The Imperial Japanese Government transformed the cornfields and pine groves of Tama Prefecture into a military base called Tama Army Airfield in 1940. The area was used primarily as a test flight center during World War II, and the base remained fully operational until the end of the war. United States intelligence sources that viewed the base from the air, unfamiliar with the actual name, called the base Yokota after nearby Yokota Village. When US forces began operations on September 4, 1945 the name remained. American dependents began to arrive at Yokota Air Base shortly thereafter, on May 10, 1946.
Yokota Elementary opened its doors on September 12, 1946 in Yokota’s housing area on Johnson Air Base with just two teachers and twelve students in a room behind the chapel lounge. Mr. Roland Pennypacker was the first principal/teacher. Chiyo Araki, the other teacher, remembers, “It seemed like a big happy family and everything was simple and easy.”
In the spring of 1946, qualified teachers and administrators were recruited. Japanese nationals, military personnel, and their dependents ran the school until October of 1947 when the first civil service employees arrived. Mr. Marks, the first regular principal, started in a new building in September of 1948 with four female teachers, a school board, a parent-teacher club, and 68 students in grades 1-6.
By 1961, enrollment was up to 1600 students with 320 of those students attending school at the Hamura annex three miles away. Hot lunches were served in the cafeteria for 30 cents and students enjoyed activities that included Japanese culture class, a science fair, a spelling bee, soroban club, good citizen awards, and a student-published newspaper.
The Hino Chamber of Commerce supported our first ever Nihon Matsuri celebration in 1971. All of the Japanese presenters came from the city of Hino that year. Today, 400 presenters come from more than 17 communities to support the continued tradition every year during Golden Week, the first week of May.
In April of 1973, Yokota East opened it doors with two multiage classrooms, and in turn our school was designated as Yokota West Elementary. In 1976, Yokota West was visited for the first time by an accreditation team from North Central Association. The school surpassed the organization’s tough standards to become one of just 150 other elementary schools in the United States at the time to earn accreditation. The committee noted positive attitudes of the faculty and students, an outstanding field trip and student exchange program as well as a creative use of old facilities. This report may have sparked the plans for a new school building.
In July of 1981, the old building was torn down. The school was then moved to four transitional sites while the new school was being constructed. Despite the protests of parents and teachers, grades one through four were taught in hospital buildings, grade five was at the adult education center, grade six was at the high school and Kindergarten was taught at the west chapel.
Students and teachers were thrilled to move into a brand new building on the west side of Yokota Air Base, one that they helped to design, in 1983. The crane, the Japanese symbol for honor, loyalty and good fortune, was chosen as the mascot and incorporated into the décor of the new school building. The classrooms did not have doors in the building’s original design to allow for grade level collaboration in the pod areas. Even after the classroom doors were installed in 1986, teachers and students remember a happy school atmosphere where everyone worked together to provide enriching experiences for students such as ski trips, soroban, carnivals, and school exchanges.
During the 1990’s Yokota West continued to grow and flourish with new technology, standards-based education, school-wide thematic units, and a variety of engaging student programs. There was a student orchestra, presidential debates, family bingo nights, Learn-a-bration, field day, good citizen awards, Soroban Club, and of course Nihon Matsuri. The school building grew during this time as well. A building with four classrooms built around a large common area now houses the first grade, and in 2004, four new kindergarten classrooms and a primary playground were added to meet the needs of the full-day kindergarten program.
The traditions of the past 60 years are alive and well at Yokota West. It is still a great place to learn where everyone is friendly and helpful. There are always people smiling and lots of laughter. School-wide events give us a common bond. During this decade, we continue to embrace traditional activities such as Nihon Matsuri, Science Fair, and Learn-a-bration while integrating new ideas such as the Rube Goldberg Invention Convention, Dr. Seuss Night, and collaborative planning.