Lounge soars above others
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Perched in the Dakota Lounge it’s easy to imagine you are soaring above west-Tokyo on a luxurious flight during the golden years of commercial aviation.
Back in the 1930s, when the first Douglas DC-3, nicknamed the Dakota, took to the sky, air travel was the preserve of the rich and famous. Ordinary folk travelled by rail or sea.
However, the technical advances in flight spurred by the Great War, mean air lanes were rapidly opening to exotic destinations. And the aircraft that many passengers travelled on in those days and for decades after, was the DC-3.
The Dakota Lounge, on the top floor of the Showakan Hotel, is styled a little like the interior of an old aircraft, although the massive windows lining one wall give diners the sort of panoramic view that only a wingwalker could get in the good old days.
One wall features a painting of Tokyo by night as it would be seen starting down across the wing of a Dakota in flight. Behind the well-stocked bar and in the corridor leading to the café there’s plenty of art deco decorations and old photographs to add to the atmosphere.
Waiters and waitresses wear the uniforms of stewards and stewardesses and wheel out meals on trays to customers just like they would in flight – except the seats are a million times more comfortable and spacious than those on a real plane and they aren’t bolted to the floor or facing in the same direction.
Jun Sato, the café’s manager, said the restaurant was given an aviation theme and named Dakotas to reflect the area’s history.
“It sounded better than Gooney Bird,” he said, referring to the Dakota’s other nickname.
Most of the patrons at the Dakota Lounge for lunch are local women. In the evenings businessmen entertain clients there and Americans from Yokota sometimes bring guests, Sato said.
On Monday nights the café hosts live jazz between 8 pm and 10 pm.
Before and during World War II the area where the Showakan stands was the site of a massive aviation manufacturing and testing complex that comprised numerous factories and three airfields, including the modern day, Yokota Air Base – home to U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force.
Showa Hikoki (Aircraft), which still owns much of the land surrounding the Showakan, made engines for Dakotas that were used by the Japanese Imperial Army prior to and during World War II, Sato said.
The military version of the Dakota, known as the C-47 Skytrain, was brought to Japan by the U.S. Air Force.
According to Capt. Ray Geoffroy, Yokota Air Base spokesman, some C-47s were assigned to the 8th Combat Cargo Squadron which helped ferry troops and supplies to Yokota and other Japanese bases after WWII.
In the post-war years nearby Tachikawa Air Base – now a large botanical garden named Showa Park – was home to the U.S. Air Forces airlift mission, which likely involved C-47s from the 374th Troop Carrier Wing, he said.
These days diners at Dakotas have a ring-side view of modern U.S. Air Force cargo planes – C-130 Hercules – practicing take-offs, landings and cargo drops on the flight line at Yokota.
They also have a bird’s eye view of Showa no Mori (forest), 20 acres of land that was once part of the aircraft manufacturing complex that has been planted with pines and Japan’s famous cherry blossom trees.