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California, Japan students see Kadena first-hand as part of deaf exchange

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Bryan Bouchard
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
What's your "sign?"

For many people, their "sign" is how they communicate. Sign language, in some way, shape or form has been used for hundreds of years. What many people don't realize is that the deaf in nearly every culture, and most countries, have their unique language of signing.

This week, a dozen or so students from Leigh High School in San Jose, Calif., visited Kadena Air Base, along with deaf Japanese students as part of a language exchange, designed to allow students from both countries the opportunity to experience the culture of their cross-Pacific counterparts.

According to Ms. Karen Mason, a teacher for the deaf for the Santa Clara County Office of Education, the exchange lasts two weeks and has taken the American students to the Tokyo area in mainland Japan, as well as 1,000 miles south of Tokyo here to Okinawa, where they were able to visit the largest air base in the Pacific.

"We have this exchange for our students to experience Japanese culture," she said. "Japanese deaf students get to experience some of our culture through learning our sign language, and we can learn Japanese sign language."

Her Japanese counterpart echoed her statements.

"We have this program to teach our deaf students English," said Ms. Kagari Misawa, the facilitator for the Japanese students. "We want our students to socialize with the American students to teach them English sign language."

While the Japanese and American students' trip to Kadena was relatively short - only a couple hours - they were able to see first-hand what an American air base looks like overseas. They got an up-close glimpse at various base facilities and even got to watch two, state-of-the-art F-22 Raptors take off into the skies - a sight not many Americans get to see even in the U.S. One of the students' favorite events came as the tour bus stopped at the base gym, where they watched U.S. Marines duke it out during martial arts training.

During the tour, Ms. Takako Fukuhara from the Kadena Public Affairs Office provided narration in Japanese, and Mr. Joseph Ueyama, a Japanese exchange student currently studying English sign language as a sophomore at Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif., took cues from a Japanese signer, and then turned it into English sign language for the American students.
For Leigh High School incoming junior Sean Maiwald, the trip has been interesting to see how different the two countries and cultures are, but he says despite the differences, there is one distinct similarity.

"Even though [Japan] is so different, it's the same," he said. "The food, the language and the culture may be different, but the people are the same."