CAMP KENGUN, Japan (Jan. 27, 2011) - Yama Sakura 59, a scenario-based bilateral training exercise focused on improving military-to-military relationships and interoperability, officially began Jan. 27 during opening ceremonies at Camp Kengun, Japan.

The command post exercise underscores the United States' commitment to Japan's defense in accordance with a mutual defense treaty that was implemented in 1951 and revised in 1960. Yama Sakura was held first in 1982.

The premier bilateral training event for U.S. Army Pacific, YS 59 enables U.S. Soldiers to collaborate with units from one of five regions of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force each year. This year, USARPAC and the JGSDF's Western Army will respond to a simulated scenario in which Japan must counter-attack an enemy force that plans to isolate Kyushu, the country's most southern island.

During the Yama Sakura's opening ceremony, Lt. Gen. Shunzo Kizaki, commander of the Western Army, stressed the importance of the annual exercise in collaborating best practices between the two forces.

"I believe Yama Sakura is the best venue for us to improve joint and bilateral operations capabilities with the well-experienced U.S. forces," Kizaki said.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of USARPAC, agreed.

"Since its inception in 1982, Yama Sakura has focused on the development and reinforcement of bilateral planning, cooperation and interoperability of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and the United States," Mixon said.

"Now in its 29th year, this bilateral exercise improves mutual capabilities, reinforces ties, and strengthens mutual support and friendship," Mixon added. "This exercise also underscores a continuous commitment by the United States and Japan to work shoulder-to-shoulder as dedicated partners in support of the U.S. and Japan security alliance, and for peace and stability."

Kizaki said his expectations for a successful operation by Western Army troops are to "share mutual understanding and build confidence with each other in order to accomplish our mission as one team."

Roughly 1,500 U.S. personnel and 4,500 Western Army Soldiers will participate in the exercise. U.S. units include USARPAC, I Corps Forward, I Corps and U.S. Army Japan. U.S. Army Pacific is the largest Army Service Component Command and provides a cost-effective and powerful headquarters supporting Asia and Pacific forces.

Yama Sakura is designed to enhance U.S. and Japan combat readiness and interoperability while strengthening bilateral relationships and demonstrating U.S. resolve to support the security interests of friends and allies in the region. U.S. and Japanese forces exchange ideas, techniques, and military experiences during Yama Sakura.