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The co-hosts of Camp Zama’s annual Bon Odori Festival announced Wednesday they will boycott the 46-year-old festival in protest over speculation that a command headquarters from the United States could move to the Kanto-area base, officials said.

Zama City Mayor Katuji Hoshino announced Wednesday that the city won’t co-host the festival this year due to strong opposition among the residents of unconfirmed news reports of moving the Army’s I Corps headquarters from Fort Lewis, Wash., to Camp Zama.

“The mayor made the decision accommodating the residents’ feelings,” said Hiroyuki Suzuki, a Zama City base liaison section official. “The city has been opposed to anything that could lead to increase in base operation,” he said.

Although U.S. and Japanese officials have said there are no immediate plans to relocate the headquarters to Japan, the city has decided to pass this year, Suzuki said.

“We regret the fact that some of our friends and neighbors have chosen not to participate, but as always, we invite all to share in the culture at the annual Bon Odori festival,” said Maj. Martha Brooks, a Zama spokesperson. “The festival has been a significant part of the foundation of our great relationship with our Zama city partners.”

The festival is an open-base event, co-hosted by Camp Zama and Zama City every summer since 1959, recently attracting approximately 20,000 to 30,000 people each year. The festival features Bon dancing, fireworks, sporting events and food and game booths. In the past, the city has cooperated in traffic control outside the base and given out small gifts.

“It’s been a long line of friendship and camaraderie. It is unfortunate [Hoshino] has chosen not to come to Bon Odori this year,” Brooks said.

However, the base and the city said this does not mean that they will stop interacting. “The mayor believes interaction [with the base] is important,” Suzuki said.

Juliana Gittler contributed to this report.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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