Photo/Illutration An Imperial Japanese Army ammunition bunker sits in a forest in the Tama Hills Recreation Center. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

The Tama Hills Recreation Center is a huge plot of land that stretches over the cities of Tama and Inagi in Tokyo.

It has remained virtually untouched for more than 70 years. Owing to a combination of fortuitous circumstances, it is a place rich in history and biodiversity.

The center was once an Imperial Japanese Army arsenal during World War II. Bombs were stored in hidden bunkers. During the occupation, the U.S. military took possession of the arsenal and stored its bombs and ammunition there.

In the early 1950s, inspection, maintenance, retrofitting and the disposal of ammunition components took place, and aerial bombs were stored there during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The facility today borders Tama New Town, one of the largest residential housing developments in Japan, which was launched in the 1960s.

Despite its proximity to the vast residential area, “Tama Saabisu Hojo Shisetsu,” as it’s currently known in Japanese, remains off the radar for many people.

With relative peace restored, in the mid-1950s, the Tama site was transformed for use as a religious retreat center that hosted and continues to host Boy Scout and Girl Scout campers. Today, with a couple of land swap deals, a golf course, lodging facility, campsites, horseback riding stables, paintball fields and more lie on a section of the site.

Many rare plants and creatures live in the lush forest, ironically, because the site was never returned to Japan and made public. Periodically there have been eco-tours--a walking nature and history exploration tour--hosted for residents of the city of Inagi.

Intact and scattered about the site among overgrown bush are old wooden structures, bunkers that stored munitions, tunnels, a rusty boiler plant and chimney and ruins of air raid shelters. It looks like scenes from a Studio Ghibli movie.

Entrance to Tama Hills Recreation Center is usually limited to SOFA-status personnel and their guests, except for once a year in the summer, when it hosts an open-gate event. The 40th annual Inagi Festival was to be held in 2020, but it has been postponed or canceled until COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

At the festival, children can hop around in inflatable bounce houses, enjoy pony rides, eat American barbecue and other festival foods, listen and watch local bands do their thing, and more.

An ammo depot has been re-created as a place for recreation. If land could talk, I’ll bet it has a lot of war stories and more to tell.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the July 5 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.