Japanese aviation started in Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture, and today the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum is located there to tell the whole story. The place is a mini-mecca for lovers of flight. The exhibits are very, very good and well-worth seeing for anyone who has an interest in the subject.
In my opinion, the museum is well-thought out with several different zones. So you'll find a history section with mementos and exhibits from the past including some of the pilots outfits; a laboratory/science area where kids can do some hands on stuff with models (Japanese language ability here a definite plus though) and; a commercial aviation section complete with control tower that was actually used at an airport. However, I think you'll find yourself spending most of your time in the main exhibit area of the museum as that is where the aircraft are and they are everyone comes to see. Some aircraft are on the floor as well as some being suspended from the ceiling. Being a military and aviation enthusiast it is something I greatly enjoyed, even though military exhibits are very limited. The only fighter aircraft they have there is a replica Nakajima Ki-27 but not a Zero (though one was on temporary display there several years ago).
You can also enter a few of the displays, but be careful inside the helicopters as headroom is very limited. There are a few simulators there for kids (and dads) to try out that are very fun.
Overall I think the museum is pretty good as the exhibits are great with the information about them presented in both English and Japanese. It also has a gift shop, restaurant and IMAX theatre. The other good thing about the museum is that if you have smartphone and some headphones you can also download an audio guide that will give you something that you can listen to as you walk around instead of reading it.
There are a few things which might stop you from going. One is that it is fairly small and there is nothing else in the nearby area, which means once you are finished there you'll need to get back on the train and head to your next destination. Another is that most of the aircraft in the display area are American in origin. And if they could add a big name aircraft like a Zero, I'm sure the museum would become a huge attraction in Saitama.
However, if you are a lover of aviation I think you would probably enjoy this museum greatly, but if you aren't ... it might be better to head elsewhere. The link to the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum is here. On their homepage there is also a coupon that you can print out to get a discount.
How to get to the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum
The museum is located very close to Koku-Koen station which is on the Seibu-Shinjuku line.
Coming from Tokyo there are a few different ways to get there. If you are going from Ikebukuro use the Seibu-Ikebukuro line and change to the Seibu Shinjuku line at Tokorozawa. If you can get an express it will take about 30 minutes.
If you are leaving from Shinjuku you have several choices:
1) Use the Seibu-Shinjuku line (which is not in the big JR station, you can see the location on the map). Express trains will take roughly thirty minutes;
2) You can also use the Yamanote line from JR Shinjuku to get to Takadanobaba where you can change to the Seibu-Shinjuku line. This will take about 50 minutes by express train.
Before you go make sure to check train timetables as you might get some very easy connections. Once at Koku-Koen station leave via the east exit and it is about an eight minute walk to the museum. Here is a Google Map to show you the way:
The museum is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (with last admittance at 4:30 pm) Tuesday to Sunday with it being closed on Mondays. However as with many museums in Tokyo, if the Monday is a public holiday it will be open and on the following day it will be closed.
The museum is also closed on the third Tuesday in December as well as being closed over the New Year period, from December 29 until January 1.
The restaurant is open from 9:30am to 6pm (March to October) and 9:30am to 5pm (November to February)
For the main exhibition hall it is 510 yen and the IMAX theatre is 620 yen.
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Gotokuji - the home of Japan's Maneki Neko
Hama-Rikyu Gardens - one of Tokyo best parks and it also has a lot of history
Imperial Palace - the home of Japan's emperor, just unfortunate that you won't be able to see him
Shitamachi Museum - learn about how the people of Tokyo used to live
Tower Hall Funabori - small, but this obervatory is pretty cool