YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- More than 38,000 people braved Japan’s summer heat to visit U.S. Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka for the installation’s annual Friendship Day festival, Aug. 4.
This year marked the 42nd time this base, just 36 miles miles south of Tokyo, opened its gates for the summer event.
Visitors enjoyed sampling American food and watching a variety of entertainment at Yokosuka venues, but this year’s big draws rested at FLEACT Yokosuka’s waterfront where visitors got a chance to tour ships of both the 7th Fleet’s Forward Deployed Naval Forces and a ship from Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).
“Fleet Activities Yokosuka welcomes the opportunity each summer to open our installation to tens of thousands of host-nation guests at Friendship Day,” said Captain Jeffrey Kim, commanding officer of the largest U.S. Navy installation overseas. “This event showcases the strength of our two countries’ friendship and the mutual commitment to our alliance.”
Yokosuka’s Friendship Day began in 1976 as a way to promote a positive relationship with the City of Yokosuka and the people of Japan. On average, the event draws more than 35,000 visitors each year looking to experience a piece of American culture.
This year’s event kicked off in the morning with Kim and Katsuaki Kamiji, the mayor of Yokosuka City, delivering welcoming remarks to visitors, many who have waited hours in line in anticipation of the event opening.
As thousands of visitors strolled through the installation’s gates, it was clear that one of the biggest draws for this year’s events was a taste of American culture. In fact, guests feasted on more than 2,800 Yokosuka Navy Burgers, 2,700 pizzas, and 2,500 turkey legs, according to Morale, Welfare and Recreation Yokosuka.
“Three years ago, I ate pizza and it was delicious so I wanted to (attend Friendship Day) to eat it again,” said Syuuki Inoue, who is visiting from Yokohama.
Another highlight for this year’s event was the ships available for touring at Yokosuka’s piers.
“Today we were very pleased to have USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), and the JMSDF JS Asuka (ASE 6102) available for tours,” said Kim.
The lines leading to these ships reached from the waterfront more than a kilometer toward the main Friendship Day area along Yokosuka’s Nimitz Blvd., reflecting the host nation guest’s great interest and curiosity about the U.S. Navy and JMSDF.
“I had a plan to visit the base, but (when) I saw the installation’s Japanese Twitter post (@FLEACT_Yokosuka) in the morning I got more excited to learn that I can get aboard and see inside the ship,” said Reiko Nishikawa from Tokyo. “I have seen Ronald Reagan from the outside on a cruise ship before, but this is a completely different experience. It was huge!”
Nishikawa noted the informational placards explaining different parts or areas of such a large aircraft carrier in Japanese proved helpful. “The description on the guide plates were very detailed, but simply put together,” he said. “They deepened my knowledge of the ship.”
While Ronald Reagan left an impression with its immense size, Fujiwara Ai of Kawasaki found it impressive to learn about what it was like to work and live in tighter quarters of a ship. “I was surprised at how narrow the rooms are,” Ai said, who toured the Blue Ridge. “We saw the ship’s captain’s room where he can eat his meals and it was amazing.”
The close partnership between the two countries was on display throughout the day, at both at the U.S. base, as well as across Yokosuka Harbor at the JMSDF Yokosuka District piers, where USS Benfold (DDG 65) was open for public tours as well.
“We are very proud of our close partnership with the JMSDF,” said Kim. “Nowhere else in the world are two allied naval forces so closely situated than here in Yokosuka.”
In addition to the food and ships tours, a number of cultural exchanges was also on display as well. One of the Friendship Day performers was renowned Japanese pianist and Yokosuka-native Keito Saito, who plays boogie-woogie music, a uniquely American export. Aimi Mukohara, a popular Japanese recording artist, also took the stage.
Ultimately, the pinnacle of Friendship Day is the interaction between U.S. Navy Sailors, civilians and their families with local citizens. Sailors and their families cheered alongside their Japanese guests at a number of activities such as softball games and dance performances.
“Seeing our Japanese neighbors and our Fleet Activities community sharing good times side by side is the best part of our open-base events,” Kim said.
Jim O’Donnell and Ryo Isobe of FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs Office contributed to this story.