Modern America meets traditional Japanese outside Yokota

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Toshiaki Oohashi, who works for Fussa City, would describe it as a place where traditional Japanese spirit and an American atmosphere meet. With Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples on one side and American-style restaurants and shops on the other, it’s easy to see the crossover.

“Fussa is a kind of fusion town,” says Oohashi. 

While western Fussa offers home to traditional Japanese buildings, such as two magnificent breweries, shrines and temples, its eastern district has a heavy American influence, especially along Route 16, aka Base Side St., thanks to the presence of Yokota Air Base, according to Oohashi.

“I think the city is a pro-military and pro-American,” says Saori Hashimoto, a Fussa local and restaurant staffer. “I love its open, friendly and cheerful atmosphere, and I feel Americans from the Yokota AB are greatly contributing to that.” 

Since Fussa can be read as “luck-born” in kanji (福生), locals often refer to the city as “happy town”. It’s also a small town - ranking as the 3rd smallest city in Tokyo. Because of this, many of the town’s attractions are packed within a 15-minute walk from the five train stations (Fussa, Ushihama, Haijima, Higashi Fussa and Kumakawa).

Fussa is a town of music, as well. With numerous live music venues, rock festivals and hip hop events held throughout the year, pop music has been deeply rooted in the city, according to Oohashi.

“With the American base, I think the music has already become part of our town,” Oohashi said.

The town has rental bicycles available at “Kurumiru Fussa,” the city’s tourist information center near JR Fussa Station. The cheap and efficient mode of transportation (500 yen for 3 hours) was perfect for my one-day tour of this “happy” fusion town.

Western Fussa

Blessed with clean spring water, Fussa is home to two major sake breweries – Ishikawa Shuzo and Tamura Shuzojo.

Both of the breweries offer a free tour that let you check out their classic-looking, traditional facility where you can learn how to brew sake, and sample their product. They are must-see attractions.

When I visited Tamura Brewery, I found its tall red brick chimney and classical white and black traditional storehouses soaring into the sky, forming a landmark in the pastoral district of western Fussa.

Owners of brewery, the Tamura Family has land along the Tamagawa Aqueduct and were once the leaders of Fussa throughout the ages, according to Masaru Yoshihara of the brewery.

“We have been brewing a limited amount of superb sake because of our motto ‘brew carefully and sell conscientiously,’ since we started 195 years ago,” he said.

While enjoying one-hour facility tour, I was impressed with the well-arranged brewing facility housed in traditional buildings registered as cultural properties.

The garden was also beautifully laid out, and a 1,000-year-old zelkova tree standing nearby overwhelmed me with its majestic look.

“I personally believe this tree is a power spot of Fussa,” Yoshihara said with a laugh. “Locals often visit us to touch the tree and wish for their fortunes.”

At the end of tour, I was able to sample the brewery’s premiere sake called “maboroshi” (phantom). 

Well-polished quality rice and Fussa’s mineral spring water, along with expertise of the brewers gave it a fresh, gentle and fruity flavor – really tasty sake!

I was also able to visit the former residence of Yamaju Tamura family, who were relatives of the brewery owners. The elegant 

house let me take a glance at life and history of the town in those days. The main hall and two storehouses were registered as national cultural properties.

Both Seigan-in Temple and Jinmeisha Shrine are also great attractions to visit in the western part of Fussa.

Historic Seigan-in Temple personified the peaceful and quiet state of mind of Zen Buddhism through its plain old wooden buildings and tiny Japanese-style garden. Jinmeisha Shrine houses the local tutelary deity and is considered a guardian of housing, food and clothes.

The attractions sit along Tama River and Tamagawa Aqueduct. The aqueduct was built 364 years ago to supply water to the center of Tokyo, and its calm and peaceful, rural look around Niiboribashi Bridge was named one of Tokyo’s 100 most beautiful places.

Eastern Fussa

On the other district, Eastern Fussa accommodates numerous American-fashioned shops, restaurants and bars.

Near the Supply Gate at Yokota AB, off Route 16, an American-style house in the 1950s is preserved as “Fussa American House”. Since it is only open on weekends, I was, unfortunately, not able to see the inside of house. But looking at the impressive blue house from the outside, its garden with a beautiful green lawn and old-fashioned barbecue grills made me feel as if I were watching a James Dean movie.

Kurumiru Fussa

Location: 23 Honcho, Fussa City

Hours: Tues. – Sun., 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Admission: Free

Tel: 042-530-2341

Tamura Shuzojo Sake Brewery

Location: 626 Fussa, Fussa City (10-minute walk from JR Fussa Station) 

 

Tour: Available Feb. – Nov., Tues. – Sat., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Sun., Mon. and holidays)

URL: www.seishu-kasen.com/

Admission: Free

Tel: 042-551-0003

 

Ishikawa Shuzo Sake Brewery

Location: 1 Kumakawa, Fussa City

Tour: Available 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

URL: tamajiman.co.jp/en/

Admission: Free

Tel: 042-553-0100

 

Former Residence of Yamaju Tamura Family

Location: 1158 Fussa, Fussa City,  Tokyo

Hours: Tues. – Sun., 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Admission: Free

Tel: 042-530-1120

 

Fussa American House

Location: 2476-1 Fussa, Fussa City, Tokyo

Hours: Fri., Sat., Sun. and holidays, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Tel: 042-513-0432

 

Hotdog Highlights Pro-American Town

While strolling in the town, I noticed there were red flags of FUSSADOG located here and there along the street.

Fussadog is a local hotdog made in accordance with strict standards, according to Soshi Shibata of Fussa City Commerce and Industry.

“All the ingredients must be made in Fussa,” Shibata said. “The sausage must be 16 centimeters long and 23 millimeters thick, as they symbolize Route ‘16’ and Fussa (can be pronounced as ‘23’ in Japanese).” 

The city introduced it as an official local product in 2011. 

The city was looking to promote itself by establishing a local specialty. With an American base and ballpark, along with two ham factories, Ohtama Ham and Fussa Ham, within the city, they came up with the idea for a truly local hotdog.

“The hotdog is an indispensable food at MLB games, so that seemed suitable for a city filled with American atmosphere,” he said.

At one point, Fussa City held the Guinness World Record for the longest line of hot dogs at 258.11 meters (846 ft. 9.84 in.) The record stood until 2016.

As of October 2017, there are nine shops offering their unique Fussadog, according to Shibata.

I dropped by German-style restaurant, Stuben Ohtama, to sample its original Fussadog for 460 yen ($4). Using smoked Ohtama ham, the hotdog came with bacon, vegetables and a German-style bun. Meat was crispy, and went well with the bun.

I tried another Fussadog at Bread Garden for 330 yen ($3), to compare the tastes.

Different from the hotdog of Stuben Ohtama, it uses soft and juicy Fussa Ham. The bread was crispy on surface but stuffy or even sticky inside, which goes well along with juicy meat with cream cheese and salsa on top.

I found both of them very tasty, and look forward to a return trip to try the remaining seven Fussadogs.

 

Stuben Ohtama

Location: 785 Fussa, Fussa City, Tokyo

 

Hours: Wed. – Mon., 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., 5:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Tel: 042-551-1325 (Japanese)

 

Bread Garden

Location: 1046 Fussa, Fussa City, Tokyo

Hours: Mon. – Sat., 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Tel: 042-553-7234

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