Shinto priest blesses new school construction grounds

by Sgt. Matthew Callahan
III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated PA

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- A Shinto priest blessed the grounds at the construction site of a new elementary school on Camp Foster Jan. 15 during a groundbreaking ceremony.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan district, awarded the $97 million construction contract to the Obayashi Corporation, which will demolish 45 housing units in Kishaba housing on Camp Foster and build a new facility to replace Zukeran Elementary School .

The groundbreaking ceremony, called “jichinsai,” is a traditional ceremony conducted by a Shinto priest that asks the earth spirit for permission to use the grounds where the ceremony is performed. The priest offered a prayer, asking for blessing of the grounds and a safe and prosperous environment for the construction workers on the project.

"Jichinsai" is usually performed before construction projects in Japan, and some ceremonies are more elaborate than others, said Satoshi Oka, a public affairs employee with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan district. The local tradition of "jichinsai" is respected because the majority of the construction is done by local workers .

“For me this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience ,” said Maj. Allen Agra, the executive officer for Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan. “The whole experience was very meaningful to the construction of the new Zukeran Elementary School .”

The new school is being constructed to meet Department of Defense Education Activity’s 21st Century Education program specifications, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This includes Americans with Disability Act standards and current federal energy and sustainability mandates.

“We are excited to inspire and nurture learning with the new school,” said Reynaldo Toquero, the principal of Zukeran Elementary School. “We are proud to provide our community with a 21st century design promoting high standards and the ability to enhance the standards of living for our students.”

The groundbreaking ceremony acted as a bridge between the U.S. military and the Okinawa community.

“The ceremony is done in the Japanese tradition on a U.S. military installation to bring two international communities desiring a safe and beneficial end state while respecting each other’s customs and traditions,” said Agra.

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