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As part of JUMP’s ongoing initiative to reach out to those who have served in Japan, JUMP intern Sandra Silva interviewed Sgt. Samantha Torres, who served in Okinawa, Japan, from 2013 to 2017. Since returning to the United States, she has dedicated herself to the study of the Japanese language in the hopes of returning to Japan and maintaining the meaningful relationships she developed while stationed there.

How did you learn about JUMP?
I learned about JUMP from the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Before going to Japan, how much did you know about Japan and Japanese culture?
As a teen-ager in Puerto Rico, I saw my first anime, called Sailor Moon, and began to research more about animation. I began to learn to draw anime on my own and told my father that I would like to study and live in Japan. I knew very little of Japan until I enlisted in the military. Many people who I grew up with and worked with in the military didn’t believe I could ever get stationed in Japan but this young dreamer didn’t let anyone change her mind. Therefore, as a Specialist, I did my own research and found out that I could request an overseas assignment. Once I received a response saying I could be stationed in Japan, I was ecstatic and left to the land of the Rising Sun with my family.

How often did you get to interact with and talk to Japanese people?
Every day I interacted with my Japanese friends and coworkers. I always tried to look for a way to not only talk Japanese with the local nationals but also to give them my time and serve their community as much as possible.

Did you have instances where you experienced ‘culture shock’? If so, how did you get through that?
Yes, I experienced culture shock during a visit to a Japanese hot spring onsen. I was a little hesitant to go in but since I had paid for the hotel at Naha, I didn’t want to regret not going. Most of the women there were accompanied by their female family members or friends while I was alone. What I was most nervous about was breaking any rules or practices, but when I looked around, I was relieved to read (the rules) on signs posted in English. After that, I was pretty comfortable. I was quite proud of enjoying this unique way of pampering myself.

How did you feel when you first arrived in Japan? How did you feel when you left Japan?
I was worried if we would be treated differently or that Japanese people would isolate themselves from us since we didn’t speak their language. But, when we arrived, the Japanese people would amiably greet us by saying, “Irashaimase” (welcome). Every day I learned something new and noticed my personality change due to the people I shared my time with. They spoke softly, and I learned to naturally speak softly too. The people cared for others, and I eventually treated everyone as they did. Their customs became our new way of life and I could feel the difference as I wasn’t stressed or agitated anymore. I cried when I left my friends and co-workers in Okinawa, and I miss them dearly. However, I still keep in touch with them through Facebook. After my family and I left the land of Rising Sun, we could feel the tension. It was shocking to leave Japan.

What are your future plans?
My future plans are to earn my bachelor’s degree in teaching English and join the JET program once I retire from the military. In addition, I plan to learn to speak, read, and write Japanese and take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) .

Would you like to return to Japan?
Yes, I would certainly return in the future to Japan and earn a work visa and have my youngest son revisit his birthplace in Okinawa, Japan.

What challenges have you faced in trying to stay connected to Japan/Japanese culture from the United States?
One of the challenges of staying connected to Japan is practicing Japanese, since I don’t have any Japanese native speakers around me. If you don’t use it, you lose it. However, I have continued to practice and study on my own.

Do you have an interesting story to tell about your time serving in Japan? Let us know and you could be the next member featured on JUMP Spotlight Series! Read previous editions of the JUMP Spotlight Series here.

As part of JUMP’s ongoing initiative to reach out to those who have served in Japan, JUMP intern Kevin Yuan interviewed Gary Williams, who served in Okinawa from 1968-1971 as a Junior NCO with the US Army. Following his 26 years serving in the Army, he spent another 24 years working as a civilian employee of the US Army Corps of Engineers. He is a self-taught taiko drummer and currently performs with two Okinawa performing arts groups in Washington, D.C. and Virginia Beach.

How did you learn about JUMP?

I learned about JUMP on Facebook and decided to join after reading an article.

What were your perceptions about Japan, before and after serving in Okinawa?

I really didn’t have many perceptions about Japan before I was stationed in Okinawa; only what I saw in old movies and on news stations. I did see movies with my mother and aunt – The Teahouse of The August Moon and Sayonara – and remembered them quite vividly. I would say I was probably enchanted by the movies, but I was only 11 years old at the time. Before Okinawa, I was stationed in Thailand from 1967 through 1968, and I think that experience alone opened my outlook on Asia. I met some really nice people in rural villages and they showed warmth and respect. The hospitality for us was overwhelming. In less than six months after returning from Thailand to the United States, I had orders for Okinawa, so I was ready for my second assignment abroad with only two years in the Army. Okinawa was something like Thailand in customs, but I would say more traditional in customs and values. I began working with seven Okinawa men on almost day one. I met my wife six months later and we lived in an Okinawa community off-base, so I was immersed in the community, their customs, and values.

Do you have any advice to share with individuals getting ready to be stationed in Okinawa for the first time?

My advice to newly assigned people to Okinawa is to enjoy the culture, its people, and its customs. Don’t panic. This is going to be your best assignment ever – yes, even better than Hawaii! Why? Because, the Okinawa people will welcome you and want you to partake in their culture. They are some of the most honest people in the world and the Golden Rule applies 24 hours. Be courteous to Japanese people all the time. You can do a short bow when entering a restaurant or a person’s business or house. Respect their flag when they display it on their Flag Day. And make sure you take off your shoes when entering a person’s house or some restaurants. These little things mean a lot. Try to meet Okinawa people and remember their names, and give them the greeting of the day, whether it be at the USO or any place you frequently visit. You will be surprised by their overwhelming smile.

Similarly, do you have any advice to share with service members who have served in Okinawa in the past and are looking to stay connected with Japan?

I would suggest keeping a diary of your Japanese friends by name and their address. I tried to meet with my co-workers when I go back and I used to do that for a number of years, but I have lost contact since most have retired. I would also try to learn karate, learn jujitsu, or play the sanshin. All these groups have senseis that are linked throughout the world, and you can touch base with them on Facebook, which I do. Also, I would join an Okinawa non-profit group in the USA. You can share memories with members of these groups and share your talents as well. The same applies to martial arts clubs – they are everywhere. So join these clubs and dojos and enjoy the friendship.

What is your favorite place in Okinawa?

I would say Moon Beach, because that’s where I met my wife, Chieko. That’s also my favorite memory about Moon Beach – it’s where our life began.

How did you meet your wife?

I met her at an Easter Sunday picnic hosted by our First Sergeant. Most of the junior leadership were invited with their wives and girlfriends. I came alone and so did my future wife, and about two weeks later we went on our first date.

How did you get to become a Goodwill Ambassador for Okinawa?

After joining the Okinawa Kai organization in 1996, Okinawa Kai senior members suggested my name sometime around 1999. At the time, only one other person was selected and he was Japanese, so I thought I was lucky. But I had also been playing Okinawa music for about two years as well, and I guess my interest in the music and culture was the determining factor.

What is your favorite part about performing?

My favorite part about performing is looking directly into the crowd to see if they are smiling or attentive, and for the most part they are – especially those that have served in Japan or Okinawa. For some, it might be something they missed during their tour because of military needs, or their wives were busy raising a family. I look at the younger children and I hope I get someone interested in the art. I want to show them how much fun this culture is and to be proud of their roots, or for those who are not from Okinawa, to learn about this beautiful culture. Even some Japanese are not exposed, so they are enjoying it as well. Mission accomplished!

How do you view the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship?

It’s the greatest it’s ever been and seems to get better every year. Japan is one of our greatest allies. We constantly train with the Japanese military and we must continue to do so. We are their partner in Asia. The more we train together, the better we become at communicating with one another and supporting one another in future missions. We both must share our understanding of one another and know how to respond as a joint operating force.

Socially, we as Americans need to become more aware of Japanese culture. We are more similar than you would think – it’s just the language barrier, and you can overcome some of that by knowing the Japanese better than we do now. Actually, they know more about us than we do about them. They look up to America as a big brother, so we must learn more about them and treat them with respect. The best way to earn respect is to learn something about their culture, and to share that knowledge with them. Whatever I can do to spread Japanese culture, I am ready to do it every week if possible.

***

Do you have an interesting story to tell about your time serving in Japan? Let us know and you could be the next member featured on JUMP Spotlight Series! Read previous editions of the JUMP Spotlight Series here.

JUMP deepened and broadened its focus and event offerings in its second year, while rerunning a few old hits. In January, we held an event focusing on U.S. bases on Okinawa featuring the chairman and CEO of Sasakawa USA, Admiral Dennis Blair, JUMP program director Lieutenant Colonel James Kendall and Lieutenant General Chip Gregson. The three had written a report on the issue, which has become more and more politically volatile recently.

In February, we held a networking event in Port Tampa Bay to honor veterans who had been stationed in Japan and let them meet Japanese people living in the Tampa Bay area. On a lighter note, we also attended the Japan Festival at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, a family-friendly affair with a ninja skit, Okinawan classical dance, and Japanese toys.
March kicked off with a joint US-Japanese military band concert held at the Embassy of Japan to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and thank the U.S. for its efforts to help. Lieutenant General Kenneth Glueck and LtCol Kendall delivered remarks. One of the highlights of the year was our first annual dinner at the Army and Navy Club, where General Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, joined Adm Blair to speak about the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Save the date for our second annual dinner coming up this spring!

The evening networking continued later in the month with an open bar at Sine’ Irish Pub in Arlington and a reception in Los Angeles for service members who have been stationed in Japan. And once again, we participated in a kid-friendly festival: the April Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) in Washington, D.C., the largest one-day celebration of Japanese culture in America. Our booth offered kingyo sukui, a traditional Japanese goldfish-catching game.

Japan loves baseball, so we had to bring back the popular baseball game event from 2015. This year, we visited a Padres-Marlins game in San Diego in June, which brought together American sailors with Japanese sailors visiting for a port call. Retired Japanese pro baseball pitcher Takashi Saito even showed up. In July, JUMP headed to the Big Easy for an event at the National World War II Museum. The keynote speaker, Lieutenant General Burt Field, celebrated the progress in U.S.-Japan relations in the past 70 years.

September was a busy month for JUMP — we had a reception at the Marine Corps Base Quantico that reunited Marines with a connection to Japan. Then at an event at Seattle’s Nisei Veterans Committee Memorial Hall, we honored other veterans with a connection to Japan: second-generation Japanese-Americans who fought for the U.S. in World War II. Distinguished guests included the consul general of Japan and generals from both countries. At the end of the month, our members acquainted themselves with a selection of Japanese whiskies and sake at a tasting event at the Army and Navy Club.

Our final two events this year were continuations of successful gatherings from last year. In October, we met at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola to watch a taiko performance and hear from distinguished speakers, including Consul General Ken Okaniwa and Admiral Patrick Walsh. Our November event at the National War College in Washington, D.C. focused on challenges for the U.S. and Japan in Northeast Asia. We heard from Adm. Blair along with Japanese Rear Admiral Yuki Sekiguchi and prominent scholars of Asia associated with Washington think tanks. JUMP also attended a reception for the Japan Self-Defense Forces at the Japanese Embassy on October 27.

We hope to continue building on this strong foundation of events next year, and thank you to our members for their support! If you’d like to see photos of these events, there are plenty more in our galleries.

If you’re not already a JUMP member, sign up today to ensure you’re invited to all the great events to come in 2017!

More than 200 Marines and their families had the opportunity to share their stories and experiences of living and serving in Japan last Friday when JUMP, in coordination with the Embassy of Japan’s Defense Attache Office, hosted an event at the MCB Quantico officer’s club.

The event included addresses from leaders such as RADM Yuki Sekiguchi, Defense and Naval Attaché, Embassy of Japan; LtGen Robert S. Walsh, Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, and Deputy Commandant, Combat Development and Integration; LtGen (Ret.) Wallace “Chip” Gregson Jr., former Commanding General of the Marine Corps Forces Pacific and Marine Corps Forces Central Command; and LtGen Mark A. Brilakis, Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruiting Command. The event also included a presentation on the JUMP Program by LtCol (Ret) James Kendall, the director of JUMP.

dsc_0045The final address of the evening was a moving toast from LtGen (Ret.) Kenneth J. Glueck Jr., the former Deputy Commandant, Combat Development and Integration, and the former Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command. The toast reinforced the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance, with Glueck reminding those in attendance how precious that bond is, and how important it is to hold on tightly to those friendships formed overseas.

The highlight of the evening was a traditional Okinawan Dance performance, called Eisaa, by Okinawa-kai, a non-profit organization from Washington, D.C. dedicated to preserving the beautiful traditions of Okinawan culture. The performance included some of the organization’s younger members, to the delight of all those in attendance.

This event at MCB Quantico confirmed the sense of community and friendship that develops, not only between our two militaries, but also those that we serve with during deployment. This was exemplified by the excitement evident on the faces of the families in attendance reconnecting for the first time since being deployed together years previously in Okinawa and around Japan.
The JUMP team would like to say thank you to the Marines at Quantico, the Emabassy of Japan, and all the families in attendance that made this evening such a wonderful occasion. We look forward to more successful events in the near future!

 

View more photos from this event at Quantico in the gallery below or view NHK news clips from the event here.

 

 

2022 The Japan U.S. Military Program (JUMP)

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