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US & Japanese Cadets Bond while Bowling in Yokosuka

On 31 May, 2109, 48 American and Japanese cadets studying in Yokosuka had the opportunity to get to know one another and exchange cultural experiences while bowling on the U.S. base in Yokosuka.

It was a warm Friday night, and the end of a long week, when group of 17 midshipmen from the Japanese National Defense Academy (NDA) in Yokosuka's Kannonzaki district assembled the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka eager to go bowling on base with their Kinnick High School Navy Junior ROTC counterparts. Through the turnstile, a cluster of crisp white uniforms assembled into a line, and with their ID cards ready, they quickly proceeded through the checkpoint. For all but two, this was their first time on the US Navy base in Yokosuka. From atop the Kannonzaki hilltop where the NDA campus is situated, the midshipmen can see the base towers, Purdy gym, and the baseball fields lit every evening. The Kinnick High School NJROTC cadets had visited the NDA campus in November for the annual matsuri and bodaioshi, making the bowling event a nice bookend to this year’s efforts to create opportunities for cross-cultural connections between the cadets and midshipmen.

After snapping the memorial photo, 48 bowlers checked out shoes and formed up 8 teams of 6. Several bilingual guests dispersed between groups comprised of both cadets and midshipmen. Pizzas arrived, sodas were selected, and the games began. The white uniforms, sweatshirts, and pins glowed when the blacklight turned on for evening bowling. A disco ball scattered speckled light across the lanes, and music played. Soon strikes elicited vigorous high-fives, gutter balls drew dramatic despair, and conversation practice came easily. “Puresshanaiyo!” No problem – only one pin left standing…no pressure, no pressure! A Kinnick student and an NDA midshipman competed solving the Rubik’s cube between turns.

Two hours and four games later, the score to beat was 192 (Go Shodai!) and the midshipmen had a bus to catch, so the evening drew to a close with gratitude for new friendships and a closer relationship with people from the base across the water. We realized that we spend our days similarly, attending school, practicing sports, and thinking about career plans. I met an aspiring lawyer from Fukushima who is interested in politics, and a computer scientist who enjoys cybersecurity. I also learned that the NDA midshipmen have to pass three tests for entrance into the Academy: Japanese, math and social studies. A highlight of the evening was hearing loud cheers, and turning to see American and Japanese students high-fiving over a pair of strikes as if they’d known each other for a year. This is just the beginning of what I hope will be a more frequent exchange of cultural activities and friendships.

Earlier this week, President Trump’s visit to Yokosuka on his final day in Japan generated a lot of interest both on and off base. The police presence was very heavy for days prior to his arrival, and the helicopters ferrying news crews on and off the WASP were impressive. Thus, to evaluate the young person’s impression of the modern bilateral relationship between the US and Japan, a question was posed via anonymous survey – why did Trump come to Japan? Of the bowling guest respondents, half of whom were Japanese, 60% agreed it was to reaffirm the importance of the US-Japan alliance for regional security, and 25% noted it was to meet the new Emperor and Empress. In their own words, the cadets and midshipmen noted more nuanced reasons. For instance, both Japanese and American guests remarked that being the first leader to have a state visit with the Emperor and Empress demonstrated US power, and a Japanese midshipmen noted that “Trump wanted to play golf with Prime Minister Abe and encourage him to serve as a mediator between the US and Iran.”

Thank you to Chief Kilanski (Kinnick JNROTC), LCDR Michael Takigawa (NDA), and bowling alley manager Mr. Thompson for putting together a stellar evening. YCAPS is very grateful acknowledgement to JUMP for sponsoring this event.

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