Spirit of friendship alive at Camp Zama's annual Cherry Blossom Festival
CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- Although unfavorable weather cut short the outdoor festivities at Camp Zama's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, the vibrant atmosphere at the event truly made it a success, said the U.S. Army Garrison Japan commander.
Approximately 7,000 people were at the installation April 6 for the event which celebrates the coming of spring and is named for the iconic pink-and-white flowers that bloom during the season.
More importantly, though, the Cherry Blossom Festival encourages interaction and friendship between the U.S. members assigned to Camp Zama and their host-nation neighbors from throughout Japan, said Col. Eric D. Tilley.
"[The Cherry Blossom Festival is] a wonderful opportunity to bring our community inside our gates to see what we're all about," said Tilley. "It truly embodies the spirit of friendship."
Heavy rains earlier in the week led to the more than 800 cherry blossom trees on Camp Zama being mostly bare on the day of the festival, and the rain returned in the mid-afternoon, but those less-than-ideal conditions did nothing to minimize the impact of the event, said Tilley.
"Even if there are no cherry blossoms on the trees, the spirit of the Cherry Blossom Festival is still here, regardless of the weather," said Tilley. "It's the spirit of the people that makes it a great day, and we are truly having a great day here at Camp Zama."
The event began in the morning with a combined three- and seven-kilometer race for children and adults, as well as an open tournament at the Camp Zama Golf Course. A stage set up on the field behind Yano Fitness Center was host to a number of eclectic musical acts and a DJ spinning tunes throughout the day. There were also dozens of food vendors, an area for children's games and activities, and a static display of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
The festival provided at least one family new to Japan the ideal opportunity to meet some of their host-nation neighbors and experience Japanese culture and food.
"I think it's awesome that the base opens up ... and invites everybody in the community to come, so it's been really fun," said Ilene Guinn, who attended the event with her husband Carl and their 10-year-old son Ethan. "I think it's important for communication to be open between the Japanese people and the Americans on base, and ... to share each others' cultures with our children and our families."
The festival's culminating event was the "Pacific Boxing Showdown II," a six-bout showcase featuring the Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation super welterweight title match between defending champion Charlie Ota and challenger Kwak Kyung-suk.
Ota, 31, formerly a member of the U.S. Navy, traded heavy blows with Kwak, the 36-year-old South Korean native, for 12 rounds. Both fighters' power and speed was evident, particularly Ota, who demonstrated the skills that led him to win his championship match against Yoshihisa Tonimura at the first Pacific Boxing Showdown in 2011. Ota was eventually named the winner of the match against Kwak by unanimous decision.
Calling back to the spirit of friendship the festival embodies, Tilley once again praised the ongoing sense of community in display at this year's event.
"It makes me proud to be part of this community," said Tilley. "It's just encouraging, because it speaks to the desire and the willingness for both of our communities to come together at any opportunity."