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Culture club forging stronger ties with local community

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-04-16

Promoting cultural understanding and building stronger ties between the military and local communities are just some of the roles women of the Courtney Culture Club play here on Okinawa. Every third Sunday of the month, American and Japanese club members meet at the Eagle's Nest on Camp Courtney for a variety of social activities. These functions provide an opportunity for women of different backgrounds to learn about and enjoy many American and Japanese traditions together, while fostering international friendships at the same time.

American Deb Porter formed the club about two years ago after learning that many other Americans wanted to meet and mix with their Japanese counterparts, but had no outlet or little idea of how to do so. Porter herself had the good fortune of becoming close friends with a local family, a friendship many of her friends were eager to make. "I had many American friends who were asking me how they could meet Japanese women," said Porter, whose husband is stationed here on Okinawa.

The club began to grow after Porter's friend, Laurie Bennett, an English teacher at a local junior high school, came aboard. "We talked about how lucky we were to have Japanese friends," recalled Bennett. "I thought that we should have an organization that doesn't cost a lot of money, where people can get together and have fun."

Since its formation, the Courtney Culture Club has grown from a few friends to an average meeting of 30 women each month. They have held family barbecues, made origami together, and more recently had an Easter egg hunt. In February, the Japanese members explained the tradition behind Hina Matsuri, while the Americans taught their Japanese friends how to make lasagna. Besides learning each other's customs, the women also plan many social outings together - karaoke, going out to dinner, and a fun tour of Okinawa's famous "Love Hotels" are just some of the club's other activities. There is no charge to join the club, and the atmosphere is very relaxed and informal. Members give much credit for their success to the Marine Corps at Camp Courtney and the Staff NCO Club, who have been very supportive since the group was formed.

Nahoko Chinen, one of the club's core members, explained that although Japanese study English for several years in high school, there are few opportunities to talk with native speakers of English. "Here we have a chance to practice English and also make friends with Americans," said Chinen. "And, we can learn about their culture. For example Halloween and Christmas."

"I was surprised to learn that many American women wanted to be friends with Japanese," commented Rika Matsuoka, another club member.

Both Porter and Bennett hope their efforts will reach many other American women here on Okinawa who wish to become more involved with the local community. They feel it can be a very rewarding experience and can help with the daily stress of living overseas.

Porter recalled her own experience, comparing her life now with the first time she came to Okinawa. "I was first here with my family thirteen years ago, but most of the time I was stuck in the house because my children were still babies. When I went back to America, I was so disappointed that I had not made any Japanese friends," she said. "I told myself that if I go back I was not going to make the same mistake." Returning to Okinawa a second time, Porter kept her promise to herself, and by doing so has changed both her and her husband's feelings about Okinawa. "I don't want to leave here. It's going to be very hard," said Porter about her separation from friend Yoshiko Yamashiro. "We will be life-long friends."

Although Porter will be leaving this year, the torch will be carried on by Bennett and the rest of the women from the Courtney Culture Club. Bennett stressed that women should not be intimidated by language barriers. "There are enough people here who speak both languages to facilitate friendships," she explained.

If you wish to join one of Courtney Culture Club's get-togethers, call Laurie Bennett for more information at 972-6700 ext. 622-8402.

If you or someone you know is doing something to help improve the community, Japan Update would like to hear your story. Please e-mail a short description to kenny@japanupdate.com, or fax to 934-5690 (Kenny).

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