By Staff Sgt. Mark MirandaSeptember 17, 2013
YAKIMA, Wash. - During a break in training Sept. 15, several Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers at the Yakima Training Center for the annual Operation Rising Thunder exercise were invited to spend time with families in the Yakima community.
"Every year, our military family sets up cultural exchanges with sponsor host families," said Judy Jacobson, the YTC Morale, Welfare and Recreation director. "The idea is to share a typical American meal or evening out with a sponsoring American family."
Each sponsor family hosted a group of three Japanese soldiers, sharing and exchanging respective culture and hospitality customs.
"In the past, they've enjoyed barbecues, rode horses, played games, enjoyed swimming pools, hayrides or just looking at photos at a host family's home," Jacobson said.
The soldiers, eager for a break in training, gathered in the pickup lot and held up signs with the names of their designated host family.
One group of Japanese soldiers were taken away for the evening by a motorcycle club, riding away on the back seats. Others attended parties, while others went for an adventure rafting on the Yakima River or hiking through nearby Boulder Cave.
Retired explosive ordnance disposal specialist Richard Thompson hosted two groups this year, and has invited visiting Japanese soldiers for the past five years during each Rising Thunder exercise.
"I worked hand-in-hand with them at Yakima [Training Center] during the exercises, so when I learned of the opportunity to host them, I thought what a great chance to learn from each other," Thompson said.
For this outing, Thompson and his wife, Jennifer, along with their daughters, Kaitlyn and Katia, invited their guests to watch Sunday night football at a barbecue restaurant, and then welcomed their new Japanese friends into their home.
"Every time, it's a blessing, a wonderful experience and my kids invite their friends to the house to meet our guests, learn a little about their culture," Thompson said.
For Sgt. Junya Takahara, 16th Infantry Regiment, JGSDF, the differences in language did not get in the way of an enjoyable evening.
"Being around American soldiers, we learn a little more English every day - and we carry these small [translation guide] books, to help," Takahara said. "Good food, good time, [we're] thankful to [have done] this."
Takahara and his group entertained the Thompson family with magic card tricks and by creating origami paper sculptures.
The evening closed out in traditional manner for these visits, with the host families exchanging small gifts with their Japanese guests.