Yokota Air Base and the Yokosuka naval base are well-known U.S. bases in the Tokyo area. But few people know the U.S. military also has a major facility right in the heart of the city.
Since 1945, U.S. Forces Japan has been keeping an off-limits heliport and buildings in a complex near the Roppongi entertainment district.
On April 19, many visitors at an observatory in a high rise at the Roppongi Hills complex were surprised to see low-flying American helicopters nearby.
“Why do we have military helicopters here?” one of the spectators asked.
The choppers landed on the heliport in the Akasaka Press Center premises and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence got out of one of them and climbed into a nearby waiting vehicle.
Defense Secretary James Mattis used the 27,000-sq.-meter facility, also called Hardy Barracks, on his way to the Prime Minister’s Office during his trip to Tokyo in February.
The U.S. Army facility is some 35 km southeast of Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, home to the headquarters of all forces based in Japan. Helicopters take off and land at Hardy Barracks even at night and early morning for operations involving Yokota and the other U.S. military facilities in the wider metropolitan area, including Yokosuka and other bases in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The facility was seized by the U.S. soon after Japan’s defeat in World War II. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been demanding that the U.S. return the land.
The U.S. National Security Agency’s presence in Japan was also for many years managed out of a “cover office” within the Hardy Barracks compound, The Intercept website reported last month, citing classified documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“I heard North Korean missiles target U.S. military bases in Japan. I am worried this (Akasaka Press Center) might be one,” said Emiko Kagaya, a 68-year-old woman who grew up nearby.
“We share the struggles of people in Okinawa,” said Junko Nakasato, 68, Kagaya’s childhood friend, referring to the prefecture that hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
A group of protesters, the Action Committee to Get Rid of Hardy Barracks, held a rally the day before Pence’s visit in a park near the base calling for the removal of the facility.