In 2015, I had just moved to Japan. At the time, I did not work on Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni. I had another job doing other things in another life. I didn’t even know the installation was here. It was Golden Week in Japan, and my wife wanted to go to Friendship Day. She had gone to Friendship Day many times over the years, and it was always a special treat for her to see the air station with her family and friends.
“What is Friendship Day?” I asked
What I got was someone explaining a magical experience as if they had gone to Disney World. There is a carnival-like atmosphere, people from all over Japan come on to the base, eat the food, watch the air show, buy souvenirs, see the aircraft displays, and take pictures with the service members in uniform.
Okay, sounds fun! So, we went to the May 2015 Friendship Day. We parked at a friend’s place near the base and walked in along with a few thousand other people. In the rain; with no umbrella. It didn’t matter; we felt the excitement of the people as they chattered, laughed, pointed, and walked to the nationally known showcase of friendship between the United States and Japan.
I don’t think I have ever seen so many people moving together at once as they proceeded through the main gate. Although it was raining, that didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s mood. They were still excited to be there, and so were we. We stayed until the end of the show and made our way off the base happily chatting along with the other few thousand people making their way out past the gate.
For Friendship Day 2016, I was working aboard the Air Station with MCCS. I can’t tell you much about it except for the small area I was in and watched those same thousands of people stream through in front of us.
Now, we are on Friendship Day 2017, and I get to be a part of it on a planning level. This brought more questions to my mind. How did Friendship Day start? How are they able to keep it going? How many people show up to this thing?
The first Friendship Day was May 5, 1973
This year will be the 41st time the event has been held. It was canceled only a couple of times throughout its history. The event in 1973 was the first public air show; however, there were many annual “Open House” before events.
The first Open House was put together in 1956 in response to increased tension in the Asia Pacific area. With World War II having only ended a decade before and the war in Korea going on, there was much mistrust between Americans and Japanese. Open House was an invitation to all Japanese citizens to meet with US service members. It also gave our military members a chance to interact with the local Japanese population. It put a human face on everyone.
As the Open House grew in attendance, it also started adding more static displays of aircraft on the base. Eventually, groups sold souvenirs to help raise money for units to use for their fun activities. This led to allowing vendors to come in and sell food and merchandise. More food, shops, and displays brought, even more, recognition and more attendance.
With the addition of the air show in 1973, we now have the Friendship Day that we are familiar with and an average attendance of about 250,000 people per year.
Friendship Day does not exist simply because someone once said, “Hey! I’ve got an idea! Let’s do an air show!” If anything like that were to be suggested today, I think that person would be laughed out of the office. Our Friendship Day was created from necessity. It grew organically. And today, it is a destination for hundreds of thousands of people for a one-day chance to be a part of this job that we do every day. It’s a chance for Japanese guests to bring the family to “America” and eat American food and talk to Americans. It’s also a chance to truly show our love and friendship back to those Japanese families who have welcomed us into their homeland.