Friendship Day Firsts


friendship day firsts

Aaron Pylinski | Staff Writer

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni’s Friendship Day is hands down one of the most dynamic events in Japan. Featuring one of the largest single-day airshows with more than 200k visitors from around the globe, there’s something significant for everyone. Whether it’s the Blue Impulse headlining or the roar of an F-35 hovering above the crowd visitors are treated to a remarkable event with lasting memories.

We asked our community about their first Friendship Day, and their responses were fantastic.

My first Friendship Day was in the ‘70s. I was a Sgt stationed at the base photo lab. We met the children at the Sakura Theater. From there we broke out in groups and toured part of the base where they had an area set up for games which we played. I believe we went to the mess hall behind the Block 8 barracks to eat. Afterwards, we went back to the Sakura Theater to watch cartoons. We then said our goodbyes. That has always stood out as one of the best days of my life. I still miss Iwakuni.
Jim Bell, Sgt H&HS Photo Lab 1969-1971

MCAS Iwakuni’s first Friendship Day was May 5, 1973, and was mainly intended to be a public airshow event that would add to the existing open houses conducted by the air station. Though the airshow was not yet sponsored bilaterally with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Fleet Air Wing 31, the 1973 event provided a chance for Marines to interact with the Japanese community. Visitors arrived in the tens of thousands, groups and vendors sold food and souvenirs. Units were in charge of the preparation of many fun activities. Even after over 40 years of its inception, the annual event continues to serve as a bond between the two nations.

日本で アメリカを 感じた 1日でした 4月7日 マラソン 参加しますので よろしくお願います.
I enjoy American culture in Japan [at Friendship Day]. I'm going to join the Iwakuni Marathon on April 7th.

Tetsuo Hashighuchi - 2012

In 2012, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni attracted and welcomed over 285,000 Japanese guests for Friendship Day. This Friendship Day was particularly memorable for coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Marine aviation. The III Marine Expeditionary Force Band made an appearance, there was a hot rod car display, and the “Zero” hangar awaited the attention of thousands of visitors. The famous aerobatic demonstration team belonging to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force also awed the audience as they spread, flew in formation, and left a heart and star-shaped contrails in the sky.

It was 2014. I was very excited when I saw various aircraft.

Yamazaru (山猿) - 2014

ボクが最初に来たのは、小学生の時です。そして今、ボクの子供と来ています(成長記録)毎年来るのは難しいですが開催される時は大きな戦争、大きな災害が無い時です。ある意味平和な時です(完璧は無理です). 今年も開催されます様に!
The first time I came to Friendship Day was when I was in primary school and now I come with my kids. It's hard to come every year, but when there’s no big war and no big disaster, it's a peaceful time and I hope it will be held this year!

Hiroshi Ishibashi - 2014

Major construction on the installation, budgetary constraints, and sketchy weather forecasts in 2014 proved challenging to organizers. Fortunately, MCAS Iwakuni was able to come together to ensure the continuation of a long tradition and lasting memories. With the year’s exclusion of the air show, more time was allotted for tens of thousands of Japanese guests to bond and share their differing, yet unique cultures with many of the uniformed servicemembers. This year, MCAS Iwakuni also teamed with two squadrons from Okinawa, Japan to provide static displays of the popular KC-130 Super Hercules and MV-22B Osprey.

I enjoyed my first time at Friendship Day in 2017 and also I came back last year, too. This year, I am not able to come to the Friendship Day 2019 for maternity leave. I want to come back next year again.

Takahashi Rina - 2017

In 2017 static displays included ice from Antarctica, the Breitling DC-3, and numerous Marine and Japanese ground equipment. Most notably for the airshow, Blue Impulse wowed the crowd with its aerial acrobatics and the Japanese F-2, the equivalent to the American F-16, flew in from Tsuiki Airbase in Fukuoka to show off its agility, thrust, and maneuverability.

Last year I went with my husband. My daughter married a U.S. Marine, and I wanted to see where my son-in-law worked, so we went to Friendship Day.
Tomoko Futigami - 2018

Last year saw the long-awaited flight of the F-35B. A static display since it came to MCAS Iwakuni, the F-35B gave a first-ever aerial demonstration for the 200,000+ that showed up on a sunny and bright May afternoon. There were also 42 Ferraris on hand for the crowd to ogle.

The History of MCAS Iwakuni

Over the last 80 years, MCAS Iwakuni has seen some significant changes. With everything from changing multiple hands of ownership, to mission capabilities, the air station’s legacy is as diverse as its community.

  • 1938 - Land purchased by the Japanese government to establish a naval air station.
  • 1940, Jul 8 - Japanese Naval Air Station established and used as a training and defense base. The base housed 96 trainers (aircraft) and 150 Zero fighter planes.
  • 1943, Sep - Etajima Naval Academy established. Approx. 1,000 cadets training at any given time.
  • 1945, May & Aug - U.S. B-29’s bombed Iwakuni targeting oil refineries and rail station areas. The first allies to reach the base were a group from the 4th Marine Regiment. The base saw changes in many occupants: U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.
  • 1948 - designated a Royal Australian Air Force Base.
  • 1950 - 3rd USAF Bomber Wing (B-29) and Royal Navy as a UN force occupied Iwakuni at the beginning of the Korean War earning the base the nickname “Gateway to Korea”. Other units that used the base at the time included U.S. Navy Fleet Air Wing 6, Task Force 77, and Task Force 95.
  • 1952, Apr - USAF took over Iwakuni officially making it a U.S. military base. October 1954 - U.S. Navy Fleet Air Wing 6 took over the base becoming Naval Air Station Iwakuni
  • 1956, Jul - 1st MAW moved their headquarters from Korea to NAS Iwakuni
  • 1958 - USMC took over control of the air station renaming it Marine Corps Air Facility Iwakuni.
  • 1962 - Officially designated MCAS Iwakuni
  • 1966 - Nuclear weapons stored temporarily on the base
  • 1969 - VMFA-334 became the first unit to deploy to MCAS Iwakuni. 1st MAW (Rear) established.
  • 1970 - Establishment of Far East Network TV station (the precursor to AFN).
  • 1973 - First Friendship Day
  • 1989 - MAG-15 stands down. MABS-15 and MABS-12 combine to form MALS-12. The first deployment of AV-8B Harriers to Japan occurs at MCAS Iwakuni.
  • 1997 - Runway relocation project starts.
  • 2010 - New airfield opens.
  • 2012 - Iwakuni Kintaikyo International Airport officially opens
  • 2018, Jan 2017 VMFA-121 arrives with F-35B Lightning II aircraft
  • 2018, May - CAW 5 completed relocation from NAF Atsugi.

Golden Week

Golden Week is a mega-holiday in Japan that combines four national holidays that fall within a seven day period. The only other two busy holidays in Japan are New Year and Obon. Golden Week this year is extra special. The current Emperor of Japan is expected to abdicate on April 30. The following day is the ascension to the throne for the new emperor, making May 1 a national holiday. That said, an unprecedented 10-day Golden Week is expected this year. How does that fit into our Friendship Day celebration? Friendship Day is May 5 which puts our open house single-day air show right at the tail end of Golden Week. We can’t say with any great certainty that this year’s momentous Golden Week will affect attendance at Friendship Day, but hitting 300,000 attendees would be an awesome first.

The four holidays of Golden Week

  • April 29 Showa no hi: The birthday of former Emperor Showa, who died in 1989.
  • May 3 Kenpo kinenbi: The new post-WWII constitution goes into effect on this day in 1947.
  • May 4 Midori no hi: A day dedicated to the environment and nature.
  • May 5 Kodomo no hi: Japanese families pray for the health and future success of their sons.