.
Finally, I returned to the station. Standing on the platform, waiting for my train, I still felt somewhat dazed. A young American woman was standing near the vending machines on the platform, and I struck up a conversation with her while waiting for my train. As a testament to how much things have changed, not only in the town surrounding the base, but also in the military itself, I learned that she is a C-130 pilot who was on her way to Narita airport in order to fly to Hawaii for a training class. I told her that I had been stationed at Yokota 30 years ago, and having visited that morning, felt as though I was in a time warp. Seemingly amused by my dazed state of mind, she looked around the station and asked me how much had the train station changed. I replied that the asphalt portion of the platform on which we were standing was the same. Everything else is different.