Sometimes, one of your most interesting experiences during a trip are finding places that are very unexpected in your destination. Johnson Town Saitama is a good example of such a place. Less than one hour by train from Ikebukuro in Tokyo, Johnson Town is a great destination for a half day trip if you’re interested in modern history and offbeat places in general. Let’s find out a bit more about this little piece of Americana in Japan!
History of Johnson Town Saitama
Back in 1936, Isono Farm bought an area of land from a silk factory, and in 1938, 50 rental houses were constructed here to be leased to army officers. When the war ended in 1945, the American army took over the area and it became Johnson Air Base. In the 1950s, 24 houses were built for US military personnel.
Of course, they wanted to make the personnel feel at home here, so the homes and shops were built to fit the American standard of the 1950s, which was quite luxurious at the time. While much of the rest of the world was rebuilding their broken cities after the war, America was spared a war on their ground so they were booming economically. American homes familiar from the movies; with white picket fences, meticulously mowed green lawns, and American food shops nearby were built in the area to recreate the atmosphere the officers were used to.
From slum to hip
When in the late 1970s the American army gave the area back to Japan and the American inhabitants left, the area turned into a slum. Japanese families lived here cheaply, but it wasn’t until 1996 when they realized that the area was quite special indeed and they started to properly renovate it. The architectural prize-winning renovations were done in 2004, and the newly named Johnson Town started attracting artsy types who wanted to live in something different-looking than most people.
New buildings were added to the existing ones, and all homes and shops are built according to the principle of safe and comfortable living while staying in tune with the history of the town and preserving the original townscape.
Things to do in Johnson Town
Nowadays, although some parts are 100% residential, Johnson Town is not just a place to live. The extraordinary town has become a popular destination for day trips from Tokyo. The location is surrounded by nature, so it is easy to feel like you’re really away from the city in a leafy green suburb with fresh air. So what is there to do in Johnson Town besides soaking up the nice atmosphere?
First of all, there’s some great shopping to be done. As there are a lot of artists who got attracted by and now live in Johnson Town, there are a lot of boutique shops with original clothing and other products that you can’t find elsewhere. C.E.L store has American culture-inspired men’s and ladies’ fashion from Japan, the US, and they have their own clothing line as well. MiMiMoM has American items and goods, specializing in fun little knick-knacks, and those who love the UK should stop by Cotswolds for some quintessential British goods.
There are galleries as well such as the BIWAHOUSE Gallery where a folding artist exposes and sells her work, and you can find several shops specialized in home decorations. For the feline-lovers among us there is even a cat cafe, Nikemin house. And no worries dog-lovers, there is a dog cafe as well, Cafe Green. By the way, Johnson Town is a very pet-friendly town and dogs are welcome in many shops.
American food & fusion dishes
Did you get hungry from all that shopping? Of course, one of the main reasons to come to Johnson Town is also to eat some great all-American or eastern-western fusion food. If you want to feel like you’re in a rustic American countryside restaurant, Cafe Sainomori (カフェ 彩の森) will be right up your alley. There are hamburgers, American apple pie, and loco moco on the menu. BLUE CORN is also a good destination for American food, as it is based on a diner and they serve hamburgers and amazing fried potatoes.
A great place to try some fusion food is Kaigara cafe (貝殻喫茶室), where they serve fruit sandwiches, set meals, and cream soda. Curry is one of Japan’s oldest fusion dishes, and a delicious version is made at CURRY Fukumitsudo (CURRY 福満堂).
As there’s a strong relationship between Okinawa and the US, it only makes sense that there is an Okinawan restaurant as well. Kafuu serves Okinawa soba and very good pancakes. For dessert, Koigakubo serves some very fresh and delicious homemade gelato.
How to get to Johnson Town
From Tokyo it is quite easy to get to Johnson Town. From Ikebukuro take an express train to Irumashi Station (40 min) and from there walk to Johnson Town in about 18 minutes (about 3 minutes by taxi). If you come by car, there is a coin-operated parking lot with 86 parking spaces. Some stores in Johnson Town offer service tickets for parking. It is free to park for 30 minutes after entry, thereafter it is ¥200 for every 60 minutes and it is ¥800 for a 24-hour period maximum. On weekends and holidays it is ¥200 for every 30 minutes after entry, ¥1,000 maximum for 24 hours.
Day trips from Tokyo
If you’re staying in Tokyo for several days, doing day trips like going to Johnson Town will give you a nice multifaceted experience of the metropolis and its surroundings. There are many other trips that can be done within a day in the Tokyo area. We offer fun and interesting private tours to places like:
Johnson Town is a small American style village, north east of Tokyo, dating back to the 1950s. It is an interesting place to see and makes for a fun half day trip. You can visit some carefully restored American houses and there are several shops around selling a variety of stuff. Spend a relaxing afternoon strolling around and enjoying some American-fusion food.
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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.
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