CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Dec. 21, 2018) - Zama City has hosted a concert every December for the past six years, in which the U.S. Army Japan Band is the featured performer. And for some local residents, it just isn't Christmas until the group takes the stage.

"The holiday season doesn't start until the USARJ Band performs here for us," said Sumiko Takizawa, a regular attendee of the concert.

The band put on a pair of two-hour shows, this year titled "An American Christmas," on Dec. 14 and 15, which featured remarks from Zama City Mayor Mikio Endo and performances by the Guam National Guard Band, the Zama Music Association, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Central Band, and the Zama American Middle High School Band.

Takizawa said the concert provides her one of the few opportunities to see U.S. Soldiers, and the various unique missions they perform in the Pacific, up close.

"The concert helps us see a little bit of what the U.S. Soldiers do," said Takizawa.

Mayor Endo said the concert is so popular that the city has had to hold a lottery for tickets every year. This year, there were a record-high 4,512 lottery entrants, of which a little more than 2,600 were selected to attend.

"The holiday concert has become the city's symbolic event," said Endo.

The concept for the concert came from a casual conversation Endo had with the previous USARJ Band commander when the two met at a separate event, he said.

That collaboration between Zama City officials and the U.S. Army came to include participation by other local students and professional musicians.

From the beginning, the concert has been held at Harmony Hall Zama, a venue that provides a world-class acoustic effect.

"Events like this play a big role for us, who live in the same community [as the U.S. Army], to understand each other," said Endo. "Music connects us and helps us understand each other, regardless of our different culture, languages and nationalities.

"The more events like this that we experience together, the stronger our bilateral relationship becomes," he added.

Spc. Brooke Hendricks, assigned to USARJ Band, performed at the concert for the first time this year and didn't know what to expect from the collaborative event, but she said she was very pleased with the performance after seeing the audience's faces and reactions.

Hendricks said the concert gives the largely Japanese audience an opportunity to see another side of the U.S. military-a side they don't see on a daily basis, and one that allows the band members to connect with local citizens.

"It's a great opportunity to share music, something that we all love, and be able to connect in such a personal way," said Hendricks. "It is a bridge that connects different cultures and different beliefs."

Hendricks said giving back to the local community and strengthening the bond between the U.S. and Japan is a very important part of the band's mission.

First Sgt. Ryan Knight, the USARJ Band commander, said that even with minimal rehearsal time, the band members performed "amazingly," receiving energy from the audience.

Knight lauded the close relationship the band has been able to build with Zama City and Mayor Endo.

"We don't take the relationship we have with our neighbors lightly," said Knight. "It takes mutual friendship to do this event."

Music is a powerful tool, and one that helps "connect people," Knight said.

"The band is really what brings the U.S. Army in Japan and the Japanese people together on really a consistent and very personal basis," said Knight.