CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Children from Camp Zama and Zama City participated in a cultural exchange event Feb. 25 at the Youth Center here meant to enhance the bilateral friendship between the two groups.
The event included physical activities, various cooperative games that allowed the nearly 40 participating children to communicate with each other, and a musical performance from the U.S. Army Japan Band. The event was the first of its kind to invite children from outside the installation onto Camp Zama since COVID-19.
Members of the Keystone Club, which falls under Camp Zama’s Boys and Girls Club of America, were also there as volunteer staff to provide translation support, assist the children with the activities, and prepare gift bags for them.
Blaeson Moore, a Keystone member and senior at Zama Middle High School, said his role was to encourage the children to participate in the games and events, and to foster friendship among the group.
Volunteering at the event gave Moore the chance to hang around some cool kids he may not have otherwise ever met, he said. Moore said he enjoyed the experience and thought that it helped enhance the relationship between the U.S. Army and its host-nation neighbors.
“The more time American kids and Japanese kids spend together, the more they feel comfortable around each other,” Moore said. “I feel like this event definitely helped our partnership with Zama City and the surrounding community.”
Rento Sekino, a second grader, had positive things to say about his experience at the event, and said he would be eager to come back to Camp Zama in the future to participate again.
“I had a lot of fun today,” Rento said. “I was able to make some friends while playing games, even though it was sometimes a challenge communicating with each other.”
Tralane Perry, a third grader, said he was easily able to make friends with the visiting children because he speaks Japanese fluently.
“I had fun playing all the games and making new friends,” Tralane said. “I can’t wait to participate in another activity like this in the future.”
Also in attendance at the event was U.S. Army Garrison Japan Commander Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson. The commander joined in the games with the children and said that the universal appeal among children to play, combined with some provided translation support, helped to overcome the language barrier.
According to Zama City, more than 200 Japanese children applied to attend the event. Though due to COVID-19 safety measures, only 20 could attend. The response was so overwhelmingly positive, Tomlinson said, that he hopes it will be something Camp Zama continues to do in the future.
“The next generation is going to carry forward all the good values and relationships [we’ve built],” he said. “If you start this at the earliest level, it will be something that they will always have a good memory of, and that sets the stage for a stronger bond in the future.
“Ultimately, what’s happening here, it’s the most fundamental expression of the alliance between Japan and United States,” he added.