It’s that time of year again, the Yokota air base opened their gates and let the general public in.
As part of their yearly “Japanese-American Friendship Festival”, and to get there you have to brave herds of people packing into each car of the Ome line like a can of sardines, and then walk shoulder to shoulder through the narrow suburban backstreets of Fussa towards the huge gates of Yokota US Air Base.
After a token ID/Passport check, you’re ushered into the (thankfully) huge open grounds of the base, with wide open American style streets surround by massive hangers which straddle the gigantic runway.
If you can dodge the tractor trolley rides shooting water pistols at squealing children, you’ll eventually make it to the food stalls, which feature everything from burgers to chips and of course burgers.
I was pleased to finally get myself a real Philly Cheese Steak, which I have been missing out on for the past 12 years here in Japan. Even the other foods were on par and satisfied my taste for some good old-fashioned American comfort foods… like combination pizza and some hot wings all to be washed down with some Monster Energy drinks and beer.
Despite the rainy weather, the atmosphere was quite uplifting, as most of the stalls were run by the local American airmen 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.
Since we had early access to the base before the public, we made our down the runway towards the various aircraft on display. Helicopters, fighter jets and massive troop/cargo transports were all on display, many of them able to climb aboard (once the public enters there will be a lengthy queue). Pilots (or at least people dressed like pilots) were often standing by in front of the aircraft to improve the photo op, and many were treated like celebrities, asked to hold children while mothers excitedly fussed with their cameras.
The Security Forces Military Working Dog (MWD) held a demonstration of patrol dogs working abilities, and even the Japanese Self Air Defense forces had aircraft on display with small events of their own.
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 base exchange & commissary as people managed to make their way out the gates at the end with 3-4 cases of rare imported American energy drinks under each arm.