IWAKUNI CITY, Japan -- Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni residents participated in a trip of historical knowledge and hands-on activities during a Cultural Adaptation program trip in Iwakuni City, Japan, Sept. 15, 2017.
The trip delved into two of the most well-known elements of Iwakuni City, white snakes and the Kintaikyo Bridge.
Air station residents first visited the White Snake Shrine, where they learned about the history and genetic makeup of the famed white snake species. They were then taken to a hangar located near the Kintai Bridge, and worked alongside Japanese locals to create a model replica one-fifth the size of the bridge.
“The residents often don’t have much chance to see deep inside Iwakuni,” said Mikie Watanabe, Cultural Adaptation program specialist. “They know white snakes and the Kintai Bridge are famous, but the program is trying to help them find out more about their significance to the culture and about what the Japanese people do.”
Believed to be messengers of God by many Japanese people, white snakes are often associated with good luck and happiness. Its ruby red eyes and brilliant white body gives the snake a “pure” appearance that makes it seem mystical and exotic.
Following a brief discussion and explanation of the snakes, employees at the shrine gave the station residents a chance to touch and hold the snakes. Some of them eagerly volunteered to take their turn, while others were visibly nervous and even shook up.
Watanabe said watching them get near the snakes was actually her favorite part of the trip because of the surprise on their faces when they found out how soft and calm the snakes were, despite initially thinking the snakes were poisonous and frightening.
“I was a little apprehensive,” said Ted Wisniewski, a station resident. “But once I held and saw how the snake reacted, it was actually a lot of fun.”
After the White Snake Shrine visit and a break for lunch at a local restaurant, the residents were taken to a hangar filled with wooden parts from Japanese Hinoki and Keyaki trees, the kind used to build the Kintaikyo Bridge.
“The Kintai Bridge is one of the biggest sightseeing spots in Iwakuni, but not many people know how it was built,” said Watanabe. “The Iwakuni City Kintai Bridge section provided us with the experience to build the Kintai Bridge, one-fifth in scale.”
The station residents were joined there by senior citizens from the Kinjuen nursing home. Mixed and split in two groups, the American and Japanese people worked together to connect the wooden parts from each end, meeting at the middle.
“Just having the opportunity to come here and build a replica of the bridge and find out how it’s actually made is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Joanne Adamski, a dental officer with 11th Dental Company. “You don’t get this chance every day.”
The building of the bridge became symbolic for the cooperative, friendly nature between America and Japan, consistently working together in civilian and military environments to achieve mutually-beneficial goals.
“We’re trying to provide opportunities for the Japanese and Americans to meet and do something together,” said Watanabe. “That’s why we build the set together, so we can even overcome the language barrier as we do the same thing, with our minds on the same goal.”
For upcoming events or more information from Cultural Adaptation, call 253-6165.