Midshipman 1st Class Thomas Giornelli attended the International Cadets Conference March 2-6 at the National Defense Academy (NDA) of Japan.
Giornelli, from 26th Company, was selected to participate in this event due to the three years he spent studying the Japanese language at the Naval Academy.
The topics discussed at this year’s International Cadets Conference related to leading in the changing battlefields of today’s wars: Leadership in Joint Operations, Multinational Operations, Cyber Security, and Anti-Terrorism. Giornelli was assigned to the session discussing leading in joint operations.
“We were required to discuss how our academies prepare us for leading these operations, but before this conference I really didn’t know too much about them,” said Giornelli.
Giornelli was the only student from his group who came from a non-joint academy.
“I ended up talking a lot about how our school prepares us to work in an environment with both Sailors and Marines, like a Marine Expeditionary Unit. I think it’s the most likely joint operation an academy graduate would be assigned to.”
The conference also provides opportunities for foreign cadets to experience the Japanese culture. On their first day at the conference, all cadets and midshipmen took part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, performed by the Tea Ceremony Club of the NDA.
The tea ceremony is a way Japanese hosts welcome guests into their home that dates back Muromachi period (1336-1573). The host ceremoniously brews a cup of green tea, called matcha, and serves it to his guests.
The next day, the cadets and midshipmen experienced a traditional form of Japanese comedy called Rakugo. It is similar to western stand-up comedy, where a single performer called a rakugoka tells humorous stories while kneeling politely in the seiza on stage using only a single fan as a prop.
The visiting midshipmen and cadets also participated in sports and club activities every day.
“After the conference work was over for the day, we were given free reign to workout with whatever club or team we wanted to,” said Giornelli. “I am actually the president of the Navy Judo club back at the academy, so I got to work out with their Judo team. Everyone there was so kind to me, letting me walk in on their practices and work with them. They had some intense workouts. In fact, I got to work with one of their best players, who’s the current collegiate champion in Japan.”
He also visited the Sensoji Temple, a Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district of Tokyo that serves as a large tourist attraction while remaining an operating temple. It is famous for its incense burning around the area, which according to legend, can make those who breathe it in smarter.
Giornelli’s Japanese hosts then took him to the city of Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. Yokohama is a famous port city in Japan, and one of the first to open its doors to all westerners after the arrival of Commodore Perry in the 1850s. As such, the Japanese consider it to be a very westernized city, in contrast to the traditional Asakusa district. They visited the Japanese Coast Guard Museum there, where the remains of a captured North Korean spy ship is held.
“This conference was one of the best experiences of my life. I made friends from around the world, and learned a great deal about other services around the world,” said Giornelli. “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to participate in the International Cadets Conference, and I hope to work with my new friends in future operations someday.”