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Annual cultural program angers politicians and activists

Date Posted: 2002-12-21

An annual program managed by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that aims at educating U.S. Military officers on Japanese culture and customs is raising the ire of some politicians and other activists who claim that the whole program amounts to nothing more than a taxpayer paid sightseeing tour.

The program has been in place since 1995 and is called “American Military Symposium” or “American Military Orientation Program.” In the program, 20 participants representing all four U.S. military services are selected among newcomers to the country. They are then taken on a four-day three-night all expenses paid tour during which they are given lectures and visit culturally important places.

According to Mainichi Newspaper the annual cost of the program has been between ¥2.3 and ¥3.2 million. According to foreign ministry spokesman, the program was started after the rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by three American service members in 1995. Officials at the Foreign Ministry decided that the best way to educate U.S. servicemen and women coming to Japan for the first time was to take them on a tour.

While on the tour, participants are given lessons on Japanese government systems, economics and SACO agreement. They have also visited sumo tournament, fish markets, flower arrangement exhibitions, and been to hot springs and dinner cruises.

It is these visits that have raised eyebrows. “Its nothing but a sightseeing tour. Those participating military officers learn nothing, but they sure seem to have a good time,” an Okinawa lawyer protesting the program said.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry defend the program and say it’s important. “The program gives participants a change to see, touch and feel Japan,” an official involved in the program said.

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