Author Archives: Yokota

“Communist Gyoza” in Tachikawa (Gyoza 1059)

This restaurant is known by Americans as “Communist Gyoza”  but its real name is Gyoza Ten-Go-Kyo, which means “Gyoza Heaven.” (Just to confuse things, the owners do a little bilingual word and number play and write it as “Gyoza 1059.”) Tucked away on a side street in Tachikawa, this hole in the wall makes the best gyoza around! Gyoza is a small dumpling (similar to a wonton) which is steamed and pan fried. The gyoza served here are HUGE, about the size of a fist.  Flavors include mushroom, vegetable, garlic, green onion, potato, cheese, corn and shrimp. Seating is limited. Each plate (five very large gyoza) averages ¥700. The restaurant has a policy requiring each person to order a gyoza plate (versus sharing an order) and a drink. You can order more drinks later, but you are forbidden to order any more plates after your initial order. This policy and its enforcement has given rise to the “Communist Gyoza” moniker. No matter, because one plate will be plenty for anyone. Just be warned that the garlic order is essentially like eating a handful of nearly raw garlic. Most people can’t handle it, but you’ll definitely be safe from vampires. The restaurant is colorful and deliciously worthwhile. If Japan had a Seinfeld series, this place would be in it. Because it’s so popular and seating limited, you might want to arrive when it opens at 5:30pm. Otherwise, you may have a long wait. But they do take reservations. Hours: 5:30-10pm  (last order 9:30 pm),  Tuesday-Saturday. Tel: 042-526-2283. GPS: 35.6977,139.4179

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DIRECTIONS: Exit Tachikawa Station from the Granduo side. Turn left and follow the road that borders the Granduo and the railroad tracks. Stay to the left when the road branches. When you see the pedestrian path heading under the railroad tracks to the left, keep your eyes on the right, trained on the small alleys. Turn right to go up the second small alley. Now look at the apartment buildings on your left. There will be a very small black and white sign for Gyoza 1059 at the entrance of the first one. Go up a few steps and enter the restaurant. 
Teresa Negley, Karen Ozment, Kerri Wright, 1996. Liz Ruskin updated 2010. Directions verified 2011.

Joyful Honda

I find this place endlessly fascinating. It’s a giant home center with lots of parking, so it’s somewhat reminiscent of shopping in suburban America, yet it’s very Japanese. Joyful has a huge garden section, lumber and hardware, plants, a bike shop, homewares, kitchen gear, curtains, rugs, liquor and groceries. And that’s just the first floor. Upstairs is where the real fun begins. There’s a pet store with amazingly expensive dogs and cats for sale. I’ve seen kittens with price tags of $1,200 and more. Customers are welcome to bring their own pets, so you see lots of people pushing shopping carts around the mall with barking poodles and Akitas inside. Next to the pet section is a vast hobby department with a frame shop, amazing washi paper, sewing stuff, woodworking materials and tools, beads, an astonishing variety of pens and so much more. Also on the second floor is a food court. Our sponsors brought us here on our first day in Japan and it was perfect. Those who don’t want to try exotic food can head for the McDonald’s or KFC counter. My favorite place is the one right by the entrance that sells goldfish-shaped waffles and takoyaki, aka octopus balls. (Yes, smart alecks, I know that octopus don’t really have balls.) My husband always goes for the Korean place that sells bibimbap. (If you shop with your dog, you should know that you can’t bring Fido to the food court.)
What you won’t find for sale is Hondas, except maybe in the generator and farm tools section. I can’t explain the strange name, but I know it has nothing to do with the Honda car company. Hours: 9-7:30 (pet store 10-8). Tel.: 042-568-2311. GPS: 35.76260, 139.35840. Liz Ruskin, 2012
DIRECTIONS: You can get here easily from the East Gate or the Terminal Gate. From the Terminal Gate, turn right onto Route 16 and stay left (0.9km) to avoid going under the underpass. This puts you on 166, which follows the Yokota fence line to its northern-most tip. At the the light (2.1km) turn right onto Route 5, a major multi-lane road (not a sharp right onto the minor road that hugs the Yokota perimeter.) Stay on this road and you’ll see, on the right, a big billboard for Joyful Honda. Turn right at the Lawsons (3.3km). Make the very first left and look for the parking lot entrance. (3.4km). Parking is free.

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Daiso ¥100 Store, East Gate

Past the Aeon Mall is another Daiso store with ultra-cheap housewares, etc. In the same building is a market with fruits, vegetables, wine and other grocery items at good prices.  The Daiso is open 10am-8pm 042-520-3273;
DIRECTIONS:  Turn left out the East Gate, then right at the first light onto a narrow road. At the second light (1.2K), turn left and drive past the Aeon Mall (1.9K). After the next light, turn right (2.2K) into the parking lot (opposite a 7/11).   Teresa Negley, Fran McDaniel, 2010.

Komeri Garden Store

Komeri is a garden store close to base that has a fair number of plants, pots and yard tools.
DIRECTIONS: Reset your odometer as you turn left out the East Gate. At the second light (0.6km), a “Y” intersection, stay left. When the road ends, turn left. You will pass a large Dorama store and a baby clothing store with the bunny on the sign, both on the right. Turn right at the next light, at 1.5km (Shiritsu Susho Minami Intersection.) Komeri will be a a few blocks up on the left. The sign is only in Katakana, but you can recognize it by the big red rooster on the sign. GPS: 35.7558, 139.3668 Brian Marriott, 2001. Directions updated 2011.

Baby Mam/Baby “Bunny” Store (children’s clothes & stuff)

Baby Mam/Baby “Bunny” Store
This is a baby clothes store about a mile from the East Gate. It has a larger selection than the BX at a reasonable price. You can find cute clothing that makes good gifts for babies back in the States as well as baby showers at Yokota. They also carry a wide selection of strollers and car seats. The back wall is full of shoes and socks. You can also buy Japanese diapers and general baby and child gear, like training chopsticks. The selection of girls’ tights is also very good.
DIRECTIONS: Reset your odometer as you turn left out the East Gate. At the second light (0.6km), a “Y” intersection, stay left. When the road ends, turn left. You will pass a large Dorama store on the right just before the Baby Mam store at 1.4km, also on the right. The Bunny store is easily identified by the large rabbit on the sign. 5-130-1 Musashimurayama-shi. GPS: 35.7521, 139.3659. Brian & Kristen Marriott, 2002.  Alexis Roberts, 2007. Directions updated 2011.

East Gate Vegetable markets

There is a conglomeration of markets nearby in Murayama, about 15 minutes or 5km away. These markets are closed on Thursdays. A bit of advice: do not buy at the first vegetable market on the corner – browse through several stores to make your selections.
DIRECTIONS: Turn left out the East Gate. Stay in the right lane at the second light, proceeding through the “Y” intersection to the “T” intersection. Turn right and continue to another “T” intersection (Jomo gas station on the right). Turn right at the “T”, then left at the first traffic signal (bookstore on the left corner). Go to the next “T” (overhead sign says Tokeidai Higashi) and turn right. Take the first left onto Gakuen Dori. Follow the road to the Inageya Supermarket sign and park in the supermarket lot on the left. Stores are across the street, through the alley, and around on the next larger street.
DIRECTIONS HOME: Turn right out of the parking lot, proceed to the “T” intersection, turn right. Take the first left and go to the next “T” intersection. Turn right at the intersection and take the first left (gas station on the left). Stay on this road and you will pass the D-Store on your left. Just after the first light (Yamaha dealer on your right) turn left onto Heiwa Dori. Continue straight and look ahead for the East Gate on your right. Geri Yasuhara, Delores Street, Teresa Negley, 1996

Shimoda’s Mitsugi Market
On Tuesdays and Fridays, you can shop for fresh produce at Shimoda’s Mitsugi Market, ten minutes from the East Gate.
DIRECTIONS: Go left out the East Gate. Proceed to the fork in the road where you bear left. Stay straight and make a left when you reach the “T” intersection. Make a right turn at the third signal light, onto Yakushi Dori. The first large intersection (Shiritsu Jusho Minami), will be at Shin Ome Kaido with McDonalds on the corner. Go straight through the intersection until you come to a “T”. Turn right on Ome Kaido and proceed 0.3km until you see the market on the left. Parking is in the back; turn left just past the market building (down the alley between the two buildings). Hours: 10-5pm. Telephone: 042-560-0487

Aeon Mall (Diamond City)

aeon mall sarah strausThis huge American-style mall is just two kilometers from the East Gate. Shops include H&M, Gap, Gap Kids, Eddie Bauer, L.L. Bean, Uniqlo and Zara. It is anchored by a large department store with a big supermarket on the first floor.  Also there is a fabulous indoor playground called BorneLund on the first floor.  At the opposite end, on the second floor, is a large store called Victoria that has outdoor equipment and golf supplies. On the second floor is an Aveda Salon aeon mall sarah straus(042-562-5168) where enough English is spoken to achieve a haircut. The Mall also houses a movie theater. (To find out what’s playing: Parking is plentiful and free. Hours: 10am-10pm, open 9am during the Christmas season. Address: 1-3,Enoki 1-chome,Musashimurayama-shi,Tokyo.
DIRECTIONS: Turn left out of the East Gate. Go 300 meters to the 7/11 and turn right on a narrow road. Go straight for 1 kilometer.  Turn left onto Route 59. The corner of the mall will be on your right at the next light.  Turn right here and left into the parking area.

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Hoops: Bagels & More

I LOVE this place! It has fresh food and great variety: Pizza, bagel sandwiches, numerous types of bagels, even tofu cream cheese. They also have a little shop selling all different types of foods, including local produce. (Hoops was carved out of space that used to be Cupid’s garden shop. The plant section is now much smaller but still there.) The prices are decent and they take dollars. They have tables and a kids’ play place.
DIRECTIONS: Turn left out of the Fussa Gate. Hoops is about halfway to the Supply Gate, on the right side of Route 16, next to Blue Seal ice cream. Both have enormous signs, so you can’t miss them. It’s an easy walk or bike ride. They also have a few parking spots. Sierra Kennedy, 2012.

Comment and photos by Kelly O’Donnell, 2013 – I had no idea that there was this great play area upstairs inside the Hoop bagel place. I had gone there 4 or 5 times and had never gone upstairs. There is lots of seating for the parents up there and the waitress will bring your lunch up while the kids play.

Comment by Suzie Qu from Facebook, April 2013: During lunch hours you can NOT use the upstairs without reservations anymore.  They will try to accommodate you if they can, but i know as of about last week, they even put up a sign stating that between certain hours, no seating upstairs unless call ahead.

Magome and Tsumago: Stroll the Ancient Highway

The towns of Magome and Tsumago used to be typical waypoints on Nakasendo, the road between Tokyo and Kyoto during the 1600s and 1700s. Now they’re impossibly picturesque villages that look unchanged since the days of the shogun, with a scenic, peaceful trail running between them.  This was one of my favorite Japanese weekends away.
The trail is about 8 km long and should take about two hours to stroll. It is easy to follow with frequent signs in English. It meanders through forests and settlements and along rice paddies, crossing the road at several points.
It’s a little easier to start from Magome because it’s higher than Tsumago so you’ll have a net downhill.
Both villages have nice-looking ryokans that look ideal for spending the night. Guests pad around in their inn’s yukatas (cotton robes) and eat dinner in the humble dining room. These inns looked more rustic than posh, but a step up from hostels. You could also stay in an onsen (hot springs resort.) The real benefit of spending the night is that you get to enjoy the town in the evening and early morning, before the busloads of tourists show up.
I was quite taken with Tsumago. Magome, which seemed a bit more commercial looked intriguing, too, but I only enjoyed it for a few minutes in the morning before the hordes appeared. Both towns have parking lots. The lots in Magome were much larger but you have to pay to use them.
From March to November, the towns operate an inexpensive baggage-forwarding service. Drop your luggage at either town’s tourist information office in the morning and you can pick it up at the other end by 1pm. There’s also a shuttle bus that runs between the towns in the high season.
It takes at least four hours to drive from Yokota, so it can be done in a regular weekend, but it would be better to do this over a long American holiday weekend to avoid the crowds.
Tsumago’s tourist information center can help you book accommodation: Tel: 0264- 57-3123.  Magome’s information office (Tel: 0573-69-2336) might offer the same service, but it does not have an English website. You can always ask the helpful guys at the Yujo Center for assistance. The site Japanese Guest Houses lists a few inns in Tsumago and Magome. For more information about the towns, try here. GPS for free parking lot in Tsumago: 35.57658, 137.59447.
DIRECTIONS: The drive from Yokota to Tsumago is about 300km, nearly all of it on the Chuo Expressway. (See the map below.) At Lake Suwa, where the Chuo and Nagano Expressways meet, stay on the Chuo, which at Suwa takes a sharp turn to the southwest, toward Nagoya. Alternatively, if you don’t like expressways or you have more time, keep heading toward Nagano a couple of exits, to the Shojiri Interchange. Exit the expressway here and pick up 19, the Nakasendo Highway, which takes you through the Kiso Valley. The distance is about the same but the valley route is more scenic. Liz Ruskin, 2012.

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Takahata Fudo Temple

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a life-changing 700-mile hike. Don’t have that much energy? Then head to Takahata Fudo Temple in nearby Hino for a nice day trip. One of the three famous Kanto Fudo temples, it has a much shorter hiking course with 88 replicas of places along the Shikoku. Start in front of the pagoda. A path winds past the statues marked one, two, three and so on, up to an observation point on the hill, then down to the 88th and final statue at the small Daishido Temple building. Takahata Fudo Temple was founded around the beginning of the 8th century and served the Imperial Family. The temple had small rooms on either side of the altar, one for the common people and one for the upper class. The original temple was located on the top of the hill. When it was destroyed in a storm in 1335, it was rebuilt in its present location. The Niomon Gate was built in 1342 and is now designated a treasure of Japan as is the Fudo Myo O statue in the building next to the office.
The five-story pagoda was completed in 1979. The new temple building was completed in 1987 and is a replica of the older structure. The 200-year-old ceiling with the painting of a dragon was transferred to the new building. It is customary to stand under the dragon to make a wish and then clap your hands; if you hear the dragon roar (the vibration), the dragon will make your wish come true. The new building still features the chrysanthemum crest, which represents the royal family and indicates the royal family used this particular temple at some time in the past. There are various monuments around the temple; on the hill just beside the pagoda is a “nose well,” supposedly the spot where the nose of the Fudo deity landed when it was swept away in the 1335 gale.
Special talismans are for sale at the office to protect the owner from fires, illness, and thieves, as well as those to ensure easy childbirth, family harmony, successful business, and traffic safety. There is a museum of antiquities in the basement of the pagoda. Admission costs ¥20, the museum is closed from December 1 through February 28. A nice flea market (shrine sale) is held here on the third Sunday of ever month. Another good day to visit is the 28th of the month when the regular Ennichi Fair is held. This temple is also a good place to observe New Year, Setsuban on February 3rd, and Buddha’s Birthday on April 8th. A statue is decorated, and sweet tea, amacha, is poured on the statue. Participants pray for individual requests. Special parades for children are held on January 28th and April 28th to ensure safety and growth. Hydrangeas bloom in June, and Shichi-go-san is celebrated here on November 15th. Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 9am-4pm. GPS for parking lot entrance: 35.66164,139.41131.


DIRECTIONS BY TRAIN: Take the train from Fussa to Tachikawa. Exit the station and follow the signs for the Tama monorail station. Ride it until the Takahata Fudo stop.  The temple is a four-minute walk from there: Walk down the stairs toward the main train station. Just past the plaza, where all the bus stops are, you’ll see a red tori gate. Walk through the gate and along the shopping street. It ends at the temple.

Ome River Walk, Near Mt. Mitake

Ome River Walk by Sarah StrausThis a beautiful place to walk along the river, near the base of Mt. Mitake in Ome.  You can get here by train (see Suwai entry) but we’ve found a handy free parking lot. The river is large and energetic, crashing across the rocks. Connected by several pedestrian bridges, a paved trail runs along both sides of the river. The trail crosses a dozen small streams that flow into the river and on the south side these streams create petite but gorgeous waterfalls. You can find, here and there, smaller eddies that are relatively safe to wade in. Parts of the path cut through tall evergreens, reminiscent of the Redwoods and undergrowth Ome River Walk by Sarah Strausin Northern California. (Note for parents: Though paved, the path is not stroller-friendly.) On our excursion we saw people rafting down the river and others fishing with long poles. It’s not unusual to see kayakers practicing their rolls. When you descend from the parking lot you’ll see a pedestrian cable bridge. Cross it and you’ll find, on the left, a fabulous little spot to eat and drink! Order noodles and sake or beer from the booths and sit in a garden setting, overlooking the river. There is also ice cream for the kids and as always, fabulous public bathrooms with heated seats and a place to change diapers. GPS for parking lot: 35.80278, 139.19489. Tel. for Sawanoi Museum just before parking lot entrance: 0428-77-7051.
Ome River Walk by Sarah StrausDIRECTIONS: Set your odometer to zero as you head straight out Fussa Gate. Stay left at the “Y.” Turn right at the “Fussa City Office” intersection (1.1km, city hall on the left, post office on the right). This puts you on Route 29, Shin Okutama Kaido. At 5.6km (Jonathon’s on the near left corner, Family Steak House on the far left) turn left onto 249 and cross the river. When 249 ends, stay right to continue on 411. At 10.9km, in Ome, Route 411 will turn right and go back across the river. Don’t take this right turn! Instead, stay straight as the road number changes to 45. At 17.5km, a free parking lot will appear on your right. (It comes up quick, but the right lane of the road is paved a rusty red color just before the entrance.) The parking lot entrance is marked with a small white sign with a blue “P” on top and underneath it a symbol for handicapped bathroom. Parking is free at this parking lot. Once parked, head toward the bathrooms and then down the steep road to the river. Cross the pedestrian bridge to find both the trail and the outdoor eatery mentioned above.  Also see Ozawa Saki Brewery Entry.
TRAIN DIRECTIONS: You can take the train to Sawai station and walk down to the river. Looking at google maps, I think one could get off at Mitake station also and find the trail at the river. If someone has done this, let us know! Alexandra Winkler & Sarah Straus, 2012

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Two Indoor Playgrounds

1. Aeon Mall outside the East Gate (also called the Diamond City Mall)
Pricey but really fun, this indoor playground is called Børnelund. It features a jumpy raceway, jungle gym with slides descending into a field of plastic balls, a large train table, and different stations with build-it-yourself toys.  With lots of things to climb in, run on, and puzzles to work out, this makes for a very fun outing.  There is also a segregated toddler area for little ones, ages 6 -18 months, including a place to change diapers.  Located on the first floor of the mall, behind the H&M, near a back entrance.  Price is ¥600 for the first 30 minutes for each child, a flat ¥300 for adults, plus ¥100 for each additional 10 minutes for children.  It can add up, but there is also a flat rate of ¥1500 per child for unlimited play. With the unlimited play option you can come and go as you please.  Opens at 10am even during the Christmas season when the mall opens at 9am.  Sarah Straus and Alexandra Winkler, 2012.  Do you like Bornelund and want more??  Try ASOBono in Tokyo or Round 1 in Iruma.
DIRECTIONS: Turn left out of the East Gate. Go 300 meters to the 7-11 and turn right on a narrow road. Go straight for 1 kilometer and turn left onto Route 59. The mall will be on your right at the next traffic light.  Turn right here and left into the parking area.

2. Aeon Mall out the Fussa Gate (Hinode) : Yu Kids Island is less expensive, a bit smaller, but tons of fun all the same.  This indoor playground is about 6km from Fussa Gate. It features many large movable objects – things that rotate around or rock back and forth that kids can climb up or hang from.  There are two balloon stations where kids can hit at balloons being blown around.  This place is the right size to be able to stay in one place and watch your kids play.   I went with kids ages 18 months to 41/2 years and they all had a great time.  Costs a flat ¥600 per child for unlimited play during the week and 60 minutes of play on the weekend.  Note, with the unlimited weekday play you cannot come and go. It is unlimited play until you leave.  It is located on the third floor near the food court with a great kid-size bathroom  right next to it. Open 10am but starts opening early during the Christmas season when the mall opens earlier.  Phone for Hinode Aeon: 042-588-8000. GPS: 35.73349, 139.27547.
DIRECTIONS:  Go straight out Fussa Gate. Cross one set of tracks and stay right at the “Y” split. After you pass over the second set of tracks (with the Fussa train station on your right), make an immediate right where you must (or you will drive the wrong way into a one-way street.)  Then take the next left onto the main street.  The train station is now behind you and this street becomes Route 165. Follow route 165 over the Tama river, and keep going straight.  You will see fuschia Aeon Mall signs directing you.  One warns when you have 3km to go.  And the next, just after the entry to the expressway, will be on the right, telling you to turn left.  Drive a few blocks and you will see the mall at your 2’o’clock position. – Sarah Straus, 2012

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Ome Roller Slide (Kabokuen Park)

Sarah Straus, 2012

This is a great outing for families, and only about 11km from Yokota. The slide is said to be 300 meters long. It’s fun for kids and adults, and it’s FREE! There’s also a kid-sized zip line and a separate area with wooden playground structures. Bring layers of cardboard to sit on because the slide is hard on the rear. You might also want bug repellent, and if it’s been rainy expect mud. It’s probably not safe for kids under 2 because the slides are super bumpy, even in mom or dad’s lap.  GPS: 35.81830, 139.28423
Sarah StrausDIRECTIONS: Turn right out the Terminal Gate onto Route 16. Take the underpass and stay on Route 16 for about 2km. Turn left onto 44, Iwakura Kaido. (The intersection, about 3.2km from the gate, is signposted “IwakuraKaido.” It’s just past a Lawson’s store on the right side of 16.) You will stay on 44 for about 7km. About halfway along you’ll pass under the Ken-O Expressway, and 44 appears to deadend. Turn left at this “T,” and then take the first right. This puts you back on 44. Stay on 44 until you see a large vertical sign that says “Chofu” on your right. Turn left at the traffic light immediately after this sign. Drive a few hundred meters down this small road, until you see a large parking lot on your left. Across from the parking lot is very sharp switchback to the right. Take it uphill. When the retaining wall ends, turn left into the parking lot. Park here. Consult the map in the parking lot to find the slide and zip line areas.  -Anna Quan- Schmoldt, July 2012, photos by Sarah Straus, 2012.

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Hamura Produce Market

This is a popular farmers market in Hamura, easily noted by the lines of people who patiently wait for the market to open at 9:30 each morning. It’s just 5km from Yokota, and all the produce here is grown entirely by farmers local to this area. Getting here when it opens is the best way to get produce that comes in small lots, such as anything just beginning to come into season. These things disappear quickly! The prices vary from lot to lot because each is brought in by a different farmer. There are usually also small batches of fresh baked goods, noodles, and some canned goods. There are always plenty of farm fresh eggs. GPS: 35.76730,139.30728.
DIRECTIONS: Go straight out the Fussa Gate. Cross one set of railroad tracks, stay left at the “Y” and cross another set of tracks. At the Fussa City Hall intersection (with City Hall on the far left corner and the post office on the far right) turn right, onto Shin Okutama Highway, more commonly known as Route 29. Drive about 3.5km, until you reach an intersection that is signposted “Hamura Sports Center.” Go straight through htis intersection. The produce market is the very first right, with a distinctive three peak building where the produce is sold. Meg Martin, 2012.

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Indoor Play Zone in Hamura

This three-story Indoor Play Zone (Hamura Community Center) is close, free and fun. It makes for a great escape on rainy or too-hot days. Enter on the street side of the building, put your shoes on the shelves to the right and head to the section of your choosing. (Shoes and sandals must be removed, so you might want to bring socks for children in summer.)  There is an information desk on the left where you can practice your Japanese language skills.  The first floor is where they seem to have community crafts and classes.  Head up the stairs to the second floor. On the right you will find a nice toddler area with toys – great for kids ages 0 to 2.  When we were there on a weekday, there were plenty of nice Japanese moms and kids meeting in spontaneous playgroups.  Also, on the second floor is a large basketball court with bouncy balls.  Most fun, though, is the rope jungle hovering above the basketball court.  Climb the staircase and enter through the dragon’s mouth.  From the basketball court, there is also an entrance for an outdoor rope obstacle that was closed off when we visited. Maybe it’s open on weekends.  As well, on the block behind the center (to the west) there is a large park and playground with big trees.  We didn’t find any official parking and street parking was hard to locate too.  If anyone finds a good place to park, please post it here.  We did find a fairly empty parking lot close-by, but were unsure if we were allowed to park there as we couldn’t read the Japanese signs.  Play Zone hours: 9-5pm. It might be closed one day of the week. (Maybe someone more skilled at Japanese could let us know.) GPS: 35.76036,139.3285. Alexandra Winkler and Sarah Straus, 2012.
DIRECTIONS: Exit the Terminal Gate and turn right on Route 16. Continue under the underpass and turn left at the first light after the underpass (1.8km). This is Route 163. Continue past the intersection named Hamura Zoological Park and turn left onto a narrow road just after the used car lot (1.2km).  The gray building will be on your right.

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Tama Zoo

tama zoo sarah straus 2013The Tama Zoo has a park-like setting and is serene and quiet on weekdays.  It’s fun and easy with children, making for an inexpensive morning outing. One of my favorite exhibits is the butterfly house. It is in a huge, terraced greenhouse that is perched on the edge of a hill.  A big tree graces the middle, and walkways lead down to a small pond.  The most amazing thing, though, are the thousands and thousands of butterflies.  The place pulsates to the beat of butterfly wings.  My children love to get their faces up close to the butterflies, perched on tropical plants.  Another highlight is the “Lion Bus.” (¥350 per adult, ¥100 per child.) As the glass-sided bus drives through the lion field, lions often jump up on the windows, which makes for great pictures.
tama zoo sarah strausA favorite spot for us is the picnic tables located between the lions and elephants, in the Africa section of the zoo. From this shady spot you can see down into the lions’ den and hear them roar at the lion buses.  This is the perfect place for a packed lunch or an ice cream cone from the nearby vendors.
The chimpanzees are a must-see. There is an indoor viewing area where the chimps hang out.  It is great for getting an up-close look at them and even interact with them through the glass.  But the Koala house can be skipped, in my opinion.  The barren, indoor environment in which they are kept doesn’t match the loveliness of other habitats at this zoo. After traversing this hilly zoo you’ll feel like you got a workout.
DSC_3047On a weekday it took me just 40 minutes drive out, leaving at 9am from the Fussa gate. Returning around 1pm was a bit faster.  Parking costs ¥500 to ¥1000, or you can take the monorail, which you catch in Tachikawa. (The zoo recommends taking the train, especially on weekends when the lots may be full.) Clean bathrooms are everywhere, including family bathrooms with children’s potty seats. Strollers for little ones a must, as they are likely to get tired going up and down the hills.
Hours: 9:30-5pm. Closed Wednesdays (Thursday if Wednesday is a public holiday). Admission for adults is ¥600. Children under 13 are free. Tama Zoological Park, 7-1-1, Hodokubo, Hino-shi, Tokyo 191-0042. Phone: 042-591-1611. Sarah Straus, 2012.
DIRECTIONS: Turn right out the East Gate, then left at the first light. Take this road for about 1km, until it ends at a “T.” Turn right. Stay on this road, Rt. 59, (under a set of railroad tracks and across another set — about 5km), until you reach the Tamaohashi Kita intersection. (Daihatsu dealer on far left.) Turn left DSC_3057here, onto Rt. 29, Shin Okutama Kaido. Turn right when you reach the the Tappibashi Kita intersection, onto Rt. 149. The monorail track will be overhead now. Stay on 149, following the monorail, until you reach the Tama Dobutsu Koen intersection, which has a large monorail station on the right. You’ll see parking lots ahead on the left.
(Leaving from Fussa Gate? Turn left onto Rt. 16 and follow it until it turns sharply to the right, toward Hachioji and the Chuo Expressway. Instead of taking this right turn, go straight. You are now on Rt. 29, Shin Okutama Kaido. Continue as directed above.)
TRAIN DIRECTIONS: Take the Chuo line from Fussa to Tachikawa Station. Exit the station via either the North or the South Exit. Get on the Monorail. Take the monorail to the Tama Dobutsukoen Exit. The zoo is very near the exit. Travel time is about 50 minutes.

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On sunny weekdays you may find the Tama Zoo filled with school children enjoying the park.  – Sarah Straus, Oct 2012

A Note for Newcomers to Yokota

Welcome to Japan! We know how you feel. You want to get out and see the area but you can’t retain any Japanese place names. Tachikawa, Ishikawa, Kamakura — they all run together in your mind. You see other Americans speak a few words of Japanese — asking for the bill, getting directions, speaking to shop clerks — and you think you’ll never be able to do the same. You’re nervous about driving off base. Rest assured: We’ve all been there. It goes away. Here are a few tips to get you started.

•Go to the Yujo Center (across from the Chapel) and talk to the resourceful guys who work at the information desk. They are unbelievably helpful and patient, not matter how specific or vague your quest.

• Sign up for the free “Survival Japanese” course at the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the building behind Chili’s, by the Commissary. Take it as many times as you like, or just use it to get comfortable with a few phrases.

•Buy a set of flashcards to learn Katakana. This Japanese alphabet is used almost exclusively for English words, so if you see these letters on a sign or a menu, chances are you will know the word once you’re able to sound it out. You can learn Katakana in a few hours. Smartphone and iPad owners:  Buy a Katakana flashcard app and you’ll never be bored on a train again.

•Use Hyperdia or Jorudan to plan a train trip.

•Buy a Suica card for the train. It’s so much easier than using individual tickets. Read how here.

•Find a copy of the train map in English. They’re available at some English bookstores. Here’s an online version.

•Get a road atlas in English before you set out on a driving trip. The base library has several.

•Learn how to use GPS technology — either on your wireless device, a navigator or on your desktop computer — to find your way. Read about it here.

•Make sure you have the base switchboard number — 042-552-2511 — in your cell phone or in your wallet. That way, if you’re lost off base, you can call a friend on base for help without making an international call.


Kappa Sushi

*This place had a renovation and its system got changed. There is no longer an English menu and the model bullet train that delivers your order.  
Kappa Sushi is a chain, conveyor belt sushi restaurant that is fun and kid-friendly. There is booth seating along the conveyor belt but you can also order using a touch screen menu at each table. Orders are brought out by a model bullet train. The menu includes sushi and sashimi of course, but also udon, juice boxes, french fries and a variety of desserts. Most plates cost ¥105. There is ample parking in the back. I went for lunch on a Wednesday and it was busy but not crowded. I saw lots of small kids and nobody seemed to mind the squeals of delight coming from my 2-year-old as she watched the bullet train deliver her Hello Kitty juice box. The location I went to is on Highway 5 heading toward Ome. Its a few blocks before Kasi Kosh (aka the Pink Box, a fun second-hand store) and on the same side of the street. GPS: 35.78522, 139.31084.

DIRECTIONS: Exit Fussa gate and turn right onto Rt. 16. Stay straight to take the underpass, then turn left onto Rt. 5, toward Ome. The restaurant is on your right, before road 181. Address: 7-1-7 Shinmachi Oume-shi, Tōkyō-to, Japan. Phone: 0428-30-1036.  Hours: 10am-11pm daily-Sarah Straus, 2012.

Savini Italian Restaurant

After a day of shopping in Tachikawa, go to Savini for lunch or, better yet, for their “Imagination Cake.” This dessert is a light-tasting sponge cake with a generous amount of whipping cream, with small slices of kiwi, cantaloupe, and strawberries. It’s a delicious treat at ¥600 per hefty slice. Other desserts sounded equally scrumptious—baked pudding, chocolate mousse, homemade Italian ice cream, ricotta cheese cake, and fresh fruit (¥500-¥700). Lunch entrees include sirloin garlic steak, grilled lamb (¥1900-¥3500), goulash, veal or grilled chicken (¥1200). Sixteen choices of salad are available for ¥850 to ¥1250: spinach, seafood, tomato, green, octopus, bacon and shimeji, zucchini and eggplant, and crabmeat. Pizza in all combinations are offered: vegetarian, anchovy, shrimp, shorizo, pear, bacon, salmon, seafood, and seppie (squid ink). Pizzas with 19 or less items cost ¥1200 to ¥3900, depending on size. There is also a large selection of drinks. Open since 1968, this 30-seat restaurant fills up fast at lunch time with business women as well as women with bags filled with shopping bargains. There are English menus.

DIRECTIONS: Savini is located on the second floor of the Inoue Building. Take the train from Fussa to Tachikawa. Exit the station, walking past Lumine Dept Store, using the stairs on the left. Cross the street and go down the alley next to the Klimt Coffee Shop (pink awnings). Continue straight on this road and you’ll see the Savini sign. Hours: daily 11:00 am – 12:00 am. –Karen Ozment


Shiofune Kannon, gorgeous temple grounds

YT-7040Shiofune Kannon-ji is a female Buddha temple near Ome, about 30 minutes by car from Yokota. The azalea display in April and May is stunning, and it’s beautiful other times of the year as well. Not even the bleakest February day could detract from the beauty of this area. Pass under the rope between two cedar trees hung with “lightning symbols.” Ring the bell to let Buddha know you have come. The grounds are set in a 270 degree bowl, presided over by a towering Buddha statue at the rim. When the azaleas are out, all different Shiofune Kannon by Sarah Strauscolors blanket the slopes. Paved paths — suitable for a stroller, although hilly — wind through the bowl and the views are breathtaking. Follow the trail down to the pond to spot a duck or two, or even tadpoles or frogs. Hydrangeas and irises during May and June continue the flower season here. From the Buddha statue, you can meander along dirt trails on the back side of the bowl, through a shaded forest.The grounds are open every day 8-5. They never close for holidays and are the scene of several celebrations.  On May 3 ever year, there is fire-walking, food vendors, and lots of people. The small temple is open for inside viewing of Buddha on this day, also the 2nd Sunday in August, as well as during the New Year’s festivities. ¥100 is charged for a close up view of the Buddha. Admission to the grounds is normally free, but when the azaleas are in bloom parking is ¥700 and admission is ¥300.  You may bring a lunch and have a picnic. You might want to bring a blanket to sit on. There is a small snack restaurant with a small gift shop inside. Restrooms are also located next to this building. There is another shop located across from the temple. Shiofune is about 9km from Yokota. To make a day of it, consider visiting the Fukiage Iris Park during the month of June.   Shiofune Kannon GPS 35.80283, 139.28313.


DIRECTIONS:  Exit Terminal Gate (0km) and turn right to head north on Route 16 and take the underpass. Turn left onto Ome Kaido, Route 5, (2.7km). As you near Ome, turn right on Route 194 (7km, Nogami intersection, with Mazda dealer on the left). Follow this road 1.6km up a gentle hill (8.6 from Yokota), until you reach a t-intersection with a traffic light. You’ll see, on the right side of the road, a vertical sign with pink flowers on the bottom pointing you to the left. Turn left here. Drive about 500 meters, until the road ends at a “T” intersection. There is a parking area for the temple on the right. Shiofune Kannon is up the hill to the right, diagonally left of the pedestrian exit on the other side of the parking lot. (What looks like another parking lot just beyond the “T” intersection and playground, is a private use lot for a trucking company. If the temple lot is full, you can carefully proceed up toward the right of the thatched roof gate to the temple complex. There is a white shrine, with a tile roof, toward the back of a further lot on the right hand side. You can park here. This newer shrine, by the way, is dedicated to traffic safety.) -Sarah Straus and Ace Tubbs, 2012, photos by Sarah Straus 2012, 2013, photos updated by Sarah Straus April 2014.

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