Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sweet Home Okinawa

Since the day we shipped our furniture over to Japan, 119 boxes have been packed, 73 days have passed, 7 airports have been visited, 13 nights have been spent in a hotel, and 119 boxes have been unpacked. We’d actually been living in Japan for almost 2 weeks by the time we were able to move into a place of our own. Of the two places we were offered, we accepted the apartment in one of the “Towers” on Camp Foster as our new home. Our move-in date was Thursday, September 24th, and it couldn’t have come quick enough! We woke up early to check out of the hotel and moved the rest of our bags that were with us over to the new apartment, which, coincidentally, was the “Tower” right next to the hotel we were staying at!

The Japanese movers arrived and began bringing in boxes around 11:30, and I don’t think they were completely finished until around 1:30 or so. We had 119 boxes, so Matt and I had a system going – he yelled out each number when they moved it in, while I checked it off of the inventory list. We began to freak out a little bit after we discovered some key things to be missing – and by “key”, I mean, without them the object was pretty much inoperable! Examples: the supporting legs to our bed frame, one of the wheels on our desk chair, the pedals of both our bicycles…just to name a few. To make things even more difficult, the movers spoke pretty much solely Japanese! Just as I was, admittedly, fed up thinking “how could they lose so many important little things??” we found a box marked “OPEN FIRST”. I bet you can guess what we found in there – yes, every single thing we were missing! So anyway, I had a TON of fun opening all of the boxes. Even though I knew it was all stuff we had already owned, it was like Christmas trying to guess what I was going to find next in each one! Every box was there, and although some of the boxes that went by ship were pretty mangled, we (luckily!) had only a few minor damages! Pretty surprising for boxes that have been in transit for 73 days, huh?!

So, more about our new place! It is obviously one level, since it’s an apartment, but it is more spacious that I had expected for Japan. Our place is located on the 5th floor, has 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, 2 balconies, a laundry room, and air conditioning units in every room (we need it here!). The cons to this place include: no carpeting, no yard, slightly less storage than our last place, no indoor garage, and Japanese bathrooms are a little weird! Also, we have concrete walls (typhoons, anyone?). Okay, so I know it sounds like I don’t like it here, but I really do. With the addition of all of our furniture and familiar décor, it’s really starting to warm up and feel like home for us. We definitely need to invest in some area rugs for sure (my feet are cold!) but other than that everything is great so far – I’ve even decided that we are going to do some painting here, something that we never did in our last place in California. I can’t wait to pick out colors!!
Here are some photos I took of the house right BEFORE the movers arrived with all of our stuff…
Right when you enter in the front door


View of the kitchen and entry hallway from Living/Dining Room

Living/Dining Room

Matt confused at this weird sign in our Living Room...still not sure why that's there...

Patio doors off the Living Room

View from our Living Room balcony


Laundry Room

…and here are some photos I took of the house right AFTER the movers arrived with all of our stuff:

Matt helping the movers with his TV

Me really happy to have my comfy bed back!

Our new sofa

Me unpacking some of our kitchen boxes

Check out this little video clip I took of our house at it's messiest: (and turn your speakers up if you like Kings of Leon:)

Fortunately, Matt and I have both been working hard at getting the place organized (well, okay, mostly me, but that’s just because I’m a little bit of an organizational freak…if you’ve worked with me, then you know!). I’m writing this 4.5 days after we’ve moved in, and the house is about 60% organized I would say…we still have a way to go! I’m sorry I’ve been slacking on posting what’s going on right away, but we just got our internet hooked up yesterday, and I’ve also been sick for the past few days – hopefully I will feel much better tomorrow!

Also, I need to mention that Matt and I became a first-time Aunt and Uncle a few days ago, and give a big CONGRATS!!! to Matt’s sister Andrea and her husband Steve on their new baby boy!! We love you guys! It’s sad that we weren’t able to be there, but the new parents were amazingly quick at posting photos on Facebook only hours after delivery!

Our new nephew Chase:
Thanks everyone for following!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Night Walkers

While bored at the hotel the other night, we decided to take a walk out into town to get something to eat with our friends Jason and Andrea, and we ended up at a little place called Sam’s Café. From the Beach Boys playing in the background, to the old model cars on display, this place was decorated in what the Japanese believe to be classic “American” décor.

We have been told multiple times since arriving on the island that there is no tipping out in town. In fact, we were told that if you left a tip on your table, more than likely, the waiter or waitress will chase you down and give it back to you, thinking you had accidentally left some money at your table. Despite all of this, Matt just couldn’t fathom leaving the restaurant without tipping the waitress something. As Americans, it just doesn't feel natural to leave a restaurant, salon or taxi without tipping, and, being new to Japan, we are still in that phase where we are unsure about the customs here. Anyway, he ended up leaving 1000 yen (about $10) on the table for the waitress. I don't think we will end up doing this all of the time, especially once we get better aquainted here, but it was just $10, and the waitress looked like she had just won the lottery when she found it!

Not wanting to go back to the hotel so soon, we decided to be adventurous and take a night walk. Because it’s so hot during the day here, the nights are gorgeous! We stopped at one of the local San-A stores, which was a small grocery store that sold only Japanese products. We found some fun things in there - one of which was some type of grape flavored gum/candy. I say “gum/candy”, because we still don’t know what it is – we originally bought it thinking it was gum, but it has a texture like taffy – really, really, weird taffy! We didn't know whether to swallow it or keep chewing it! I’m also becoming addicted to these little wafer cookies that they have here. Again, we don’t know what they are really called, but we like to call them “pancake cookies”…we just make up our own names for everything – its fun!

Here are a couple photos from our night walk:

Next post will have photos of our new home! Check back soon…

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Deals on wheels

You know those used car dealerships you see here and there, hidden between the giant Honda and BMW dealerships? They showcase an array of cars and trucks with neon stickers on the windshields and strings of balloons. They have creepy salesmen swarming the place named Ted or Bob. They have names like 'Super Motors' or 'Karl's Kars'. They look shady, and more importantly, they ARE shady. Well, these are pretty much the only used car dealerships we have out here in Okinawa (no Carmax!). These are the type of places where everyone buys cars from, and today, we became one of those people! We also purchased our vehicle without test driving it first. Yes, that's right, all we did was look inside and turn on the engine. I know you are probably thinking that this sounds sketchy and a little crazy, but I assure you it's not, and it's perfectly normal here!
Matt and I looked at a few places, but ended up coming back to 'Johnny's Used Cars', which is one of the most common places to go on the island. Our choice: a 2002 Silver Toyota Altezza hatchback, which is a Lexus IS300 Sport-Cross back in the US. I'm not sure I understand why yet, but there are a lot of American cars here in Japan that have the steering wheel on the opposite side and are called different things. Cars that are Lexus's in the US are Toyota's here, same thing with Infiniti's being called Nissan's here. Matt is telling me that this is called "re-badging". Anyway, the car is in almost brand-new condition, has a great sound-system, storage room in the back (for my furniture shopping!), comfortable seats, lots of leg room for Matt, and power folding-in mirrors for those super tight Japanese parking spaces! We decided to wait and get a second car for us when I get a job, which will hopefully be in the next month or two.

I guess its actually called "Johnny's Used CAR"

The car was marked $6500, but we got it down to $5400 because of our haggling skills and for also agreeing to pay cash instead of financing. We came armed with our checkbook and credit card, but after speaking to the owner, Jimmy (don't ask me why the owner of "Johnny's" is named Jimmy) we quickly realized that they did not take credit cards here - no dealerships here do! They also did not take debit cards or even checks. They take cash only if you aren't financing - literally CASH. After realizing that we only had about $20 on us (a tad bit short of the $5400), we talked to him, and he agreed to let us run to an ATM, take out $100, and he would hold the car for us until we could get the rest in cash.

Another thing that is different about Japanese car dealerships (at least used ones) is that you cannot go into one and drive off the lot with your new car the same day. It just doesn't work like that. They need a few days to get all the paperwork ready (there are a lot of fees and taxes that we don't have in America that go along with the cars) as well as check them out mechanically and give them a good once-over cleaning. There also happens to be some Japanese holiday this coming week, and the dealership's shop is going to be closed Sunday-Wednesday, so we won't be able to come pick up the car until Thursday next week. Thursday is going to be a big day for us, as this is also going to be our move-in date to our new condo on Camp Foster! SOOO excited!! I will be posting pictures of our new place as soon as we move in, but for now, here are a few of the new car:)

Oh, and for anyone wondering - Matt and I both passed our tests and got our Japanese drivers licences last week! However, all that was required was a written exam, so neither of us have actually had to drive on the opposite side of the road yet. I'm sure you'll hear all about it here on my blog once we attempt!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stuck in limbo

A lot of people have been asking what our living situation is right now, and with all of my posts on Facebook about wanting to get into a house soon, I thought I would give a little update on the topic. We are still residing in a hotel here on Camp Foster that has been home to pretty much all the newbies like us that took the same flight over here last Friday. Today is Wednesday, so if I'm counting right, that means we've been living out of this hotel room for 5 days now. It feels much longer than that, but the days also merge together easily when you have no mode of transportation and no place to go even if you did!

The hotel we are at right now isn't the Ritz, but it's not bad at all - it even has a kitchenette area and full desktop computer and free internet. We've gotten some groceries to do some cooking of our own, but have also taken advantage of the Macaroni Grill that is right next door! I'm not sure if Macaroni Grills back in the States serve breakfast, but the one here does, and it is delicious! (and only about $20 for the both of us) One thing I will say for anyone planning to vacation in Japan - watch out for the bathtubs! They are much higher than American tubs, making them super easy to trip over when getting in and out - I almost knocked myself out the first time I tried getting in!

Matt and I haven't been doing much the past few days. What I look forward to most are the briefs, because this is where we learn all about the island and get a lot of questions we have answered. We had one on monday that covered housing, and we had another one today (Wednesday) that went ALL day and covered everything you can imagine for new-comers. Island rules, information on driving, how to get your licence, programs offered, things to do for fun, etc. So anyway, during this long brief today, we got the phone call I had been waiting to get since we arrived on the island - the housing office called to let us know that they have 2 house offers for us to go take a look at!! I was so excited I could barely pay attention to the rest of the brief.

The first option for us is an apartment in what they call one of "The Towers" on Camp Foster. Our Tower happened to be the one right next to the hotel we are currently staying at, which is fine with me - prime access to the gates, grocery store and on-base Exchange! We went to check this place out this afternoon. We kept our expectations low, based on what we'd heard about "The Towers", but were pleasantly surprised:) Workers were still doing some work on it, but it turned out to be more spacious that we expected.

Tomorrow morning we are going to take our driver's tests in order to get our licences, and then after that, we will most likely be venturing over to our second choice for a house, which is on Camp Kinser a little south of our current location. I'm not going to post pictures on here of either location until we accept one, but the picture above is the exterior of our "Tower" (if we should accept it:)

And now...

Things I Learned in Japan Today:

1. Something is with Okinawa's water - 115 babies born just on base each MONTH

2. The legal alcohol limit on the island is not .08, but .02!

3. A speeding ticket is about 100,000 yen (about $1,000)

4. There is no tipping here - for anything

5. The on-base emergency phone number is 911. The off-base emergency phone number is 0989111911.

6. The Japanese read from right to left

7. Typhoon Season is June - November

8. Hazardous Jellyfish Season is August - November


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Attention all shoppers!!

Two posts ago, I was talking about how I am going to miss the shopping in California. I know, I've only experienced a sample of the Japanese shopping, but from what I've seen, I don't think I have to worry! They have SO many cool things here, and yesterday was the first day we spent exploring this wonderful new world of shopping!

Because we live on an American base, we have an Exchange, which every base has. This is where we are able to get a lot of American products that we are used to having. They are at discount prices and don't charge us tax. The one here on Okinawa, though, is really different - cool different! It is more like a marketplace, and it goes indoors as

well as outdoors. They have an American store that is HUGE, and it is like a high end department store, a Walmart, a Best Buy, a Home Depot, and a Babies R Us all in one. They have everything from paper towels to Coach bags, and the women's and men's clothing departments boast clothing lines that are normally sold at Macys for discounted prices:) Outside of this large department store are the marketplace booths that include a lot of Japanese products for sale - shells, kimonos, swords, fans, jewelry, pearls, dishes, furniture, you name it!

They even have a Harley Davidson store here, which apparently only Okinawan's with a lot of money ride. You can purchase a Harley if you are in the military and have it shipped back to the US as well. This is also where the local barber shop and cell phone stores are, and all of these take American dollars. Places out in town only take Yen.

My new Iphone case

Japanese toy/gumball machines - they call them "Capsule Stations"

After spending the morning on base, we decided to go explore out in town a bit. We had a taxi drop us near the local beach, and we took a long walk down the streets of Okinawa. We stopped into a fun clothing store that sold Ed Hardy clothing as well as a bunch of cute dresses, hats and of course, Japanese hair extensions!

We ended up ducking in and out of different shops just to get in some air conditioning - did I mention how HOT and HUMID it is here? Well, in case you didn't get that - It's HOT and HUMID here! Our sponsor says that the coldest it gets here in the winter is 78 or 80...hmmm... Right now it is about 90 every day with 260% humidity. Okay, I just made that number up, but it really is crazy. After being outside for 30 seconds, you are drenched in sweat - I know, its really glamourous! Anyway, another store we stopped into to get some air was what seemed to be a CVS type store - we couldn't read the name:) We got a few snacks from there to take on our walk. What is fun about living in a foreign country is that you really don't know what your are purchasing as far as food and drinks. Whenever we purchase something, we are taking a gamble at liking it or not, but its all part of the experience!

For instance, the cheese fries things I'm eating above were pretty tasty! However, Matt spit that gummy thing he's eating out 5 seconds after that picture was taken! Another fun thing we've found in Okinawa are the outdoor, public vending machines that are on almost every street corner. This is us (below) with our friends Jason and Andrea, trying to figure out which cold drink to purchase...the one we chose happened to be unsweetened tea, which seems to be big here - a lot of drinks don't have as much sugar as American drinks. That must be why they are all so thin!

We ended up at our local "mall" called Jusco, which will blow your mind if you are used to American malls where all the stores are separate! It is, again, like an open marketplace, where all of the stores on each floor just merge together. Jusco is a 3-level mall, and each level is enormous, containing women's and men's clothing stores, electronics stores, music stores, sewing stores, shoes and accessory stores, kid's toy stores, jewelry stores, and it even turns into a grocery store at one point. I thought I wouldn't like the clothing here, but I was completely wrong! Such cute clothes! The local produce at this mall (weird statement) is better and more abundant here than at our American grocery store on base, although a little more expensive. They have NO American products here. We saw a bag of Cheetos that almost looked American, but after purchasing it, we realized these "cheetos" looked and tasted very different. On the second or third floor (I can't remember which) is a food court that has authentic Japanese food. We got a bunch of tempura here for dinner, which was really good! I like the Japanese food culture - everything is "Happy" - its like their motto. "Happy Donut", "Happy Ice Cream", Happy - this, and Happy - that... :) Love it!

Click on this link and check out this video of Jusco Mall I took: