TOKYO (March 3, 2013) -- The Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted its 17th annual in-depth orientation course in Tokyo, Feb. 11-15, 2013, for 20 U.S. military officers selected from throughout Japan.

According to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or MOFA, organizers, this orientation program is only offered once annually and is designed to introduce U.S. officers to Japan's culture, political system and national policy, especially as it relates to the United States.

Participants began the week heading from U.S. Forces Japan, or USFJ, headquarters at Yokota Air Base, to a small Japanese-style inn in downtown Tokyo. Here they were introduced and were able to experience the traditional Japanese cultural lifestyle by sleeping on tatami mats, eating local delicacies and bathing in a traditional hot bath, known as an onsen.

Daily activities for the group included lectures by university professors, business leaders, government and elected officials. Also included were cultural tours of historical landmarks and social events where participants conversed with other American and Japanese diplomatic and political staffs.

On the second day of the orientation the officers visited the Diet, Japan's version of the U.S. Congress, and sat in on an ongoing diet session with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera.

The program is aimed at building a greater understanding of Japan by developing relationships between officials and service members, and by deepening the cooperative aspects of how the government and military contribute to the strong alliance.

Presentations to USFJ members included an overview of details and mechanisms of the alliance, including the Status of Forces Agreement which provides additional protection for U.S. service members, civilian employees and their families while stationed in Japan.

"This program had tremendous value in that it provided a deeper look into the relationship between the U.S. and Japan as well as a further understanding of the Japanese government and military systems," said Maj. Santel Powell, future operations officer at Camp Zama's U.S. Army Japan headquarters. "This gives me an understanding of the complexities of our relationship as we work together to maintain security and stability in the region."

One of the events of the orientation was a visit to a local kendo hall, where each of the USFJ members were treated to Japanese sword fighting history, demonstrations, and even some hands on practical application with the "shinai" split bamboo sword.

As the week-long program came to a close all participants left with a feeling of connection not only to members of the MOFA staff and visiting agencies, but also with other service members as well.

"A great aspect of this program was meeting all the people from the other services and career fields and understanding their challenges," said Air Force Capt. Julie Roloson, a security forces officer from Misawa Air Base.

The MOFA orientation program was a positive event for all attendees and illustrated how USFJ and that of USARJ and I Corps (Forward)'s commitment to the U.S.-Japan alliance is unwavering.