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Annual Yokosuka Navy Friendship Day draws 60,000

by Mami Maruko

Fireworks, pizza and smoothies make a hot and humid summer day more endurable and enjoyable. With the temperature skyrocketing past 30 degrees, the 34th Annual Navy Friendship Day, an open house event of the U.S. Yokosuka Naval base in Kanagawa Prefecture, saw almost 60,000 visitors Saturday.

The event was a part of Yokosuka Kaikoku Festival held by the city from Aug. 1 through Saturday. The festival started in 2003, when the city commemorated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the U.S. fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853.

The weeklong event featured a Bingo game and a dance contest with 30 entries, and food stands were everywhere. A beer garden and cafe opened near City Hall, and live performances were offered every night, ranging from Hawaiian and country music to American dance music and rock ‘n’ roll.

Visitors to the Saturday event at the U.S. base included many dressed in colorful “yukata” summer kimono in preparation for the fireworks show. The event, which kicked off with a soccer match, also featured a baseball game and a car show, followed by live music performances and a hula dance. A hot dog eating contest wrapped things up.

The special feature of the day was a display of two warships — the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen from the base and the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Harusame from the MSDF Yokosuka base.

Kyoko Sugita, a public relations official at the U.S. base, said the display of both navies’ warships has been the main feature of the event for four years.

“The event is held to promote friendly relations between Japan and the U.S.,” she said. “We want to show gratitude to people who show understanding about the U.S. Navy. At the same time, we want the Japanese people to understand more about U.S. culture through food, music and so forth.”

For many of the visitors, food appeared to be the main attraction. “Every year, I buy the cherry pie at the Cinnabon store, which is famous for cinnamon rolls,” said a 49-year-old woman who came with her husband. She said she was surprised by the turnout, adding they had to stand in line for an hour before entering through the base gate.

“It’s my first time to attend the event, but it’s exciting to be able to take part in such a big event” said Toru Wakamatsu, 33, a company worker from Yokohama who came with four of his colleagues. “One of my colleagues found out about the event, and I wanted to see the ships and also the fireworks in the evening,” he said with a plate of “yakisoba” fried noodles and a glass of beer.

A couple from Kawasaki in their late 40s said they have been to the event with their children over the last 10 years. “We wanted our children to mix with people from other countries and experience the international atmosphere,” the husband said. Although the couple came alone this year as the children have now grown up, “We enjoy the joyful atmosphere. We want to come again as long as there is peace in the country,” he said.

The city-organized festival also ended Saturday evening with a fireworks event, with pyrotechnics of varying colors and shapes dotting the night sky. The fireworks could be viewed from the city’s several seaside locations, including the Mikasa and Umikaze parks, and the Sarushima Island.

Courtney Bethel, 15, who lives on the base with her parents and was at the event with a friend, said she enjoys the event every year. “It’s nice to interact with the Japanese people like this, as this kind of event happens only several times a year.”