CAMP HIGASHI-CHITOSE, Japan (Dec. 7, 2009) - On a bitterly cold December afternoon, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. military opened Yama Sakura 57 in a ceremony that demonstrated the warmth of a 50-year friendship.The JGSDF Northern Army hosted the ceremony and the exercise. Assembled for the United States were representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Army Reserve and National Guard units from over a dozen states."This exercise proves the strength of the long-standing relationship between the U.S. and Japan," said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commanding general, USARPAC."In order to further improve our bilateral response capabilities," remarked Lt. Gen. Takeshi Sakai, commanding general of the JGSDF Northern Army, "I request that you all make coordination between our forces and make bold, daring attempts to meet new challenges without fear of mistakes.""We will prepare ourselves for future threats and enhance our relationship, as well as gain a greater understanding of civil-military operations," concluded Mixon.Over 5,700 personnel will participate in the exercise. Yama Sakura, which means "mountain cherry blossom," is an annual joint and combined full-spectrum training exercise. Since its start in 1982, Yama Sakura has focused on the refinement of bilateral planning, coordination, and interoperability.The exercise has four objectives: the exchange of ideas, techniques, and military experience; training U.S. forces for deployment to Japan; the exercise of JSDF and U.S. forces in the defense of Japan; and preparation of USARPAC forces for combined, multi-national and joint full spectrum operations.