GINOWAN, Okinawa — Marines were an essential part of “Manabipia 2003,” a Japanese government-sponsored lifelong learning fair.

During a five-day exposition, five volunteers from the Marine Corps community served as English language instructors via a long-distance videoconferencing system.

On Friday, the fair’s second day, two Marines communicated with more than 100 inquisitive Japanese students spread across the island. Called e-learning, the technology uses videoconferencing now under development by a local power company.

In a small conference room at the Okinawa Electric Power Company near Camp Kinser, Capt. Chris Perrine, a Camp Foster public affairs officer, spoke to his students, who were anxious to test their English from a few miles away. Students waited patiently for their turns in a long line at the Ginowan Convention Center, where most of the fair’s events took place.

In 30 minutes, Perrine spoke to at least 20 students, asking their names, favorite foods or sports they like. Some answered his questions spontaneously, while others hesitated before answering. At the end of each conversation, however, their faces were filled with broad smiles.

“This is a neat opportunity and neat technology,” Perrine said during a short break at the impromptu studio. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Sitting next to him, avidly talking to students on a computer screen, was Master Sgt. Randall Arnold, range control officer at Camp Hansen. He volunteered for all five days as e-learning instructor.

“This helps me to get to know people in the local community better,” said Arnold, on his fourth tour to Okinawa. In the past, he never had an opportunity to interact with Okinawans.

“This time, I decided to volunteer because probably this will be my last tour before I retire,” he said.

Arnold’s face was on display on a giant screen set up on a stage in the Okinawa Convention Center. Fuminao Kinjo, a 30-year-old office worker, spoke briefly to him on the screen as an audience watched.

“I was a bit nervous, but it was really fun,” Kinjo said. “This is a great way to learn English conversation.”

Isami Sakihama, an English teacher from Higashi Village, accidentally found the e-learning booth among more than 300 booths and stages set up at the convention center area.

“I think this is a great system. You don’t have to go anywhere to speak with a native speaker,” she said. Sakihama exchanged conversation with Perrine through the system.

“I enjoyed talking with the instructor. If I can use this system all the time, I know it will help to brush up my English. I cannot wait for the day when this system becomes available at our home or school.”

The demonstration’s success is largely owed to the American volunteers, said Tsuyoshi Nakachi, of the Okinawa Electric Power Company’s IT Promotion Headquarters.

“Not many people have an opportunity to directly communicate with a native English speaker,” he said. “This was a good opportunity for many students to hear and learn living English, not out of a school textbook. We are very thankful to the Americans who offered their help in our project.”

About 150,000 people were expected to visit the convention center during the fair to check out various learning opportunities and some future technology, including e-learning, space science and oceanography. A 4-foot tall, 115-pound robot that walks on two feet in all directions was another popular attraction.

More than 60 cultural and hobby classes offered diversified learning opportunities.

As part of the performing arts demonstration, students from Amelia Earhart Intermediate School took part in Eisa dance on Monday, the fair’s final day.

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