60,000 brave heat for annual friendship festival at Yokota
August 22, 2005
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — An estimated 60,000 people poured through Yokota’s Supply Gate and onto the base flight line Saturday for the opening day of the 55th annual Japanese-American Friendship Festival.
The two-day event, scheduled to end Sunday, was expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors.
The festival’s first day was marked by aerial demonstrations, static aircraft displays, live entertainment on indoor and outdoor stages, and more than 200 booths featuring games, artists, food and concessions. It ended with a fireworks show over the Yokota runway.
The popular Yokota Strong Man Challenge, with male and female bodybuilders appearing on the outdoor stage, was among the planned highlights for Sunday afternoon.
People taking in the action Saturday — as well as those serving it up — battled humidity and temperatures that reached the mid-90s, but organizers reported no serious heat-related incidents Saturday.
“Everything has gone great,” said Capt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman. “Everybody is having fun, and we haven’t had any major issues to contend with.”
Base officials made announcements all day about heat-stress conditions, warning people to stay hydrated and seek out shade. Medical facilities were set up, complete with translators, and an ambulance from a nearby Japanese hospital also was in place to handle any emergencies.
A black U-2 spy plane was among the many aviation attractions along the flight line. In the skies overhead, parachute teams — including one from the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force’s 1st Airborne Brigade — emerged from a passing C-130. They were joined by Navy and Marine skydivers.
Attendees once again flocked to a food booth put together by the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron for a down-home taste of the States. People stood in long lines to grab a 13-ounce steak dinner that comes with corn, chips and a drink — all for $13, or 1,300 yen.
“It’s our labor of the past few years,” says Tech. Sgt. Robert West, president of Yuuko — which means “friendship” in Japanese — the squadron’s booster club. “A lot are repeat customers who come back to this booth every year. It’s the biggest piece of meat on the compound. We stock 2,000 steaks and generally sell out by around noon Sunday.”
West said they bring in portable air-conditioning units and try to rotate cooks, but grill duty in August certainly makes for a sweltering day.
“It’s terrible,” Staff Sgt. Marlon Monteagudo said while flipping a row of sizzling steaks.
“But believe it or not,” added Master Sgt. Michael Hullender, “it’s kinda fun.”
Across the walkway, Steve Holowenzak, a professor at the University of Maryland branch on Yokota, occupied perhaps the most enviable spot at the festival — the 374th Maintenance Squadron’s dunking booth.
“I’ve got to watch my step when I get out or I might get lit up,” he quipped while walking around some electrical cords during a break. “But seriously, this is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get together and have some fun.”
A karate exhibition and performances by the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia, Yokota Samurai Taiko team and Tanabata Dancers unfolded Saturday on the stage inside Hangar 15.
Several feet away in the steamy building, Karyn Soh was among a handful of volunteers working a concession booth for Cub Scout Pack 49, which sold T-shirts, patches, cookies, floats and sundaes all weekend.
“They’ve got a breeze out there,” Soh said, pointing to the big bay’s doors. “The fan we have is helping some. At least we’re shady, and out of the sun.”