KAMAKURA, Japan -- Spc. Sheila Alexander, a native of Brooklyn, New York, had never tried seaweed before. In fact, it had never crossed her mind that seaweed was edible.

Alexander was one of more than 30 Soldiers from the 8th Theater Sustainment Command who took advantage of some down time during a two-week command post exercise and got a real taste of Japanese culture.

"I had a great time," offered Alexander, 8th Theater Sustainment Command support operations, as she sat down for lunch with her fellow Soldiers at a Japanese restaurant in Kamakura, March 14. "There is so much culture here and it was a lot of fun to get away from the exercise for a day and see more of Japan."

The 8th Special Troops Battalion organized two cultural tours for Soldiers taking part in the 8th TSC exercise as a way to blow off some steam and to get an up close look at some of Japan\'s ancient history.

"We organized these trips through the Camp Zama Morale, Welfare, and Recreation office," said Maj. William Louie, 8th STB executive officer. "It was a good way for the Soldiers to experience Japanese culture in a more organized environment, and to not have to worry about getting lost, taking the train."

One group toured the city of Kamakura, which was the capital of Japan in the 12th century. Highlights of the tour included the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, and the Kotokuin Temple, home to the 32-foot high Daibutsu, or the "Great Buddha".

"The magnitude of it made me realize how old their history really is," said Col. Kim Rapacz, 8th TSC G-6, and forward command post night shift director. "The fact that we were able to go down inside the statue and put a hand on the 210-thousand pound structure was just an incredible experience."

Another group toured the Odawara castle and the Hakone Shrine. The Soldiers got the chance to walk around the castle grounds and explore in a more relaxed setting. The weather was cool and wet, but the visit left a lasting impression on the Hawaii-based Soldiers.

"I loved it because it got me off of Camp Zama for a few hours," said Cpt. Elliott Johnson, 8th TSC staff judge advocate. "Even though it was cold and rainy, it was neat to get to walk around the castle and see it up close."