Thousands drop in on base’s friendship fest
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — An estimated 75,000 people poured through Yokota’s gate and onto the base flight line Saturday for the first day of the 57th annual Japanese-American Friendship Festival. The two-day event was expected to draw about 150,000 visitors.
The festival’s first day offered aerial demonstrations, static aircraft displays, hot-rod exhibits, live entertainment on indoor and outdoor stages, and dozens of vendor booths featuring games, food and concessions. It ended with a fireworks show over the Yokota runway.
Milder temperatures and a nice breeze made the August heat a little more tolerable. Organizers reported no serious incidents Saturday.
“Things are going real well,” said Capt. Chris Watt, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman. “There’s a lot of positive energy going on out here. It’s a pretty cool event. The cloud cover helps. It’s still nice enough to be outside. I see a lot of smiles.”
Visitors took pictures and got to walk inside U.S. military and Japanese aircraft on display. In the skies, parachute teams — including one from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force — emerged from Yokota C-130s passing overhead. They were joined by Navy, Marine and Army skydivers from Yokosuka Naval Base and Okinawa.
Attendees lined up for everything from steak dinners and yakitori to funnel cakes and cheeseburgers. They also could grab a tall draft of cold beer.
Senior Airman James Taylor of the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron worked security early in the day before making his way out to the festival.
“I just want to hang out and have a good time with everybody,” said Taylor, 23, of Houston. “We’re walking around, checking everything out.
“It’s nice. This gives everyone a chance to see the local public and the different fashions they have. And it gives them a chance to see some of the stuff we do.”
A traveling display honoring the Air Force’s 60th anniversary lured festival-goers inside a C-130 engine-repair shop near the entrance to Hangar 15.
Master Sgt. Patrick Palmer, who’s flown with the massive exhibit for almost a year, said it’s been to 28 different places around the world, including Paris, England, Australia and India. It was dedicated at the Pentagon, but this marks its first and only appearance at a Pacific Air Forces base.
Japanese translation was added for the festival to “assist in this cultural exchange,” Palmer added.
Youth hip-hop dancers, the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia and Yokota Samurai Taiko team were among featured acts that appeared Saturday on the stage inside Hangar 15. A karate exhibition also unfolded.
Master Sgt. Ruth Hutchinson helped work a booth for the Air Force Sergeants Association, which sold chocolate cakes for $10, or 1,200 yen. The boxed treats are always popular among Japanese visitors each year.
“It’s going great so far,” Hutchinson said. “And it’s not too hot this year. It’s been comfortable.”
Maj. Tambra Yates of the 374th Medical Group served as project officer for this year’s festival.
“We’ve got a great turnout and everybody has been really, really happy with how things have gone,” she said Saturday. “The Friendship Festival is a very unique event. It’s important. This allows the Japanese and Americans to collaborate and communicate. It brings the strengths of both to the table. … It’s a true display of friendship. That’s why we have it every year — to reinforce those relationships.”