From lodging to newspapers, a brief look inside Tokyo’s historic US Army post | Article
AKASAKA PRESS CENTER, Japan – On a small parcel of land in the heart of Tokyo sits a U.S. Army post surrounded by the sights of a vibrant tourist district.
The installation, called Akasaka Press Center, once housed an Imperial Japanese Army infantry regiment that American occupation forces later replaced at the end of World War II.
Today, a recreational lodge, the headquarters of Stars and Stripes Pacific, and a helipad used for emergencies and dignitary visits – including U.S. presidents, Michael Jackson and other celebrities who have met with troops – primarily operate here.
One of 17 sites that U.S. Army Garrison Japan manages across the country, the installation has become a launching pad for military personnel and their families who stay in the large, affordable hotel rooms offered at its Hardy Barracks.
Guests can explore parks, art galleries and museums, as well as restaurants and the abundant nightlife of the Roppongi district, all within walking distance.
“Hardy Barracks is one of the best amenities we have in our MWR portfolio,” said Rick Bosch, director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation for USAG Japan. “To have a footprint in the most populated city on the planet right now, with all of its history and cultural resources, is such an incredible asset to the Army families and civilians out here in Japan.”
About two years ago, the former barracks site, originally built in the 1960s and named after Cpl. Elmer Hardy, who was killed in the Korean War in 1950, underwent more than $1 million in renovations.
Every piece of furniture and all the carpet, wallpaper, electrical fixtures, pillows and blankets were replaced in each of its 35 rooms. A few of the rooms have also become pet-friendly for the first time.
Bosch said anyone who has visited Hardy Barracks in the past would be surprised at how it looks now.
“Hardy Barracks and the Akasaka Press Center have got a storied history and we want to continue that history for many years to come,” Bosch said. “The way to really make that work is to make sure we are reinvesting into these facilities.”
The project was intended to renovate the facility ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which had its opening ceremony about a mile away at the Japan National Stadium.
As the final touches were being made for the anticipated flood of guests, the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep the world.
“We were truly looking for Hardy Barracks to be the busiest it has ever been,” Bosch said. “We put a huge effort into getting the center ready, and then the world changed.”
Change of mission
The borders closed to tourists and restrictions within the country made it difficult for Hardy Barracks to host travelers.
“Instead of the ribbon-cutting and getting guests in and excited, Hardy Barracks was essentially mothballed,” Bosch said, “because everyone was sheltering in place while we figured out what happens next.”
At first, Camp Zama Army Lodging was the restriction-of-movement site for those arriving overseas. But when it hit its capacity, Hardy Barracks opened its doors to serve a different mission.
For the next 18 months, Bosch said the hotel’s occupancy rate was over 95% as it took in more than 1,000 military personnel and family members who spent days inside the newly renovated rooms while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
Staff members also assisted the weary travelers by delivering hot meals from the nearby New Sanno Hotel and personal hygiene items and snacks purchased from the Navy Exchange mini mart on post.
“Hardy Barracks actually became the tip of the spear as one of our premiere ROM locations, where we can move inbound families, safely and comfortably,” Bosch said.
The director looks to switch gears and focus the hotel back to its original purpose of providing rest and recuperation to vacationers.
“We went from the Olympic dream to meeting mission needs … to now that restrictions are starting to lift, we want to transition and get more of the R&R travelers there,” he said.
Until the borders fully reopen to overseas guests, such as retirees, Bosch said personnel already here can take advantage of the low rates that range from $50 to $65 per night for rooms roughly twice the size of those in hotels outside the gate.
Local national employees can also book a room there on a space-available basis.
Bosch, who has a 9-year-old daughter, said his family will sometimes stay there, instead of traveling all the way back to Camp Zama after a long day of exploring Tokyo.
“With younger kids it’s easier to spend the night and get an early jump on the day,” he said, adding that it is also convenient to be minutes from a bed when a tired child is in desperate need of a nap.
Besides being a home base for travelers, the installation is also home to a storied military newspaper.
Inside another 1960s-era building next to the barracks, a pair of German printing presses roar to life five days a week to roll out thousands of copies of the Stars and Stripes Pacific newspaper.
With its proximity to U.S. military bases and international airports, the location of the Stripes office allows the newspaper to be quickly delivered to American troops stationed in the country, South Korea and Guam.
“This serves as that central point, where the newspapers are printed, distributed and then flown by air to all the other U.S. facilities in Asia,” said Michael Ryan, chief of staff for Stripes Pacific.
Shortly after WWII ended in 1945, Stripes initially set up editorial offices in a nearby building, where the Nippon Times, now the Japan Times, had been publishing its newspaper.
More than 400,000 American troops occupied Japan at the time and they moved into parts of Tokyo, including here, that had not been previously destroyed by firebombing missions, Ryan said.
In the early 1950s, Stripes then moved to a temporary location on Akasaka Press Center and about a decade later into its current building.
Around the same time, a separate large barracks building that dominated the northern part of the installation was acquired by the University of Tokyo. It was later torn down to make room for the National Art Center, according to a plaque near its entrance.
A small façade of the original structure, which was built in 1928, was saved for its historical significance and can be seen in front of the art center, which has free admission.
Above the first floor of the Stripes building, where the printing presses and giant 1,000-pound rolls of paper reside, the newspaper has a print shop for posters, business cards and other printing services, cubicles for its editorial staff, and a treasure trove of U.S. military history from the region inside a climate-controlled archive.
The carefully sorted newspaper clippings and photos reveal a unique look at what troops witnessed decades ago, from the gritty war coverage in Korea and Vietnam to routine community events.
The first Stripes newspaper to be printed in Japan was published on Oct. 3, 1945. A yellowed, aged copy of that newspaper is stored in the archive and on the front page is a photo touting the 1st Cavalry Division as the first U.S. Army unit to guard Tokyo.
The daily newspaper, along with its supplemental weekly regional newspapers, continues to inform military personnel around Asia and the world.
While Stripes Pacific works closely with several U.S. military commands to conduct its mission, Ryan, a retired Airman who spent time at Camp Zama where his father was once stationed as a Soldier, said its most significant relationship is with USAG Japan.
In order for the central office to keep running smoothly, it relies on USAG Japan to provide oversight and maintenance of the building as well as human resources assistance for its American and Japanese workforce.
“We have many support agreements with each of the services and bases,” Ryan said. “The support agreement with Zama is the most important one we have. Without the support we get from Zama, the Stars and Stripes could not operate here. We could not perform our mission.”
U.S. Army Garrison Japan news
USAG Japan official website