By Mr. Richard L Rzepka (USAG Okinawa)March 17, 2015
TORII STATION, Okinawa Prefecture -- The gymnasium at Torii Station echoed with both Japanese and English cheers and applause March 14 as dozens of local residents from Yomitan Village assembled with their Army neighbors to participate in the seventh annual U.S. -- Japan Sports Exchange Day.
More than 80 residents from Sobe Ward, Toguchi Ward and Oki Ward were welcomed by officials from U.S. Army Garrison -- Okinawa, the Okinawa Defense Bureau and 73 members of the U.S. Army Family for some friendly competition, food and fun. Eight teams competed for top honors in a beanbag toss, a no-holds-barred five colored-tug-of-war and a wild three-legged race, but in the end the combined sense of community came out on top.
"The Sports Exchange Day with the people of Yomitan, in partnership with the Okianwan Defense Bureau, is another great example of the Army's commitment to nurturing positive relationships with the community and local leaders," said Garrison Commander, Col. Eric Martinez. "What I saw today was inspiring ... in that any notion of barriers, like language or culture, was quickly melted away with the positive attitudes and smiles of our neighbors and Army Family. Friendly competition tends to bring out the best in people and this was a great example of the symbiotic relationship that we all hope to achieve with our partners in the Pacific," he said.
While sports and games were the focus of the event, a healthy portion of culture and tradition was served up as well. At the game's conclusion, contestants were treated to good ol' fashioned American hamburgers while being entertained by the Typhoon Twisters gymnastics team, a traditional Eisaa dance by Sobe Ward children, a Taiko drum performance by children from Oki Ward and a Karate performance by Toguchi Ward children.
Okinawa Defense Bureau Deputy Director General, Maki Koyanagi, in his closing remarks, said that the importance of the Sports Exchange Program comes from the cooperation and support of the local community. The relationship between the local residents and the Army was deepened after they overcame the language barrier, helped each other and had good time together through the games, he said.
For many who participated, being able to personalize the bond by putting a face to the words Army or Yomitan, helps strengthen the concept of community here while opening lines of communication through shared experience.
"Events like the sports day are vital to establishing the two-way communication necessary to work as partners in our one community," said Army participant Casey Grimmer. "Bringing down the fences on post for a day and using a little friendly competition to get all sides moving, talking and working together was a great idea," he said.
Grimmer said that he appreciated the fact that this was an activity-based event and not observational, as some of the cultural exchanges tend to be.
"The language of competition is universal and that really showed," he said. "I hope our Okinawan hosts come away seeing how alike we really are and that we're capable of having a good time. During the different competitions I saw nothing but smiles and laughter on all sides … and as we all know, that's infectious. I hope the next time our Okinawan hosts see us they'll remember the sports day with a smile on their face," said Grimmer.