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U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Sara Sheffield, left, a mezzo soprano vocalist, and Col. Jason Fettig, the 28th Director, both with "The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, perform at the Yamaguchi Prefectural Culture Hall Sinfonia Iwakuni in Iwakuni City, Japan, May 19, 2019. Nearly 1,200 Japanese locals and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni residents attended the concert. The centuries-old musical group rarely travels outside of the United States and has never before visited Japan. The last time the band performed internationally was 2001 in Switzerland, making this trip truly historic and unique. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andrew Jones)

Photo by Cpl Andrew Jones

History in the making: “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band visits Japan for first time

20 May 2019 | Cpl. Andrew Jones Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan

“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band traveled to Japan and delivered a once in a lifetime performance for Japanese locals and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni residents at the Yamaguchi Prefectural Culture Hall Sinfonia Iwakuni, May 19, 2019.

The lights dimmed for the sold-out show as the red-clad Marine-musicians orchestrated melodies that danced into the eardrums of roughly 1,200 locals and air station residents during their performance in Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The centuries-old musical group rarely travels outside of the United States and has never before visited Japan. The last time the band performed internationally was 2001 in Switzerland, making this trip truly historic and unique. 

Tomoe Fukuda, the wife of Yoshihiko Fukuda, the Iwakuni City mayor, said she heard that this was the first time that “The President’s Own” had come to Japan, and the concert was both dynamic and heartwarming. She also mentioned that she thought the performers and the audience became one as they were connected through the music.

“The fact that the Marine Band has come to Japan for the first time in our 220-year history means that the audiences which we have encountered are seeing the Marine Band for the very first time,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Jason Fettig, the 28th director of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. “We have definitely felt, as we have performed for these audiences in these four cities which we have visited, that these concerts are truly special.”

The band traveled throughout Japan for eight days, starting in Yokohama, where they performed with a Japanese military musical group which they had performed with in the past. 

“Our first concert in Yokohama was a collaboration with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Central Band, and we had about 120 musicians on stage,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Chris Clark, the trombone section leader with “The President’s Own.” “It was a really wonderful way to connect with our Japanese colleagues. We had previously performed with them in Washington D.C. on one of their visits, so it was great to come here and get to see them in their home country and perform with them.” 

The group then moved to Kanazawa and then on to Hamamatsu where they played for the Japan Band Clinic, a well-known group of directors and teachers in Japan. For the final stop of the tour a concert was held in Iwakuni City, where the Sinfonia Iwakuni concert hall performance was sold-out. 

Hideki Wakabayashi, director of Sinfonia Iwakuni, said that the songs entered the ears and went straight to the hearts of the people listening, and he got the impression that the Marine Band loved Japan. He also mentioned that if the audiences love the songs and the band loves Japan that it creates a loop, the two groups of people become united and share the same feelings.

Iwakuni City is located in western Japan and hosts MCAS Iwakuni. MCAS Iwakuni hosts a variety of tenant commands, including Marine Aircraft Group 12, the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 5 and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Fleet Air Wing 31.

“The great alliance that the United States and Japan share is important to our collective success,” said Col. Richard Fuerst, the commanding officer of MCAS Iwakuni. “We work very hard here in Iwakuni to support the alliance and to maintain the readiness of the U.S. Marines, the U.S. Navy and the JMSDF stationed here, while at the same time being the best neighbors we can be. Events like this help us to maintain the already-great relationship that we enjoy through mutual respect and shared interests, and they are also a lot of fun. I want to thank Col. Fettig and Mr. Wakabayashi and all the others who have given us the opportunity to participate in today’s concert.”

While stateside, the main duties of the band include playing for the President of the United States, Commandant of the Marine Corps, as well as regular ceremonial performances in the Washington D.C. area. The band is known for playing time-honored military classics such as Semper Fidelis, Stars and Stripes Forever, Anchors Aweigh and other musical pieces, many of which are the works of John Philip Sousa.

“One of the special things about the Marine Band and our history is that John Philip Sousa, the famous American bandmaster and composer, was the 17th director of the Marine Band,” said Fettig. “He served as director from 1880 to 1892 and it was during those years when he started to become well known as a composer of marches. Interestingly, here in Japan, John Philip Sousa is incredibly popular. There is in fact a Japanese Sousa Society and there is tremendous enthusiasm for Sousa’s Marches. (His music) has transcended America and gone all over the world. We’ve included several Sousa Marches on our tour and the reception to Sousa here has been nothing short of astounding.”


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