A year ago yesterday, we left Okinawa and flew back to the states. It was the first time I had been back in the states in almost 3 years. Odd as it may sound, I didn’t miss it and I wasn’t looking forward to being back. I didn’t really have a choice though.
It’s been a year. Some days, I can close my eyes and I feel like I’m there again. I feel like I’ve never left. Other days, it feels like a far off memory. Just the other day, I had an Instagram conversation with someone about how much I miss it and how she will be leaving in the next few months, but is dreading it. I can think of a handful of people right now who wished they were back there. I feel like I go on and on about it, but I miss that island. It got under my skin and in my blood. It felt more like home than anywhere I’ve ever lived. How is it possible for a teeny, little Japanese island to do that? Not just to me either, but to a large portion of people? I can’t exactly explain why I feel in love with it, but I’ll give you the things I miss the most.
1. The People
The Okinawan people are extremely nice people. They will smile at you, strike (or attempt to, lots of times it was smiles and hand motions) up a conversation with you. They are helpful, considerate, and just great people. I can think of several instances where they just went out of their way to be helpful, something you don’t expect from Americans. One rainy morning, a Japanese lady rear ended me. There was no damage, it was no big deal. The local cops were already there thanks to another accident, so we all had to stand around and wait for the military police. The MP’s showed up with their translator and he told me how sorry she was. She looked really upset. I wanted to hug her. It was raining, we were going down a hill towards a red light, and there was no damage. Even if there was damage, we all drove beaters (see #10). She told the translator to tell me she was sorry and she promised to drive better. I really wanted to hug her then! I made sure he relayed that it was ok,accidents happen and I wasn’t going to file with insurance.
2. Their Love For Children
Okinawans love their kids. They also love everyone else’s kids, including yours. At first it’s weird, but after a bit you don’t think anything of ladies touching your kids, fawning over them, picking them up, or giving them candy. Totally normal. I could go shopping and in smaller stores, the girls would play with my daughter and give her candy while I shopped. They just laughed at everything she did. They also have festivals and holidays dedeicated to their children.
3. The Playgrounds
You can check out my posts about them here. Their playgrounds would not be deemed safe in America. They have metal structures, tall things to climb on, and lots of fast rollerslides. When my husband was deployed, I would spend hours finding new parks. I would then map out my route and the kids and I would spend a whole weekend park hopping. I miss those parks.
4. The Safety and Security
Okinawa has virtually no crime. OF course there is crime, but it’s little petty stuff. They let their kids wander around and do whatever. Kind of like what America was 30+ years ago. You would see 3 year olds walking down the street. No big deal. My son was 7 when we left the island and we would send him down the street to the convenience store on a regular basis. The kids in our building walked to and from the bus stop every day. We didn’t worry. I wish I didn’t have to worry about that here.
6. The Beaches
There are just so many beaches! Everyone has their favorites, but my favorite was on a separate island. Little Missy and I would spend mornings on the beach, looking for sea glass and getting our feet wet. In the summer, we’d spend afternoons swimming. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
7. I Found Myself
I don’t know if this was thanks to Okinawa or it just happened, but I feel like I found myself there. I was truly happy. I found my happy place (literally, the place I would go to have all my troubles disappear), I made some awesome lifelong friends, I was doing work I loved and believed in, and I was just content and satisfied.
8. The Culture
This is kind of a given. Okinawa hasn’t always been part of Japan. So you have the Okinawan history and culture and the Japanese culture. WWII was a major part of the forming of modern day Okinawa, so the history of the war is prevalent on the island. The Americans have been there since WWII and we have also made an impact in the more recent culture. It’s truly a history lesson.
9. My Children’s Experience
I don’t know how much Little Missy will remember, but Little Man does. He had a great education there, with Spanish classes and Japanese culture classes. They both also got life lessons I’m hoping they never forget. Most American’s don’t make it to other countries, but to say you lived in a foreign country as a child? Unheard of.
Or lack thereof. Americans all drive 15 year old cars. We buy them cheap, use them for their purpose, and sell them cheap. We had 4 vehicles while we were there. A van was given to us, so we sold the car. The other van died and I junked it and bought a car. 4 vehicles that we paid a total of $4K for. We had to junk the one, but we sold the others for $3,500 total. That should tell you what kind of stuff we drove. No one cared! Your car wasn’t important. It wasn’t a status thing like it is here. We were also limited on general shopping options. People bought and sold used stuff left and right, more than they do stateside.
11. The Food
The sushi of course, but it wasn’t just that. The food was better everywhere. The sushi was so good and so fresh. The fast food was better and I had some great pizza there. I just hope you like corn and mayo.
12. The Community
The military community is something special, but I’ve never felt it like I did there. Your friends truly did become your family. It was no big deal to have your husband’s entire company over for Thanksgiving. Those single guys needed to eat somewhere. Husbands deployed? You’ll have no problem finding someone to help you stuff. We don’t live close to base now and I never go to base. I don’t have time to participate in anything since I’m working. I miss it though.
Who doesn’t love a good festival? The Okinawans have festivals revolving around flowers, holidays, tug-o-wars, plus all the festivals on base. We went to every festival we knew about. Even the ones that required a heck of a drive.
Have you been to Okinawa? What do you miss the most?