By Noriko Kudo, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsAugust 1, 2018
CAMP ZAMA, Japan - Hundreds of U.S. Army Garrison Japan residents are prepped and ready to wow their Japanese friends and neighbors with their traditional dancing skills at the Aug. 4 Bon Odori Festival here, all thanks to the help of two local volunteers.
Masako Kawasaki and Toyoko Akutagawa, members of the Zama City Women's Association, conducted free dance lessons in the weeks leading up to Camp Zama's 59th annual festival.
As many as 90 people per class packed the Camp Zama Recreation Center for a first-hand lesson on the Buddhist custom that dates back hundreds of years.
The women said they love the opportunity to spend the time with the Garrison community.
Kawasaki has volunteered for 20 years, and Akutagawa first started volunteering 50 years ago.
Their organization has been teaching the military community the correct way to dance, and to wear the casual summer kimono referred to as a "yukata," since the very first festival.
"I have so much fun teaching them dances every year even though I don't speak English because the participants are very motivated to learn when coming to the practice," said Kawasaki.
"I am hard on them sometimes but they try their best to follow my directions."
Kawasaki said she sees how the event helps "strengthen the bilateral relationships between Zama City and the U.S. Army Japan as long as we both need each other."
Akutagawa said she doesn't have any plans to retire from her volunteer duties.
"I am getting very old but I also would like to continue to be part of this event as long as needed," she said.
"Even though we don't speak the same language, we smile the same."
Capt. Patrick Sorensen, assigned to U.S. Army Japan, joined one of the recent lessons.
"It was a little bit stressful at first but after a few tries we learned the different dances," he said.
Sorensen said an important part of the Army's mission in Japan is to connect with their Japan Ground Self-Defense Force partners and the local communities.
"I think it's important that we try to put our best foot forward and take part in the events that are going on here," he said.
Col. Phillip K. Gage, U.S. Army Garrison Japan commander, also attended a class to refresh his skills before he hosts the event in which planners expect as many as 20,000 visitors.
"It's amazing - these two volunteers have a combined total of 70 years dedicating their own time to helping us successfully host this event," Gage said.
"I just want to personally thank both of them - they are the face of our long-lasting and wonderful relationship with our local community."