Marines, Japanese Students Share Culture

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ryan T. Watson, right, receives a bouquet from a student at Chinzei High School in Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture, Dec. 5, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Drew Tech)

KUMAMOTO PREFECTURE, Japan – U.S. Marines participating in exercise Forest Light 15-1 visited with high school students here Dec. 5.

A group of 11 Marines took time out of their bilateral training to speak with students at Kumamoto’s Kaishin and Chinzei high schools.

The school visits centered on the sharing of cultures. Students at both schools prepared presentations for the visiting Marines, including a dance from the school’s dance club and a karate and kendo demonstrations. The Marines demonstrated techniques used in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and explained American Christmas traditions.

After introductions and presentations, the Marines led group discussions about cultural differences and similarities.

‘A Great Experience to Get Out and Mingle’

“We basically were there to answer any questions they had about the Marine Corps, America or just whatever curiosities they had,” said Marine Corps Cpl. Robert C. Burkhardt, from St. Peters, Missouri. “Some of them were asking about our personal lives and how we like to live. It was a good time. It was a great experience to get out and mingle with the Japanese people and learn their culture.”

U.S. and Japan forces have a long history of training together, and they value all opportunities to learn from one another’s culture, said Burkhardt, a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, currently assigned to 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, under the unit deployment program.

“With Japan being one of our allies, it’s important for us to build that intercultural relationship because in the future we could be working alongside each other,” he said. “All we have is that person to our left and to our right, so it’s important to get out and communicate with the locals and our Japanese counterparts from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to better understand each other and build relationships.”

The cultural exchange was a special experience for the students, said Mitsuo Tanaka, principal of Kaishin High School.

“I think this is a very valuable experience for our students,” Tanaka said. “I want to give them as many opportunities as possible to learn different cultures. If it’s possible, I would have the Marines visit again.”

Meeting the Marines was special for Kaishin High School student Izumi Abe, who spent a year in the United States as part of her school’s exchange program.

A Special Memory

“It was a real opportunity to be able to meet U.S. Marines,” she said. “It was a short time with them, but I learned a lot about their training, and it was really impressive. It was a special memory in my life that I won’t soon forget.”

Both the Marines and the students had fun getting to know one another and bonding, Burkhardt said.

“I think today was a fantastic experience for both the Marines involved and the Japanese students that we got to talk to,” he added. “The Japanese were gracious hosts, and it was a great feeling to know that we are appreciated halfway across the world. To be able to share in a culture like this is a phenomenal experience, and I would absolutely do it again.”

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