CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Okinawan and American women seeking the inside scoop on each other’s culture have a place to trade tips at the Okinawa International Women’s Club.

It’s similar to American women’s groups — they raise money for charities, hold monthly luncheons with female guest speakers — but the emphasis is on forming friendships with women one might normally not get a chance to meet.

“You can stay on base and pretend you’re in the States or you can go out and experience Japanese life,” said Meghan Capp, a first-year member who just got to the island about three weeks ago.

Gale Rodgers, one of the leaders of the 52-year-old club, said membership is about equal between foreign — mostly American — and Japanese women.

The club affords both groups of women a chance to see what life is like on the other side of the cultural divide. Rodgers recently threw an Okinawan member a baby shower — a tradition Japanese don’t have.

“They’re sponges for American culture,” social chairwoman for the club Ann Stebbins said.

The American members are just as eager.

“I want to see what life for an Okinawan woman is really like,” Carrie Carmichael said, noting she wished she had joined a year ago when she first arrived on the island. “I’d love to visit a real Japanese house.”

“Oh, me too,” Capp chimed in while they sat around a table at the Butler Officer’s Club during a recent membership drive. “Get some tips for that tatami room.”

Club members also said they like how the club gives them a chance to mingle with a diverse group of American women as well.

“This is really the only club that has all (military) branches represented,” said Capp, whose husband is in the Navy.

The club hosts two annual fundraisers and last year donated $20,000 to diverse organizations, such as the local Special Olympics and the Red Cross for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Rodgers said.

That’s something that appeals to new member Meredith Jimenez.

“In college I did the whole sorority, philanthropy thing,” she said. “I wanted to meet others with similar interests.”

Who can join

Any woman over the age of 18 can join the club, which meets the first Monday of every month unless it’s a holiday. The luncheons alternate between the Butler O’Club and a Japanese restaurant.

The club meets from September until June and costs 3,000 yen to join, which can be done at any point during the year.

There are also smaller culture groups of about 10 to 12 women that meet once a month for activities such as cooking classes.

Applications and additional information can be found at: [BOLDFACE]

— Megan McCloskey

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