Okinawa Life

Adjusting to life on the other side

The Other Side of the Road

I recently came back to Japan after a 7-week-long trip to America, in which I watched two of my best friends get married and met another one’s new baby girl, among many other things. I am just now adjusting to my own life here in Okinawa again, and am finally ready to get back to blogging!

The most difficult thing this trip forced me to unlearn and relearn is driving! There are so many differences related to driving in Japan and America. First of all, in Japan, we drive on the left side of the road. When we moved here almost 9 months ago, Casey and I had to take a written test in order to receive our SOFA-status drivers’ licenses. We had to learn the laws of the road, but no one held our hands through learning how to navigate this place. The switch to the left side of the road was difficult because (duh), we had been driving on the right side since we were 15! I was so terrified to drive out here, that Casey had to force me to start driving about 2 weeks in. (We went out with friends and he decided to drink, meaning that I became the de facto designated driver. I wasn’t happy).

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Some things to “unlearn and relearn” along with this transition:

1. In Japan, there is no “right on red,” and there are actually different laws out in town and on certain military installations for taking a “left on red.”

2. Fast lane, passing lane, bus lane: all different.

3. Where to look when making a turn at a stop sign: right left right, or left right left? This one still confuses me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

4. Parking lots. Yes, they are backwards, too.

5.The driver sits on the right. Sometimes, I still try to get in on the wrong side. (It’s been 9 months).

6. Most difficult of all: the wiper blades and turn signal are on opposite sides of the wheel. It is common to see new people on Okinawa turning on their wipers when they mean to signal that they are turning. We call this the “Oki wave.”

Fortunately for me, I’ve had an adorable car in which to learn all of this. This is “Turtle car.” She is a 2003 Daihatsu Naked. Yes, Naked. (The Japanese love English words, and often show little regard for the meaning of the word when they choose it. More on that in another post)! She has a whopping 750cc engine, which for you less mechanically intelligent (like myself) out there, means the engine is smaller than the one in Casey’s Harley Sportster. In short: tiny. She has a difficult time making it up hills, or going over 60km per hour, which for you Americans out there is only about 37 miles per hour.

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She is like a mini Hummer, complete with golf cart tires, a rubberized interior, removable backseats, retractable side mirrors (very common in Japan because the roads and parking areas are so narrow), and lots of love to spare. You might be able to see Casey’s Toyota Camry Gracia parked next to Turtle car. As you can probably see, the Camry is much larger, which is why we do not often drive it around Okinawa. While not a large car in America, in Okinawa it is like driving a boat. It has a normal-sized engine, but a bad turning radius and we often have a hard time finding a parking space big enough for it! Also, my car is much cheaper to drive because it is awesome on gas and the road taxes are so cheap because the Japanese government subsidizes efficient cars! Small, or “kei” cars with yellow license plates are common in Japan because the road taxes are about 90% less than that of more American-sized vehicles, like the Camry!

Learning to drive here was much easier than I expected. However, a few things will continue to be difficult, no matter how long we stay here. Roads can be so tiny that you will have stop and sometimes back up in order to allow cars to pass in the opposite direction. The Japanese often do not name their roads and highways, so we rely on landmarks when giving directions. Sometimes, highways have the same name. For example, there are two highway 58’s on Okinawa. Sometimes, the signage can be pretty confusing:

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Overall, however, it can be a beautiful place to drive.

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After spending 6 months in Okinawa, it was time for me to go back to the states for a visit. The idea of driving back in the states was terrifying to me for a few reasons.

1. I would need to relearn to drive on the right, and Americans would be much less forgiving than the Okinawans, who are used to Americans driving on the wrong side when they first arrive on island.

2. Everything moves a good deal faster in America. The fastest speed limit I’ve seen on Okinawa is 80 km, which is about 50 miles per hour!

3. American drivers are significantly less courteous than Okinawan drivers. Okinawans are much better at merging because they actually let people in, and then they often thank each other by flashing their hazard lights quickly in a gesture of thanks. (This is my favorite thing about driving in Japan). ๐Ÿ™‚

4. America is much more dangerous than Okinawa. In Japanese culture, it is very uncommon for women to get kidnapped, raped, or mugged. I was going to be driving by myself through some cities which are known for the frequency of these crimes, and could not help but be worried after feeling so safe on my little island.

5. Worst of all, I would need to stop at red lights again. In Okinawa, it is safer to go through a red light than stop short because everyone behind you is already planning to run it. Yeah, sure, you have to wait a few seconds before driving when the light turns green, but it feels so good to run those red lights!

To be fair and balanced, for all you Fox News fans out there, America does a few things better than Japan:

1. Turning lanes. These are important, and Japan should install them.

2. Roads sized large enough to fit cars. It’s easy to forget how nice this is.

3. Fair arbitration of car accidents. In Okinawa, an American involved in an accident will always be at fault. The accident would not have happened if you weren’t on Okinawa, period.

4. Road and highway names make life so much easier.

5. Motorcycles aren’t… terrifying! Out here they drive like maniacs in flip flops with unbuckled helmets! They do wheelies at stop lights, drive in between lanes to speed past traffic, and drive up to the front of the line at stoplights. To deal with them safely, you have to view them as suicidal so that you remember to steer clear of them, literally.

6. Shoulders, bicycle lanes, HOV lanes, parking lots for businesses, and the Jersey Turnpike. (Just kidding, folks. Seriously, it was a joke).

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I dealt with all of my concerns, but in end I made it through my travels. I drove over 3000 miles in my parents’ trusty Subaru Forester, only breaking down once. I sent Americans the “Oki wave” a few times, resisted the urge to thank/thoroughly confuse courteous drivers with a flash of my hazards, and kept the doors locked at all times. I dealt with stop-and-go traffic, speed demons, and road rage just like the old days. And then I came back to Okinawa and learned it all over again.

Love always,ย Amanda

PS. The turn signal makes so much more sense on the right side. That is all!

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Categories: Okinawa Life, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

Earth Day, Nippon-Style

In three days, I am getting on a plane in Naha and making the long journey over to the US. I could not be more excited to see my friends and family in the states, but I must say that this trip makes me very nervous. I am an awful traveler; I worry about leaving my husband, furry children, and my life for almost 2 months; and, regretfully, I’m not sure I want to be in America right now. Don’t get me wrong– I am a proud American military spouse who believes in freedom, sweet tea, and the American way. But the last week has left me glued to the news, biting my fingernails in concern over the events that have transpired: potentially homegrown terrorist attacks, the explosion of a poorly regulated factory, a failed attempt on the President’s life, and a Senate that is more concerned with the NRA than the people they represent. I believe that we will pull through all of this, but watching the process unfold in such frustratingly terrifying ways from almost 10,000 miles across the world has been difficult, to say the least.

On a lighter note, I wanted to celebrate something the Japanese do very well: protecting the Earth. As today is Earth day, I thought it appropriate to discuss the Earth-friendly things I have noticed during our 6-month love affair with Okinawa.

First of all, as I discussed in my earlier post on the variety of flower festivals on Okinawa, the Okinawans celebrate their plant life like none other. With beautiful gardens and fancy tropical greenhouses dedicated to orchids, fruit trees, lilies, and many other plants; there is no shortage of daily celebrations of Okinawan flora. The Japanese have even made an art form out of cultivating beautiful little bonsai trees.

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In addition to this obvious reverence of the Earth, they are in general very conscious of reducing the impact of their daily routines on the Earth. Here are just a few examples: Japanese toilets have two different flushing options, depending on the type of business you’ve made there. I’ll leave the details out, but as you can imagine, one of these options uses less water than the other, making for a more Earth-friendly flush. (Now, if only I could figure out which is which)! Another common bathroom tactic they employ is to not use paper towels. Some bathrooms have hand dryers, while others have nothing at all. I realized recently that people carry hand towels in their purses to use when drying their hands, so they will never have to use paper towels! I am not so big a fan, however, of their half-ply toilet paper…

The Okinawans typically do not have what they consider unnecessary appliances in their homes, such as dishwashers and dryers. Every day I drive past tall apartment buildings with elaborate laundry hangers they use to dry everything from rugs to socks. Finally, their “do more with less” mantra manifests itself in the cars they drive. The government of Japan subsidizes driving smaller vehicles with better gas mileage through their road tax system. For example, Casey drives a Toyota Camry, which is going to cost us about $230 a year in road taxes. I drive a Daihatsu Naked, which is designated as a Kei (mini) car, and will only cost us about $30 a year because of its tiny engine. As a result, most cars on Okinawa are tiny, adorable, and environmentally friendly. Read more on this here!

Most importantly, the Okinawans recycle everything. There is a mandatory, very complicated system of recycling on the island, which on base military only kind of have to abide by. Everything placed in the trash must be burnable, and everything placed in recycling must be clean and label-free. Here is a picture of a McDonald’s trash can, where they have clearly noted the baskets each piece of your trash belongs in:Image

Everywhere you go, businesses do what they can to recycle and reduce their impact. We visited Orion brewery yesterday, and they indicated that they recycle 100% of their waste by donating, reusing, and recycling. If running a road race on Okinawa, the race workers will hand you a water cup and then pick it up off the ground where you left it so that they can dip it in bleach water and refill it for the next runner. (I could do without this one, however, because some people have gotten very sick from drinking too much bleach while trying to run a marathon…)

Overall, while not perfect, the Japanese work together to do their part to keep our Earth clean today and every day. What are you doing for our Earth?

Categories: Culture, Nature, Okinawa Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Subtropical Winter

Alright. It has been over 2 months since I have updated you all on my life. I watched the days turn into weeks and then months, and have now learned my lesson. I have so much to say that it is difficult to say it all without scaring you away. I’ll attempt to summarize the last two months as briefly as I can, and I’ll save some of the better stories for later posts. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In late November, we finally received our shipment of household goods. After 5 moves in less than 3 years, we have become quite efficient at unpacking. (It also helped that we left most of our belongings in storage). Two months later, I am still working on making our apartment feel more like home.
hops moving boxes
After unpacking, I launched into Thanksgiving preparation. This was my first Thanksgiving away from family, and I was determined to try and make up for that by cooking my first Thanksgiving feast. With Casey’s help (on the meat portions), I cooked a turkey, mashed potatoes and 2 types of gravy, rolls, cornbread muffins, 2 types of stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and 2 pies.ย  It felt like a rite of passage into womanhood to pull that off, but I was exhausted and learned a lot about what not to do when cooking for 10+ people. It was wonderful to share the holiday with friends, but it was no substitute for hearing my baby sister say Grace back home.

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At the beginning of December, Barley gave me quite the scare. I came home one Saturday afternoon to find him shaking all over and lethargic. Getting him to a vet was a terrifying experience, as there was no one on base to see him. After multiple phone calls to vets out in town who repeatedly hung up on me because of the language barrier between us, I was able to get him to a vet clinic that could see him, where a fraction of the vet’s explanation was translated to me. Multiple appointments, many steroids,ย  and over a month later, Barley is fine. With Casey out of town, I could not have gotten through that experience without the support of a few friends out here and the kindness of the employees at the vet clinic who tried their best to communicate with me.

On the note of Casey being out of town, he has had a number of trips to mainland Japan, Hawaii, and Korea. His flights are more and more exciting, and he is truly loving his job. While I enjoy having him home with me, I am tremendously happy to see him finally reaping the rewards of all his (continued) hard work!

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In between Casey’s trips, we have enjoyed his days off for the holidays.ย  While again this has been our first Christmas away from family, we did our best to bring Christmas to Okinawa. The Okinawans have a fun conception of Christmas, which involves the quintessential bright lights, albeit in pinks, blues, and yellows. While most of the material components to Christmas were present, it did not quite feel like Christmas in the 70-degree weather or in our fairly empty apartment. It was still wonderful to share our first Christmas as a married couple together. We spent the morning opening our gifts and skyping with family, and then dove back into cooking a Christmas feast for a few of our friends out here. (This time we went for an easier menu). ๐Ÿ˜‰

This month, we enjoyed a fun celebration of the New Year with our new found friends, and even had a visit from a good friend from the states, Farrah! I have been taking a Japanese class, and am fully enjoying my little interactions with the Okinawan people as I slowly learn the language. We look forward to all the new adventures 2013 will bring us!

In between those holidays and everything else I have left out, Casey and I have spent as much of our time as possible exploring everything this wonderful little island has to offer. In the coming weeks I will go over everything from delicious local food to underground caves, from aquarium visits to creepy tombs and beautiful castles…

I hope that all of you enjoyed your holiday season, wherever you are in the world.

Love always, Amanda

Categories: Barley, Moving, Okinawa Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Konnichiwa!

Hello, everyone! After 39 days of living in Okinawa, I have finally gotten the time to sit down and put this together. It will continue to evolve as I update it. Bear with me, as I was not blessed with web development skills! ๐Ÿ™‚

Casey and I are doing very well here in Okinawa, adjusting to the change of scenery as best we can. I plan to write individual posts on the major things we have done so far, but I feel the need to do a quick update to fill you all in.

We arrived in Okinawa on October 5th (more on that epic journey here), and it took us less than a week to recover from jet lag. I think Barley had the hardest time, waking up at 2 and 4am every morning ready to begin his day! After a week of living in a hotel, we moved into our 3-bedroom apartment. This is our first apartment, so that has been adjustment… especially for this guy:


We have government furniture and a few hundred pounds of our own belongings which were shipped over to Okinawa in our express shipment, however most of our possessions remain on a ship somewhere on the Pacific. I am sure we will feel at home as soon as we get our things moved in.

We took our driver’s tests to get our Japanese driver’s licenses, learned how to drive on the left side of the road (more on that here), and purchased our cars. In addition to learning to drive a car again, Casey had to step out of the simulator and into the C-130J Hercules! We are so excited that he is finally getting to fly that beautiful beast! He has spent some time flying around on mainland Japan, while I have been busy back here in Okinawa.

In the short time we have been here, we have met some wonderful new people, and we are positive that we will develop some lasting friendships and some incredible stories to tell from the adventures we will have. These, of course, I look forward to telling you all later!

Categories: Barley, C-130, Okinawa Life | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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