CAMP ZAMA, Japan - For the first time ever, Soldiers with 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade participated in Camp Zama's Bon Odori Festival to learn more about Japanese culture and share that experience with their host-nation neighbors, Aug. 3, 2019.
Pacific Guardian Soldiers and family members learned Bon Dance from Japanese volunteers in the weeks leading up to their debut at the 60th anniversary of the festival on base. Bon Dance dates back more than 500 hundred years and is a Japanese Buddhist custom that honors one's ancestors.
"Being the new unit out here, we were a little nervous learning the dance and performing it in front of everyone, but once we got started, it became fun and relaxing," said Capt. Frederick Sherman, Birmingham, Alabama native, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 38th ADA Brigade. "Next year, we plan on having everyone wear the kimonos now that we are more skillful."
Many of the participants danced while wearing traditional Japanese summer kimonos - called yukata.
"I was able to get my yukata from a vendor on post," said Sgt. Jonathan Paredes, Houston, Texas native and paralegal specialist, 38th ADA Brigade. "Being in Japan is a dream come true for me. I've only been here two weeks and already I've climbed Mount Fuji and performed Bon Dance. Now, I look forward to learning the language and traveling more."
The Japan-U.S. partnership was evident as members from both sides formed a large circle around the yagura, a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival, and performed Bon Dance as a united community.
"This is our first time, not only at the festival, but overseas as a family," said Leslie Chavis, Portsmouth, Virginia native and 38th ADA Brigade family member. "The Japanese community is very loving and welcoming. This was a great place to bring my family."
The festival helped introduce Pacific Guardians to the host-nation in which they now live and serve while demonstrating their willingness to build cultural awareness and strong community relationships.
"It's incredible seeing brigade family members and Soldiers out here interacting with the local community and immersing themselves in traditional Japanese customs and dance," said Col. Patrick Costello, Charlottesville, Virginia native and 38th ADA Brigade commander. "It's the first-time many of the troops have visited Japan and now they're stationed here, living this amazing opportunity and learning through interactions with our Japanese partners."
Fireworks lit up the sky as the festival drew its close. Many stuck around after, chatting with their new friends and discussing their favorite moments, but all agreed, they can't wait to do it again next year.