Soldiers and their spouses wait patiently for the sensei at the Torii Station Army Education Center to learn about Japanese history, cuisine, culture and language during the Newcomers Orientation and Japanese Headstart class, April 6-10.
A sensei is commonly associated with martial arts, but sensei means, teacher or instructor. That role falls on Yoshiharu Miyagi, instructor of the Japanese Headstart Program, a weeklong class to familiarize newly arriving soldiers and family members to the island.
"The class is designed to provide an orientation on the language and culture of Japan and Okinawa," said Miyagi. "It's very important for newcomers to understand about their host country by learning basic language skills, culture and customs so they may be able to live together as good neighbors."
Learning common language and customs allows soldiers and their families to immerse themselves in a very rich culture that dates back 4,000 years and are very different from American culture.
"This is truly a unique assignment and my family and I are extremely happy to be here," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Hildreth, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group. "This class allows us to communicate with our Japanese neighbors and learn about their culture to better understand them."
When students pronounce a word in Japanese correctly, a loud "cho jo to," is said to the students, which means very good in Japanese. Miyagi explains the importance of learning different cultures, customs and languages that ultimately benefits both American and Japanese people.
"It bridges the gap of common misconceptions people have with other cultures they have never experienced before," said Miyagi. "By Americans learning the Japanese language, it shows respect and honor to the Japanese people. It also helps Americans to go out in the city and enjoy the wonderful culture and cuisine they have here."
The family members and soldiers had the opportunity to visit the Japanese Ground Defense Forces' Camp Naha, Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters and conducted a cultural tour of the Ryukyu Mura, a small theme park about traditional life in Okinawa during the 15th Century.
"This is a great tool for families because the best part is we can do it together," said Geysel Irizarry, wife of Sgt. Luis A. Irizarry, 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
Irizarry and his wife are originally from Puerto Rico, who just recently moved from Germany to Japan, providing them a deeper understanding for the importance of getting immersed in the country.
"Learning the language is very important to us because it allows us to do more things here and information provided in this class will ensure our tour here will be a great one," Sgt. Luis Irizarry said. "We enjoyed the tours but for us, the best part of our class was Mr. Miyagi, he is the soul of the class. He made it fun and interesting."
Whether the training is martial arts or even language classes, every sensei aims to teach so their student may learn and grow.