If you haven’t noticed, we are on our way out of Okinawa. My husband has been here 3 years, the kids and I have been here more like 2 years and 10 months. We were given the opportunity to live in a foreign country. How many people are given this experience? Not many.
I think it’s safe to say I did my fair share of exploring here. I went to everything I could – festivals, tourist traps, beaches, shrines, castles, parks, and anything else I found about about. My friends check out what I do, then they go do it themselves. It saves all that research time!
A commenter mentioned that I should write a post for newbies to Okinawa, since she will be here soon and all. I don’t know how helpful this will be, but I’ll try.
First and foremost, come to Okinawa with an open mind. Some people have no desire to leave the U.S. and move over here. Some people never leave base. If you come here with the wrong attitude, you are going to have three years of hatred for this island. Don’t do that to yourself.
What To Bring
The Marine Corps has weight restrictions when PCSing to Okinawa (some of the other branches don’t have restrictions). You are allowed like a quarter of your normal weight allowance, so it’s around 3,000 pounds. That is nothing when moving. However, furniture is available to use for free, as long as you need it. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s not bad considering. I have a thing about used mattresses and couches, so I had the plan to take ours along to Oki. We ended up taking ours, but the movers couldn’t get the couch to fit into their crate. It didn’t get to go. My husband found a used living room set for sale that was in almost perfect shape. Between that and our mattress, we were good. All of our dressers, bookshelves, tables, and once we moved off base our fridge, washer, and dryer were all loaners from the gov’t. We all have the same furniture here, so don’t feel bad.
Besides furniture, bring what you want. We have a pretty big PX here, there are lots home stores and various places to shop off base, and if all else fails, there’s the internet. If you forget it, you can always replace it.
Okinawa is a small island. It’s something like 70 miles long. I was imagining this teeny, little place where cars weren’t necessary and we would all quickly become bored and landlocked. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Cars are very much necessary here. While the island is small, I’m amazed that I’ve never felt landlocked. I’ve never had a huge desire to get off of this rock before I go crazy. There is so much to see and do here and the best way to get started is to just get in the car and go. It’s pretty hard to get lost here, so don’t worry about that. The main roads are all marked and all road signs are in English. Get in the car and start driving. You’ll discover a lot more than you think.
If you want to have a plan in mind before you start driving around, there are numerous websites to check. Okinawa Hai is one of the favorites among Americans. I also like Map It Okinawa and Mike’s Ryuku Gallery. These guys do a lot and tend to blog about it all. I also like to check the Kadena ITT and MCCS Tours + calenders. I’m not big on paying them to drive me somewhere and then having to be on their time, but I check the schedules to see what is going on for the month. If there is a festival or something, I’ll do internet searches to find out where it is and go myself.
I’ve also got an entire page of all the things we’ve done. For the most part, we did everything I wanted to. There were some things on mainland Japan I wanted to do, but it just didn’t happen.
Some people, myself included, are picky eaters. Don’t worry about that here. There are tons of restaurants here and they cater to just about any thing you could want. Yes, there are lots of Japanese and sushi restaurants. I wasn’t really familiar with Japanese food before coming here, but there is a lot that I love now. Some I don’t like, but I’ve gotten a lot better about trying new foods since living here. There are also lots of restaurants here that will serve more food that Americans are used to. Okinawa Hai has a huge list of restaurants, categorized by location and type. One thing I do regret, is not eating out as often. My husband isn’t big on eating out, so when I went, it was mostly with friends. I found some great sushi restaurants, we like to get take-out pizza from Primo Kitchen, everyone loves Coco’s Curry, my kids love Mister Donut, and Sam’s by the Sea is great for a nice dinner or occasion out. An izakaya is a bar that serves food. I’ve had some good food in izakaya’s, but don’t ask me what any of it was.
Convenience stores are big here. They are literally on every corner. Family Mart, Lawson’s, and Coco’s are the holy trinity of c-stores. All of these places sell food, so it’s easy to pop in and grab a quick lunch. Some Coco’s (not to be confused with Coco’s Curry) have bakeries and sell delicious goodies. We had one down the street from our house and we were there a lot.
The commissaries here carry everything you need. I know they don’t carry everything, but for the most part, they do. The produce section is horrible though. Half of the produce comes from the states and it’s icky or moldy when you buy it. There are small produce shops around or you can go to a local grocery store. There are a few different ones – San-A, AEON, and Union. I didn’t go to those as often, but I found much better produce at local stores and I bought fish a few times.
Everyone will tell you they were worried about driving on the left side of the road when they got here. Everyone will also tell you it wasn’t that big of a deal. You get your license at the Newcomer’s Brief after taking a written exam. It wasn’t hard. For more info on buying a car, read this. As far as the driving itself, I noticed that for about 2 weeks, I paid super close attention while driving. When there are other cars around, it really isn’t a big deal. You just kinda follow traffic. It’s when there aren’t any cars around that you suddenly realize you are on the wrong side of the road. We all do it though, so don’t’ worry. You’ll get the hang of driving faster than you think. I see cars on TV and in movies on the right side of the road now and it just looks wrong to me. I’m a little worried about having to reaclimate, but I’m sure it will be fine!
The Social Life
I came to Okinawa with the plan of getting a job. It didn’t work. It is possible to get a job here, but it’s extremely hard. There are so few jobs here and so many spouses fighting for them. MCCS has classes to help with your resume and all that stuff. I don’t know effective they are, but there’s no harm in trying. I ended up volunteering with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. I did that for over 2 years. There are lots of places that take volunteers here – the USO, the Red Cross, the branch gift shops (if you are an officer spouse), but NMCRS was what worked for me. Volunteers do all the budgets, loan counselings, and give out loans, so it’s something valid to put on a resume. Don’t give up on the job search though!
Volunteering was also how I made friends. I had a couple friends before hand, their husbands worked with mine. Friends are important here. You’ll go crazy if you don’t have someone to vent to and hang out with. It’s hard being away from home when you live stateside, but it’s a totally different ballgame here. Your friends really do become your family here. Find friends however you can. Search for Facebook groups. There are some for wives, some for each base, some for moms, some for fitness stuff, you get my drift.
It’s hotter than, well, I was going to cuss, but I won’t. The summer’s here are hot. Temperature wise, it doesn’t get much higher than 90, but the humidity is ridiculous. Coming from the midwest, I thought I knew humidity. I was so wrong. The winter’s are mild. This past winter didn’t require much in the way of long sleeves or jackets, but the first 2 winters here did. I’m not saying coats, I’m talking about a zip-up hoodie. It does rain a lot here though. Rain boots, a rain jacket, and umbrellas will come in extremely handy.
Then there are typhoons. Typhoons are the Pacific version of a hurricane. Japanese people are smart though. Everything here is built out of concrete. It’s not always the prettiest, but it serves its purpose. When a typhoon is hovering out in the ocean, the military lets us know. There are Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness levels or TCCOR. These let you know what to expect and when. Once it gets down to a certain level, schools are closed, people are sent home from work, and everyone is put on lockdown. Before hand, everyone is at the commissary stocking up on junk food and water. It gets kinda crazy. The power can go out and usually does during a bad storm. If you stay inside, you’ll be fine. The worst that will happen is water leaking in and losing power. The majority of damage comes from objects flying around that someone hasn’t taken the time to secure or move inside. I’ve got typhoon posts here if you want to read them.
I don’t regret anything about our time here. I am so thankful for the experience. My kids have had a great time here. It’s a very kid friendly island. I wish we would have eaten out more, but I think I tried every place I wanted to go at least once. I have a very hard time understanding how anyone doesn’t like it here, but I know there are those that don’t.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask! I’m leaving soon, but I doubt I’ll forget anything soon!