Subscribe
Tech Sgt. Les City gets instructions on how to pluck a traditional Japanese koto. The musical instrument was included in a visit by Yokota Air Base, Japan, personnel to nearby Fussa City 4th Elementary school on Thursday.

Tech Sgt. Les City gets instructions on how to pluck a traditional Japanese koto. The musical instrument was included in a visit by Yokota Air Base, Japan, personnel to nearby Fussa City 4th Elementary school on Thursday. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

Tech Sgt. Les City gets instructions on how to pluck a traditional Japanese koto. The musical instrument was included in a visit by Yokota Air Base, Japan, personnel to nearby Fussa City 4th Elementary school on Thursday.

Tech Sgt. Les City gets instructions on how to pluck a traditional Japanese koto. The musical instrument was included in a visit by Yokota Air Base, Japan, personnel to nearby Fussa City 4th Elementary school on Thursday. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

Airman 1st Class Mark Bashaw signs his autograph for elementary students while passing through the halls of Fussa City 4th Elementary on Thursday.

Airman 1st Class Mark Bashaw signs his autograph for elementary students while passing through the halls of Fussa City 4th Elementary on Thursday. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Anthony Ruy, based at Yokota Air Base, Japan, learns the art of Japanese calligraphy with students from nearby Fussa City 4th Elementary school.

Staff Sgt. Anthony Ruy, based at Yokota Air Base, Japan, learns the art of Japanese calligraphy with students from nearby Fussa City 4th Elementary school. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

FUSSA, Japan — Walking the hallways of Fussa City 4th Elementary School on Thursday, one might’ve thought movie stars or rockers had shown up.

Japanese students flocked to the Americans. But this wasn’t Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.

It was Kevin Savage, Anthony Ruy, Mark Bashaw, Jason Jessee, Christine Beyea, Lacy Richardson, Daniel Van Eaton.

They were among 30 airmen from nearby Yokota Air Base who took part in the base’s fourth annual exchange program with the elementary school, which is one of seven in Fussa.

“Why are they asking for my autograph?” one of the airmen was heard saying.

“They’re just so excited about seeing American people walking around their school,” answered Mieko Morita, chief of media relations for the 374th Airlift Wing’s public affairs office, who helped organize the outing.

The group interacted with two classes of sixth-graders, a total of 61 students. They ate lunch with the children and also participated in 11 traditional Japanese activities — ranging from origami, calligraphy and chopstick use to a tea ceremony and koto music.

“I’ve only been here about two months and haven’t seen much of the culture,” said Airman 1st Class Brett Cranwell, 21, of Seattle, who works for the 374th Operations Support Squadron. “This was a great opportunity to see what it’s like outside the gates.”

Senior Airman Michael Mitchell of the 374th Maintenance Squadron said he’s hung out with Japanese adults at events like Yokota’s friendship festival, but never the kids.

“Children are so innocent. You can learn a lot from talking to them. You don’t get to do that every day,” said Mitchell, 21, of New York. “I have two children, and now I’m even more interested in getting them to do something like this.”

The Japanese students take English lessons 10 times a year from a native English speaker but most know only simple words and phrases, school officials said.

Sixth-grade teacher Hiroshi Yamazaki said cultural exchanges are important to the Japanese children, especially given Yokota’s proximity.

“They don’t have very many opportunities to communicate with Americans face to face,” he said through a translator.

Senior Airman Adele Brewer, of the 374th Operations Support Squadron, said the language barrier really wasn’t a problem Thursday.

“The activities were fun and really didn’t involve too much conversation, which helped,” said Brewer, 27, of Napa, Calif. “We were just playing with the kids, and it didn’t matter if they spoke English or not. They were surprised I could juggle.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up