By Dr. John Treiber , 374th Airlift Wing History Office
/ Published January 04, 2015
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Along with changes in flying operations - the move away from bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance -- by the early 1970s the Air Force had decided to return most of its properties in the Kanto Plain-to the Japanese government as part of a multiyear, multi-million dollar project called the Kanto Plain Consolidation Plan (KPCP). In the old days the greater Tokyo area was home to a number of Air Force bases and housing complexes, and in the immediate postwar period most of them were located in what we would call the countryside. However, as Japan's economy boomed starting in the mid-1950s, and especially in the 1960s, Tokyo grew exponentially and suddenly the Air Force's properties were surrounded by suburbs and cities. As growth continued the Government of Japan (GOJ) began to need for its own purposes the reasonably large tracts of land occupied by these properties: First for the Olympics in 1964, and later for public housing projects and parks. Although it was the height of the Vietnam War, the United States and Japan worked out a deal in which the GOJ would pay for the consolidation and modernization of Yokota Air Base in exchange for most of the Air Force properties in the greater Tokyo region.
Put simply KPCP was designed to bring all Tokyo-area Air Force operations, administration, housing annexes, medical facilities and schools to Yokota Air Base, and the project was massive in scope. As noted in the previous history article flight operations ceased at nearby Tachikawa Air Base (now Showa Park) in 1969, with the remainder of that huge base released in pieces to GOJ through 1977. Prior to this there were hints that changes were coming. For instance Showa Air Station and its golf course (now the Mori Town Mall area south of the base) were returned to Japan in 1969. However, once KPCP was initiated things moved quickly as Chofu Airfield was returned to Japan in fall 1972, and Yamato Air Station, the Mito Range, South Camp Drake (which included a military golf course), Green Park housing, Grant Heights housing, and Johnson Air Station housing were all shuttered and returned to Japan in 1973. Properties continued to change hands, and in late 1974 the Air Force turned over the Kanto Mura Housing Annex, followed by Fuchu Air Station in summer 1975, and North Camp Drake in November 1976. With the downsizing and eventual closure of Tachikawa Air Base, Yokota not only received the United Nations mission (hence the UN flag flying at the base) but also took responsibility for a number of important detached properties throughout Japan including a handful in the Kanto Plain such as the Tama Service Annex, the Tokorozawa Transmitter Site, and the Owada Transmitter Site.
The massive KPCP resulted in the residential development of the East Side where the two-story concrete Garden Units (4-unit townhouses) began opening for occupancy in 1972. Until then Yokota's east side was a largely undeveloped chunk of land that included a munitions-storage area that was completely removed in 1971 after the last F-4 fighters left. The original six East Side towers were constructed from 1973 to 1976, with the first three opening in 1974. Other important East Side facilities that opened as part of KPCP were the base hospital, the movie theater, the East Chapel, Mendel Elementary, the tennis courts, and the strip mall. KPCP also heavily impacted the built environment of the main base and west area. Significantly, the 5th Air Force moved to Yokota from Fuchu Air Station in late 1974 after its new headquarters building and general officers' quarters were completed in the heart of the base. Other KPCP-era main-base facilities included the main chapel, Yujo Recreation Center, the Officers' and Enlisted Clubs, plus some north housing units. KPCP construction in Yokota's west area included a new commissary (now the BXtra), an exchange, (now the bowling alley), another movie theater (now used for military training), a bank building, and a gas station that was demolished in 2010.
Another important outcome of KPCP was GOJ's project to widen Route 16 into a four-lane highway, a project that finally got started in 1979 and continued throughout the 1980s. Until that time Route 16, an important road that travels north-south along the main base, was a two-lane road constantly clogged with traffic. To facilitate GOJ's plan the US Air Force gave up a significant amount of land along Yokota's western fence-line, a project that also required the demolition of many old buildings. This sort of interaction with the Japanese government and local communities has been a common theme throughout Yokota's history, but it was especially apparent during the KPCP era.
At Yokota in the 21st century there are a few vestiges of the base's first 30 years, but the fact is that 1970s Yokota under KPCP saw the closing of one distinct period and the opening of another. One symbol of this was the 5th Air Force's move from Fuchu Air Station to Yokota in November 1974. Equally significant happened in September 1975 when Yokota received a tactical airlift mission with the arrival of the 345th Tactical Airlift Squadron. The squadron had eighteen C-130Es, and it carried out various airlift missions in the region including resupplying remote US outposts such as Iwo Jima (Iwo-To) and Marcus Island. While those particular flying missions ended in the early 1990s, tactical airlift continues into the present at Yokota under the 36th Airlift Squadron and 374th Operations Group.
The early 1970s also saw Yokota take its position as the preeminent Air Force base in the Kanto Plain. As such it was immediately involved in such historical events as Operation Baby Lift in April 1975, part of the mass movement of Vietnamese refugees following the collapse the South Vietnam. Yokota also became fully self-contained in April 1976 when the base hospital opened and the older facility at Tachikawa was released to GOJ. Until that year Yokota residents had to leave the base and drive to the Tachikawa facility for most medical and dental care. Beyond changes to missions and infrastructure, local relations evolved during KPCP. Until the early 1970s Tachikawa Air Base had been the main location for significant community relations events such as open houses and air shows. As a result of Yokota's newfound status, the first Friendship Festival took place at the base in September 1973. While nothing like today's annual summertime extravaganza, the 1973 festival anticipated larger events to come including the July 1976 Bicentennial open house and air show that marked the real beginning of Yokota's long Friendship Festival tradition.
Unlike most of Yokota's history which tended to unfold in an almost organic manner, the KPCP years of 1971 to 1979 were well planned and had repercussions that are still felt today. The next article will discuss Yokota in the post-KPCP era.