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Megan Patten, daughter of Cmdr. Eric Patten, plays the Taiko drums during the 2004 Bon Odori festival at Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
Megan Patten, daughter of Cmdr. Eric Patten, plays the Taiko drums during the 2004 Bon Odori festival at Naval Air Facility Atsugi. (Tracy Hull / Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

Eight young percussionists at Naval Air Facility Atsugi have been drumming up the spirit of old Japan to prepare for the base’s Bon Odori festival, the first of many similar celebrations on bases across Japan each summer.

The youngsters have been practicing taiko drumming, which, along with special dances, is the highlight of one of Japan’s most popular festival celebrations. Bon is based on the Buddhist belief that deceased ancestors return to their homes each summer. Bon Odori or Bon dance is celebrated to commemorate the return.

The festivals involve the entire community. They have become staples on military bases in Japan and serve as one of the few occasions when the bases open to Japanese visitors.

“This is a great opportunity to bring the local community onto the base,” said Yoshi Shimizu, Atsugi’s host nations relations officer. “Bon Odori is pretty popular. Since we are part of the Japanese community also, it’s good to bring everyone on base.”

The Army has held a Bon Odori festival at Camp Zama since 1959. This year, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, which shares the post, will co-host the celebration.

At many bases, Americans join drum and dance groups and practice for the festivals. Bases also invite Japanese professional groups and the community at large to participate. The festivals include food vendors, kids’ activities, military bands and visiting performers from around the region.

Bon Odori festivals

Here is a list of Bon Odori festivals planned at installations across Japan (surrounding communities in parentheses):

Naval Air Facility Atsugi (Ayase, Yamato and Ebina cities): Saturday at Reid Field. The American festival is from noon to 5 p.m.; the official Bon Odori, an open-base event, begins at 5:30 p.m. The rain date is Sunday. Call DSN 264-3201 for information or to volunteer.

Camp Zama (Sagamihara and Zama cities): Aug. 6, with games, entertainment, music, a mikoshi (portable shrine) parade and a fireworks display starting at 8:30 p.m. The community relations office is offering dance lessons at the Community Cultural Center from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday for two weeks before the festival. The Bon Odori rain date is Aug. 7. Call the community relations office at DSN 263-5455 for information.

Naval Support Facility Kamiseya (a detachment of Atsugi): Aug. 13, Bon Odori Field. The American festival portion is from 1 to 6 p.m.; an open base Bon Odori runs from 6 to 9 p.m. The rain date is Aug. 14. Contact the Kamiseya Quarter Deck at DSN 265-8308 for information.

Negishi Housing Area (Yokohama): Aug. 27, Negishi Community Center Parking Lot. The housing area, part of Yokosuka Naval Base, will hold its festival from 3 to 9 p.m. The rain date is Aug. 28. The open base event includes drum and dance performers along with U.S. military bands from the area, food stalls, games and other activities. Call Negishi MWR Program Office at DSN 242-4120 for information.

Sasebo Naval Base is not planning a specific event for Bon Odori. But Morale, Welfare and Recreation department spokesman Frank DeSilva said the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Sasebo Branch, has invited the U.S. base community to join their event from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Some bases have Friendship Day events during which Japanese guests are welcome on base for festivals, food and games.

Yokosuka Naval Base(Yokosuka) is hosting an open base Friendship Day on Aug. 7 to include a car show, live entertainment and fireworks at about 7 p.m. Mikasa Gate opens to visitors at 10 a.m. Visit the base MWR Web site at for more information.

Yokota Air Base(near Fussa City) will host a two-day Japanese-American Friendship Festival from 9 a.m. Aug. 20-21. The festival includes static and aerial aircraft displays, more than 200 vendor and food booths and a fireworks display at 8:45 p.m. on the 21st. Visitors can enter through the No. 5 Supply Gate. There is no parking for vehicles. Call 042-552-2511, ext. 52100, for information in Japanese.

Misawa Air Base (Misawa) and Kadena Air Base (Okinawa) both host open-base events in September, with food stalls, games and an air show.

— Juliana Gittler


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