By Tetsuo Nakahara, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsAugust 7, 2012
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Aug. 7, 2012) -- The 53rd annual Bon Odori Festival at Camp Zama culminated Aug. 4, with more than a 1,000 people performing the moves of traditional Japanese dances in sync, circled around a large, ornate wooden tower erected at the installation's Rambler Field.
The festival is consistently the largest bilateral event of the year for U.S. Army Japan, this year attracting more than 30,000 visitors to the installation. This year's Bon Odori featured live entertainment, games for children, a variety of ethnic foods, bilateral sports, and a fireworks show.
"As a member of this neighborhood, we look forward to coming to the Bon Festival every year," said Tsuyoshi Iwashita, a Zama City resident. "I've been coming to this festival since I was a child, and now I bring my own children here, so this is a special event for Zama citizens. I enjoy the American atmosphere the most."
Bon Odori is a favorite among both the American and Japanese communities, as it combines the traditional elements of the Japanese ancestral Bon season and elements of American summer fairs. Bon season is a Buddhist holiday that honors the departed spirits of one's ancestors. The tradition dates back more than 500 years.
In addition to food and musical performances, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from USARJ's 78th Aviation Battalion was displayed on the grounds, attracting numerous Japanese bystanders.
As the sun set, the dancing began around the Bon tower, preempted by opening remarks from Col. Eric D. Tilley, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan, and Col. Takeshi Ishimaru, commander of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's 4th Engineer Group.
The crowd, which included local and Camp Zama community members, U.S. Soldiers and JGSDF members, danced together in a large circle to the traditional, pounding beats provided by the "Ryuodaiko" drum team.
"Today's event is of special importance, because it demonstrates the bilateral friendship between the U.S. and our host nation of Japan -- for Soldiers, civilians and family members," said Tilley during his remarks. "To all of you in the Camp Zama community, especially our neighbors in Zama and Sagamihara cities, we wish you happiness and good spirits."
Many of the participants danced while wearing traditional Japanese summer kimonos, or yukatas, after having learned the moves from volunteer instructors who offered free lessons in the weeks leading up to the festival.
The dancing lasted for two hours, and was followed by a massive fireworks display that lit up the night sky.