Local nationals visit family tombs at Kadena Published April 16, 2015 By Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris 18th Wing Public Affairs KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- The 18th Munitions Squadron opened their gates to allow more than 400 Okinawans the opportunity to visit family tombs for the annual Shimi celebration here April 12. Shimi is a week-long festival to celebrate the New Year's Day for the dead. In the old days, Okinawans celebrated on the Lunar New Year in January, but the timing changed with the adoption of Chinese customs. Normally during the festival, the tombs are cleaned by younger family members about a week before the celebration. Since the munitions area is only open for one day for the families due to security, locals sped up the process by cleaning in the morning and gathering the remainder of the family around lunchtime. "The visit provided an opportunity for the Airmen of the 18th MUNS to physically interact and experience firsthand the culture, religion and tradition of our host nation," said 2nd Lt. Lyneth Ann Battle, the 18th MUNS’ material flight commander. "It also helps bridge the relationship between service members and Okinawans." The extensive 5,900-acre munitions area's dense jungle is home to 20 family tombs, some of which have been around since before World War II. The visiting locals were welcomed into the 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. "Some families have relocated their ancestors from the munitions storage area. Those who have chosen not to still remain within the munitions storage area," Battle said. "Each year during Shimi, our obligation is to ensure their tradition lives on, and they can see their ancestors." After a brief ceremony that included prayers, the locals paid their respect to their ancestors by offering food, drinks and incense. Usually, they burn the incense and paper representing money for the deceased to use during the coming year, but since munitions storage does not allow open flames for safety reasons, they had to omit that part of the ceremony. "I have been coming on base to pay respects to my ancestors for the last five years," said local national Uehara. "This is a great event, because the whole family comes together to do this." In Okinawa, Shimi is usually observed on a Sunday between the first week in April and the first week in May at the family's discretion. On some outer islands of the prefecture, Shimi is still observed on the Lunar New Year.