MCAS IWAKUNI, Iwakuni, Japan -- Twelve Americans jumped in a bus and headed south to take part in an annual Japanese tradition Aug. 11.
Led by Cultural Adaptations director, Chiaki Ikeue, the group journeyed to Yanai to assemble kingyo, or goldfish lanterns.
"It was a very good way for station residents to learn about Japanese culture," Ikeue said. "We also learned a lot about Yanai's culture and history."
Every year Yanai hosts a celebration and use hundreds of golden fish lanterns to line the streets. A parade, food and booths add to the festivities.
"It was better to take the group down to Yanai so they can experience the culture and see the history, rather than have someone from Yanai come to Iwakuni and show us how to make the lanterns," Ikeue said.
"I wanted to see more of Japan -- get in on traditional cultural events," said Heather Oestrike, who is visiting Japan from Michigan. "I wanted to create something that symbolized my memories in Japan."
A group of Iwakuni residents made the trip two years ago and assembled the entire lantern. This year, due to time constraints, the bodies of the lanterns were already made by instructor Nobuo Kawamura.
"He did the hard work for us," Ikeue said. "When we made the entire lantern two years ago, we didn't get back to the air station until 5:30 p.m."
Even though the fish were already partly assembled, the face, fins, body and tail still needed to painted. Then the group played surgeon and attached the fins and the tail to the body.
"I never made anything out of paper mache before," said Jessah Lessard, 12. "It was a lot of fun, but kind of hard."
"Putting on the tail was the hardest part," added Jessah's 10-year-old sister, Victoria.
After the tails were firmly affixed to the fish lanterns, they were hung to dry. The group took the opportunity to break for lunch and see a little of Yanai before heading back to Iwakuni.
The Yanai residents were more than happy to have a handful of Americans as guests for the day, Ikeue said.
"They don't have much opportunity to see and communicate with Americans, so when they do, they are very concerned with how Americans feel," said Ikeue. "They like to make sure Americans are having a good time and are taken care of."
"The cultural adaptation program is great," Oestrike said. "It shows that the Japanese people are always willing to help you out. That kind of generosity is good, and we should treat them in the same manner. It reinforces the fact that we should put our best face forward and show respect for their customs."
The next Cultural Adaptation exchange is scheduled for Sept. 4. Station residents will meet Iwakuni Health Center volunteers and head to Oshima for a pottery tour and barbecue. However, residents don't have to wait for planned trips to enjoy Japan. For more information, call 253-6165.
"People on base can and should go out the smaller communities around Japan," said Ikeue. "It would be a good experience for both Americans and Japanese."