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Last year's Yokosuka Countdown drew 45,000 people to Verny Park on New Year's Eve. This year's party is Saturday and features fireworks, a concert, and the last-minute countdown to 2006.
Last year's Yokosuka Countdown drew 45,000 people to Verny Park on New Year's Eve. This year's party is Saturday and features fireworks, a concert, and the last-minute countdown to 2006. (Courtesy of the City of Yokosuka)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Rafts of raucous, rosy-cheeked revelers crowd into New York City’s Times Square to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve.

But those in Yokosuka, Japan, get to party it up, count ’em down and be among the first in the world to see the fiery ball rise for the first time in 2006.

“It’s tradition to come down to the [Miura] peninsula to watch the first sunrise of the New Year,” said Emi Louie-Nishikawa of the International Relations Division of Yokosuka City Hall.

But before the sun shows up, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people will pour into the city’s Verny Park on Saturday night for the Yokosuka Countdown celebration. Hosted by the Yokosuka City Tourism Association, with help from the U.S. Navy, the event promises music and merrymaking from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. This is the ninth year the city has thrown the party. With music, fireworks and a countdown, the ritual will feel familiar to most Americans in the area, said Louie-Nishikawa.

“It’s one of the closest things we have to a celebration from home (the United States),” she said. “It would be great to see the two sides of the Yokosuka community welcome in the New Year together.”

The U.S. Navy at Yokosuka Naval Base provides a barge from which fireworks are detonated. Many of the ships will chime in with lights and steam whistles. In 2004, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force decorated its submarines.

Food vendors will serve curry, tonjiru (pork soup) and other goods — some free. Lighted balloons will be passed around and entertainers will launch into a New Year’s concert within the first 10 minutes of the new year.

And, when the party’s over, those wanting to start off the year in good stead can volunteer for a cleanup at Verny Park.

“Forty thousand people eating and drinking in the park will make a big mess,” said Yokosuka Naval Base’s International Programs manager, Shigenobu “John” Saito.

Between the U.S. Navy and JMSDF, Saito already has about 40 volunteers, but those interested in helping can muster at JR’s Yokosuka Station around 1:30 a.m. He provides the gloves, bags and, when the work is done, a meal of traditional “mochi soup.”

“Volunteering for a cleanup is a good start for the year,” Saito said.

Verny Park is next to the Daiei Mall, about one minute from JR Yokosuka Station or five minutes from Keikyu Shioiri Station.

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