NEWS | Jan. 29, 2012

Yama Sakura 61: Home visit

By Staff Sgt. Rebecca Wood 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 “Kompai!” yelled the group as they toasted in the home of Maj. Yasuo Okamoto. The night was a celebration for Okamoto and his wife, Mika, because they had four U.S. soldiers participating in the Yama Sakura exercise from Camp Itami eating, drinking and being merry in their living room.

As a tradition of the Yama Sakura exercise, U.S. Army Japan soldiers participated in a home visit to the household of Maj. Yasuo Okamoto, chief of security for Middle Army’s Japan Ground Self Defense Force, in Osaka, Japan, Jan. 29.

More than 90 selected soldiers were chosen to go to 32 homes of JGSDF members. U.S service members shared traditional Japanese meals, which made life-changing experiences.

“I wasn’t aware of the Japanese customs, like taking off shoes and putting on slippers,” said Master Sgt. Cornelius Kenan of the U.S. Army Pacific’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion. “I was fairly new to using chopsticks, but with practice, I’m getting better.”

“The food was delicious,” said Capt. William Johnson of U.S. Army Pacific Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “Everything we ate was amazing. They fixed a wide variety of food, like spring rolls, egg rolls, katsu, along with a casserole and pizza.”

The soldiers exchanged gifts with the family, drew calligraphy, made origami, took turns playing with a kendama, a traditional Japanese toy, and told stories.

Okamoto was lively and upbeat throughout the night. At the end of the evening he, with the help of an interpreter, addressed the group.

“Yesterday I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to provide proper hospitality because of the language barrier, but now I realize we can communicate just fine by using heart,” said Okamoto.

The soldiers noticed more than Okamoto’s heart. They realized they learned more about the Japanese culture than they had thought.

“Japanese people are laid back. Their customs are a lot different than ours, but in the end, they are just like us,” said Kenan.

At the end of the evening, some of the soldiers invited the Okamoto family to visit them in Hawaii. They took off their slippers, put on their boots and went back to Camp Itami.

“I would love to invite a Japanese service member to my home. I want to give them the same experience that they gave us,” said Johnson.

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