News: Sports festival ties together US, Japan
Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kegan Kay
NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan – Last Sunday, Feb. 23, community members from Yamato, Ayase and Naval Air Facility Atsugi gathered at Hikichigawa Park Yutori-no-mori and Ayase Sports Park for the first Japan-U.S. Friendship Sports Festival.
The event, hosted by the South Kanto Defense Bureau, was geared toward friendly competition between children from the communities in baseball and soccer games, and featured performances by Raffines Dance Entertainment team, NAF Atsugi kid taiko drummers and a tea ceremony conducted by NAF Atsugi community members.
The highlight of the event however was the opportunity for U.S. and Japanese nationals to enjoy camaraderie through competition and inter-cultural exchanges.
“We get to know our friends and our community a lot better,” said NAF Atsugi Commanding Officer Capt. Steven Wieman. “We rely on the community so much for support so it is very import that we continue developing our friendships. That is why [this event] is important to us.”
The baseball and soccer games were played by teams of both U.S. and Japanese children ages 13 through 18.
“[The event] will tell you a lot about their culture and how they play sports in comparison to the U.S.,” said Wesley Mangrum, a Zama American High School student who participated in the baseball game. “It promotes inter-cultural relations and helps you to experience the world.”
The inter-cultural mingling didn’t end there, due to the cold weather and even a short burst of snow flurries, Americans and Japanese alike were found warming themselves inside tents set up by the SKDB, or enjoying a hot cup of tea while watching NAF Atsugi community members conduct a traditional tea ceremony.
“I think it is great because it allows community interaction and gives us a chance to do something fun with the Japanese,” said Noelle Hale, a NAF Atsugi tea ceremony performer. “The tea ceremony gives us a chance to show that we are interested in learning about Japanese culture, and is a lot of fun.”
The sports festival took a long time in planning and coordination, requiring a lot of hard work on behalf of the performers, officials, planners and coordinators. The NAF Atsugi kid taiko drummers and tea ceremony performers practiced for months to showcase their skills in front of their audiences. By the afternoon, their hard work paid off with a bit of sun and applause as the performers and athletes completed their work.
“There is a lot to like,” said Mangrum. “I guess it is the friendliness and getting to make new acquaintances. Don’t waste your time out here in Japan. You never know when you’ll be in another country again.”
The event ended with a food exchange of rice balls, miso soup, hamburgers, an award ceremony and closing remarks.
“I hope we get to do this again sometime,” said Wieman. “I hope that our young children get to meet a few Japanese friends and remember this as a life long memory. As for the parents, I hope they take these memories back to the U.S. with them and have a wonderful image of Japan and serving in the U.S. Navy overseas.”