SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA, Japan (Dec. 18, 2020) – As a child growing up in Tennessee, Parish Jones loved it when his family would drive through a place called Christmas City and see its mile-long display of lights.
“I try to give a little taste or a little feel of that Christmas spirit here for the kids here on base,” said Jones, who spends about two weeks every year installing an extensive light and decoration display outside his home here. It even includes Christmas music.
While Jones’s decorations are some of the most elaborate, many residents of the housing area and nearby Camp Zama decorate extensively with lights and more for the holidays. Not only do residents say they appreciate it, some visit especially to look at the lights—harkening back to Jones’s childhood memories.
Carmen Middleton, a teacher at Zama Middle High School, said she has driven around the housing area the past three years to see the lights. For the past two years, she has posted photos on a community Facebook page and encouraged others to take a tour.
“I’m really grateful that people do it because it really does spread the cheer and it shows pride and community,” Middleton said. “I think it’s wonderful. It’s just really kind of people to do that and spread the cheer.”
In addition, “Just driving around and listening to music and looking at them is good for anybody’s soul,” Middleton said.
Jones said he and his wife, a teacher, have lived in the Camp Zama community for 18 years, and he has been putting up his display for about 10 years. At least one of his neighbors said Jones influenced his affinity for holiday decorating, proving that “keeping up with the Joneses” can have a positive connotation.
Tearance Stewart, who lives near Jones on SFHA and has extensive light and decoration displays in his front and back yards, said he and Jones used to be neighbors in a quadruplex on Camp Zama, and Jones encouraged him to decorate more.
“My neighbor, Parish Jones, he’s really big into lights,” Stewart said. “So the first year he was like, ‘You gotta put up more than that,’ so I just kept doing it.”
Stewart said he mostly decorates for his 7-year-old daughter, who helps him decide where to place decorations. He does most of his work at night so he can see the lights better, but it’s cold out, so her mother won’t let her go outside. Instead, his daughter sits at a window.
“She’ll open the window and bark orders,” Stewart said. “‘Hey can you move this over here? I think you should move this back,’ and then the next day it’s the opposite, ‘Go back to how it was.’”
Another motivator this year was holiday cheer, Stewart said.
“This year, I wasn’t going to do it, being that 2020 was such a rough year,” Stewart said. “However, if I can help out, I just wanted to help out. If it brings a little joy to the people with all the [COVID-19] restrictions, that’s why I did it.”
Meanwhile, John and Amy Eads, who live down the street, said they also hope their display helps provide activity and cheer during this holiday season with COVID-19 restrictions.
“At least we can bring [children] a little bit of happiness here on SHA—something easy to come look at,” John said.
When the Eads moved to SFHA about a year and a half ago, they did not decorate much for the holidays, but like Jones and Stewart, a former neighbor launched their foray into extensive holiday decorating.
“We never used to be this big into it, but our neighbors who lived here, the Hernandezes, when we first moved here, they kind of challenged us,” John said. “They were really into both Halloween and Christmas, so they got us into it—kind of that friendly, competitive spirit.”
Now the Eads family has one of the biggest displays at SFHA and Camp Zama. It includes several blow-up figures, a variety of lights, Christmas scenes playing in the windows through special projectors and more. This year they even added a snow machine.
“My wife’s the mastermind behind all this,” John said. “She comes up with the ideas and then I help facilitate building what needs to be built and help put it up.”
The Eads live fairly close to the SFHA entrance, so many people who live in the housing area walk, bike or drive by their home several times a day. Amy said she enjoys seeing how the neighborhood children react to the display.
“It makes them happy,” Amy said. “Just seeing how happy and excited they are, that makes us happy. It makes all the work worth it.”
Middleton said the Directorate of Public Works, U.S. Army Garrison Japan, does a great job installing lights as well. Not only do they put up several large light displays featuring Santa and other holiday figures, they also light up a tree near the entrances of Camp Zama and SFHA.
“I would also like to give a shout out, as the kids would say, to our own DPW,” Middleton said. “What we have here on main base and on SHA, the entrance is breathtaking. I love driving through that every evening. It’s just gorgeous.”
Lilly Lowe, who stopped by the Eads home with her husband and four children Dec. 13 to see the lights and snow fall, said she really appreciates the effort everyone has put into decorating the bases for the holidays.
“I’m just so grateful for people who do this,” Lowe said. “It makes my kids’ lives just so much happier.”
USAG Japan officials would like to remind residents, however, that lights are only allowed on garrison installations from 5 to 10 p.m. Dec. 5 to Jan. 3, with exceptions Dec. 24, 25 and 31 and Jan. 1 when residents can display lights until midnight.