Out of Japan in the Nick of Time

The following is an account from IV OCdt Jeremy Whalen 24912 who attended the 14th International Cadets’ Conference in Yokosuka, Japan from the 3rd to the 9th of March. OCdt Whalen departed Japan less than 24 hours before the devastating earthquake hit the country.

I recently returned from the 14th International Cadets’ Conference in Yokosuka, Japan hosted by the National Defence Academy of Japan. This annual event is an opportunity for cadets from a variety of nations to come together, discuss world issues, and experience Japanese culture. This year was a weeklong blur of conference sessions, cultural experiences, and international friendships with 20 cadets representing 17 countries.

I arrived at the National Defence Academy late in the evening of 3-March-2011 and said some quick greetings before settling in for a night of sleep after nearly 30 hours of travelling. Somewhere in the events of the evening, I missed the fact that reveille was at 06h00 and involved a trumpet blast, loud Japanese music, and shirt-less cadets formed on the parade square rubbing warm towels on themselves to fight off the cold. Day one was off to quite the start. We spent the afternoon touring the various clubs offered at the National Defence Academy and I received a short lesson in the art of jukendo from my host.

Learning jukendo from IV Oki

From that point on, my trip was filled with new experiences. My hosts, IV Takashi Oki and III Rytua Hoshida gathered several foreigners together with their respective hosts and set off on a weekend adventure that included visits to Asakusa, Yokohama, Tokyo, Yaskuni Shrine, The National Museum, Kamakura, and the Imperial Palace in Kokyo among many others. During these trips I was exposed to many Japanese foods and cultural traditions. Whether it was by sampling local takoyaki (fried octopus), indulging in the traditional Japanese bath experience at Sky Spa, or reading my fortune from omikuji, my list of new experiences flourished. Another highlight included successfully defeating Midshipman Adam Calloway from the United States Naval Academy in a heated international MarioKart contest.

(l-r) – IV Oki (NDA) , IV Whalen (RMC), and III Hoshida (NDA) outside of the Imperial Palace in Kokyo


On tour in Kamakura. Construction of this bronze statue of Buddha began in 1252. In this photo are cadets from Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and the US Naval Academy with their hosts from the National Defence Academy


International MarioKart against Midshipman Adam Calloway

After an exciting weekend of exploring Japan, the conference participants settled in for two days of discussion on the topic of The International Security Environment and the Cadet. The conference started with remarks from Lieutenant-General Takashi Watanabe who addressed three central questions; what are military forces and cadets in our countries, what are the diverse roles of our militaries and, what should cadets acquire at military academies to prepare them for these roles. Participants brought varying perspectives on these issues and debated them at length in the ensuing discussion sessions. Cadets from the Philippines spoke of the skills required to win the hearts and minds of their own population in a country fighting against extremist networks inside its borders. In contrast, cadets from Tunisia spoke about the military’s role during a revolution – a unique and highly relevant topic in light of recent events in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Our experiences were certainly vast and our discussions enlightening.

Discussion group 1 showing cadets from NDA Japan (navy blue), the People’s Republic of China (dark green) and the Kingdom of Thailand (light blue)

The conference and discussions ended on Wednesday, 9-March-2011 , with an international soccer match and a performance from a Japanese opera singer whose renditions of Ave Maria and Nessun Dorma were inspiring. (Sports fans will be happy to know that a combined team of players from Europe and Canada successfully defeated a team of cadets from Asia and the United States 2-1 in the international soccer match. Despite having strong talent from the European nations, the Canada/Europe side relied on two critical goals from the Canadian to carry them to the win.)

This trip was whirlwind tour of Japanese history, international politics and various cultures. It provided me with new friends in militaries around the world and gave me a new understanding of how Canada fits into the global community. The only question now is; how soon can I go back?

IV Jeremy Whalen representing Canada at the 14th International Cadets’ Conference

Note: Shortly after my departure from Japan, a severe earthquake struck the nation followed by violent tsunamis. The National Defence Academy felt the shock but remained undamaged as it lies in the southern portion of the main island, away from the epicentre and most significant flooding. However, many cadets are still awaiting word from their families who live in the northern prefectures. Thoughts and prayers for those cadets, their families and their country would be appreciated during this time.

I missed the quake by less than 24 hours. I am certainly feeling very fortunate but a little strange. It’s very odd to have escaped such a disaster. My friends are okay though so that is encouraging.

6 Comments

  • Captain (N) Ret'd Roger Chiasson

    March 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Jeremy, I loved your account! I was the CF Attache in Japan 1995-98, and one of my “duties” was to attend the NDA graduation, and listen to endless speeches in Japanese without translation. Thankfully your experiences were much more rewarding. We got to love Japan so much that we took 9 of our friends there in 2006, and are taking another 12 friends there in three weeks – hopefully Tokyo and surrounding areas will be sufficiently recovered by then.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with this Japanophile!! The position of Attache is normally filled by a Naval Officer – if you are a Naval Cadet, put the Attache job on your bucket list when you’ve had sufficient “time in”. Good luck in you remaining time at RMC and in your future career!

    Roger Chiasson

  • Jen Ochej

    March 13, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Jer – really cool to read about your experience in Japan. I really loved it when I was there a few years ago! Of course, my memories involve far fewer discussions of international security, and a definite lack of 6am wake-up calls by trumpet blast.

    Also, was incredibly relieved to know that you missed the earthquake. God’s protection is amazing and humbling!

    Jen

  • Thelma Whalen

    March 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Hi Jeremy, I just read your very interesting account of your trip to Japan. Cool.I can see that you really enjoyed it. I was delighted as well to see that you did us proud in soccer. way to go! See you in June. Thelma

  • Beulah Dobson

    March 14, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    It certainly sounds like this trip could be placed in “The trip of a lifetime” category.
    You must feel special to have been a part of this experience, and blessed to escape the quake. Hope the opportunity to return, is yours someday.
    June 4th is reserved on our calender. Hope to be there.
    Beulah & Jim

  • Peter C. Smith

    March 14, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Sounds exciting, Jeremy. Must also make you feel a bit humble; there but for the grace of God … I will forward this to Jonny and Kristen, in case you haven’t already. See you in June.

    Cheers, Peter & Julia

  • Ruby & Ed

    March 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Jeremy:

    Just read this account of your trip and we were quite impressed! How fortunate – to have this experience but managed to leave before a major earthquake. I guess you have a few lucky stars somewhere! It’s great to know your new friends are doing OK, but our thoughts and prayers are with all affected. I guess this is one birthday you won’t forget! I think Canada had a great representative who made the most of a short visit! We look forward to hearing more about this experience when we see you in June. Your invitation arrived today and June 4th looks like a good date on our calendar!