Did your family just get OCONUS (Outside Continental United States) orders to head to Okinawa, Japan? Doing a bit of anticipatory research on where the military might be sending your family next?
This week we have amazing insight into Okinawa for our Duty Station Spotlight from Marines spouse Laura P. Her military family was stationed in Japan from September 2012 to September 2018.
What first ran through your head when you found out you were moving to overseas to Okinawa?
Confusion! My husband had been stationed at Camp Lejeune for 2 years while I was back home finishing college. His orders came out of nowhere, thankfully a few weeks after he flew home and we got married, as they were originally unaccompanied. We weren’t sure if he was going to have to spend 2 years in Japan by himself or if I was going to get the chance to go. His career planner was amazing and was able to change his orders to accompanied. I decided to put my schooling on hold to go on the adventure of a lifetime. Three months later we packed up 5 suitcases and moved halfway across the world.
What a whirlwind! I am so glad it all worked out!
After living there for 6 years do you still have the same impression of Okinawa?
It is absolutely normal to go through some stages of PCS shock when you or your spouse receive OCONUS orders, even if you request them. I think everyone goes through feelings of confusion, shock, panic, etc. It means leaving the comfort of stateside living and going into the unknown, missing important family events, not having much of a support system, and sometimes spending a lot of time alone (since most active duty members will go TDY/deploy more often). But it’s such a wonderful experience for growth!
What did you do to prepare for moving OCONUS?
I suggest starting with a trusty Google search! Being an island girl when I saw photos of the amazing beaches there I instantly felt excitement for getting to live in such a gorgeous place for 3 years. I suggest checking out blog, but especially my “Pros and Cons of Living in Okinawa” blog series for a quick glimpse at the good and “bad” about Okinawa.
Secondly I’d suggest going to Facebook! Nowadays there are thousands of useful Facebook groups that will make your time in Okinawa so much easier, something we didn’t have when we moved there in 2012. A few of my recommendations are: “Military Spouses of Okinawa“, “Living in Japan: Cultural awareness and tips“, “Everything Okinawa — Housing Edition“, “Farmers Markets of Okinawa“, “Okinawa Pet Information & Supply Sales“, “Okinawa Cafe Journal“, “Tips for Asia Travel“, also like/join any page/group local to your specific base or housing area.
This is so helpful! However as a former auditor I feel like I need to point out your definition of “few” is a bit of a stretch- HAH!
If you have pets start the paperwork/quarantine process as early as possible. If you have large dogs start doing your research and talking to your vet on base… it sadly keeps getting harder and harder to transport them into the island. Schedule your Household Goods ASAP! It takes about two months to arrive to Okinawa. They do provide temporary government furniture to help with the wait and there’s a great loan locker available on Kadena Air Base. Depending on the branch you’re attached to the weight for your shipments may be restricted… but don’t leave all of your furniture, you’ll regret it.
Most importantly, breathe! You will get a sponsor from your spouses new command that should help with answering questions and so many of the logistics.
What are your must have items to set up for success at this duty station?
I can’t think of anything really. A good bathing suit maybe 😉
If this will be your first duty station and you have no furniture I suggest heading to your closest Ikea before packing up your HHG. There’s only a handful of stores that offer American size furniture. Couches are easy to come by, but especially beds, dressers, dining tables… trust me the government mattress is SO uncomfortable!
Do you live on base, own a home or rent elsewhere?
We lived on base. The housing situation in Japan is very different to what you’re used to in the States. First of all there isn’t just one base, there are about 15 bases in the whole island from every branch of the military (except Coast Guard). Depending on what base your spouse gets orders to you’ll have a list of housing in the radius of that base.
Anyways it’s all about percentages, rank and number of dependents. If there is space for you and your family on base you’ll most likely not have much of a choice. The only choice you’ll get is just between two houses/apartments. If the percentage is getting close to 100% (this can happen later in PCS season) then you’ll get the option of on or off base. If there isn’t space then you won’t get a choice but off base.
I suggest getting prepared for either. Start doing research on areas around your spouses new duty station. A lot of local housing companies will have listings on their websites. Another quirk is that the rent off base depends on rank. Whatever you’re allowed is what they’ll charge you for rent. You can however negotiate utilities!
Once you’re settled and ready to start decorating I suggest visiting the several gift shops on island. The Marine Gift Shop on Camp Foster, Kadena Gift Corner on Kadena Air Base and Fleet Gift Shop on Camp Shields. They have amazing decor from a variety of Asian countries, they’re also a great place to volunteer! Be sure to grab yourself an issue of StarSand Magazine, I am co-editor and writer for them!
Getting Around Town
How was it to move to Japan? How did you get around Okinawa on a day to day basis?
You’ll most likely travel via AMC flight, but some lucky ones will get to fly commercial. AMC flights leave SEA/TAC airport and usually make stops in Yokota Air Base and Air Station Iwakuni in mainland Japan before flying into Okinawa.
Once on island you will have to take a written driving test to receive your SOFA drivers license. In Japan you drive on the left side of the road and have completely different road signs than you’re used to in the US. It’s scary thinking of driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and takes some getting used to, but it’s super doable! After you get your license you will have to purchase new cars. Thanks to the big turn around of people, cars are crazy cheap and can be purchased privately (on the yard sale pages) or through a used car dealership off-base.
Road signs have English translations, so you don’t need to worry about that! Google Maps is a godsend and incredibly helpful while living/traveling in Japan. I recommend pinning your hotel and later your house to help you come and go with ease until you get your bearings.
Any tips for surviving through what mother nature has to bring to the island?
Okinawa has mostly two seasons. Summers are incredibly hot and humid, can easily last 7-8 months. Winters are more like “Fall/Spring”, temperatures range from the low 70s to high 50s. Okinawa also has typhoon season, from June 1st to November 30th. This can seem scary to anyone who doesn’t live in the East Coast, but trust me Okinawa’s infrastructure is built to withstand these storms. In six years we only lost power once for a couple of hours only.
Okinawa, Japan Spotlight Map
Each of the locations around Okinawa have described below (and the few shops above) have been plotted on this google map. You can use the filters below to show only the locations you are interested in or open in google maps to save for later!
What is your favorite spot to grab a coffee at this duty station?
The cafe scene on Okinawa is like no other!! My favorite spots for coffee are easily: Family Mart convenient store, Coffee Casa on Sunabe, Zhyvago Coffee Works on American Village, Mother Coffee in Kitanakagusuku, and of course you must try the seasonal drinks at Starbucks!
Is brunch a big deal around the duty station’s town? If so, where is your favorite spot and what do you order off the menu?
Dutch pancakes at Mother Coffee, Pancakes and Eggs Benedict at Lanai Cafe outside the Rycom Mall, CC’s Chicken & Waffle on the Sunabe Seawall, fresh bagel sandwiches at Cactus Eatrip or Little Cactus, pancakes at Seaside Cafe Hanon are some of my favorite.
Whats the best spot for having a lunch?
Guacamole Burrito Truck has amazing Mexican food, Cocos Curry is crack and serves Japanese style curry, Arashi has delicious ramen but their garlic fried rice is otherworldly, Khrua Thai was our go to for six years and we always ordered the Nam Tuk. I don’t eat sushi (yeah I know.. HA!) but it seems everyone loved Hamasushi which is a sushi go round.
What is your go to place to grab dessert?
You must try Okinawa Salt Cookie ice cream at Blue Seal! During the summer you can eat super cheap shaved ice at Mother Leaf in Uruma, but my absolute favorite place is Ruan+Shimairo on Miyagi Island!! The ice is shaved extra thin and the syrup is freshly made there, so no artificial flavors!
Date Night Eats
When you managed to align schedules to go out for a date with your husband, where are you headed?
Little Greek Kitchen or Transit Cafe! Little Greek Kitchen is this tiny shop in Yomitan owned by an American named Pamela who has lived in Japan and Greece for years. It’s such a unique experience, as you eat whatever is on the menu that day. Transit Cafe’s locations on the Sunabe Seawall or Yomitan have amazing views, food and cocktails.
Where is the best spot to grab a drink?
Okinawa has very strict drinking laws. The limit is 0.03 which means you cannot drink anything if you are driving. It takes some getting used to that’s for sure… but all you have to do is make sure you always have a designated driver. If you’re pulled over and the driver gets a DUI, everyone in the car gets it as well.
That said we’re not big drinkers.. but Transit Cafe has great cocktails, Okinawa Brewing Company in American Village has a lot of craft beer, and there’s lots of bars outside Kadena Gate 2 street. Be sure to do the free tour/tasting at the Orion Brewery in Nago!
To Do Around Town
Where is your favorite place to work up a sweat?
There’s gyms at every base and they offer classes as well. Third Space Yoga has great inclusive classes and offer retreats in gorgeous locations around island! SeaRabbit Art & Aerial Studio offers Aerial Yoga classes!
Are there any nearby outdoor recreation areas you like to visit?
I’m a photographer, so I was in heaven during our years in Okinawa. My favorite thing about living there was hands down the flowers. Japanese people are all about celebrating seasons, so naturally Spring is a big hit. There are flower festivals and flower fields popping up all over the island during the first 5 months of the year.
See the link at the end of this page to checkout Laura’s amazing work!
There are also so many great places to do hiking/snorkeling/scuba diving around island! Torii Station and Kadena Marina offer tons of water activity rentals. You also must try the Forest Adventure Park zip-lining and the various beach obstacle courses.
If your family had to dream up the perfect outing together in your area, where are you headed?
We don’t have kids.. but the local parks in Okinawa are so special!! The Japanese put a lot of thought into these. Some have trampolines, roller slides, zip-lines, and so many other features your kiddos of all ages will enjoy! The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium will be a big hit for everyone in your family and you get to learn all about the creatures that live in the surrounding waters. The Kuroshio tank holds multiple whale sharks and giant manta rays along many other species of fish.
Where is your go to place if the weather is calling for rain?
The Rycom Mall is always a fun place to walk around on a rainy day. There’s a mini aquarium on the first floor, arcades, indoor playground for kids, movie theater, tons of clothing stores and restaurants. Be sure to try the warm melon pan with Okinawa salt cookie ice cream!!
Are there any must check out museums around Okinawa?
There aren’t many museums in Okinawa, but I suggest taking the MCCS Battle Sites Tours, the guide is incredibly knowledgeable in the topic. You’ll visit around 4 spots on the south side of the island and learn so much about the Battle of Okinawa! You can also do it yourself, but we really enjoyed the tour guide. Must visit spots are definitely: Okinawa Peace Memorial Park and the museum, Himeyuri Peace Museum, Naval Underground Headquarters, Hacksaw Ridge, and Kakazu Ridge.
If you manage to sneak away for a few hours to spend time spoiling yourself where are you headed?
Secret Garden is our favorite massage place, they offer couple massages! There is a spa at Sunset Beach in Mihama that I’ve heard great things about. They have pools outside and a traditional Japanese onsen inside.
Your blog is such a wealth of knowledge! Do you have any favorite posts with your activity recommendations?
Final Words on Okinawa, Japan
What would you say to a military family who just received orders and is doing the frantic google search to learn all the things!
Your years on Okinawa are also a great chance to travel around Asia!! Traveling is surprisingly much more inexpensive than it is stateside, even flying in and out of an island.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me my personal/blog mission is to help as many people as possible make the best of their overseas tour in Okinawa!
Have you been stationed at one of the bases around Okinawa? We would love to hear about your favorites around the island! Let us know your experience stationed here in the comments below!
Laura has been a Marine wife for almost seven years. She started Little Island Takara two months before making the big overseas move to Okinawa, Japan in 2012. It started as a way to keep family in the loop with their life in Japan, but evolved into so much more. She thrived in that tiny little island on the East China Sea, where she spent her days connecting with other military spouses and exploring with her camera in hand. On her blog you’ll find colorful photographs depicting her Asia travels, as well as some tips for making the best of your tour in Okinawa, Japan. In 2018 she became Co Editor, Writer and Social Media Manager for Starsand Magazine, an up-and-coming publication run by military spouses and designed for military spouses on Okinawa. Although she and her husband have moved onto their next duty station, you can say she left her heart in Japan. You can connect with Laura on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.