Monday, January 24, 2011


I've always been interested in Japan and hoped to visit, but I never expected to actually live there! About 25 percent of my elementary school was Japanese and I loved learning new words and checking out my classmates' tidy bento box lunches while I took soggy PB&Js out of my lunch bag. I thought it might be interesting to note some of my expectations of Japan before I get there so I can look back later and see where I was right or wrong.

1. Transportation will be incredible! I've heard that Japan has a very progressive transit system with high speed trains. I've discovered that Iwakuni will be a little bit farther into the country, but I still hope there will be opportunities to take trips without getting in the car.

2. Houses will be tiny. Joe and I want to live "in the economy" as the military calls it. This just means that we would prefer to live outside the base. My feeling is that we aren't moving away from family and friends to experience American life in Japan; we want to experience Japanese life in Japan! If this means we need to pare down our belongings, that's fine. We've purposely kept our current digs sparsely furnished for this reason.

3. I'll be cold in the winter. I've heard that Japanese don't heat their entire houses; instead, they move a space heater to whichever room they are using and dress warmly. I'm not sure I'll be into this. I have a feeling there are western-style houses or apartments with central heating and cooling, but not sure how rare they are.

4. Coffee will be hard to find. I keep hearing about tea ceremonies and tea houses, but I'm not sure if this is still popular. I read Memoirs of a Geisha a few months ago and really enjoyed it, but I know geisha don't exist anymore and am curious to find out how tea houses transformed with the social change.

5. People come across as being shy. One thing I really like about Japanese culture is how important respect for others, and especially elders is. Starting a conversation with a stranger is normal for me at times when we have something in common or I have a question, but I can see where this might be seen as intruding in their personal space. I hope that I make friends in Japan who are comfortable opening up and talking candidly with me.

6. Booking airline tickets will be easy! A huge perk of being an overseas military spouse is that we are allowed to take "space-available" flights for very low prices. These flights, known as "space-a" flights, seem to be popular in Iwakuni since it's an air base. I'm already making plans to visit my lovely USMC wives in Okinawa using this system! Aside from space-a, the dense population of Japan means that there are more commercial flights going everywhere! I'm making plans to visit my friend, Shea, in the Philippines for the week of Easter to experience the huge celebration I've heard about. I'm really hoping that I can find low-cost tickets for all the adventuring I have up my sleeve. I can't wait!

7. It is going to be impossible to find a job. I know, I know. It's all about attitude, right? Well, I'm preparing myself for the worst but very hopeful that my skills as a technical writer and editor will be valuable to someone in Japan. I've thought about tutoring people who want to learn English, but I'd really like to work in a corporate setting and learn about engineering and technological advances. I'm not sure how this will work without a work visa, but I'll give it my best shot. I'm also interested in working on base because there are a lot of great programs in the military that I'd like to get involved with.

8. I won't be able to find clothes or shoes anywhere! I'm not very tall (5'5") but I think I'm taller and bigger than an average Japanese lady. I've been using this as an excuse to go shopping and stock up on American clothes, but I'm secretly hoping this isn't totally necessary. I also know there will be an "exchange" in Iwakuni, so I can buy clothes there if all else fails. For those confused by the word "exchange": the military has department stores at almost every base to suit the needs of Americans living there. Joe once described it as being like a Kmart, which is fair, but they also have Michael Kors jeans, Coach purses, a tailor (for uniforms), a nail salon (at the few I've been to), and other luxury items.

9. The exchange rate is going to kill me. We seem to have bad luck with exchange rates. Joe and I lived in Germany from late 2007 to early 2008 and experienced the dollar at an all-time low in relation to the Euro. I was in college at the time, so I just shifted my perception to be like camping. As my two-bag arsenal of clothes wore thin and became seasonally inappropriate, I layered. Not a big deal. I get to bring my entire closet and house for this move, so I'll be much more comfortable! I'm still worried about hotels/hostels, train tickets, and dining out. I just hope they aren't prohibitively expensive since I am so excited to see Asia!

That's all that comes to mind for now. I feel like I have a good grasp of what to expect, but am open-minded for all the surprises that will come my way. 

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