Independence Day celebrations return to US bases across Japan

By LEON COOK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 3, 2017

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Independence Day celebrations, including plenty of colorful fireworks, are making a triumphant return to U.S. bases in Japan, a year after such events were scaled back in the wake of a brutal slaying on Okinawa.

“You protect freedom every day,” Col. Kenneth Moss, commander of Yokota’s 374th Airlift Wing, told a crowd gathered for Celebrate America festivities on Friday. “It’s important to enjoy that freedom for yourselves every once in a while.”

That freedom took the form of a full day of activities at the western Tokyo air base, from a morning 5K race to a whimsical Leaky Kon-Tiki competition at the natatorium using homemade cardboard boats.

Samurai re-enactors and traditional taiko drummers drew large crowds, and a petting zoo encouraged face-painted kids and adults alike to feed and pet sheep, ducks, rabbits and other cute creatures.

After nightfall, the rockets’ red glare lit up the sky over Yokota’s flight line. Many watched the lengthy pyrotechnics show from the festival grounds, nearby parks, tower balconies, or the roof of the Yokota Community Center.

The Independence Day Celebration at nearby Camp Zama featured a Friday concert by singer-songwriter Natalie Imbruglia, and a Saturday fireworks show that was open to Japanese residents. Festivities at Yokosuka Naval Base kicked off with Saturday’s Firecracker Color Run and a concert by Imbruglia on Sunday. A festival, complete with carnival games, eating contests and fireworks, is scheduled for Tuesday.

Events on Okinawa included Kadena Air Base’s Rockin’ the Block festival Saturday, featuring rock bands Hoobastank and Papa Roach. Many other Pacific bases have scheduled July Fourth events and fireworks for Tuesday evening.

Last year’s decision to go low key for the most patriotic American holiday was an extension of a monthlong “period of unity and mourning” declared on Okinawa in sympathy over the killing of a 20-year-old Okinawa woman in which a U.S. civilian base worker was charged. Fireworks and major live concerts were canceled.

Twitter: @LeonCook12

A crowd watches a traditional taiko drumming demonstration during the Celebrate America festival at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, June 30, 2017.

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