Sakura, or cherry blossoms, begin to bloom at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

Sakura, or cherry blossoms, begin to bloom at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (Kelly Agee/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — As another sakura season unfolds in Japan, U.S. military bases are opening their gates, some for the first time in years, to permit visitors to view their cherry blossoms and celebrate spring.

Sakura, or cherry blossoms, typically reach their peak in Japan between the end of March and the beginning of April. The first cherry blossoms in Tokyo opened on March 14, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The season progresses as the bloom crawls north across the island nation.

The cherry blossom is Japan’s unofficial national flower. The tree’s blooms have been celebrated for many centuries and hold a prominent position in Japanese culture.

Camp Zama

At Camp Zama, the headquarters of U.S. Army Japan about 20 miles southwest of Tokyo, the gates will be open for the Cherry Blossom Festival from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

This is the first sakura festival open to the public at Zama since 2019. The event was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. The base held festivals in 2021 and 2022, but they were not open to the public.

About 1,000 cherry trees grow on Zama, according to Toyomura Kenji Toyomura, a spokesman for U.S. Army Garrison Japan. The Cherry Blossom Festival will be held on the sports fields behind Yano Fitness Center. The event will include food and musical performances, including U.S. Army Japan’s jazz and rock bands.

“We are very excited to once again open our gates for our open-post Cherry Blossom Festival,” Toyomura said by email March 16. “We have a long-standing relationship with our friends, neighbors and hosts in the local communities, and our open-post events are a great opportunity to strengthen our bonds of friendship.”

Bring an umbrella, however, because the meteorological agency on Wednesday forecasted a 70% chance of rain in Kanagawa prefecture, where Camp Zama is located.

Yokosuka Naval Base

At Yokosuka Naval Base, the homeport of the U.S. 7th Fleet in Kanagawa prefecture south of Tokyo, the first Spring Festival on base since 2019 is also scheduled Saturday.

The Mikasa Park Gate will be open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 5p.m.

“The cherry blossoms at Yokosuka are scattered throughout the base, but the largest concentration of blooms are located in Kasano Park where beautiful pink and white lanterns have been hung to enhance the ‘hanami’ (flower viewing) experience for both guests and community members,” Randall Baucom, a spokesman for the naval base, said by email March 15.

Many activities will be available throughout the day, including games, bounce houses, slides and traditional Japanese and American entertainment at Berkey Field. A car show and a performance by the 7th Fleet Band are also scheduled.

The naval base is expecting close to 40,000 visitors to the festival this year. The city of Yokosuka requires all guests attending the event to pre-register at the city website. Anyone who is not registered must be sponsored and escorted by a host with a Defense Department ID and carry a pass issued by the base's visitors center.

Sakura, or cherry blossoms, begin to bloom at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

Sakura, or cherry blossoms, begin to bloom at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (Kelly Agee/Stars and Stripes)

Yokota Air Base

Yokota Air Base is opening its gates April 8 for the annual Sakura Spring Festival, its second since the pandemic was officially declared by the World Health Organization in March 2020.

“We are excited to open our gates for the Sakura Spring Festival this year, as the event provides both our communities an opportunity to directly interact while enjoying the Sakura season,” Kaori Matsukasa, a spokeswoman for the 374th Airlift Wing, said by email March 16. “Our festival is a long-standing tradition meant to continue the strong partnership between Yokota Air Base and the local community, and we look forward to enjoying this time with our friends and neighbors.”

The east gate at Yokota will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

During the festival hours, approximately 550 yards of McGuire Avenue, on the base’s east side, will be accessible to visitors, Matsukasa said. Approximately 100 of the installation’s cherry trees, most over 40 years old, line both sides of the avenue.

A community farmer’s market, the third this year at Yokota, is scheduled to coincide with the spring festival. Visitors will find fresh produce and other goods at the market.

author picture
Kelly Agee is a reporter and photographer at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years. She is a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program alumna and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Her previous Navy assignments have taken her to Greece, Okinawa, and aboard the USS Nimitz.

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