CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Nov. 24, 2021) – A local organization dedicated to preserving the Japanese tradition of kite-making was at Camp Zama Nov. 19 to harvest bamboo with help from the commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan.
Members of the Sagami Giant Kite Preservation Association, Kassaka District, visit the installation annually to cut and gather bamboo found near the Camp Zama Golf Course’s driving range. The bamboo is dried and later used to construct a giant kite that is flown during a festival held in May.
Toshiaki Yaita, president of the SGKPA, Kassaka District, said the bamboo he and his team harvest from Camp Zama is used to make the giant kite’s framework. They harvested about 280 stalks this year, Yaita said.
Along with bamboo, giant kites are constructed of handmade Japanese paper and are built to a size of about 48 feet tall. Each kite weighs more than 2,000 pounds and requires a team of 80 to 100 people controlling a 650-foot-long rope to fly it.
“It’s becoming harder and harder annually to find decent bamboo elsewhere, so we are very grateful that the [USAG Japan] commander supports us, and that we are able to use bamboo from local areas like Camp Zama to continue our local traditional festival,” Yaita said.
The next festival, scheduled for May 2022, will be the first time it will be held since 2019, as it was canceled the previous two years due to COVID-19. Yaita is hopeful the festival will go on as planned.
“It’s very important to prepare for [the festival] as if it will be held for the sake of perpetuating our traditional culture,” Yaita said.
The USAG Japan commander attends the Giant Kite Festival, held at the nearby Sagami River, as a bilateral engagement. The festival in May 2022 is scheduled to be the first for Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson to attend since he took command in August.
This was Tomlinson’s first experience with cutting bamboo, and he said he enjoyed the opportunity to host Sagamihara City officials and members of the SGKPA, Kassaka District, as they prepare for the festival.
The best aspect of the annual partnership, Tomlinson said, is that it gives him an opportunity to engage with the city and to share in the culture and traditions of which Camp Zama is a part.
“I think it’s pretty awesome to be able to utilize our facility and installation to be a critical part of what is a tradition for the community,” Tomlinson said. “Any opportunity that we can come to share with our community, it’s a priority.”
Koichi Uchida, the association’s executive director, said he and his team are very grateful to have the support and partnership of the USAG Japan commander for the kite festival each year.
“Camp Zama and our community are right next to each other, so we feel very special and proud to be able to use Camp Zama’s bamboo to make our local traditional kites,” Uchida said. “Sagamihara City’s giant kite festival always starts with the harvesting of bamboo from Camp Zama.”