Base worker Hiroyuki Shigeyama boards a bus to donate blood to the Japanese Red Cross at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, April 11, 2024.

Base worker Hiroyuki Shigeyama boards a bus to donate blood to the Japanese Red Cross at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, April 11, 2024. (Jonathan Snyder/Stars and Stripes)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — The Japanese Red Cross recently parked its blood-collection bus on this base south of Hiroshima for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marine spouse Catherine Matchem-Watkins was among the Americans donating their vital fluid Thursday during the blood drive by the organization’s Yamaguchi Prefecture Blood Center.

She has an American Red Cross blood donor card and was excited to receive Japan’s version.

“I’ve always wanted to donate blood to Japan because I’ve donated blood in the States,” the Marine Corps Community Services employee told Stars and Stripes at the drive. “It’s always been a thing for me to just make sure I’m giving back because you never know when blood can save a life and it actually helped save my son’s life.”

The Japanese Red Cross began collecting blood at MCAS Iwakuni in 2004; however, only Japanese employees could donate until 2017, when the American Red Cross began providing translators, said Takuya Nakagawa, Japanese Red Cross spokesman.

The entire donation process was simple and easy with the translator’s help, Matchem-Watkins said.

Nine Americans donated blood on Thursday, Nakagawa said.

“We are thankful that they cooperated in donating blood, which is also a contribution to the community,” he said.

The last blood drive at MCAS Iwakuni was held on Aug. 21, 2019, 4 ½ years ago, Nakagawa said.

The blood center hosts about 700 blood drives annually, which means two blood drive buses are active somewhere in Yamaguchi Prefecture every day, Nakagawa said.

Before the pandemic, the Japanese Red Cross visited the air station twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.

They expect to return to that schedule with the next blood drive on base in December, Nakagawa said.

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.
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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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