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Sgt. 1st Class Jason Johnson cooks large turkey legs at a tent during the Bon Odori festival held at Camp Zama on Saturday. The festival, which is a Buddhist dance celebration, is held every year on surrounding bases on the Kanto Plain.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Johnson cooks large turkey legs at a tent during the Bon Odori festival held at Camp Zama on Saturday. The festival, which is a Buddhist dance celebration, is held every year on surrounding bases on the Kanto Plain. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Johnson cooks large turkey legs at a tent during the Bon Odori festival held at Camp Zama on Saturday. The festival, which is a Buddhist dance celebration, is held every year on surrounding bases on the Kanto Plain.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Johnson cooks large turkey legs at a tent during the Bon Odori festival held at Camp Zama on Saturday. The festival, which is a Buddhist dance celebration, is held every year on surrounding bases on the Kanto Plain. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)
Soldiers from the US Army Japan Band perform “Hello Dolly” during the Bon Odori festival held at Camp Zama.
Soldiers from the US Army Japan Band perform “Hello Dolly” during the Bon Odori festival held at Camp Zama. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)
Japanese locals enjoy amusement park rides during the Bon Odori festival held at Camp Zama.
Japanese locals enjoy amusement park rides during the Bon Odori festival held at Camp Zama. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)
Left to Right, Chief Warrant Officer Shannon Sherman helps Austin Jones, 11, from Troop 34, make funnel cakes for sale.
Left to Right, Chief Warrant Officer Shannon Sherman helps Austin Jones, 11, from Troop 34, make funnel cakes for sale. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Several thousand people crammed onto this Army base just outside Tokyo on Saturday for the annual Bon Odori Festival.

The event, jointly hosted by the Army and Zama City, has taken place every year since 1959.

The large crowds braved steamy conditions — temperatures reached the low 90s — to take in an array of entertainment, food and game booths, amusement rides and exhibitions.

Vendors sold everything from funnel cakes and beef kebabs to cold beer and sunglasses. Curry, pizza and yakitori were among other favorites being snapped up by American and Japanese festival-goers.

A ninja team, dressed in black robes and wielding swords and kendo sticks, attracted a lot of interest with a series of demonstrations.

“I came out to see all the festivities, and the ninja performance,” said Sgt. Marcus Benjamin, 26, of Miami, who works for the 35th Combat Sustainment and Support Battalion at Sagami Depot. “That’s been the best part so far.

“It’s a good time out here. I’m loving it.”

His wife, Frances, sought relief from the heat by heading for the shade. “We’ve been here all day,” she said. “There’s a little bit of a breeze. But around 1:30, it was baking outside.”

Visitors also flocked to a makeshift NASCAR pit that featured a real stock car. People got to experience the pressure-packed life of a pit crew member, taking turns changing the tires as quickly as possible.

There also were two traditional Japanese portable shrines on hand.

Spc. Kevin Burger, a member of Zama’s 88th Military Police Detachment, wore a Yukata robe Saturday while his girlfriend, Miki, donned a lady’s Kimono.

“It’s cooler than wearing jeans,” said Burger, 25, of White Lake, Mich.

He added, “I wanted to experience the history, learn a little something new. In my profession, we really don’t get time for that very much. I had to work it last year. This is a new experience.”

Of course, the festival also mixed in some contemporary flavor. The alternative rock band Lovesick Radio hit the outdoor stage later in the afternoon, pumping out a batch of cover tunes and originals.

The day was punctuated by Bon Dancing, which brought about 20 groups from the base and surrounding communities, and fireworks.

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