CAMP ZAMA, Japan – A two-day event held at Zama Middle High School brought visiting Japanese high school students here to take part in cultural exchange activities to cultivate diverse perspectives and enhance mutual understanding, the ZMHS vice principal said.
The ministry of Foreign Affairs and Department of Defense Education Activity co-hosted the program, which brought 17 local students from the neighboring cities Dec. 3 and 4 to interact with peers from ZMHS.
Although other DoDEA schools in Japan had already implemented similar programs, this marked the first time it had been held at her school, ZMHS Assistant Principal Natasha Anderson said.
During the event, the students took part in various activities that tested their problem-solving, team-building and communication skills. One of the main projects was to create a mascot from scratch implementing three characteristics: Japan, America and Zama City, the city in which Camp Zama is partially located.
Christopher Nagle, a senior at ZMHS, brainstormed ideas with his team, which he said simultaneously strengthened his collaborative and communication skills and helped create a friendly bond among them.
Working, talking, playing and eating together with the Japanese students throughout the event was a lot of fun, Nagle said, adding that he hopes it becomes a recurring tradition at the school.
“I think it’s very important that we interact with local students because after all, we are on an American base in Japan,” Nagle said. “It’s important, building those bonds for now and for the future.”
Learning about the amount of outreach U.S. military bases in Japan do with their surrounding communities was an eye-opening experience, said Raiki Tada, a senior at Kanagawa Sogo. Taking part in the event even helped enhance his own understanding of the U.S. military’s presence in his country, he added.
“Through my two-day experience spending time with the American students, it exposed me to a different way of thinking,” Tada said. “I learned a lot about their daily life while also getting a glimpse of what an American school, located on a base in the city we live in, is like.
“Everyone quickly became friends spending time together,” he added. “We had nothing but fun.”
U.S. Army Garrison Japan Commander Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson, who acted as a judge in one of the event activities, said the exchange program is a great example of the U.S. Army in Japan’s goal to strengthen alliances and enhance the relationship between the two communities.
“This is an enormous opportunity, not only for Camp Zama, but also for all our installations as we interact with our communities,” Tomlinson said.
Having a program like this that involves the youngest members of Army families sets the foundation for a greater sense of community and a stronger relationship between U.S. installations in Japan and their neighbors, Tomlinson said.
“It really starts with our children,” he said. “[If] we set the foundation now … it will be beneficial for a stronger alliance.”
At the conclusion of the event, Shingo Miyamoto, deputy director general of the North American Affairs Bureau, MOFA, emphasized to the students the benefit they got from being able to meet new people and learn about their different cultures.
“[Doing something like this] expands your horizon,” Miyamoto said. “It basically doubles your worldview.”
Miyamoto’s job requires interacting with peers from other countries and cultures. Speaking from experience, he told the students that being part of a cross-cultural event like this will be such a significant experience in their lives, and that they should cherish it and continue paving a broader, more diverse future for themselves.