Japanese 'Bon Odori' Festival at Camp Zama draws 26,000 visitors
August 6, 2013
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Aug. 7, 2013) -- The 54th annual Bon Odori Festival at Camp Zama culminated Aug. 3, with more than 1,000 people performing the moves of traditional Japanese dances in sync, circled around a large, ornate wooden tower erected at the installation's Rambler Field.
The festival is consistently the largest bilateral event of the year for U.S. Army Japan, this year attracting more than 26,000 visitors to the installation. This year's Bon Odori featured live entertainment, games, food, bilateral sports, and a fireworks show.
"The relationship between the local nationals and the people here on Camp Zama is wonderful," said Emmettee McNeil, the event coordinator assigned to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division at Camp Zama, "because it gives us an opportunity to come together for a traditional Japanese festival where everyone can participate and enjoy the festivities."
Bon Odori is a favorite among both the American and Japanese communities, as it combines the traditional elements of the Japanese ancestral Bon season and elements of American summer fairs. Bon season is a Buddhist holiday that honors the departed spirits of one's ancestors. The tradition dates back more than 500 years.
In addition to food and musical performances, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from USARJ's U.S. Army Aviation Battalion Japan was displayed on the grounds, attracting numerous Japanese bystanders.
As the sun set, the dancing began around the Bon tower, preempted by opening remarks from Col. Joy Curriera, acting commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan, and Col. Shigeki Kawai, chief of staff of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's Central Readiness Force and the Zama post commander.
The crowd, which included local and Camp Zama community members, U.S. Soldiers and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members, danced together in a large circle to the traditional, pounding beats provided by the "Ryuodaiko" drum team.
"Bilateral friendship events like this festival are very special for all of us assigned to the U.S. Army in Japan," said Curriera during her remarks. "It is special because they enable us to spend quality time with our family, friends and especially our neighbors in the Japanese community.
"In addition, it gives the U.S. Army a chance to open the post for Japanese citizens to enjoy the American culture at Camp Zama," Curriera added, "and it provides the U.S. military members and their families an opportunity to learn the rich history and culture of our host nation."
Many of the participants danced while wearing traditional Japanese summer kimonos, or "yukatas," after having learned the moves from volunteer instructors who offered free lessons in the weeks leading up to the festival.
"I am very happy that this festival promotes harmony between Japan and America, and also that it strengthens the ties of our friendship by being able to interact with each other," said Masako Shibuya, a resident of Zama City who attended the event. "I think that is so wonderful."
The dancing lasted for two hours, and concluded with a massive fireworks display.