Tokorozawa likes to think of itself as the home of Japan’s first powered flight. That isn’t quite true – the first flight was at the Imperial Army’s Yoyogi Parade Ground (now Yoyogi Park). Tokorozawa can instead lay claim to being the home of Japan’s first permanent airfield. Incidentally, it was the same pilot – Captain (later Lt. General) Yoshitoshi Tokugawa – who was responsible for both inaugural flights.
The other first Tokorozawa can lay claim to is the site of Japan’s first fatal air crash.
On March 28, 1913, Lieutenants Suzujiro Kimura (pilot) and Kin-ichi Tokuda (observer) were returning to Tokorozawa from the Aoyama Parade Grounds (now the Meiji Shrine outer gardens) in their Blériot when, just before noon, a sudden gust of wind broke the left wing, causing the plane to crash in a barley field. Both men died almost immediately.
Both had transferred to the newly formed air corps from the artillery and infantry, respectively.
A monument to both men now stands in Kokukoen Park (the site of the original airfield and air corps), having been moved several times since its unveiling. In fact, many people think that the crash site is where the monument currently stands.
The actual crash site is about one kilometre away, ironically enough, at the edge of a cemetery.
Yes, that is a cemetery.
I decided that it would be worth taking a detour on my way home on a relatively warm and sunny Friday.
Today, Tokorozawa’s connection with aircraft is limited to the Aviation Museum and the Air Traffic Control Centre for the Kanto region.
However, seeing the crash site satisfied my curiosity (I had been meaning to go there for some time), and I even spotted some Chinese bamboo partridges around the marker. It pays to keep your eyes open!