18th MUNS helps locals celebrate Shimi
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- The 18th Munitions Squadron opened their gates to offer more than 400 Okinawan locals the opportunity to visit family tombs for the Okinawan Shimi celebration here April 6.
Shimi is an annual celebration during which extended family members gather to clean up the exterior of their family's tomb and the surrounding area. Afterward, the family will pray for health and protection, and offer food to their deceased relatives before enjoying each other's company at a picnic beside the tomb.
The sprawling 5,900-acre munitions area's dense jungle is home to roughly 25 family tombs. The visiting locals were welcomed into the restricted area by 18th MUNS volunteers through gates not open to the public.
Once inside, the volunteers escorted the visitors to their respective family tombs in order to maintain accountability, a daunting task considering the number of participating locals and the expansive, maze-like terrain.
"We had more than 100 MUNS Airmen volunteer for this event," said Floyd Higa, 18th MUNS master labor contract chief. "We had airmen, NCOs, officers--about a third of our staff came out to escort these families."
Typically, the tomb is cleaned by younger family members about a week before the celebration. Since the munitions area was only open for one day, locals expedited the process by cleaning in the morning and gathering the remainder of the family around lunchtime.
Although the families had to be escorted for accountability purposes, volunteers were careful not to intrude on the visitors' private celebrations.
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Patrick Stanton, 18th MUNS systems flight commander, said inviting locals into the munitions area in observance of Shimi each year is one of the efforts Kadena makes to maintain a positive relationship with the Okinawan community.
"They can only come to their tomb once a year, so it's something they really look forward to," Higa said, acting as a translator for one of the visiting families. "They had relatives from all over the island come here to celebrate and be together, and we're happy to help make that happen."
Shimi is still being observed, as it is traditionally celebrated on a weekend between the first week in April and the first week in May at the family's discretion.