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Yokota Friendship Festival

Date Published
19th September 2016

This past weekend, the Yokota air base opened their gates and let the general public in.

This is part of their yearly “Japanese American Friendship Festival”, and to get there you have to brave throngs of people filling the tiny Ome train line to bursting, and then walk shoulder to shoulder through the narrow suburban backstreets of Fussa towards the huge gates of the base.

After a token ID/Passport check, you’re ushered into the (thankfully) huge open grounds of the base, with wide open American looking boulevards surrounding an alley of massive hangers which straddle a gigantic runway.

Deep Fried Oreos

If you can dodge the Humvee and Jeep rides shooting water pistols at squealing children, you’ll eventually make it to the food stalls, which feature everything from burgers to chips and even burgers.

I was actually quite excited to try a Philly Cheese Steak, which American friends had been telling me for years was a true culinary achievement. It was awful. Even the fries were somehow the worst I’d ever tried, being reconstituted from powder. My friend and I still felt we hadn’t quite gone full American enough yet, so we also had some Deep Fried Oreos (way too sweet, and I don’t know a bigger sweet tooth than myself).

Despite my petty complaints about fairground food, the atmosphere was quite uplifting, as most of the stalls were run by expat American friend and family groups, and the sense of community was quite apparent among them, with high school cheer squads performing to attract buyers to their booths and a very genuine sense of friendliness in stark contrast to the sometimes rehearsed feeling of Japanese customer service.

Our snobbish bellies full, we waddled down the runway towards the various aircraft on display. Helicopters, fighter JETs and massive troop transports were all on display, many of them able to be clambered aboard (after a lengthy queue). Pilots (or at least people dressed like pilots) were often standing by in front of the vehicles to improve the photo op, and many were treated like celebrities, asked to hold children while mothers excitedly fussed with their cameras.

The Japanese police force held a demonstration of motorbike formation riding, and several other nations with aircraft stationed on the base had small events of their own. The Royal Australian Air Force was plastering children with temporary tattoos under the shade of a huge transport plane.

RAAF tattoos

Some of the larger planes had even been converted into shops, where people could purchase things like t shirts and bumper stickers.

I couldn’t help but find the whole thing a bit odd, but it seemed to be a very popular day out for many families, and certainly a successful day for the commissary as people trundled out the gates at the end with 20 can packs of rare imported American soft drinks under each arm.

Police motorbike demonstration