Yokosuka’s first Friendship Day since COVID-19 pandemic draws 50,000 people
Stars and Stripes October 17, 2022
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — More than 50,000 people poured into the home of the 7th Fleet over the weekend for the first open-base event in nearly three years.
Around 43,000 visitors, along with another 10,000 people from the naval base and the Ikego Housing Area, joined Sunday’s festivities, which included a vendor market, live music, street performances and a guided tour of the 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge, the Navy’s oldest operational warship.
“I am excited for the base and the community to be hosting this event,” base commander Capt. Les Sobol said Sunday in an email to Stars and Stripes. “It is the first time in almost three years we have been able to hold an event like this, and I’m sure there will be many new friendships made and many more renewed.”
Yokosuka’s last open event was the Mikoshi Parade on Oct. 20, 2019, just months before the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to mass gatherings. Since then, the base has held several large events, but none were open to Japan’s general public.
“It’s all about building and renewing friendships with the local community and the Japanese people,” Sobol wrote in his email. “The last three years have been challenging for many from both of our communities, and it’s my hope that today we can turn the page on the last three years and start a new chapter.”
Masks were not required during the festival, thanks to the outdoor nature of the event and low COVID-19 transmission rates, Sobol said.
The crowd gathered at Berkey Field, where the 7th Fleet Band and other music groups performed, or the parking lot of the base’s mess hall, where vendors representing various commands sold souvenirs or food.
Japanese visitors were particularly interested in American products that they can’t easily access elsewhere, such as Monster energy drinks, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Weitzel, 29, of Omaha, Neb.
"Everyone has been really friendly and excited," he told Stars and Stripes on Sunday, adding that the event helps build camaraderie between the local population and the base.
Shinobu Suzuki, 47, of Tokyo, said he was looking forward to trying the food and added that Friendship Day is a great chance for kids to get out and have fun.
Kanako Naito, 42, and her husband Yoh, 42, of Yokosuka, said it was the first time they’d been on base since 2018.
“I like this kind of atmosphere,” Kanako told Stars and Stripes on Sunday. “My husband often finds these kinds of events and tells me about them. I lived on Okinawa, and I’m interested in and familiar with military bases, so I wanted to visit."
The day concluded with nearly 40 minutes of fireworks over Tokyo Bay, provided by the city of Yokosuka, with thousands of people gathering along the base’s shoreline to watch.
“The city provided us tremendous assistance in managing the crowds,” base spokesman Randall Baucom told Stars and Stripes by phone Monday. “We appreciate all the support from them.”