Johnson Town AN ODE TO America’s past
Hidden in the depths of Saitama, past the Iruma Self-Defense Airbase there lies a little place called Johnson Town. The locals may refer to the area as Iruma, located in Saitama prefecture, but Johnson Town is a quaint little area that takes you back some 70 years or more. This was a time when Japan was inhabited by foreigners and under foreign control.
Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II on August 15, 1945, lead to the Allied powers, the majority of whom were American soldiers, arriving and settling in Japan. It was the first time, the island was controlled by a foreign power, and the inhabitants would stay on to live for another 7 years. After this period, a treaty was signed and came into effect on April 28, 1952, and so the soldiers departed the war-torn country but left a piece of American history in their footsteps.
What remains is now known as the area called Johnson Town, an obscure little place that has ties with some historically significant events from Japan’s darker past.
How to Get There?
Depending on where you are coming from, Ikebukuro is the best place to head to as a starting point. Ikebukuro station connects you to the Ikebukuro line, which offers several services to Irumashi station. Using this line, you can catch an express service or regular train, which will take you around 30-40 minutes and cost 440 yen.
The town itself is located a decent 20-minute walk from the station if you’re willing, or a cheap taxi fare for those seeking an easier option. Note that arriving there by taxi from the station is a relatively easy trip, as you should be able to find many waiting parked outside the station exit. However, returning to the same station by taxi was a greater challenge, as they are few and far between in the Johnson town vicinity.
As you approach the area, you will instantly recognise the town, due to its protruding yet colourful and welcome English signage and distinctive American style architecture. Housing, with easily identifiable weatherboarding, old wooden porches and furniture, reminiscent of an old American 1950s movie. All of which sits in stark contrast to the surrounding Japanese style residences.
Inside the City of Novelty
As you begin your journey into the town, there is an eerie feel almost as if you are acting out a scene from a John Wayne classic. Yet, the deeper you explore, the more you soon realise this is a predominantly Japanese area, without a hint of American life. Johnson town also pays tribute to American style automobiles, as you can find multiple SUVs, vans, classic cars, caravans and more parked in the driveways and across the front gardens of many homes.
The signage that can be found on people’s front lawns, which I jokingly assume also pays homage to the American lifestyle or mentality is also interesting. One particular sign warning strangers to ‘Keep Out’ and I quote ‘No F**king Trespassing.
Other places of interest I stumbled upon was a classic tree house, sitting perched out the front of one of the stores. This was a sight that brought back many nostalgic memories from my early childhood of climbing trees and playing with the other local kids. In addition, the place is littered with various types of gift shops, full of American memorabilia, reminiscent from the 1950s and American style food chains, offering a range of western style meals, including burgers, fries, hot dogs and the like.
We decided to give one of the burgers places a whirl, as it seemed fitting in line with the American theme. We proceeded to order an Avocado burger each and cheesy fries, which whilst not the healthiest of choices, was highly satisfying, both in terms of quantity and taste. The staff in the diner spoke very little English, yet as their menus were full of photographs this made it easy for both us, and I imagine any tourist lacking Japanese communication skills. The place we randomly selected to enter also had a unique and fascinating collection of American related goods, including canned food, sweets, chips and other food items. Furthermore, they had what appeared to be second-hand clothes and other military-style instruments.
As we left the diner, we completed remaining tour of the city checking out a few more gift shops before returning to Irumashi station on foot.
Johnson Town is definitely one of the more unique experiences you can find just outside central Tokyo. From its reminders of old 1950s America to the quaint little gift shops and range of American diners. This blast from the past is an interesting one day adventure that begs to be explored. If not only for its classic architecture and novelty factor but also its subtle connection to Japanese history.
You can also find more photos of Johnson Town here, although the website is in Japanese.