By Scott McCormick On January 4, 2001, I boarded a plane for a 13 hour flight from Chicago O’Hare to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, for a five-day visit to Japan for the All Japan Marching Band and Batontwirling Association Championships (AJMBA), Japan’s equivalent of Bands of America Grand National Championships. The championships were held in the Bodukan, a building built for the Olympics when they occurred in Tokyo in 1964. Approximately 130 groups — half bands, half baton twirling groups — from all over Japan performed. Groups qualified for the event, first in prefecture competitions (similar to a state championship), then advancing to nine regional competitions, and then the finals. In November 2000, M r. Shinichi Onedora, a representative of the AJMBA, attended the Bands of America Grand Nationals in Indianapolis as BOA’s guest. Mr. Onedora is responsible for producing the AJMBA Championships from an operations standpoint. He asked if during his visit to Grand Nationals he could meet with me; Gary Markham, BOA’s Chief Judge; and Dan Acheson, Executive Director of Drum Corps International (DCI). Our meeting focused on the AJMBA’s desire to update their judging system. He invited us to be their guests at their championship to give them input about the event as well as their current judging system, and how the BOA and DCI judging systems work. Richard Saucedo, director of Bands at Carmel HS, Carmel, Indiana, also attended the AJMBA Championships as a guest of the event. The visit was also, for him, a familiarization trip, as he and his colleagues consider the possibility of taking the Carmel HS Band to the Japan Championships as an exhibition group in January of 2002. The event featured high school and junior high school levels, as well as elementary school bands and community-based groups, many of the latter which more emulated what we know as drum and bugle corps. The performances were eye- opening. After the second elementary group performed, I looked at Markham, Saucedo and Acheson to see that they had smiles on their faces as did I — a small outward indication of our amazement at the level of proficiency displayed by these young performers. The confidence and technical proficiencies displayed would be beneficial for every band in the United States to experience. “We have something great happening at Carmel HS,” said Saucedo, “however, after witnessing this, I realize that we have much more to do!” This was not my first visit to the All Japan Marching Band and Batontwirling Association Championships. Markham and I also attended this well-run event two years ago, and one observation we shared on this trip was what fast learners the groups are. They were fine performers on our first visit and have come to an even greater level of understanding programming creativity. Creativity and originality are one of the few areas in which these groups take a backseat to their American counterparts. Another area that I am sure they will continue to refine is dynamic contrast. In some groups, playing at the extreme end of volume seems to be a requisite. We can both learn from each other. The pride and determination on every young person’s face is fully evident and the performance excellence levels are almost frightening. I look forward to BOA playing a role in orchestrating Carmel’s visit to Japan for an exchange of ideas that will benefit our activities across the seas.