Feb 27, 2018
If you do a quick internet search for "Okinawa" and "U.S. military," the return will probably not paint a kind picture of the relationship between U.S. military bases and the Okinawan communities that host them. Certainly, there are some deep-seated socio-political issues that exist within that complex relationship, as well as historical factors that play in as well. After all, Okinawa was an American protectorate from 1945-1972, and the island prefecture still hosts 32 of 82 U.S. military facilities in Japan as well as over half of the U.S. defense personnel stationed in the country. Over the course of that relationship, there have been some heinous incidents and severe accidents involving the U.S. military that have rightly drawn protest and lingering criticisms.
Still, as with most things, there is another side to the story. While there are negative aspects of base-hosting relationships, I suggest that you don't let them belie the friendly ties that exist between each military base and the surrounding communities. No matter what the broader politics may be, people make the most of it and some important traditions have emerged over time. New families have been forged, lifelong friendships formed, and cultural exchanges enjoyed over time. Symbols of these interactions that have gained in popularity and importance over time are open base events.
For security reasons, U.S. military installations remain closed off to assigned personnel and their guests, but a few times a year, the major bases open up their gates to let all enter for festivals, concerts, fireworks, and an assortment of other special events. Those open base events showcase the best aspects of the relationship between the bases and the local communities, and fortunately for travelers, they are open to all members of the public.
If you intend to go, just be sure to have your passport or residence card on you for identification, and although most on-base establishments typically trade in dollars, yen is just fine for currency.
Here are a list of some of the more famous annual open base events:
Camp Schwab Fest
Location: Nago City
Dates / Times: 3/24 (Sat) - 03/25 (Sun) / 1:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Description: Every year, Camp Schwab opens its gates to all visitors for food, music, and fun. There are various American and local food vendors, special event booths (this year, Oculus Rift will be providing VR games), and live music.
White Beach Festival
Naval Base White Beach
Location: Uruma City
Date: Third Weekend in April
Description: Every year, the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force team up for this open base festival that includes food and game vendors, military equipment displays, live music, water activities, boat races, and auto shows.
Location: Ginowan City
Dates: Second Weekend of June
Description: Marine Corps Air Station is home to many fascinating military aircraft (like the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey), and the base invites several more from other locations to put on display for all visitors. Event-goers can enjoy getting up close to a variety of different aircraft while enjoying food and game vendors, live music (including local musicians and some headlining bands brought over from the U.S.), and fireworks.
Kadena Air Base
Location: Kadena Town
Dates: Fourth of July Weekend
Description: Almost every fourth of July weekend, Kadena opens up the gates for an assortment of events including flightline aircraft displays, food and game vendors, live music, and fireworks. Similar to Futenma's "Flightline Fair," but slightly larger in scale, America Fest is usually closed for base-only personnel on the first day and open for all event-goers on the second day of the event.
Have any questions about Open Base events or recommendations for events I haven't listed here? Feel free to use the comments section below!
Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.
Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).