Soldiers in Japan take part in traditional Giant Kite Festival
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 9, 2012) — An annual traditional event in Japan that centers around the construction and flight of massive kites involved participation this year from more than 40 Soldiers and family members assigned here.
Representatives from the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion took part in the Sagami Giant Kite Festival held May 5 at the nearby Sagami River, and were successful in getting their hand-built apparatus airborne during the unique and exciting cultural event.
Members of the 35th CSSB initially assembled the 18-square-foot frame of their kite in March of last year, using more than 100 bamboo poles. They were assisted by members of the Sagami Giant Kite Preservation Association, or SGKPA, who helped them cut the bamboo poles from a forest of the stalks located on Camp Zama.
The 2011 Giant Kite Festival was canceled due to the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in March, earlier that year. The 35th CSSB had thus been waiting for more than a year to fly their kite, and their debut on Saturday marked the first time in the festival’s history that the U.S. Army has taken part in the event.
The weather on Saturday was a welcome and ideal mix of clear skies and strong winds, following a week-long bout of rain throughout the area.
While constructing the kite, the 35th CSSB Soldiers and SGKPA members decided to paint the words “Ichidan” — or “One Team,” also the motto of U.S. Army Japan — and “Samurai” in Japanese characters on the kite’s paper body.
“We’re very excited and honored to be a part of this festival,” said Lt. Col. Joseph O. Ritter, 35th CSSB commander. “We relied upon the SGKPA members to help us out, and we really needed to work together with them and follow their lead, because we had never flown a kite before.”
“It was a big challenge, but everyone worked together to get the kite up in the air, from building it to learning how to fly it,” added Ritter. “The culture of Japan is very unique and very beautiful. This is just another significant part of the culture of Japan.”
With help from their Japanese friends, the Soldiers and family members got their kite in the air on their first attempt. After catching a gust of wind, they pulled the kite’s thick rope line against in unison and ran backward. After two attempts, they managed to keep their kite in the air for a personal best time of seven minutes.
“I think this kite has a lot of pull — very tough, very strong — you need more strength than you do [with] the little kites in the states,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Reeder, assigned to the 35th CSSB. “[This festival] was great way to bring about a better understanding of the Japanese community and of us. It added to my adventure here in Japan, because it’s something I never got to do in my lifetime [before].”
The main event of the festival was the 43-square-foot giant kite, which weighed one ton and required more than 100 men to lift it into the air. The massive kite remained airborne for a recorded time of 28 minutes, 50 seconds.
“I think the 35th CSSB members did a wonderful job for their first time flying a giant kite,” said Kazuhide Nishiyama, a native of the Shindo district in nearby Sagamihara City, and chief builder of the Sagami giant kite. “I remember their rope work when tying the frame together was great when they built the kite last year. They also have great teamwork.
“This was a great opportunity for them to experience the Japanese culture and our traditions, especially since they are our neighbors,” added Nishiyama. “And I also appreciate them attending this festival and displaying a good understanding of that culture.”
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