CAMP HIGASHI-CHITOSE, Japan-- The United States and Japanese national anthems sounded throughout the gymnasium as two formations of Soldiers, representing different cultures, ideas and languages, stood side by side. Each Soldier raised a fist in the air and, in response to their respective generals, shouted "Tomoni maie!" Onward together.

The opening ceremony for Yama Sakua 75 marked the official start of the bilateral exercise between the U.S. Army and Japan Northern Army at Camp Higashi-Chitose, Hokkaido, Japan, December 09, 2018. America's First Corps Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, and the Japan Northern Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Masato Taura, hosted the ceremony.

The opening ceremony was the start of what is a week-long partnered exercise designed to enhance combat readiness.

Volesky stressed the importance of strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

"Our commitment to each other will be enduring, and I believe this will show throughout our exercise together," Volesky said.

Yama Sakura, which translates to mountain cherry blossom, unites American and Japanese military forces in an exercise that simulates the defense of Japan. The week-long exercise solidifies America's enduring alliance with Japan and the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and promotes sharing military expertise to keep the region secure.

After the opening ceremony, Yama Sakura began with a combined arms rehearsal to review plans and coordination for the exercise. These plans include the details of a notional battle to exchange tactics and techniques in the event the United States would need to deploy to help defend Japan. The exercise challenges the partnered nations to help them prepare for contingencies that could occur during such a mission.

America's First Corps Chief of Plans, Col. Olin Strader, said a key part of Yama Sakura is operating in regions alongside forces that are organized differently, as well as in a variety of climates, such as snowy Hokkaido. Yama Sakura is a rotating exercise that moves to other parts of Japan each year to train with each of Japan's five regional armies.

"The exercise demonstrates the resolve of the U.S. to support its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region," Strader said. "It's been about five years since we've been to Northern Army, and this had given us the opportunity to operate in a region of the world that is of strategic interest, especially to the United States. This gives us a great opportunity to operate in an extreme climate and exercise together, bilaterally, with the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force."

Multiple elements from America's First Corps, U.S. Army Japan, and the Utah National Guard, including signal, clerical, legal, medical and intelligence personnel, are participating in the exercise. There are about 600 total U.S. military personnel engaged in Yama Sakura this year operating either in Japan or working from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii and other distributed locations as well as 4,600 Japanese personnel.

In addition to the American and Japanese Armies, the Australian army, including Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army Pacific North, Australian army Maj. Gen. Roger Noble, participated in the opening ceremony and combined arms rehearsal, and will observe the exercise.

Leading to the kickoff of Yama Sakura, the U.S. Army and the Japan Northern army joined together in a noncommissioned officer discussion to talk about similarities and differences between the two Armies.

The Japan Northern Army also hosted an icebreaker with a variety of cultural activities, including art and artifact displays, origami, calligraphy and traditional Japanese games to bring the forces together and form a deeper level of understanding.

Yama Sakura began in 1982, and America's First Corps has been participating in the exercise since 1995.

"The Soldiers of America's First Corps are committed to our partnership," Volesky said. "We will approach this exercise as an opportunity to learn, grow and build capacity within both of our organizations."