Japanese visitors flock to Yokota festival
August 23, 2004
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Tens of thousands of visitors poured through Yokota’s Supply Gate and onto the base flightline Saturday for the opening day of the 54th annual Japanese-American Friendship Festival.
The two-day event was expected to draw up to 140,000 people.
The festival’s first day included aerial demonstrations, static aircraft displays, live entertainment on indoor and outdoor stages, karate and more than 200 booths featuring games, food and concessions. Relatively moderate weather also enhanced the setting, unlike a year ago when organizers and participants battled temperatures in the upper 90s.
“Everything is flowing really well today,” said 1st Lt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman. “The Japanese people are very courteous, and they’re happy to get what you can give them. It’s been great.
“I expected it to be pretty hectic, but we’ve had no major problems at all. Took me by surprise a little, but so far, everything has been awesome.”
There were no serious heat-related incidents Saturday, he added, and only a handful of people had to be treated for minor cuts and bruises. Adequate medical facilities were set up, complete with translators, and an ambulance from a nearby Japanese hospital was also in place to handle any emergencies.
A highlight Saturday showed up in the skies overhead, when a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force parachute team jumped out of a C-130 — along with other skydivers from the Army and Navy.
“For the first time ever, the JASDF jumped out of a U.S. C-130 on a U.S. air base in Japan,” Comer said. “They did regular static jumps and a HALO (High-Altitude, Low-Opening) jump from 10,000 feet, with maneuverable parachutes on. That was pretty neat.”
Along the flightline, Japanese visitors flocked to the booth put together by the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, standing in line for up to 90 minutes Saturday to get a steak dinner that included corn, chips and a drink — all for $10.
“That’s been the same price for the last five years,” said Maj. Richard Hirsch, the squadron’s commander. “I’ve seen lines that take two hours. We’ve been using this same ugly booth for five years now. ... The folks tell us they come back because they recognize it, and they know what they’re going to get.
“These guys work hard to make it all happen. They grill a good steak, and it smells good.”
Standing over the sizzling rows of meat, Tech. Sgt. Eric Birnbaumer said the squadron will serve about 2,000 steaks during the festival.
“It’s the best steak in the house,” he said. “You see that line — it’s gonna be like that all day long. Tomorrow, too.”
On Sunday afternoon, a highly popular Japanese rock band called The Cools was scheduled to film a music video at the festival.
“They have a big following here,” Comer said, “and they wanted to film their new video right here at the Friendship Festival.
“All the bands have been really big. We had to turn some away because we were overwhelmed by the initial requests to play here.”
The festival’s fireworks finale was slated for Sunday night over the Yokota runway near Hangar 15.