YOKOSUKA, Japan -- U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka welcomed 37,000 visitors to its 26th annual Spring Festival on March 30.
Guests from all over Japan — including nearby Tokyo and the country’s northern most island of Hokkaido — traveled to Yokosuka for a chance to enjoy a ship tour, live music, carnival games, and iconic American food at the largest U.S. Navy base overseas.
“I’m happy to welcome our close neighbors, but also those who have traveled far to be with us to see the sights and sounds on Yokosuka Naval Base in Spring time,” Captain Jeffrey Kim, commander of Fleet Activities Yokosuka, said.
The popular open-base event, co-hosted by Yokosuka city and the Yokosuka City Tourism Association, has been an annual event each Spring since 1994. What made this year’s celebration unique, Kim said, was the chance to enjoy the festivities into the night amid glowing lanterns and a canopy of blooming cherry blossom trees.
While cherry blossoms, or sakura as they are called in Japan, are a joy to see, Yokosuka City Mayor Akira Kamiji said the flowers serve as a symbol too.
“Cherry blossoms are representative of Japan and the opportunity of being able to cherish them on base truly signifies U.S.-Japan friendship,” said Kamiji through a translator at a welcoming ceremony just steps away from the base’s Kosano Park, where more than 60 pink and white blooming trees reside.
At the park, the exchange of friendship and culture was on display as Sailors, their families and host-nation friends participated in the Japanese tradition of hanami, or enjoying the flowers’ beauty, while picnicking on American favorites such as pizza and barbecue.
Across from Kosano Park, guests could also enjoy music from festival’s main stage and Benny Decker Theater where surf rock group Chris & the Adventures, classic rock band RedBedRock, the U.S. 7th Fleet Band and more entertainment groups provided soundtracks for the day.
Tokyo resident Toshiko DeBouger, who is married to a U.S. Marine veteran, said the friends she brought to the base enjoyed both the food and music.
“Some people say hamburger is the best and some people say enjoyment of the music and the band, especially classic rock,” DeBouger said of her friends’ favorite Spring Festival moments.
Another highlight for visitors, as evident by the line stretching along the base’s waterfront, was the chance to tour the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62).
Captain Marc Boran, commanding officer of Chancellorsville, said it was a pleasant surprise to see the hundreds of people lined up to see the ship and meet Chancellorsville’s Sailors.
“What I’m excited about is the opportunity for our Sailors to talk about and show their ship,” Boran said. “An event like this reflects on their great work and the hard work that they do every single day.”
Enjoying the ship tour and base’s cherry blossoms wasn’t just a relaxing pastime for adults, the younger guests at this year’s festival also seemed to find many things to enjoy.
Tokito Akira, from Saitama prefecture, attended Spring Festival with his 5 year old and 1 year old.
Akira said his family enjoyed seeing the Chancellorsville because it was the “first time they visited the ship,” he said through a translator.
Alison Hinkle, who lives on base and visited Spring Festival with her 8 year old daughter Kathleen, said they enjoyed the carnival games. The festival was also a chance to show two Japanese Girl Scouts their community.
“We have two Girl Scouts visiting us from a sister troop three hours away, so we wanted to show them around the base and view the beautiful cherry blossoms,” Hinkle said.
Reflecting on celebrating Spring Festival together amid thousands of host-nation friends.
Hinkle said “it was amazing to have everyone come together and enjoy a beautiful day all together.”