Shoes Off, Eyes Down, and Sticks Separate

Courtesy photo/Released

Courtesy photo/Released

Courtesy photo/Released

Courtesy photo/Released

Courtesy photo/Released

Courtesy photo/Released

Courtesy photo/Released

Courtesy photo/Released

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- 'Always face your shoes toward the exit, bow without eye contact, and never rub your chop sticks together.' These were some words of wisdom provided by Col. Tate to the team of 35th MDG personnel about to embark on a new and exciting cultural experience.

After two years of coordination, Col. Tate, Deputy Commander and Chief Nurse of the 35th MDG, Maj. Jones, Deputy Chief Nurse, Mr. Sayles, event coordinator, and five other selected nurses and technicians visited Towada Nursing School in Towada, Aomori Prefecture, Japan located approximately forty-five minutes from Misawa Air Base.

Although several nursing schools have toured the 35th MDG, this was only the second time the Americans were allowed into a Japanese facility.

After accomplishing parking an American size van in a Japanese size parking space, we arrived at a beautiful three story cathedral style building. At the door, we were immediately greeted by a line of smiling faces dressed in white lab coats. We removed our low quarters, placed on our slippers, and the introductions began.

The Japanese team consisted of the Towada Nursing School CEO, Vice CEO, and Instructors. Following the bowing procession, we were immediately taken to a classroom for an introduction briefing.

We took our place in the classroom at the small desks and chairs provided, reminding us of our elementary school days. Some of the desks had a little extra "character" which was rather entertaining and amusing.

As the embarrassment flushed the face of the CEO, Col. Tate quickly explained the similarity to American schools which immediately eased the CEO.

The briefing, provided by one of the instructors, discussed the admission process, number of students, and purpose of the school, and then displayed a variety of pictures of their students in a clinical setting and touring Misawa AB Hospital.

Following the briefing, we were taken upstairs to see the hands-on, clinical training room. This brought flashbacks for Col. Tate and other members of the team of their own nursing school experiences. The room consisted of eight undressed beds and several cabinets full of medical supplies. A bed making demonstration was performed by several of the students displaying meticulous attention to detail.

We were then taken to the third floor for a tour of the music room/auditorium where their graduation and pinning ceremonies are performed. The third floor also consisted of an elaborate kitchen where they conduct cooking classes.

For the final portion of the tour, the instructors provided a traditional tea ceremony for us. In the Japanese culture it is an enormous honor to be able to participate in a traditional tea ceremony. We were escorted into a tea room which had a tatami floor and a tokonoma or alcove which displayed a hanging scroll. Each member knelt on both knees sitting on their heels, which was easier for some than others, and awaited instructions.

The instructors served each of us with three different items by placing them on the floor in front of us and bowing before and after each presentation. The first item was a detailed flower pastry filled with a sweet bean paste and almost too beautiful to eat. Following the pastry was the tea which was individually made from green tea powder. There was a true art in both making and consuming the tea. The final item was a delicious rice cracker that was consumed by using your hands and was very American friendly.

Following the ceremony, the instructors taught us to make our own tea using the traditional chawan (tea bowl), Natsume (tea caddy) chashaku (tea scoop), and chasen (tea whisk). Once again, some were better than others when it came to making traditional green tea.

After the tea and food were consumed, the tour slowly came to an end. On the way out, a fitting Nightingale statue stood tall symbolizing the history of nursing. No matter what culture, some things remain the same.

This adventure was more than just a tour of another medical facility. It symbolized the strengthening of friendship between the Americans and their host nation. By opening the doors to their school, they opened the doors to their culture, their life, and themselves. This tour marks the beginning of a long and lasting relationship between the American and Japanese nursing communities in northern Japan.