Moving overseas is no small feat so give yourself some deep breaths and extra heapings of grace as you take on this new exciting adventure. In this post I’m going to help tackle your expectations and feelings as you prepare to move which can truly make or break your entire experience!
We’ve lived in Okinawa Japan twice and currently completing our second tour, we loved it the first time and loved it even more the second. And by loved I mean, obsessed. So much so that I’ve created quite a few t shirts in my shop to share my feelings visibly about Okinawa. I personally believe every place the military sends you can be “good” maybe not always your favorite but all depends upon your mindset and expectations. So, let me share some expectations of what awaits you on the island of Okinawa, hopefully without being too bias.
Okinawa is far.
Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu islands, one of many islands approximately a 2 hour plane ride from mainland Japan, so like far! Most people think its close to Japan, but NOPE, you’ll find this out the hard way on your flight over! When you arrive to mainland Japan after your 12-15 hour flight depending on where you are flying from, you still have another 2 hour plane ride to get to Oki. CRAZY LONG. If you can in some way request a commercial flight instead of the Patriot Express which is typically required to get here, your travel will be much more pleasant since the Patriot Express makes several stops with it’s last one being Okinawa, adding so many more agonizing hours to an already long flight.
Okinawa is hot and humid.
You might be thinking you’re familiar with hot and humid if you are used to climates like Texas and Florida, I assure you, you are not!! Okinawa’s level of hot and humid brings new meaning to both of those words, it’s other level. We have three seasons here: hot, rainy, and typhoon! (more on that later) In the summertime when the heat is at its peak, do your outdoor activities in the morning or early evening and avoid the afternoon at all costs. You will just drip and becoming overheated is very possible, especially for the littles. But good news, the gorgeous oceans that surround the island and numerous pools on base and at the hotels can help you beat the heat. Side note regarding the beaches…be prepared to purchase water shoes, many of the waters are full of coral, but if you are looking for clear water and rockless sand, head to one of the outer islands via ferry or bridge, lots more options there. If being warm all year round is a bummer, mainland Japan has wonderful skiing and powder snow, check out some options here! You can fly there pretty cheap or catch a free Space A flight from Kadena Air Force base.
Okinawa has a typhoon season.
While a typhoon season (June- October) might sound scary, we like to think of it as our “snow days’! If the typhoon falls on a weekday, the active duty members get the work day off and you stay inside! Typically you don’t lose electricity even, most likely you’ll hear alot of wind and rain and it will pass in a day. The military goes by a warning system starting at TCCOR-4 and on up to TCCOR-1 announced on the radio and at work. The levels basically tell ya when to run to the commissary and when you must stay inside.
The Okinawans make this island a treasure.
The people and the culture here are truly what make this place special. While Okinawa is considered a part of Japan, it wasn’t always. It’s history includes a language of its own and unfortunately getting caught in the middle of World War II. The people here are warm, kind, and very friendly despite a war-torn past, a true tribute to their enduring spirit. When and if you visit Mainland Japan, (highly recommend, Kyoto, Osaka, Iwakuni & Sapporo) you will quickly realize how different Okinawa is from traditional Japan. Being on an island with gorgeous turquoise waters mixed with the American military makes for a melting pot of many cultures as well as a hotspot for tourists. English is widely spoken and the food truly reflects many of the cultures like Indian and Brazilian who’ve made this place home.
Okinawa is Japan’s Hawaii, kinda.
I was told this catchy phrase before we came and couldn’t believe how many worn down cement buildings greeted me after leaving the airport. I didn’t see Hawaii at all!? If you fly into our only airport in Naha, you will be surprised by a bustling city, complete with skyscrapers. Much of the island looks worn and weathered because it literally is, averaging 3-5 typhoons a year which takes a toll. But don’t be too quick to judge all the ugly cement buildings-those cement bunkers become your lifeline during typhoons, super essential. As you make your way North up the island you can easily make sense of the Hawaii comparisons, but the island maintains its own footprint in culture and uniqueness, pretty different than Hawaii!
Okinawa is perfect for travel throughout Asia.
If you want to see this side of the world, living in Okinawa makes it pretty easy. Flights priced in Asia are surprisingly cheap and the military gets 10 long weekends per year, giving many opportunities for a weekend to Seoul (2 hour flight) or a long holiday in Taiwan (an hour an half flight). Just to prove it to you, without being too obnoxious (hopefully), here’s all our trips all flying from Okinawa: Seoul, Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Bali, Sydney, Iwakuni, Fukuoka, Mt. Fuji, Chiang Mai, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Taipei, Singapore, and Shanghai.
What to bring.
This is difficult to plan! Without knowing wether you will live on base or off base makes things tricky and there’s no way of knowing until you get here. If you are on base, you will have a yard and I’d recommend things like kid pools, patio sets, your grill and essentially anything you can’t get amazon to ship, which is alot. If you are off base, you most likely won’t have a yard but almost all have a balcony so patio furniture might still work! Here’s what you can count on, small space living. Remember that speech I gave you earlier about mindset, here’s where that comes in….having an American mindset living in Japan doesn’t work well. Everything is smaller here, the roads, the cars, and the living space. They believe strongly in efficiency over excess! So what I can recommend is things like rugs (can’t get large ones here) storage furniture because storage is minimal as well, and big art! I would like to recommend some improvement services. Zerorez can also help you out to get your rugs done. But there’s no weight limit, I’d bring everything you can to make your place feel like home to you, including holiday decor and all your favorite things. We actually brought everything but our guest room furniture, piano, and office furniture. Anything that didn’t fit when we arrived sold easily on fb groups, things sell here like hotcakes. So don’t stress about it too much, seriously! But buy those 8×10 rugs or 6×9 rugs before you come, you’ll thank me later! And just so you know the gift shops on base give you some opportunities to buy furniture also you can always borrow government furniture from the loan locker. Here’s a tour of our home here so you can get an idea of off base, but keep in mind we lucked out with a 4 bedroom off base, super super hard to get! Also here’s some great answers from fellow spouses on what to bring:
Dehumidifier, snorkel gear, beach gear (chairs, umbrella, towels). Get the drone and the GoPro at the start of your tour instead of the end. 😆
Strollers, bassinets, picture frames, curtain rods, tools!!
Raincoat or good quality umbrella!
Kids shoes from Target!
Ball gown/formal shoes
Bigger decor pieces, clocks, dressers, lamps..
Outdoor toys for kids! Water tables, pools, playhouses, etc!
Bras selection is terrible and sandals are seriously overpriced
Bras if you are well endowed. Or just a bigger girl lol
Chick fil a sauce
Dehumidifiers, hair products!
Also be sure to join these Facebook groups for more great advice, guidance, and logistical info: Okinawa Questions, Oki Peeps, Oki Outings, Okinawa Typhoon Prep, Okinawa Pin drops, Marine Gift Shop, Kadena Gift Corner, Fleet gift shop, Okinawa Parks & Playgrounds, and Tips for Asia Travel!Let me know if you have any questions, I”m happy to help! Okinawa can be your greatest adventure yet!
Check out our Okinawa SHOP!