Misawa United Connects Cultures on, off the Field

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Patrick Boyle
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Moving far from home can be challenging. The separation from family, friends, loved ones and your support system can take a toll, especially if the move is overseas. The difficulties of overcoming language barriers and adapting to local customs can hinder the formation of lasting bonds and a strong support system.

Shin Orikasa, a contractor at Misawa Air Base, has experienced these challenges firsthand. Over the past decade, he has worked to bridge the gap between American and local Japanese communities in Misawa through a shared passion: soccer.

Orikasa is a Misawa native who spent his college years in the United States, initially struggling with adjusting to a new language, culture, and community.

“While in the United States, I learned the importance of making friends and having people’s support in a new country,” expressed Orikasa. “Having that support system and people to do things with really helped me adjust in a new country.”

After returning to Misawa, Orikasa was determined to integrate both cultures he had experienced. He formed a soccer group, Misawa United, to bring both communities together.

Starting in 2016, Misawa United had just 12 players, but has grown to include 359 registered members with 18 players participating in weekly sessions.

“At first, it was rough,” Orikasa said. “Some players didn’t know Japanese that well, and others didn’t know English. People were scared to join at first, but as time went on, people started interacting and bringing new friends along with them.”

Beyond the game itself, weekly practices and games teach effective communication and foster lasting friendships.

“My American members are enjoying learning about a new culture and language through locals, and the locals are definitely enjoying talking to Americans on a daily basis,” Orikasa stated.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ricardo Longarini, 13th Fighter Squadron aviation resource manager, joined Misawa United in November 2021. He discovered the group on social media and contacted Orikasa before arriving at Misawa.

“Soccer is a beautiful game,” Longarini said. “You don’t have to understand a language to play it. You can step out on the field and know what people are expecting of you. They know what they can get from you as well. I’m going to keep in good contact with Shin and everyone else even after I’m gone.”

The opportunity Orikasa provides with Misawa United to foster friendships and learn about another culture is invaluable to the local community. Groups like Misawa United serve as a platform for unity, bringing people together one community, stronger and more connected.

“I still keep up with people who were on the team 10 years ago at the start,” Orikasa reflects. “At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about--building lasting bonds.”