Torii Station build bonds in Yomitan Village

by Rick Rzepka
USAG Okinawa

Laughter and smiles transcended the language barrier Tuesday morning as Torii Station spouses and Family members sculpted paper into cranes and practiced Japanese calligraphy, or Shuuji, with residents Yomitan Village at the Oki Community Center.

The visit was part of U.S. Army Garrison – Okinawa’s Cultural Exchange Program, which seeks to foster trust and friendship with the installation’s neighboring communities. The program is a monthly effort to strengthen relationships while providing new experiences for both Army spouses and their Japanese counterparts.

Sobe Ward, Osoe Ward, Toguchi Ward, Oki Ward, and Torii Station take turns hosting the events, which include a variety of cultural experiences including Yakisoba cooking classes, Summer kimono wearing and an American game and finger food party.

“I think it opens a window for understanding and it breaks down some of the cultural intimidation,” said Karyn Kuniyuki, a newcomer to the Cultural Exchange Program who has lived on the island for two-and-a-half years.

For many Soldiers and Family members, the language and the culture can be intimidating but shouldn’t be an obstacle to immersion in the rich traditions of Okinawan life, said Kuniyuki.

“An activity like this is fun – to sit and laugh and participate and feel like you’re welcome. It just makes you feel like you’re a part of the community instead of an outsider,” she said.

Kuniyuki said that she encourages spouses new to the island to seek out groups and programs, like Torii Station’s Cultural Exchange Program, that present new opportunities and experiences.

For Army spouse Dawn Jones and her 9-year-old daughter Sarah, the program is not only fun, but educational. Jones uses the program as a part of her homeschooling curriculum to broaden her daughter’s knowledge of Japanese culture.

“Making the origami is the best part,” said Sarah whose overseas experience has been an adventure. “[Living on Okinawa] is fun. I like going to the water parks and caves,” she said.

“The Okinawan ladies have been so nice and so sweet – I just think it’s a great program,” said Jones.

For Toguchi Ward resident Noriko Tomoyose getting to know her American neighbors has meant forging new friendships.

“Some of [the Japanese] have run into the U.S. members at the supermarket and they exchange greetings and they say ‘hello’ to each other, so I believe it is building a friendship between these ladies,” said Tomoyose who has seen the program grow since its inception in April.

“Every time we have more members from Torii Station, so it seems it’s going really well,” said Tomoyose. “There are all kinds of aspects of Okinawan culture we want to teach to Torii Station members,” she said.

Seating and space for the Cultural Exchange Program are limited and are facilitated through U.S. Army Garrison – Okinawa’s Community Relations Office.

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