Konnichiwa! Greetings from Okinawa!
It is official. We have moved to Japan. This journey has been exciting, frustrating, anxiety-ridden, and slightly terrifying. But we are here, we are settled into our house, and so far we are loving this beautiful island!
This whole life-changing experience started back in March, when I got a phone call from Adam saying “What do you think about Japan?” The Air Force had been thinking of sending us to Little Rock, Arkansas, and while I wasn’t thrilled about being back in “the middle” again, I was willing to go. Then our world got turned upside down with the option to move to Japan. It was a fantastic opportunity, both for the family to experience another country and culture and for Adam’s career. After being given an hour (yes, an hour) to decide, I gave Adam the thumbs up and the next thing I knew the move was set in stone.
The process of leaving Virginia and coming to Japan was a whirlwind of activity and frustration. We had to get our house ready to sell and on the market as soon as possible. We spent a week remodeling a bathroom, organizing, cleaning, painting, planting, mulching, and de-cluttering. We were prepared for the house to be on the market for several months due to the depressed real estate situation. We were not prepared for what actually happened. We had an offer on our house within two days and were under contract within a week. Crazy!
Once the house was under contract, we were able to focus on everything else we needed to do. We got the whole family cleared by the Air Force to move overseas. The military screens every family member moving overseas to make sure there aren’t any special medical, behavioral, or educational needs that cannot be treated at the new base. Luckily, we’re healthy in every aspect and got a quick clearance. After that, we saw the doctor and made sure we were up to date on immunizations (Jack did NOT enjoy the five shots he had to get….poor guy).
The most frustrating aspect of the move was getting our furry family member to Japan. I started the process as soon as we knew the move was happening, but it still took several trips to the vet and lots of headache. Japan is a rabies-free country, so they need to be 100% sure that any animal being imported does not have any evidence of rabies infection. This meant poor Kaycee had to have two rabies shots a month apart (even though she’s always been fully vaccinated since puppyhood). Then she had to have a blood titer drawn to show that her levels were in the acceptable range. Once all that was done, we had to figure out a way to get her to Japan. Our family was booked on a military rotator flight to Okinawa, but there were no pet slots available. So we had to go through a private company and have her shipped here unaccompanied. Leaving her in the states was out of the question, as she’s a member of the family, so we did what we had to do. Her travel arrangements were a nightmare – getting to Okinawa isn’t as easy as you’d think. But, in the end, she’s here and is her usual trouble-making, happy-go-lucky self! She is able to do her quarantine time in our home, which is fantastic!
After we closed the deal on our house, we headed out on a cross-country road trip. We drove down to Birmingham, Alabama, to visit with Adam’s family for a week. Then we took a week to drive to California. Shockingly, the boys did awesome on the trip. They enjoyed staying in different hotels along the way and especially liked checking out the hotel pools every night!
We got to California just in time, as we were just about at the end of our road trip patience. We stayed with my parents and visited with friends and family for three weeks. We went to Lake Arrowhead and Palm Springs with the family, played with cousins, and did lots and lots of swimming. Adam and I also were able to take a two day trip without the kids, thanks to my sisters-in-law who took the boys with them to Palm Springs early. We’ve never had a getaway in our 5 years of parenting, so it was much needed and long overdue! We went down to Redondo Beach (where we met) and stayed in a wonderful hotel right on the water. We slept in, went out for meals at non-kid-friendly restaurants, and visited with old friends. It was awesome! All in all, our stays in Alabama and California were the perfect way to spend our last weeks in the states.
Suddenly, the day was upon us and my parents were taking us to the airport to catch a plane to Seattle. We got there at about 8pm. We got a hotel room and ordered pizza, then had a little party in our room until about midnight. We hoped that by letting the boys stay up late, they’d sleep on the plane the next day. We got up with the alarm at 4am and headed to the airport. Our rotator flight ended up being delayed and we didn’t leave Seattle until 10am. The boys were great though. They played in the airport kids’ lounge, ate breakfast, and goofed off until it was time to go. As soon as we were airborne, both boys fell asleep and stayed that way until about halfway through the 10 hour flight. After they woke up, we watched movies, played games on the iPod, colored, played with Post-it notes, and ate snacks. We had two layovers of about 2 hours each before we finally landed in Okinawa. The whole trip from the time we got to the airport in Seattle until we landed in Okinawa was almost 24 hours! I still can’t believe how great the boys did on the trip. Not a single tear was shed. I never heard “Are we there yet?” They did amazingly well and I am so proud of them. True military kids right there!
We settled into our temporary home in the base hotel and got some much-needed shut eye. The boys woke up at 6 the next morning and we went about our day. We were all a little jet-lagged and a few naps were needed here and there, but within 3 days we were all adjusted to the 16 hour time difference.
We stayed in the base hotel for a week and a half before getting assigned to our house. During that time, we also got our drivers’ licenses and bought two cars. We got our first shipment of household goods the day after we got the keys to the house, and our final shipment a week and half later. We spent a good week putting everything away, washing linens and dishes (two months in a crate on a boat across the Pacific leaves things musty and icky), and hanging pictures. The house is now 95% done and that’s how it’s going to stay for now. We’d like to fill that last 5% with things we find on the island!
Okinawa is not at all what I had imagined. I would say it is very similar to Hawaii, but much more humid. The temperature tends to be in the 80s, but with 80-90% humidity. It has definitely taken some getting used to. Luckily, you can beat the heat by heading down to any of the beautiful beaches! Our boys have become official beach bums since we got here. They want to go every day, rain or shine. They love digging for crabs, building things in the sand, and splashing in the clear, blue, warm water. Mommy and Daddy enjoy it as well!
We haven’t been able to venture out and explore too much yet. We’ve been here about 7 weeks now and a lot of that time was spent with the moving in and organizing process, as well as getting both boys ready for school. We’ve also been hit with three illnesses between the boys and two typhoons, both on the weekend! We have managed to get out to a few beaches, a farmer’s market, and some of the local shops, restaurants, and parks. So far we have found that the Okinawan people are very polite and friendly, and they love our little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys. While we were at the beach one day, some teenage girls were giggling and watching the boys play. They even took pictures of them!
As far as the base goes, it’s pretty amazing. It’s our own little slice of America in Japan. You wouldn’t even know you were in a foreign country, if it weren’t for people driving on the wrong side of the road. We have a commissary (groceries), BX (which is basically the military equivalent of Target or Walmart), two Chili’s and several other local restaurants, a craft store, library, movie theater, bowling alley, several pools and parks, youth centers, and multiple schools. Our house is close to all of this and just about 5 houses down from Jack’s elementary school! Great location!
Driving off base is another story. We are fully immersed into the Okinawan culture. We drive on the wrong side of the road (although I freak out at least 3 times a day thinking I’m on the wrong side of the road, which I HAVE been at least twice) and attempt to read signs in different Japanese dialects. Luckily the base gives you a course on driving, road signs, and courteous conduct while on the road.
There are so many different things to do here – the aquarium is said to be one of the best in the world, there are castles and ruins all over the island to explore, great parks and beaches, underground tunnel tours, plus all the great activities that the military provides for us. I have a feeling the next three years are going to be full of interesting adventures for our family!
We are so grateful to be here. We can’t wait to learn more about the Okinawan culture, to travel throughout Asia, and make this an experience our kids will never forget! I can’t wait to share all our adventures with you!
– That’s IT Mommy Kelly