Camp Fuji’s Friendship Fest brings community and U.S. Marines closer
COMBINED ARMS TRAINING CENTER CAMP FUJI, Japan – -- As the sun rises over majestic Mt. Fuji, thousands of smiling visitors stream into the gates of Camp Fuji for the annual Fuji Friendship Festival, May 9, 2015.
Mt. Fuji symbolizes the strength of the nation of Japan, a fitting symbol as a backdrop to an event designed to further strengthen the Japanese community relationships with the U.S. Marines stationed at Camp Fuji.
“This is an opportunity for us to bring Japanese citizens onto the base and interact with them,” said Col. James R. Fullwood, commanding officer, Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji. “We have a wonderful community that we are a part of. We are great friends, and we have a long history in this area of about 70 years of U.S. Japanese friendship in Gotemba. We also have a relationship year round, and this is one of many events we do with the local community. We also clean up local parks and work with the local youth center to help them with many projects. This is just one of many things that we do to strengthen our relationship with our local community.”
The event opened at 1100 a.m., and in just a few hours, thousands of visitors from the community were exploring the static displays of Japanese Ground Self Defense Force and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft, tactical vehicles, and military equipment, browsing dozens of food stalls and vendors, and enjoying live performances by many music groups.
“The Fuji Friendship Festival is a great opportunity to invite the people of the local community to come and join us,” said Maj. Paula D. Marshall, executive officer, CATC Camp Fuji. “This is a tremendous opportunity to show the community how we cooperate and have fun together. Today we are very fortunate that we have a Taiko drum performance from the JGSDF Takigahara Garrison, U.S. Navy 7th Fleet Band and JGSDF Fuji school band. We also have a static display of the MV-22B Osprey, as well as the Japanese GSDF Hueys, JGSDF tactical vehicles, Explosive Ordinance Disposal, Marine Corps and JGSDF equipment for local people to see and enjoy.”
Thousands of people lined up to tour the MV-22B Osprey on display from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan.
“There have been many people in the local community who have been curious about the Osprey, and so we wanted to have an Osprey here that the Japanese citizens can see up close, understand how safe it is and what it is capable of,” said Fullwood.
Fullwood said that the camp enjoys a long history of close, warm relationships with local officials.
“We are so thankful for the leaders in the local community and their support for our training here at Camp Fuji,” Fullwood said. “We certainly appreciate our close, strong relationship with our local community.”
Camp Fuji provides an important training location for U.S. operational forces that are responsible for the defense of Japan under the Japan/U.S. defense treaty. U.S. forces also operate throughout the Asia-Pacific region, so that they can be ready to assist with disaster relief or to provide security where needed. And the camp officials work closely with the local community in Gotemba, and with their Japanese Ground Self Defense Force allies who are co-located in the immediate area.
“This event was very good, this event brings people from Gotemba, Japan and U.S. together, and as a soldier, it is important for us all to have strong relationships,” said JGSDF Sgt. Major Yoshika Murata, who is studying at a Japanese base near Camp Fuji.
Many young people flooded the event, asking many questions about the military displays, and also enjoying interacting with the Marines.
“This is a nice event because I am enjoying the Marines and the community company and also making mochi together,” said Rio Fuji, Susano, Japan, a member of the U.S. Japan Fuji Friendship Association. She smiled as she watched Marines do their best to pound mochi (a Japanese delicacy composed of mashed rice) in the correct manner.
Also present at the event were ranking Japanese defense officials.
“It is very important to have good relationships with local communities,” said Hiroshi Marui, director general of the South Kanto Defense Bureau. “This festival is one of the means by which we can develop good relationships. It is important for the citizens to know the individuals and equipment of the Marines, and see how the equipment is used. This kind of festival gives that opportunity to the local community. A lot of people came here to enjoy the event, and it seems that they really enjoyed the Marines.”
“People are really curious about the American base surrounded by Japanese bases here at the foot of Mt. Fuji,” said Marshall. “The reason why we are here is to ensure the readiness of U.S. forces. We have a security obligation to protect Japan, and also we provide stability in the region, so we are here really to help ensure our forces are ready for any contingency. We are very fortunate that we have such outstanding JGSDF neighbors, and many people who come here may not realize that we work with them on a daily basis.”
Marshall continued that although Marines may only be stationed at Camp Fuji for a short time, they take advantage of the location to experience the local culture, and that helps both the community and the base.
“We want to show Marines who are here the Japanese culture, and this is a great opportunity for those who have never been here before and many not know a lot about Japan,” Marshall said. “Likewise, we want to give the people in the community an opportunity to know about the American military culture, see what we do and know who we are.”
Approximately 5,200 visitors attended the festival this year, and after the outdoor events concluded at sunset, visitors were invited indoors to the Camp Fuji club for live performances and continued comradery late into the evening.
“We are very happy to have everyone here at Camp Fuji today,” said Fullwood. “This is one of many events that we do with our local community to strengthen our relationship with our ground self-defense force brothers and sisters, and to strengthen the relationships with the people of Japan. Japan is known world-wide for their hospitality, and we have certainly felt that hospitality here at Camp Fuji, so this is a small way that we can give back to the community that supports us so greatly throughout the year.”