CAMP ZAMA, Japan – A walking tour to a local shrine gave community members here the chance to experience the culture tied to a significant Japanese holiday on its actual day of observance.
More than 60 people from Camp Zama departed the installation on foot for a 10-minute journey to the nearby Zama Shrine March 3, the day every year on which Japan celebrates an event known as “Hina Matsuri,” also called “Girl’s Day” or “Doll’s Day.”
Camp Zama’s Army Community Service has organized the walking tour annually since 2021. Maiki Mayhew, a program analyst at ACS and the tour leader, said the event is meant to encourage the on-base community to get out, see new things, connect with others, and experience their host-nation’s culture.
“I want the participants to take advantage of living in a different country,” Mayhew said. “Japan has so much to offer that they will [be able to] have many different cultural experiences that they never imagined before they came here.”
Hina Matsuri celebrates and wishes for the happiness and health of young girls. It is a tradition in many Japanese homes on March 3 to display a stand with intricately detailed Hina dolls that represent the imperial family wedding during the Heian Period (794 to 1185 A.D.)
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Zama Shrine is the 77-step stone stairway that leads to its entrance. Every year on Hina Matsuri, the shrine lines one side of the stairway with hundreds of Hina dolls collected from the community over the years. The dolls are a popular photo opportunity for visitors every year on the day of the observance.
Community member Audrey Sikes said getting the chance to visit the shrine and see the Hina dolls on Girl’s Day was especially meaningful for her, since she was able to experience the event with her three daughters.
Seeing the dolls here and thinking about the personal history tied to each one of them—the homes in which they were once displayed, the families that may have passed them down from generation to generation—made Sikes consider the significance the dolls had for those families, she said.
“It’s amazing,” Sikes said. “We [came on this tour because we] thought it was important to share in the traditions [of Japan] and learn about the culture we live in.
“That’s an important part of being in a military family—getting to enjoy and learn about different cultures,” she added.
Sikes’ daughter Maribel,14, said she thought it was “really cool” to see how Japan celebrates girls in its culture, and the tour gave her a sense of connection to her host country.
“It made me feel like I am part of the culture here, even though I am an American,” Maribel said.
Mayhew said she enjoyed seeing the group interact and make social connections, both with each other and with Japanese locals, because “that’s what today’s tour was all about.” She said she hopes the experience emphasized to them what a beautiful and culturally rich place Japan is.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this many people [would be] interested in today’s tour,” Mayhew said. “Seeing them having a good time [makes me realize] it was a successful tour.”
ACS is planning another cultural festival tour soon and will publically announce the details via social media as soon as it becomes available, Mayhew said.