CAMP ZAMA, Japan (April 10, 2012) -- This year's Cherry Blossom Festival was significant because it marked both the anniversary of a historic gift from Japan to the U.S., and the welcome return of the event itself, one commander here said.

The annual open-post event, which drew more than 28,000 visitors here, Saturday, coincided with the 100-year anniversary of then-Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki's gift to the city of Washington, D.C., of more than 3,000 cherry blossom trees.

Last year's festival was canceled in the wake of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and follow-on tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on March 11, less than one month before the event was scheduled. Its return this year demonstrated the country's resilience and highlighted the strong relationship the U.S. military shares with the host nation, said U.S. Army Garrison Japan Commander Col. Eric D. Tilley.

"These kinds of events are an opportunity to literally open our doors to our host nation and to the larger community outside of our gates," said Tilley. "It's an opportunity for [Japanese] to understand more about us and what we do on a daily basis, and interact with our family members, our civilians and our military."

The event began in the morning with a combined three- and seven-kilometer race for children and adults, as well as an open tournament at the Camp Zama Golf Course. A stage set up on the field behind Yano Fitness Center was host to a number of eclectic musical acts and a DJ spinning tunes throughout the day. There were also dozens of food vendors, an area for children's games and activities, and a static display of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

However, the true draw for most visitors to the festival is the opportunity to admire the iconic white-and-pink flowers from which the event takes its name. The streets throughout central and northern Camp Zama are lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees, which Tilley said were "timed perfectly" this year.

"This is an opportunity for us to express our appreciation to Japan and help them understand better how we live and how we interact with their communities," said Tilley. "A lot of times, the only time they see Americans is as tourists. Here, they get to see us and interact with us more as community members who are part of the same neighborhood.

"I'm very confident that this festival will go on for many, many years to come," he added, "because it highlights what this community is truly about, and that is the friendship that we share with our host nation."

Page last updated Tue April 10th, 2012 at 07:05