Rain no deterrent to 20,000 who tour US naval base in Japan for first post-pandemic Spring Festival
Stars and Stripes March 25, 2023
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Thousands braved frigid winds and heavy rains Saturday to attend the first Spring Festival open to the public at this naval base in three years.
Outfitted with raincoats, boots and umbrellas, Americans and Japanese alike braved the weather and to celebrate blooming cherry blossoms and the arrival of spring at the home of the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Around 20,300 people, including base residents, guests and locals, attended the event. The turnout was about half the projected 40,000 people and various events were moved to different venues, but the festival was still a success, base spokesman Randall Baucom told Stars and Stripes after the festival on Saturday.
“With the weather, we had to make some game time decisions to move the entertainment to Benny Decker Theater and we opened Purdue Gym for face painting and other vendors,” he said in an email. “Overall, everyone who came out had a positive experience and enjoyed their day.”
The Navy forged ahead with its spring festival, but at Camp Zama, 26 miles to the northwest and the headquarters of U.S. Army Japan, canceled its annual Cherry Blossom Festival, also an open-base event, due to inclement weather, according to a post Saturday on Camp Zama’s official Facebook page. The cherry blossom bloom is reaching its peak in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.
At the naval base, visitors sampled American favorites such as pizza and hamburgers, and despite the rain hundreds posed with sailors in uniform and the base mascot, Yokopon. Other entertainment included live music and tours of the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge and guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold.
“Anytime we can spend time with the local community and help them gain a better understanding of the U.S. Navy and American culture, we want to take advantage of those opportunities,” Baucom said in a Friday interview. “I think it really just provides an opportunity for us to spend time and make friendships or just develop memories of positive encounters.”
For Manami Usui and Aika Katou, both of Yokosuka, the festival was the first they’d visited the base in several years. They both said they enjoyed visiting the base and said the nachos available from Taco Bell were one of their favorite parts.
“Even though there was bad weather, we still had fun,” Katou told Stars and Stripes during the festival.
Saturday marked the 27th Spring Festival open to the public, Baucom said, the first since the base suspended public events due to the pandemic and the second public event since Friendship Day in October. That festival, backed by much more pleasant weather, drew 40,000 guests.
The two festivals significantly strengthen the partnership between the base and the local community, but it also serve as significant drivers of tourism for the city of Yokosuka, according to Yoshihiro Shimizu, lead military and civil affairs liaison for the base.
“It’s very important for them [the city], for their tourism,” Shimizu said Friday. Approximately 40% of the festivals’ attendees are from outside the city but from within Kanagawa prefecture. “They consider those two events as a very big chance for the city to draw a crowd.”
The Spring Festival also requires a minimum of nine months planning and more than 500 employees taking part before, during or after the festival.
After two dozen similar events over the years, the base has become efficient at organizing the festival, but at least one factor is beyond its control, Baucom said.
“I think the biggest challenge we had are the weather forecasts,” he said Friday.