Posts Tagged With: Road trip

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. πŸ˜‰

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). πŸ™‚

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,Β 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

Our Journey to the East

Before I detail what we have been up to here on Okinawa, I thought I would recount the tale of how we arrived.

Some time before our wedding this past February, Casey was notified that we would be relocating to Japan. I had known it was a likely option for us, but nonetheless I was not prepared for the phone call I received from Casey while on my lunch break one day. Before this, I had never traveled outside of the US, except for a cruise to the Bahamas and a short drive to Canada for ice cream. I had always wanted to travel, but the idea of moving to another continent for 3 years was hard to swallow at first. (It did, however, validate our decision to get married when we did!) When Casey told me we would be moving to Japan, I was not sure what to say. I didn’t want to disappoint him or let him know how genuinely scared I was. I wanted to be strong and get through the rest of my day at work without any angry, crying outbursts.

In that endeavor, I was successful. I went back to work and told my boss I would be able to work there for another 6 months; and then I put the impending move out of my mind as much as possible. This was not difficult, as I was a month out from our wedding, and was more than preoccupied with that. We got married on a beautiful, windy day in February; and I found myself overwhelmed by the thought of saying goodbye to all the people we love, as this was the last time we would see many of them for years.

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Over the following weeks, Casey went off to California for SERE (“survival school”), and then he moved to North Carolina for the final stage of his flight training for the C-130, while I stayed back in Corpus Christi. During our 5-month separation, Casey and I split up the laundry list of hoops we would need to jump through to get to Okinawa. This included getting official passports, medical and dental clearances, immunizations, anti-terrorism training, selling some of our belongings, and preparing for essentially 3 separate moves. (We had 2 shipments to send to Japan, and one to put in storage for 3 years). In addition to all of this, the most difficult part of the process was getting our dog and cat, Barley and Hops, eligible for transport to Japan. This involved microchips, multiple rabies vaccinations, blood tests sent to DOD laboratories, health certificates and more paperwork than I would care to list on here. I can tell you that I will never again attempt a vet appointment with a dog and a cat in the passenger seat of a Mazda Miata.

After a long separation, Casey and I were reunited in August, when we continued our goodbye tour on a trip to see my family in Vermont. Saying goodbye to them was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I had already been separated from friends and family for 2 years at this point, but moving to another country felt for just a minute like the end of the world. We flew from there back to New Bern, NC, to move Casey out of his apartment and begin our road trip back to Corpus Christi. We stopped in Meridian, MS, to say goodbye to friends, and then spent 2 weeks together in Corpus preparing for and executing the move.

While we have moved 4 times in the last 2 years, this was by far the most stressful. Armed with my massive spreadsheets of everything we own and donuts to keep the movers productive, I managed to survive 5 days of different movers in and out of our house. Our last night in Corpus Christi was spent in a hotel, eating take-out from our favorite restaurant in town. I had said several tearful goodbyes with my co-workers and friends there and Casey had finished his massive check-out process on base, leaving us with nothing left but to toss the animals into our packed out car and say a bittersweet goodbye to Corpus Christi.

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Of course, we had to see the Gulf one last time (for now). From there, we headed west to San Diego, CA, to say goodbye to family and friends there. We truly enjoyed watching the landscape of America evolve as we drove, and we made a few stops along the way. However, driving with a dog and cat in tow makes road trips considerably more difficult, and we were unable to make extended stops along the way. Most of our sight-seeing was done from inside the car.

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We arrived in beautiful San Diego, and had a wonderful time with family and friends. As was the trend, it was difficult to say goodbye. From there, we headed north to Seattle, WA. The trip along the West Coast was stunning. With the mountains of California on our right and the Pacific on our left, slamming into the coast; it was a gorgeous drive. We stopped to see a few friends and family on the way in San Jose and San Francisco, and then Portland. We arrived in Seattle very late at night, carried all the animals and bags into the hotel, and promptly passed out. In the morning, Barley and Hops had their final vet appointment, and Casey and I tied up all the loose ends in our life. πŸ˜‰

Unfortunately, up until this point, the military was unable to get Barley on our flight to Okinawa. After researching our options and being unwilling to fork over $3000 for someone else to accompany him there, we decided to fly separately. We purchased a ticket for Barley and I on a civilian airline, and Casey was to take Hops on board the military flight with him. My flight was set to land in Tokyo, where I would need to take Barley through customs and animal quarantine services to have him checked out and his paperwork reviewed. Casey and Hops would fly from base to base, by-passing this process. I was not confident in my ability to get through it, as I’ve been known to get lost and cry in airports. I knew I had no other options at this point, as I was not going to leave Barley behind, so I did my best to prepare myself.

The morning of our flights, I drove Casey and Hops to the airport at 4:30 am. When we approached the counter with our 5 bags + cat, we asked if they happened to have a space available for Barley, assuming they wouldn’t. When the woman told me they had someone cancel their pet’s spot last minute (and that they had not canceled my seat), I almost hugged her. She told us we had 30 minutes to get our bags and dog to the airport and on the flight! Since I had assumed I was not leaving until later that day, all of my luggage and Barley were still back at the hotel! Casey had to run back to the car, rush to the hotel, throw everything together and rush back. I stayed at the airport to guard our belongings and catbeast. We managed to get everything dropped off just in time (Barley was not happy to be left in a crate with these people), and then spent the next hour before our flight departed canceling my flight with United, turning in the rental car, and going through the box of our belongings that we had planned on mailing to ourselves but could not, as the post office is not open at 6 am (we threw away everything that did not fit in our luggage). Oh, and then we had to carry our cat through security! (Note: I do not recommend this).

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Even attempting to explain that morning is exhausting. By the time we boarded our flight, we were toast. The airline employees were wonderful, and we spent the next 12 hours drifting in and out of sleep with Hopsy sleeping in our laps. We arrived first on Yokota air base near Tokyo. We stopped for about 2 hours, during which time we were able to walk and feed a very upset Barley. We then boarded the plane again and flew another 2 hours to Iwakuni, Japan. In Iwakuni, we walked Barley again and got a bit to eat. (Our first meal in Japan was Taco Bell). πŸ˜‰

Finally, we boarded the plane one last time for Kadena AFB on Okinawa! We were exhausted and ready to get there. Hops decided during this flight that she was no longer happy flying on an airplane and went potty on the floor of the bathroom. (I’ve never seen Casey so angry as when he came back to our seats covered in cat litter after 20 minutes in the bathroom). We finally arrived in Okinawa, gathered all of our huge bags and dog, and met our sponsors, the Ermises. They took care of everything from there. They took us to our hotel, dropped Hops off with a friend, and took Barley home with them. The process of flying took over 24 hours, and I have never been so tired.

In the morning, however, we woke up in paradise.

Categories: Moving, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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