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    Photo By Yoshie Makiyama | A Marine, given the role of oni, demon, approaches children during the Setsubun event...... read more read more



    Story by Yoshie Makiyama 

    Marine Corps Installations Pacific

    Marines stationed in Okinawa are spread out across the island, from Camp Gonsalves, home to the Jungle Warfare Training Center in the north, down to Camp Schwab in Nago City, Ie Shima training facility, Camp Hansen, Camps Courtney and McTureous, Camps Foster and Lester, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, and all the way to Camp Kinser, the most southern base, in Urasoe City.

    Their purpose is to secure and enhance their capabilities, and strengthen the alliance between Japan and the U.S. However, Marines also spend their time volunteering in neighboring communities, doing beach cleanups, language lessons, and other community exchanges.

    In February 2024, six Marines and a Sailor had a new experience when they participated in volunteer activities. They were a group from Camps Schwab and Kinser who joined a traditional Japanese event for Setsubun in a neighboring community.

    Setsubun originally has the meaning of the division of the seasons, but also is an event to drive away “oni (demons),” representing bad fortunes, as people throw roasted soy beans at them. Setsubun takes place before the first day of spring on the lunar calendar. This year it was on Feb. 3.

    Camp Schwab

    Maiko Kamiya, Camp Schwab community relations specialist, and a few volunteers visited a local nursery school in Motobu Town located in the western part of Nago City, on Feb. 2, 2024.

    The nursery school began having events together with service members in 2023, when they celebrated Halloween and Christmas together. According to the head of the nursery school, the exchange with Marines and Sailors from Camp Schwab started when a former student who attended the day care over 20 years ago offered the events with service members to the school.

    Three Marines were introduced to the children, ages zero to five, and sat together while the children sang and listened to the story of Setsubun. Two Marines then disappeared to disguise as oni, while one interacted with the children.

    Once the older age groups went outside, they began throwing soybeans at demons built out of boxes. As the children practiced their aim, a teacher appeared disguised as oni. The students recognized their teacher, but were surprised when two more onis joined the teacher. Since the children did not know the service members, their responses were a mix of freezing in fear and bravely throwing beans.

    Lance Cpl. Tucker J. Miller, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, currently with 4th Marine Regiment, who came to Okinawa as part of the Unit Deployment Program last August, participated in a volunteer activity for the first time because he heard that it would be around children and he is an oldest brother with many siblings. He was given the role of oni.

    After being chased by small children, Miller laughed and said that the children had good aim and good intuition. “They always go for the head, but it was awesome. It was a lot of fun,” said Miller with a big smile on his face.

    “This (Setsubun event with service members) is actually our first attempt,” said a nursery school head. “Having this kind of exchange, interacting with foreigners, is a very good thing. Marines treated the children in a normal way without much hesitation. I was surprised that children actually approached them and leaned closer to them. It was a great success.”

    Camp Kinser

    On Feb. 3, another group of volunteers, four Marines and Sailors, visited two children’s centers in Urasoe City, near Camp Kinser. Participants were all with the Single Marine Program of Marine Corps Community Services Okinawa. Maki Eda, Morale, Welfare and Recreation program aide, Camp Kinser, MCCS, and Ichino Doshida, community relations specialist of Camp Kinser, invited them for the Setsubun event as a cultural exchange.

    “I've been dying to get out here and do some volunteer opportunities with kids in Japan,” exclaimed Hospital Corpsman Third Class Kristin McKenzie, Combat Logistics Regiment 37 of 3d Marine Logistics Group, and a former elementary school physical education teacher prior to joining the U.S. Navy. She participated in a game similar to tag and said that she was happy to have a chance to interact with Japanese children.

    Camp Kinser SMP and Morinoko and Miyagikko children’s centers have engaged in the various exchange programs for seven years. Once a month, Marines and Sailors visit Miyagikko at night to play sports with junior and high school students. Lance Cpl. Ramos P. Sebastian, 3rd Sustainment Group (Experimental), 3d MLG, who participated in the night volunteer program a week before, expected to see familiar faces among the children, but this was a younger group.

    In Morinoko, the service members listened to a story about Setsubun and played games with the children. Then they moved to the Miyagikko center, where the staff handed two Marines oni inflatable costumes and gave instruction on how to do the role of onis. While the children played outside, two onis ran out from two different corners and started chasing the children. Paper balls were set on the ground for beans and children were to ward off the onis with them.

    “It was pretty fun,” said Lance Cpl. Am Aliwis, 3d Maintenance Battalion, 3d MLG, while catching his breath after the chase. “I feel very lucky to be here because not a lot of people get to experience this as a pretty fun way to get to know the community around Okinawa.”

    One eight year-old at Miyagikko center expected the staff to be disguised as an oni, but figured out that the onis were foreigners. Although she was scared by the strangers, she said that it was fun to throw beans, paper balls, at them, and she was happy that she did not get caught after her bean hit one of the onis while being chased.

    “It was a huge success!” said Nana Toda, director of the Miyagikko Children’s Center. “We got new costumes and wanted Marines to try them on because they were taller. We wanted to surprise children by not telling who would do onis, and see how they would react.”

    Toda smiled and said that it was interesting to see that the children were confused but still throwing their beans and running away, and at the same time, the Marines disguised as onis also looked lost at first but threw the beans back and chased the children.

    After the chase outside, the volunteers were served Japanese traditional food for the event, Eho-maki, a rolled sushi wrapped with dried seaweed paper. You face “Eho,” the lucky direction of the year, and make a wish while eating it without talking. On average, Eho-maki are about 8-10 centimeters (3-4 inches) long. It is not usually cut into bite size pieces, as it is meant to bring good fortune.

    “I didn't know how exactly I was supposed to eat it, so I just stuffed it all in my mouth and just started chewing and it was very hard to chew and swallow at the same time,” said Aliwis. “It's very different from American culture, but trying it out for the first time is very cool."

    Aliwis said that it was a very informative experience. He suggested that more service members get out of the barracks and engage in volunteer activities, which give them an opportunity to become a part of the culture. He stated that if you do not explore outside, you may miss chances. “I'm glad that my friend dragged me along and invited me.”

     沖縄に駐留する米海兵隊員は、北は北部訓練場のあるキャンプ・ゴンザルベスから始まり、名護市のキャンプ・シュワブ、伊江島補助飛行場、キャンプ・ハンセン、キャンプ・コートニー&マクトリアス、キャンプ・フォスター&レスター、普天間航空基地、そして最南端の海兵隊基地になる浦添市のキャンプ・キンザーまで、 沖縄全土に広がり活動している。





















     追いかけっこの後は、ボランティアたちに日本の伝統的行事食である恵方巻きが振る舞われた。恵方巻きは、その年の吉方位である「恵方」を向いて、願い事をしながら無言で食べる。 恵方巻きの長さは平均8~10cmほどだが、通常、縁結びの意味もあり、一口大に切ることはない。




    Date Taken: 05.09.2024
    Date Posted: 05.24.2024 03:15
    Story ID: 471929
    Location: OKINAWA, JP

    Web Views: 28
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