KUMAMOTO PREFECTURE, Japan -- U.S. Marines participating in exercise Forest Light 15-1 visited with high school students Dec. 5 in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan.
A group of 11 Marines took time out of their bilateral training to speak with students at Kumamoto’s Kaishin High School and Chinzei High School.
The school visits revolved around the sharing of the two unique cultures. Students at both schools prepared presentations for the visiting Marines to include a karate demonstration, a dance from the school’s dance club and a kendo demonstration. The Marines demonstrated techniques used in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and explained American Christmas traditions.
After introductions and presentations, the Marines led group discussions about cultural differences and similarities.
“We basically were there to answer any questions they had about the Marine Corps, America or just whatever curiosities they had,” said Cpl. Robert C. Burkhardt, from St. Peters, Missouri. “Some of them were asking about our personal lives and how we like to live. It was a good time. It was a great experience to get out and mingle with the Japanese people and learn their culture.”
U.S. and Japan forces have a long history of training together, and they value all opportunities to learn from one another’s culture, according to Burkhardt, a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, currently assigned to 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, under the unit deployment program.
“With Japan being one of our allies, it’s important for us to build that intercultural relationship because in the future we could be working alongside each other,” said Burkhardt. “All we have is that person to our left and to our right, so it’s important to get out and communicate with the locals and our Japanese counterparts from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to better understand each other and build relationships.”
The cultural exchange was a special experience for the students to learn from, according to Mitsuo Tanaka, principal of Kaishin High School.
“I think this is a very valuable experience for our students,” said Tanaka. “I want to give them as many opportunities as possible to learn different cultures. If it’s possible, I would have the Marines visit again.”
Meeting the Marines was very special for Izumi Abe, a student of Kaishin High School, who spent a year in the U.S. as part of her school’s exchange program.
“It was a real opportunity to be able to meet U.S. Marines,” said Abe. “It was a short time with them, but I learned a lot about their training, and it was really impressive. It was a special memory in my life that I won’t soon forget.”
At the end of the day, both the Marines and the students had fun getting to know one another and bonding, according to Burkhardt.
“I think today was a fantastic experience for both the Marines involved and the Japanese students that we got to talk to,” said Burkhardt. “The Japanese were gracious hosts, and it was a great feeling to know that we are appreciated halfway across the world. To be able to share in a culture like this is a phenomenal experience, and I would absolutely do it again.”