CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Several Shinto priests from the renowned Meiji Jingu Shrine toured this installation Thursday as part of an ongoing effort to increase interfaith dialogue with the unit ministry teams here.
The U.S. Army Japan Chaplain’s Office invited the priests and members from the Association of Shinto Shrines on post after unit ministry teams had the opportunity to visit the Tokyo shrine in August.
The tour here, which included presentations, a luncheon, Catholic mass, a historical site visit and a windshield tour, aimed to create supportive relationships and increase sensitivities toward other faith groups.
“We’re following the commander’s intent on partnership,” said Col. J.P. Smith, command chaplain for USARJ. “The bottom line is that the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force does not have counterparts for us. They don’t have chaplains, so it’s important for us to build community with the religious leaders within this area.”
Smith said that while the budding partnership with the Shinto priests may assist the U.S. Army in bolstering trust in the local community, it could also help JGSDF personnel when they need religious support.
“If we’re interacting with [the priests] and helping them understand military culture, that’s going to help everybody out,” he said. “That’s going to help our bilateral partnership, it’s going to help our Soldiers, it’s going to help the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. We believe it’s something that will help at large.”
One of the priests on the tour was Atsushi Ushio, who also serves as director of the Edification Department at the Association of Shinto Shrines, which oversees about 80,000 shrines in Japan.
Ushio said the event allowed him and others to learn from and share their beliefs with the unit ministry teams.
“We want to spread our Shinto beliefs to the world,” he said, “so this activity and communication with the chaplains is a best practice to show what we do.”
Ushio also appreciated the tour of the installation, which concluded with a brief visit to Kastner Airfield where guests were able to view a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter up close.
“As an outsider, you cannot see inside the base,” he said. “But once you get in, you can see what they are doing and their missions. So, now I understand more [about] their presence here in Japan.”
Maj. Tsungyu Pan, deputy command chaplain for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, said partnerships like these could be beneficial when emergency situations arise, such as a natural disaster, and affected people need a variety of religious support.
“An important mission that the chaplaincy has is to interact with local religious leaders,” he said, “so if anything happens, we can cooperate together.”
Leaders on both sides said they will look to expand the interfaith relationship and perhaps broaden it by inviting other faith groups in the future.
“For us, today is just the beginning, because this is not just a one-time event,” Pan said. “Our goal is to continue the communication and interaction, so we can bring more understanding to each other of what we do.”