CAMP ZAMA, Japan (July 31, 2019) -- Since its inception in 1959, Camp Zama's Bon Odori Festival has been a way for the Army community in Japan to participate in and learn more about Japanese culture, and to share that experience with their host-nation neighbors.
Bon season in Japan has its roots in a Buddhist custom meant to honor the spirits of one's deceased ancestors. It has evolved into a sort of "family reunion" holiday during which people return to ancestral sites and celebrate the memories of those who have passed. More contemporarily, it has grown to include a dance known as "Bon Odori."
As the festival marks its 60th anniversary this year, some longtime Camp Zama employees reflect on how they've seen the event change over the years, and on what makes the festival so special.
Roger Pueblos, a graphic designer with Morale, Welfare and Recreation's marketing division, has worked on Camp Zama for more than 20 years, while MWR marketing coordinator Jon Lee has been at the installation for more than 10.
Both Pueblos and Lee design and print posters and other advertising materials for the Bon Odori Festival. A high level of community engagement at the event has remained constant over the years, Pueblos said.
"A lot more community support is in this festival; you know, they get the community to dance, the Soldiers," said Pueblos. "They bring in all kinds of Japanese [guests], as far as drummers, dancers, Taiko [drummers]. I think that [has] stayed the same."
Lee noted that the festival provides opportunity for both Japanese and Americans have to appreciate each other's cultures, due to the fact that it is a Japanese celebration on a U.S. military installation. The festival has always strengthened the bond between both countries and allowed visitors and guest to have new experiences, Lee said.
Lee said he believes many of the Japanese visitors come to the festival "to get a taste of American culture." In fact, this has always been one of the main attractions of the festival, he said.
Both Lee and Pueblos agreed that the combination of the authentic American food available from vendors and the traditional Japanese Bon Odori elements are what make Camp Zama's celebration popular and special within the community.
James Lacombe, the supervisory librarian at the Camp Zama library, has been at Camp Zama for more than 20 years. He remembers a time when a "mikoshi,"--a Shinto portable shrine--was a big part of the celebration during the Bon Odori Festival. Although mikoshi have not been part of the Bon Odori Festival since 2006, Lacombe said he still remembers them fondly. He remembers that both Japanese and American community members enjoyed carrying the shrine around the festival.
For Americans on Camp Zama, this was a fun way to immerse themselves in elements of Japanese culture, Lacombe said.
"People who lived on Zama would look forward to participating with the mikoshi, pulling it around base," said Lacombe.
Despite the many changes the Bon Odori Festival has seen over the past 60 years, two elements remain essential to its success: the support of the Camp Zama community and their commitment to immersing themselves in and sharing both American and Japanese culture.
Camp Zama's 60th annual Bon Odori Festival will be held Aug. 3 from 1 to 9 p.m.