Japanese aviation started in Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture. Today the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum is located there to tell the whole story. This 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.
The museum is well-thought out with several zones. There is a history section with mementos and exhibits from the past including some pilots outfits; a laboratory/science area where kids can do hands on stuff with models (Japanese language ability here a definite plus though), and; a commercial aviation section complete with a control tower that was used at a real airport. Of course, most people spend their time in the main exhibit area, because that is where the aircraft are.
You’ll find helicopters, light aircraft with one jet trainer from the ASDF. Some of them are on the floor and some suspended from the ceiling. A pity you can’t reach the one high up to look inside. Anyway, they are all fantastic and in good condition.
Being both a military and civil aviation enthusiast I enjoy all the exhibits even though there is a lack of warbirds. In fact the only one they have is a replica Nakajima Ki-27. You’ll be disappointed if you are hoping to see a Mitsubishi Zero (though one was on temporary display there several years ago).
Some of the displays can be entered, but be careful inside as headroom is very limited. And there are a few simulators to try out that are very fun. You won’t be bored!
Overall I think the museum is good as the exhibits are great with the information about them presented in both English and Japanese. It also has a gift shop, a restaurant and an IMAX theatre. The other good thing is that if you have a smartphone with headphones you can download an audio guide that will give you the information to listen to as you walk around instead of reading.
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 be back on the train to head to your next destination. Another is that some of the aircraft aren’t well-known outside of Japan. If they could add a big name aircraft like a Zero, I'm sure the museum would become a huge attraction for aviation buffs.
If you are a lover of aviation you will probably enjoy this museum greatly, and I would highly recommend it for you. The link to the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum is here. On the 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. An express will take about 30 minutes.
If you are leaving from Shinjuku, you can use:
1) 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) or use the Yamanote line from JR Shinjuku to Takadanobaba, then 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. 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. 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.
It 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