CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Aug 8, 2018) - More than 20,000 visitors and community residents braved the heat to attend Camp Zama's 59th Annual Bon Odori Festival on Aug 4.

Col. Phillip K. Gage, U.S. Army Garrison Japan commander, called Bon Odori his favorite open-post event of the year.

Gage said it is an opportunity to invite the Garrison's Japanese friends and neighbors for a day of fun, to share the experience and to learn about their culture.

"The more we get to spend a time together, the more we get to understand each other," said Gage.

Bon dates back more than 500 hundred years. It is a Japanese Buddhist custom that honors the departed spirits of one's ancestors.

Many of the participants danced while wearing traditional Japanese summer kimonos - called "yukata" - after having learned the moves from volunteer instructors who provided free lessons in the weeks leading up to the festival.

Masako Kawasaki, one of the volunteer instructors, said, "It's great to see the community members' hard work paying off tonight."

Kawasaki said it's her pleasure to dance with them and see them have a good time.

"Bon Dance is all about having fun," said Kawasaki.

First-time attendee Akihiko Nakamura said he was glad he made the trip onto the Garrison.

"I am having a great time," said Nakamura. "It would be ideal for both countries to interact with one another regularly like this and as a result ... (we) would help each other when needed."

The festival lasted all day, and provided a variety of activities.

Several bands performed on stage, including "Samurai of Rock" from the U.S. Army Japan Band. There were also dozens of international food vendors, an area for children's games and activities and a flea market.

Thousands of fireworks lit up the sky to bring the festival to a close.