Waves crash along the rocky coast of Cape Zanpa, Okinawa, Oct. 27, 2022.

Waves crash along the rocky coast of Cape Zanpa, Okinawa, Oct. 27, 2022. (Frank Andrews/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Marine Corps on Okinawa is enticing service members and their families to learn about water safety ahead of the summer months using prizes, food and water slides.

Marine Corps Community Services scheduled its second annual Ocean Expo from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Torii Station, event organizer Jason MacDonald, ocean safety program manager for Camp Butler, said by phone Tuesday.

Water accidents across the prefecture’s islands peaked last year at 106, a 10-year high, MacDonald said, citing Okinawa prefectural police data. There were 40 fatalities, including one American service member, a police spokesman said by phone Thursday. Some government officials in Japan may speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

The Torii Beach event features information and classes on everything from rip currents to hazardous wildlife along with prizes and giveaways, ocean and beach competitions, a DJ, food trucks, water slides and bounce houses.

“A big majority of off-duty mishaps here on Okinawa are water sports related,” MacDonald said. “We wanted to take this chance each year, ahead of the critical days of summer, to get the community together and learn ocean safety in a hands-on and fun way.”

The expo aims to avoid preventable mishaps through improved ocean safety skills and awareness, MacDonald said.

The event is free to anyone in Japan with base access as well as authorized guests, the Marine Corps Community Services’ website said.

Marine Corps Installations Pacific will be one of approximately a dozen groups on hand to teach attendees how to assess ocean conditions; the 18th Wing will discuss rip currents and open water protection; Marine Corps Community Services’ Tsunami Scuba will educate on diving first aid and scuba education; and the Japanese coast guard will explain the dangers inherent to the Okinawa coastline.

Attendees will be given an expo passport that they can get stamped at each information booth they visit. A complete passport can then be exchanged for an amusement wristband, good for free rides at Fun Land, the bounce houses and access to the Torii Beach water slide and splash pad.

Participants of all ages may try snorkeling with instructors. Other events include a class on rip current rescue techniques, a junior lifeguard race, a board rescue relay and a Baywatch relay, named after the hit 90s television show, which includes running, swimming, paddling, carrying and life-saving techniques.

Registration for each event takes place on-site and closes 10 minutes prior to the start, the website said. Prizes include an overnight stay for two at the Hilton Okinawa Sesoko Resort in Motobu, massage gift certificates, a bicycle, fishing trip, dive gear, gift certificates to the local Red Lobster and goodie bags.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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