In-person ‘Head Start’ Japan orientation class for spouses resumes at Camp Zama

CAMP ZAMA, Japan, March 30, 2021 - A weeklong orientation that introduces newly arrived Camp Zama personnel to the culture, customs and language of Japan resumed in-person meetings for Soldier and civilian spouses last month at the Education Center here.

Camp Zama’s “Head Start” program went on hiatus in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before resuming in July that year for Soldier and civilian sponsors only. The February 16 through 19 class marked the return of the spouse-specific program, with measures in place to adhere to group-size and social-distancing regulations.

Three spouses participated in the March 15 through 18 class, which offers four full days of instruction and discussion on topics such as basic Japanese writing and helpful phrases, local mannerisms and customs, and Japanese history, and includes a field trip to the post office, a restaurant and a local shrine.

Instructor Megumi Saito said the goal of the class is to give spouses a good primer that will familiarize them with some of the unique aspects of living in Japan that will hopefully equip them to make the most of their tour here.

“I want to give them a good start so that they can have a great experience while (being) in Japan,” Saito said.

Saito said she hopes the Head Start program helps make participants’ tours more enjoyable. She likes to remind each new group of participants that while living in Japan, they are seen as unofficial “ambassadors” of the United States.

“My goal is to make them comfortable learning about Japanese culture, customs, language (and) history so that they can … become more confident to do things on their own after (completing) the program,” Saito said.

Participant Kimberly Wade said she was excited to learn the program had been resumed, as she was finally able to attend the class after being in Japan for almost for eight months.

Wade took many notes on places to visit in Japan and said the class helped her feel more comfortable using Japanese the next time she ventured out on her own.

“I really appreciate how much time and effort the instructors have put into making the class both informative and enjoyable,” Wade said.

Participant Sylvia Denson has been in Japan for six months and said she is happy the class is back because the information it provides to spouses is helpful in getting them acclimated to Japanese culture.

“This class is a great resource,” Denson said. “I learned so much that will help me understand Japanese culture.”

Denson said both instructors were very knowledgeable and helpful, and were able to answer all of the questions that were raised in class. The information she learned will definitely help make for a smooth acclimation to Japan, she added.

Participant Yuliana Chang said she learned a lot of information in just a few days that will help her understand Japanese culture and how to behave in certain etiquette situations, especially because she lives off base.

“I am so grateful to have two wonderful teachers who helped me better understand [the] Japanese language and culture,” Chang said. “Learning something new about Japan is exciting.”

Sponsors can reserve a seat for their spouse in the Head Start class by visiting the Military Personnel Division office during their in-processing, or by calling 263-4122 or 263-8699. Community members can direct questions regarding the class to David Rood, supervisory education services specialist, by calling 263-5055 or by e-mailing

Next month’s class is scheduled to be held April 12 through 15. After that, classes will be scheduled tentatively and may be subject to change depending on any future changes to the installation’s Health Protection Condition or the number of people authorized in a group gathering.