Kishikaisei: Long Odds & Unlikely Connections


“Kishikaisei” is a Japanese phrase which is used when someone “recovers from a hopeless situation,” for example, in sports when a loosing side snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.  Or like when a man meets not one, not two, but three Godzilla on the mean streets of Japan.

Not 1, Not 2, But THREE Godzilla!

Not 1, Not 2, But THREE Godzilla!

“It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in.  However, not every one of them is inhabited.  Any finite number divided by infinity is as near nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero.  From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely products of a deranged imagination.”  ~Douglas Adams quotes (British comic Writer, 1952-2001)

“At different states in our lives, the signs of love may vary:  dependence, attraction, contentment, worry, loyalty, grief, but at the heart, the source is always the same.  Human beings have the rare capacity to connect with each other, against all odds.” ~Unknown (sourced from ThinkExist.com).

“WATO.” ~A former Skipper in the Naval Aviation Training Command.  WATO stands for “What Are The Odds,” implying that things will happen if you keep pushing or testing them, even against the longest odds.

The Odds of a Meltdown are Supposed to be Quite Long.... Oops.

The Odds of a Meltdown are Supposed to be Quite Long…. Oops.

Although some of my friends may consider me a product of their deranged imagination – and you know who you are, I try and keep the schizophrenics in my life to a bare minimum.  Mr. Adams makes an interesting and humorous point, but being a former “math-lete” from high school and college, his underlying assumptions are flawed.  Technically speaking, his stated quotient tends towards zero as a limit since there is, in fact, a finite number of worlds, but it is not zero.  Whew.  Dodged a bullet with that whole imagination thing and actually existing and all….

I do math, therefore I am.

Oh, and nerds need love too.

Love a Nerd

Love a Nerd

As those of you who have been following my blogs may recall that one of my most cherished pieces of prose is the “Desiderata.”  It has played in central elements of my life for the last two decades now, from helping me through a painful divorce, to being the keystone of a recent memorial I penned for a departed friend, to forming the basis for my wedding vows with Jody.  I have even nicknamed my wife “Desi-D” in acknowledgement of the very meaning of the singular desideratum in Latin:  Desired Thing.

Tom Cruise Makes an Odd Yet Alluring Samurai.  Maybe the Last One....

Tom Cruise Makes an “Odd” Yet Alluring Samurai. Maybe the Last One….

The ability of humans to connect is quite amazing, no matter the odds.  Famous, timeless books, award-wining movies, the most popular songs, and the greatest emotional poetry all find some common root in at least facing, but usually overcoming all odds.  What makes The Notebook so damn good?  Love against all odds!  Okay, I’m a former mathlete who likes chick-flicks, and yes, I do own the movie.  This notion remains quite congruent with the very nature of Desiderata, which expounds that “…no doubt the universe is unfolding how it should.”  One would think in this age of massive information overload shared in mere instants anywhere across the globe, that unlikely connections would be less likely to occur.  That they happen at all should amaze and inspire each of us to contemplate the very nature of our personal lives.  We all live the greatest stories and star in the most profound roles.  We just have to see and embrace our parts.

The Odds are Exceedingly Good of Me Owning This Movie

The Odds are Exceedingly Good of Me Owning This Movie

Jody was in training this morning at the Hospital here on Okinawa where the safety briefings she was receiving included motorcycle safety.  Why this subject is covered in such a broad-brush safety overview is beyond me; very few Americans ride motorcycles on Okinawa, thanks to the US military making it such a royal pain-in-the-ass thing to do.  The opening slide of this particular section of the briefing contained a textual overlay and introduction to the subject, but had as its background, two photos.  Turns out one of the photos is me (see below).  On a motorcycle, in Okinawa, from 2005 just before I sold my bike and moved back to the states.  What are the odds?

WATO of this photo being used at Jody's new workplace?

WATO of this photo being used at Jody’s new workplace?

I have had a keychain since either 1999 or 2000 that I purchased in Okinawa my first time stationed here, but have never used…until now.  Someway, somehow, out of all the things I’ve moved (4 complete relocations since that tour:  Japan-Miami-Japan-Pensacola-Jody’s), the stuff lost in my divorce, and those items trashed, sold, or given away over the last 13+ years, this thing has not only survived, but it resurfaced in this move to Japan after being completely forgotten about and stashed away.

The Odds of a Blonde Short-Skirted Nurse in Japan are Lower than a Meltdown.

The Odds of a Blonde Short-Skirted Nurse in Japan are Lower than a Meltdown.

I probably didn’t use this back in the day as my kids were younger and my ex-wife was psychotically jealous, even of such an icon.  I really don’t know why I picked this particular image at the time, although I am a total fan of pinups and their associated fashion from bygone eras, and remain a lover of hats on women.  Plus, the Japanese anime quality of the image is so iconic for anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the wonderful and weird country.  And, without being too chauvinistic, what man doesn’t like the notion of a nurse taking care of him?  No disrespect to nurses or the nursing profession, mind you.  At the time, there was no nurse or nursing in my life.  But there is now.  In fact, I often introduce my wife as “…the prettiest nurse in the Navy,” something she no longer embarrasses over.  And now this keychain serves, proudly, as the keeper of my keys here on Okinawa.

Now, if I could only get Jody to wear one of those hats….

The Odds of Godzilla Risking Spilling His Beer in an Attack?  Infinitely Low....

The Odds of Godzilla Risking Spilling His Beer in an Attack? Infinitely Low….

And finally, just before we relocated to Okinawa, Jody’s command was throwing a formal military event called a “Dinning Out.”  This event, as a military function, required of course the males to wear uniforms; traditionally for evening formals, females in uniform are given the option of even gown or dress uniform, much to my happiness.  The formal uniforms, generally called “Mess Dress,” are not often worn, and usually those that just frantically purchased them have many questions and concerns about how to wear one properly.  When Jody’s coworkers were googling “Navy officer mess dress,” guess what comes up as one of the top results?  See below….  Don’t ask me why they weren’t reading the Navy’s uniform regulations.  Google is way too full of bad gouge….

Google has made me a Navy Uniform Reference

Google has made me a Navy Uniform Reference

These connections which appear from time-to-time in our lives, much too often to be attributable to mere chance, are a tangible illustration that we are not that far removed from one another as we may seem.  It hints, strongly given the long odds of such occurrences at all, that there is more to the universe than simply matter and energy.  That while all of its systems large and small may continually tend to disorder (the Law of Entropy, more correctly the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – remember, I am a nerd), it is in such uniquely human connections that we can start to find order in the chaos, and we can take some measure of comfort that the universe is, indeed, unfolding how it should.

The Odds are Good that you'd find a Japanese Woman still wearing this Bikini

The Odds are Good that you’d find a Japanese Woman still wearing this “Bikini”

What are the odds?  Indeed.  Sometimes they don’t matter.

Real Airplane?  The Odds would Emphatically State:  NO

Real Airplane Paint Scheme? The Odds would Emphatically State: NO

Okinawa Newcomer Survival Guide


Okay, My Guide is Not Quite This Good....

Okay, My Guide is Not Quite This Good….

“Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.” ~W. Edwards Deming

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” ~Charles Darwin

We’ve now been on Okinawa for just over ten full days, the first mark of any significance to the military.  What mark, you may ask?  Ten days is all you get – automatically – for Temporary Living Allowance (TLA), monies that pay for temporary lodging, which can be extended out to thirty, but only upon asking and with proof of a good-faith effort in finding housing (off-base) or awaiting a housing offer or home to be made available (on-base).  I won’t go into too many Service-specific tidbits of advice here, because the Services are all annoyingly different…even though…we are on the same side…serve the same side…in military branches that all fall under the same Federal Department…with only one Commander-in-Chief…and are funded by US taxpayer dollars.  It’s the epitome of duplication of effort and non-value-added effort to watch distinctly parallel yet vastly divergent processes and programs that must be navigated, only to result in the exact same end-state.  While arguments can (and are) made as to why the services are so unlike, none really are pragmatic enough to stand up against even the least application of Lean principles, let alone logic in reducing waste (time, gas, money, staffing), while serving the customer.

It's Not this Bad, But Keep Calm and Hold On!

It’s Not this Bad, But Keep Calm and Hold On!

But don’t expect to be treated like a customer in the military-machine here!

Customer Service?  Hard to find in the Okinawa Military-Industrial Complex

Customer Service? Hard to find in the Okinawa Military-Industrial Complex

There are actually a fair number of people here who are really very helpful.  In any case, here is a few of the more salient points for helping YOU to survive your arrival and initial time on the island.

Cash-Cash-Cash! – money talks, but it doesn’t walk here.  That takes you, and it requires a lot more walking than back home in the states.  Although the Okinawan economy is MUCH better about credit cards than 15 years ago, it is still, compared to the US, archaic when it comes to electronic bill-paying.  Additionally, you should expect a cash outlay of 12-15K USD if you are required to live off-base, adjusted for your individual rank and number of dependents (the range given is for an O-4 with a single dependent renting at their cap).  Costs making up in this range are (at the high end):

  • Rental Agency Fee (1/2 month’s rent):  $1,290
  • Rental Security Deposit (month’s rent):  $2,580
  • Pet/Utility Deposits (gas, water, electrical):  $200-$400
  • Rent (prorated for current month + first full month):  $2,750
  • Purchasing 2 Cars (title transfer, car cost, insurance):  $8,000
Don't Call this Number - I think it's for Korea!

Don’t Call this Number – I think it’s for Korea!

Japanese companies here cannot cash American checks; many companies do not offer direct electronic billing or payment options, including EFT.  Most people are likewise limited in the amount of daily ATM withdrawals, which instantly limits your access to cash; be ready with mobile banking to help clear checks you write on-base to private parties (e.g., for car purchases), and bring voided checks/deposit slips to set up electronic bill paying service through two services offered on-island:  G.I. Bill Pay, and Easy Pay.  Or, as a further option, open up a local checking/savings account to assist in local banking involving large sums of cash/yen.  The bases here offer branches of Community Bank (owned & operated by Nations Bank) and NFCU.

Wheels = Freedom.  Purchasing cars, costs of which include purchase price, road taxes, title transfer fees, and liability insurance, requires about half your cash outlay.  Purchasing a car off-base will allow you to finance your vehicle, which may help with cash deficits if you are short.  Purchasing on-base through private sales vary depending upon terms; in our case, one individual traded his vehicle for a personal check, while the other wanted the check deposited/cleared (via mobile banking, USAA to be specific) prior to exchange of property.  The title transfer, liability insurance and other fees in taking ownership are done in Yen cash only, and run between $275-$400 depending on the engine size of the vehicle in question.

Typical Lemon-Lot Car Advertisement.  Cold AC?  Of course (wink)!

Typical Lemon-Lot Car Advertisement. Cold AC? Of course (wink)!

The easiest way to transfer vehicle registration & title is through Camp Foster, where vehicle registration AND an insurance company are co-located.  First, visit the base registration center for title transfer authorization, then walk next door to the auto-port where a title/insurance company actually conducts the transfer of title, JCI insurance, and road tax, and offers personal liability insurance as well (this should be purchased to limit your exposure while overseas; SOFA status offer little to no protection in serious vehicular accidents).  After this process, you must proceed back next door to vehicle registration for completion of paperwork.  The actual new title takes a week or so to come in, and you will have to return to pick up when ready.  This whole process takes about 45 minutes if there is no wait or line; however, do not go at lunchtime; early morning works best.  Note registration opens at 0730 but the Insurance/Title companies generally start 0800, but it’s still best to be early and first in line.  Before PCSing, request a “no claim/safe driver letter” from your insurance company (if you qualify) showing a clean driving record for the last three years and you get a 10% savings on insurance.  Road Tax for your vehicle is based on engine size, and must be paid every year in May; however, you can do so early to avoid long lines on-base.  JCI, the Japanese Compulsory Inspection for all vehicles, is required every two years, and can be conducted either on-base (Camp Foster), or with mechanics out in town qualified to do so.  Plan on spending a minimum of $400 for passing the JCI; putting lipstick on your pig will not work in Okinawa!

The base/Japanese SOFA driver’s test is administered by Camp Foster Safety, and is given at 8 and 10 am.  This is a test you must study for (not hard, mind you, but specific enough to really screw you over if you are unfamiliar), so be sure to get the driver’s handbook and read a couple of times on the flight over.  The test is also given at the conclusion of the Newcomer Orientation on Wednesdays, but this will add about two hours to an already long…and boring…day.  Take the test earlier in the week and your license will be ready on Wednesday.  Remember, your wheels, like at home, equal your freedom.  Public transportation is very weak throughout the island, and almost absent on-base.  There are no trains or subways in Okinawa.  Taxis, however, are plentiful and very professional, although at some cost.

Rental Cars cannot be rented if ordered to Okinawa or on SOFA status; only people on leave or TAD/TDY can rent vehicles (why, I have no idea), but believe me, the car rental agency doesn’t ask, and this policy is not clearly stated, at least for Navy personnel (not in orders), and there’s only a very small sign at rental desk that’s easy to miss where one could argue plausible deniability.  Car rental requires only an international driver’s license (get at AAA for $15) with valid state license; it does NOT require a SOFA driver’s license.  The cars are pricey, but the optional insurance is cheap; remember, life on the island is very hard until you have wheels – transportation should be a first priority on-island.  Don’t ask me how I know all this; renting a vehicle could be against military policy, punishable by the UCMJ for active duty personnel, and administratively handled as “misconduct” if committed by dependents.

The Suzuki Splash is an Awesome Rental Car...that I didn't rent....

The Suzuki Splash is an Awesome Rental Car…that I didn’t rent….

Government Provided Furniture.  Your furniture entitlement is based on JFTR weight allowance specified in your orders; if you on full JFTR, you only get furniture loaned and on a not-to-exceed 90 days basis.  If you are on reduced JFTR, you get loaner furniture for the duration of your tour.  However, some important points to remember:  the items and numbers allocated is not based on bedroom entitlement (which is a function of rank and number and age of dependents), but on dependents alone.  For example, we as a couple with no kids are entitled to a three bedroom dwelling at my sponsor’s rank, but we only get a single bedroom of furniture since we have no children.  Be Advised:  only full-sized beds are provided (except to “senior personnel”), so seriously plan on bringing your own bed if you are like us, two grown American-sized adults.  And finally, and perhaps most significantly, SINGLE OR UNACCOMPANIED get no furniture provided, on or off-base, even if on reduced JTFR, which includes most Navy/Marines members.  This can really screw you over if you aren’t aware, which a coworker of ours was this past week.  A good thing to remember is to have your full allotment of government furniture delivered to your residence as you are allowed a one-time free pickup of items you do not wish in the first 90 days.  There is a Family Readiness Center on Kadena Air Base (near the Housing office) that may be able to offer smaller (but no less essential) non-issued items (e.g., dishes, microwave) while awaiting your express shipment.  The government does not supply microwaves; bring your own!

She Doesn't Work at Housing

She Doesn’t Work at Housing

Housing.  Apply online prior to arrival on-island to allow for quick determination if you will live on or off-base.  The decision is based on occupancy rates of zoned living areas bounced off your entitlement (based on rank and number and age of dependents).  The island is under a mandatory on-base housing policy called “live where you work,” unless housing rates for your zoned workplace or zoned housing area adjacent are at 98% occupancy or better.  There are two briefs to receive at housing:  general housing centered for those residing on-base, followed by an off-base housing brief.  Arrive before August or as early in August as possible for the best off-base housing selection; PCS-season ends the 2nd or 3rd week in August and pickings are highly reduced the later in August you look.

Advanced Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) / Move-In Housing Allowance (MIHA) processing can start as soon as you have authorization to live off-base – make this appointment (with Housing) early since often it can take 1-2 weeks even to see get in to see a counselor.  Getting these monies flowing can really help with your initial cash outlays required on-island.  However, OHA/MIHA requires command approval and endorsement, which can take up to 3 days depending on service.  As an important point, MIHA reimburses you for the Agency Fee paid to lease off-base property.

On-base housing may be offered in 1-3 weeks, but your home may not be ready for up to 7-8 weeks even after getting an offer due to sequestration and reduced maintenance staff.  Dehumidifiers are a must on-base since AC is provided by chilled water and such systems do a very poor job of removing excess humidity, which averages 70-80%.  Note that the age and sex of your children determines whether they will share a bedroom; this may result in a modified entitlement mid-tour as your children age or you have additions to your family, for which the military will move you.  A current pregnancy is not counted into entitlement determination.

Internet (Off-Base).  The island is almost fully wired with very high speed fiber optics that truly kicks butt, with the fiber backbone provided by NTT, who utilizes various localized internet service providers (Sunny-net, Global, NTT).  Regardless of ISP, all must pay NTT a standard fee as the fiber middleman, which makes all the ISPs more or less comparable with one-another in terms of capability and pricing.  The speed & type of fiber optic depends on your actual dwelling address; many (older) apartment buildings have not been upgraded to the latest fiber, but homes and smaller duplexes can get the fastest 1 GbPS download capability.  In our case, we are “limited” in our building to 100 MbPS.  These numbers are orders of magnitude faster than ADSL in the states; a 2 hour movie downloads in less than 5 minutes.  Request an American IP address for a slight extra monthly fee (~$11/month), which can help avoid numerous internet hassles.

The Japanese Treated Cleo Very Well

The Japanese Treated Cleo Very Well

Pets.  I have blogged previously about getting your pets ready to PCS with you overseas (look here, “Feline Fiasco”).   Some additional notes of consideration are provided here.

We traveled commercial (see below on how we managed that!), but since we were traveling with a cat, our ticket purchase required the pre-approval of the airport, which happened to be Narita (Tokyo).  This took a few days, and was handled by the Japanese airline we were booking with, and had us on pins and needles until okayed.

Our cat leaving the states could not fly in the aircraft belly, which required a soft-carrier under the seat.  If this is your situation, see about purchasing “Economy Plus” if available for the trans-Pacific flight, which provides something like five extra inches of leg room – it’s well worth the money.  However, our pet was then required by ANA (All Nippon Airways) to fly in the cargo hold from Tokyo to Okinawa, so our strategy was to have an airlines-approved hard-case carrier, broken down and stowed in one of our large suitcases.  We then assembled he hard crate (plastic) in Tokyo after clearing animal import and customs.

Okinawa is severely limited in “pet-friendly TLF rooms” – only ten (10) are available, which obviously requires very early reservation.  There rooms are only on Kadena; if you are arriving with school-aged children, consider boarding your pet(s) so that you can stay at a TLF on the base/area where you expect to live.  In this way you can register your child for the correct school, and avoid a school change once more permanent housing is assigned or found.

Pets are required to be seen at the Kadena vet for paperwork verification, records creation, and a wellness check.  These are conducted via walk-in only and took us about an hour just after lunch when they reopen for business.  Be advised that the Japanese government requires yearly rabies vaccines even though such vaccines are good for three years back home.  These shots are provided on-base for a nominal fee (~$15).

Shopping for a Home - Be Persistent...and Patient

Shopping for a Home – Be Persistent…and Patient

Leasing Property Off-Base.  Housing will inform you if you are to reside on or off-base.  If pushed off-base due to housing non-availability, you will be given an authorization letter/memo as proof for rental agencies and other uses.  There are a whole host of property management and real estate agencies to choose from.  Call many, if not all of them!

Property listings on Okinawa work completely different than they do back home.  For starters, difference agencies “own” different properties, and while some may share listings and show for each other, this is not often and there is nothing equivalent or even close to our MLS system in the states.  For instance, individual apartments in the same building could all be controlled/managed by different companies, at different rents.  The housing availability listing provided by the base Housing office is at your in-brief, is, on the day it’s printed, woefully out-of-date.  It is better to go directly with the individual agencies to check current real-time availability of housing.  The agency’s own websites are little better (in my opinion); some appear to be updated only on a weekly basis.  This can make your housing search very frustrating, and you will most likely burn a LOT of time online only to find the homes you find no longer available.

Additionally, the agencies do not project into the future to let you know what will be becoming available; they show move-in ready homes.  In fact, it is odd that there is no future tense to their thinking.  However, be advised that all properties must have a current housing inspection on file, and initial clearance, and then required every five years.  Again, due to shortfalls in summer hires and furlough days, inspections are backed up, and can take 1-2 months to schedule and successfully complete.

The “PCS Season” will have everything to do with off-base housing availability.  The quantity starts to drop in early August, while the quality drops at a much steeper rate.  By the 3rd week in August, the military moving season is coming to a close, and pickings are much more sparse than that in July.  If your report date is in August, I recommend you get on-island in late July or as early in August as possible to ensure the best possible selection of housing.  This also helps avoid major issues in registering your children for the (right) school and (correct) off-base bus route and pickup point; school on-island starts the 3rd week of August.

"Circuitous Travel:"  Avoiding AMC

“Circuitous Travel:” Avoiding AMC

Circuitous Travel.  We experienced MAJOR issues with AMC flight arrangements (see “Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms”).  You may request “Circuitous Travel” from your Service, which allows YOU to make your flight arrangements, however you see fit.  This type of travel is generally intended for those taking leave en route, and allows for routing other than what AMC would require.  However, your Service must approve, AND, you will only be reimbursed up to the cost of what it would cost the government to fly you to Okinawa using whatever mode/means of travel is the cheapest (not most direct).  Although you are still required to make travel arrangements through the government travel agency in circuitous travel, you will be purchasing tickets on your own personal credit card (including a fee paid to the travel agency of $30/ticket), and will carry the balances until reimbursed.  Reimbursement requires a paid receipt(s) showing zero balance and can only be provided once you are at your destination command.

Mail.  Your sponsor should be able to set-up your PO Box well prior to arrival (30-60 days).  However, to get keys (we were only issued one), you must have and show your orders.  It is best to have your ORIGINAL orders for all appointments just to be safe; some locations (such as the Housing Office) will only accept originals for processing.

You Will Survive - and Cherish Keystone Okinawa

You Will Survive – and Cherish Keystone Okinawa

Getting Settled.  Please do yourself a favor and don’t schedule work-related things for at least a week (if residing on-base), and 2+ weeks if you find yourself having to secure lodgings out in town.  Your priority needs to be getting you and your family established on-island; you literally aren’t that important to the continuity of operations of the US military and your unit will be okay without you.  I promise.  I cannot stress this enough….

Cell Phones.  There are various providers on-island, and they all offer comparable services.  Our choice was driven by what worked well in the new Navy Hospital (Soft Bank), coupled with availability of iPhones.  The iPhones here tend to be cheaper than other smart phones (e.g., Razors), and “fives” are available…and pretty ding-dang nifty.  The GPS feature actually works, which will be a god-send for those of you not familiar with Okinawa.  There are a plethora of plans that are genuinely hard to understand, especially when explained in broken English; if there are unlimited plans like in the states, they are VERY expensive here (I didn’t see any).  In general terms, it’s free to receive calls/texts; however, when calling or texting another company’s phones/services, you are paying for those transmissions (think back to the old Ma’Bell days).  At the end of the day, we will be paying about 10-15% more for comparable service, but with a cooler phone…that allows Facetime (for free) to those in the states with iPhones/iPads.

Download an App called “Pinger” and you can get a US phone number, which allows you to text back home for free, AND, for those in the States to call and text you for free.  It’s a great service, and did I mention that it’s FREE?!?

I don't know what this is, but it's cool and "Are You Read?"

I don’t know what this is, but it’s cool and “Are You Read?”

Miscellaneous. 

For you Civilians and Dependents:  don’t forget to request and pick up your dental records from your civilian dentist prior to departure!

Caring…Mom


Keep Calm & Love a Sailor.  Oh, and mail a care package!!

Keep Calm & Love a Sailor. Oh, and mail a care package!!

“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.” ~Maya Angelou

CARE Package:  The CARE Package was the original unit of aid distributed by the humanitarian organization CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere).  Although “CARE Package” is a registered trademark, the term has become widely adopted as a generic term for a parcel of food or supplies sent for relief or comfort purposes.

Goodies from Home

Goodies from Home, Courtesy of Mom

Mission Accomplished, For Real this Time

Mission Accomplished, For Real this Time

Thanks Mom, for our first care package received in Okinawa!  It actually got to Japanese customs on the 17th, and after mailing from the states only on the 12th, I’d say that was fantastic service.  As much as many Americans may speak poorly about the USPS, having traveled extensively on 5 continents, I can proudly and assuredly say that we in the United States have the best postal system on the planet…for the cost paid.  The package was waiting for us by the time we got our keys and finally around to our PO Box to pick up mail, so, in the infamous words of Bush, “Mission Accomplished,” but for real, this time.

Still the Best Dang Postal System on the Planet

Still the Best Dang Postal System on the Planet

In 1945, the newly-formed CARE organization initiated a program to send food relief to Europe, where large numbers of people were at serious risk of starvation in the devastating wake of World War II.  The organization obtained permission from the US government to send army surplus “10-in-1” food parcels to Europe.  The “10-in-1” parcels were also prepared for the planned (but never carried out) invasion of Japan, and delivered later throughout Asia and the Pacific.  Americans were given the opportunity to purchase a CARE Package for $10USD to send to friends or relatives overseas, where packages were guaranteed to arrive within four months.  Even when a donor did not know an address of a beneficiary, CARE would do everything possible to find that person using the last address known and network of contacts and distribution centers abroad.  The CARE package in that way became a “missing person” service in the chaos following World War II.

Care-ful Far East Fling Welcoming

Care-ful Far East Fling Welcoming

Customs are an Artifact of Plentifulness

Customs are an Artifact of Plentifulness

Customs is so Customarily Pleasant...and Intrusive.

Customs is so Customarily Pleasant…and Intrusive.

However, in more modern times, we have domestic customs with which to deal on the international stage.  Administrative burdens seem to become the rule and standard, you know, when your population is no longer starving and in dire need from abroad.  The customs and military officials on Okinawa are nice enough people though to leave this note and all, a step up from our friends at the TSA.  Oh, and they did a bang-up job re-taping the box.  Mom, good stuff to know if case you’re planning on sending any contraband, like say weapons, or even more frightening and dangerous, Minnesota vowels.

The Dreaded Minnesota Pronunciation Plague

The Dreaded Minnesota Pronunciation Plague

Care Package Contents circa 1948 (European)

Care Package Contents circa 1948 (European)

The contents of a CARE Package in the 1940s is approximated by:

1 lb beef in broth

1 lb steak and kidneys

8 oz liver loaf

8 oz corned beef

12 oz luncheon loaf (like Spam)

8 oz bacon

2 lbs margarine

1 lb lard

1 lb fruit preserves

1 lb honey

1 lb raisins

1 lb chocolate

2 lbs sugar

8 oz egg powder

2 lbs whole-milk powder

2 lbs coffee

cupofjoe2First thing I did actually was have a “Cup-o-Joe.”  And for those not in the know, this term originated in the Navy as a slang and rather unflattering reference to Secretary of the Navy “Joe” Josephus Daniels, who decided to ban liquor aboard ships on November 24, 1913.  As added trivia, traditional Navy coffee is in fact brewed very strong, with up to 3 times the amount of more standard measures of grounds, while a pinch of salt is often added to reduce the acidity of the brew….

Those who have never traveled far, far away from home cannot truly understand how substantial of an impact and boost in morale come from the simple act of receiving mail, let alone getting a gaggle of goodies to enjoy.  Tastes, trinkets and memories of home can help to renew a spirit that can become mired, lost and confused in its wanderings through a distant, unfamiliar foreign land.

In our case, we have replaced the rather lame coffee pot in our room with the kick-ass hot pot, courtesy of Mom.  Jody says thanks for the coffee, AGAIN (she hates coffee and wishes to remind her mother about a past coffee machine gift – wink).  Nah, Jody got some stress-reducing chamomile tea, perfect for the tense daze these days getting settled on the island.  And, no worries Mom, electrical appliances from America do work in Japan, although off-base appliances that heat or cook do so a little slower since the electrical standard here is 100VAC vice America’s 110VAC.  When it comes to electricity, size matters, even 10%, regardless of what anyone might say on the subject!

CARE packet contents were also adapted for different cultural diets as well as non-food items including tools, blankets, school supplies, and medicine as needed and most appropriate.  Later in the 1940s, the program was expanded throughout Asia, recognizing the vast need there as well once Europe become more stabilized.

Asian Child Care

Asian Child Care

Those of you that have friends or relatives overseas, irrespective of why they may be there, in service of their country or not, would deeply value such a taste of home.  But what they would cherish and embrace is the thought and love put behind the deed of assembling and sending care from such distance.  If you have ever thought- about-that-care-package-that-you’ve-always-meant-to-send-but-just-never-got-around-to-it, now’s your chance.

Generous Good Looks

Generous Good Looks

Just do it.  Even though your loved ones aren’t literally starving as back in the day, they are in a very real sense starved for home.  In bringing Home to their homes, where ever they may be, you have truly succeeded in caring…from afar.  Thank you, Mom.

Elvis is My Navy Callsign

Elvis is My Navy Callsign

Banzai!!!


Banzai!!

The Last Banzai

Banzai:  a traditional Japanese exclamation meaning “ten thousand years,” shortened from a more involved cry to the Emperor of Japan, Tenno Heika Banzai” (天皇陛下萬歲, “Long live the Emperor”).

Emperor Hirohito, World War II Era

Emperor Hirohito, World War II Era

“Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

These last two weeks have been very spiritual in atmosphere and experience for me.  The untimely passing of a close friend and brother skydiver, necessitating such a permanent goodbye on top of an already tough sayonara to my friends and family, has had me reaching both inside and out for a reconnection with a more spiritual dimension of life.  While I cannot attest (nor do I want to) that I am a man of any particular denominational faith, I remain a being of faith…that there is something more that binds us in our shared human experience, which allows us to live on in some form or fashion across epoch and cosmos.  Crudely stated, for me personally, perhaps the best evidence for any god can be found in the unpretentious and pure love of a cat.  Love, in fact, may be the only evidence of a higher power that remains tangible for most, visible to all.

Cleo Loves Me.  Or at Least My Feet.

Cleo Loves Me. Or at Least My Feet.

I was struck at my friend Jimmy’s memorial how much the service, at the Church and at the graveside, centered on the Christian God and in assisting Jimmy in finding salvation through his system of beliefs.  Jim was a devout Catholic, and no matter what is stated here, I wish to take nothing from his faith, something he held so dear.  But the lack of focus, comment, or even celebration of “Jimmy” left me feeling empty and at odds with myself – and the services.  The goodbye that most Western faiths offer is too final, or only offers a “see ya on the other side” where one is expected to wait until their own demise to once again be reunited with departed loved-ones.

I used to think that funerals were quite pedestrian, almost unnecessary.  Until I started to lose friends and shipmates in the Navy, and over time I realized that such services really do not serve the dead any purpose whatsoever, but are for the living.  What “the living” want and need out of such rituals varies, but I believe at a common denominator, they all should assist those still in the realm of life to connect, even if for a moment, with the ether of the dead.

Prayer and Spirituality

Prayer and Spirituality

But what is wrong with conversing with the spiritual world now?  If there is such a dimension, ought there be something more between it and us than simply outwaiting time for death to arrive and reunify?  Certainly I’m not the only one to think so; why else would we visit graves, leave mementos, and converse with the dead so often and for so long?  However, such facets of western faith are not formally recognized (in my experienced) nor practiced (well), and certainly not embraced as a public holiday or part and parcel of American culture.

Then Jody and I relocate to Okinawa.  Amidst the bustle and hustle of our international move, fraught with having to secure off-base housing on the economy, purchasing, registering and insuring two vehicles, and getting Jody checked into work and me checked into the military’s machine here on-island, we arrive exactly at one of the most spiritual times for the Okinawans:  Obon.

Obon in Japan, an Ancestral Family Reunion

Obon in Japan, an Ancestral Family Reunion

Obon (お盆) or just Bon (盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors.  There to be two main types of religion or spiritual tradition in Japan:  Shinto and Buddhism.  While mainland (Honshu) Japan is more Shinto in many areas, Okinawa retains a large Buddhist community, reflecting roots which run deep and long with Korea and China.  This Buddhist-Confucian custom here has evolved into a family-reunion of sorts, and is now a Prefecture (a geographical region akin to a state) holiday during which Okinawans return to ancestral family dwellings after visiting and cleaning family gravesites, after which whose spirits are invited to revisit “home” and reunite with the living.  It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori, which in (and only in) Okinawa is more specifically called Eisa.

Eisa Dance, a Uniquely Okinawan Spiritual Tradition

Eisa Dance, a Uniquely Okinawan Spiritual Tradition

The festival of Obon lasts for three days, but is celebrated at differing times in Japan depending upon where one resides.  When the lunar calendar, used by the Japanese in more ancient times, was changed to the Gregorian calendar at the beginning of the Meiji era (early 20th century), some localities refused to change their spiritual observances, resulting in three different times of Obon. “Shichigatsu Bon” (Bon in July) is based on the solar calendar and is celebrated around the 15th of July in eastern Japan, such as the Kantō region, including Tokyo, Yokohama and the Tohoku areas.  “Hachigatsu Bon” (Bon in August), the most common observance of Bon, is based on the lunar calendar and is celebrated around the 15th of August.  “Kyu Bon” (Old Bon) is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and so this observance differs each year.  “Kyu Bon” is celebrated in areas like the northern part of the Kantō region, Chūgoku region, Shikoku, and the Okinawa Prefecture.  In Okinawa, the third day of Bon is a holiday and most businesses are closed mid-week.

Eisa Dancers Guide Spirits in Okinawa

Eisa Dancers Guide Spirits in Okinawa

We arrived on-island on the 16th of August, and just this past week Bon was celebrated here from the 19th through the 21st of August.  At night, just after sundown, you could hear throughout the adjoining neighborhoods the traditional music, drums, and whistling which accompany the celebration of Bon and the performance of Eisa.  During the day gravesites were refreshed and traffic was heavy as families traveled the island to share this special time at childhood homes.

Eisā (エイサー) is a form of Okinawan folk dance originally derived from Bon celebrations.  This dance is performed by the younger people of each community during the Bon festival to honor the spirits of their ancestors, but it certainly doesn’t exclude the older generations, usually seen playing the traditional Okinawa instruments.  It is a vital part both of Bon on Okinawan, being intricately woven into the very cultural fabric here, designed to embrace and guide good spirits, while keeping unmentionables at bay.

Traditional Okinawan Family Tombs

Traditional Okinawan Family Tombs

Days before Obon begins, many families gather to clean their ancestors’ graves to help demonstrate to the spiritual world that all will soon be able to share time in the land of the living.

More Modern Okinawan Tomb Equivalents

More Modern Okinawan Tomb Equivalents

On the first day of Obon known as “unkeh,” chochin lanterns are lit inside houses, and people go to their family’s grave to call their ancestors’ spirits back home (“mukae-bon”).  In some regions, fires called “mukae-bi” are lit at the entrances of houses to help guide the spirits home, brightening up doorways across the island as the living stand in front of their homes to help greet spirits as darkness descends.  Homes are cleaned, and a variety of food offerings are placed at a butsudan

Obon Ancestral Alter

Obon Ancestral Alter

(Buddhist altar) along with the chochin lanterns and colorful and fresh flower arrangements.  In Okinawa, a bundle of 13 short pieces of sugar cane and a long, uncut cane are also placed on the side of the altar; while most offerings of food are made in pairs or in a package, the countable foods like the sugar cane are always given in odd-number increments.  The long piece is said to be used as a walking stick by the spirits as they leave the house and return to their tombs.  That evening, families dine on a porridge-like meal known as “jushi,” offered to and shared with the spirits of their deceased relatives.

Spiritual Nightlight:  Chochin Lantern with Family Crest

Spiritual Nightlight: Chochin Lantern with Family Crest

During the second night (“nakabi”), ancestors are offered three meals.  The day is dedicated to family members visiting with relatives and apologizing to their ancestors for not communicating for so long (read:  CALL YOUR MOMMA).  They pray for forgiveness and offer additional gifts to the spirits.

Okinawan Spiritual Connection:  Prayer & Thanks

Okinawan Spiritual Connection: Prayer & Thanks

The third and final day of Bon (“ukui”), the climax of the family reunification, centers on a farewell dinner which is carefully prepared and placed before the butsudan into a special box called the “jyubako” as a final offering for the spirits, along with sake, tea and other special foods.  The family also prepares the “minnuku,” a special meal made of grass or scraps of

Jyubako Box, Sustainment for the Dead

Jyubako Box, Sustainment for the Dead

food that can be offered to any bad spirits or homeless, wandering spirits which the ancestors might meet on their journey back to the tomb.  To ensure that the spirits will have no needs as they cross back over into the spiritual world, “uchikabi,” money made of paper and stamped with the shape of a coin by a hammer and iron mold is placed on the jyubako.  The entire family – living and dead – comes together in front of the butsudan as the meal is prepared, and incense is burned while the family gives thanks for their good health and prays for the safety, happiness, and prosperity of the family in the year to come.

Spiritual Debt:  Paying the Ferryman

Spiritual Debt: Paying the Ferryman

After the meal, men sing and play a banjo-like instrument made of snakeskin, called the “samisen.”  Just before midnight the ancestral spirits are bid a fond farewell and the paper money is burned by the head of the family and his sons.  They douse the ashes with tea and sake, and place the souvenir foods and the minnuku.  A final pray is made to help ensure the spirits’ safe return to their tomb, and that they will again come back again and visit in the following year.  Family members help return their ancestor’s spirits back to the grave, hanging chochin painted with the family crest to guide the spirits back to their resting places (“okuri-bon”).  In some regions, fires called okuri-bi are lit at entrances of houses to assist in sending back their ancestors’ spirits.  During Obon, the smell of senko incense fills Japanese houses and cemeteries.

Spiritual Flight:  Japanese Crane with Obon Banner

Spiritual Flight: Japanese Crane with Obon Banner

The idea of formal, celebrated, and embraced spiritual reunifications with ancestral familial members has refreshed my feelings about death, loss, and my own spirituality.  I believe we all could do well by taking part of a week each year to not just lament loss in our families or of our friends, or even to celebrate their lives past, but rather take three days to invite those we love back into not just our homes, but into our lives, in celebration of all that was, is, and remains to be.  It is in embracing and inviting such spirituality into our ordinary lives that connects us through time and space, not simply via funerary mass.

Party On:  Spiritual Honor & Celebration

Party On: Spiritual Honor & Celebration

While Jimmy got the sendoff he expected and deserved, and most were able to say a tearful “goodbye,” I choose not to idly wait to “see” him again.  Rather, during Bon next year here in Okinawa, Jimmy, along with my own ancestry, will be welcomed into my life again to be reacquainted and celebrated.  Just don’t tell Jody; most shishi dogs already freak her out (wink)!

Banzai, Jimmy!!

Banzai, Uncle Bob!!

Banzai, Mom!!

It is in this way we all may live for ten thousand years!

What Many Americans Probably Think of Banzai!

What Many Americans Probably Think of Banzai!

PS – thanks to a fellow blogger Maki Photography for use of some wonderful images!

Charmed


A Charming Example of "Lost in Translation." There is no "L" sound in Japanese....

A Charming Example of “Lost in Translation.” There is no “L” sound in Japanese….

“I bear a charmed life.” ~William Shakespeare

“Charm, in most men and nearly all women, is a decoration.” ~E. M. Forster

“The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.” ~Aldous Huxley

I believe what Mr. Huxley, a famous English author, is attempting much too hard to state elegantly in the Queen’s English is quite simply that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  This is no less true in Okinawa…where charm is most unquestionably beyond mere decoration.

While at first I was, I must admit, quite shocked at some of the more obvious changes on Okinawa, I very quickly realized that the more charming elements of my stored memory were quite superficial, and not fully accurate – as are most memories.  Slowly, day-by-day, I am rediscovering the charmed life that still exists on this wonderful island.  Given a full week has gone by, and although I remain sleep-deprived from a sleep schedule turned upside-down, I thought it high time to capture (if not recapture) and share some of the more prominent and emotional corners of the culture that make this locale so exceptional.

Musical & Happy Garbage Truck

Musical & Happy Garbage Truck

Just today Jody got introduced to the Okinawan version of that all-American by-gone delicacy, the neighborhood ice cream man.  Except here what sounds the ice cream man is actually the garbage truck making its neighborhood rounds.  In Japan, everything can be cute and pleasant, including leftover, two-day old fermenting sushi.

The USO near Kadena Air Base “Gate 2” has changed dramatically.  The place we divers used to congregate for post-dive celebrations of taco-rice cooked and served in a basic mom & pop diner-like atmosphere is gone, replaced by a “Chili’s Too,” an eatery like any one would expect to find in American.  Except we are not in America…here.  And chain restaurants certainly lack charm…and individuality.  However, in full fairness, the food there is pretty dang good though (wink)!

Construction Worker Wear, Slightly Stylized

Construction Worker Wear, Slightly Stylized

Construction workers in Japan dress in what I like to call “work pajamas,” a distant cousin to the flight suits I used to wear daily in the Navy.  Literally, they are comprised of large, baggy pants, like the worst parachute pants from the 80s you can conjure.  Long sleeved, loose fitting shirts for protection from the sun.  And toe-shoes, or something very similar, but probably worn here for millennia before being introduced to the New World.  The only OSHA recognizable-attire is a hardhat (same ‘round the world) and a high visibility vest, although the Okinawan version is much more like very colorful and reflective suspenders, which are lit at night via high-visibility and flashing LEDs.

BX Rendering; it's not this utopia....

BX Rendering; it’s not this utopic….

The Base Exchange (BX, or PX for you Army types), has been razed and renewed, into a monstrosity that words cannot adequately describe.  Gone are the distinctive local vendors and unique side-shops full of mood lighting and strange but alluring smells.  Replaced by a 2-story sanitized structure much too brightly lit and tiled completely in an unnatural white.  The food court is shaped as in the curve of a sickle, where the food choices surely help expand waistlines and keep Death in good business…but certainly not in good company (think ill-behaved children rift with bad parenting, or is that vice-versa?).  The main store is now on the 2nd story, which makes little sense to me.  God forbid you purchase something large or heavy!  This requires, of course, extra conveyors (up & down) for shopping carts, since wheels don’t do well on stairs…and neither to the children/parent combo previously mentioned.  And, to top it all off, there is about 50% too much ‘stuff’ crammed into about 90% of the store’s floor-plan, so operating those elevated shopping carts is near-impossible.  And for the love of god, don’t dare go shopping the week prior to the start of school.

Female Shishi (Shisa) Dog

Female Shishi (Shisa) Dog; her mouth should be open (wink)

Shishi (Shisha) dogs are still ubiquitous, although they are no longer utilized or placed on most new construction, at least that construction targeted at the American westerner.  I find ancient cultures’ continuing connection with their spiritual roots and a dimension of life unseen but sensed a refreshing relief from what I would considered a much more politicized and convenient dogmas in the West.  Here, be careful; karma may run over dogma.

My Friend Mayumi on the Old Sunabe Seawell

My Friend Mayumi on the Old Sunabe Seawell

The Sunabe Seawall has all but been completely rebuilt.  The new structure is fantastic; much more pedestrian friendly and scenic, and certainly it offers a good deal more protection from the dangers of the sea and surf.  But, lost is its signature graffiti, a tradition in Okinawa all across the island.  In Okinawa, graffiti art is just that – an artful expressive of creativity, voice, viewpoint, creed, or just general commentary on subjects ranging from love and friendship, to alien races, all of which is embraced if not encouraged by the populations and authorities alike.  It is wholly different and distinct from anything I have seen in the states, which most often seems to have as its roots violence, separation, judgment, and fiefdom.  I hope, with all my being that the wall returns to its former colorful commentary, although there is little sign of that happening, yet.  It still remains though, one of the most inviting places on the planet for me to live, love, and dive.  And that I will continue to do.

The New & Improved Seawall; Lacks Charm

The New & Improved Seawall and Friend; Lacks Charm.  The Seawall I mean.

The liberty & alcohol policies of the US Military on Okinawa are simply and stupendously stifling, overly restrictive and quite insulting to the vast number of Americans on Okinawa.  It has also literally starved many and varied businesses in and around bases of their very livelihood.  All in some vain and ludicrous attempt to appease nothing more the US government itself, already blinded by the notion that tightening their grip on the individual by limiting freedoms and dictating behavior will correct the whole spectrum of issues faced by Americans living abroad in Japan.  In a nutshell, military members may not purchase alcohol off-base ever, can only drink during the “evening meal,” and then can only have two drinks between the hours of 1800-2200, and these drinks can only be purchased in an establishment that primarily serves food….  The upside?  The policy, as far as I can tell, doesn’t apply to me (as a dependent), so looks like I have a permanent designated driver during my tenure on-island!

Sunabe Yellow Curry House; Best Naan Ever!

Sunabe Yellow Curry House; Best Naan Ever!

In American roadside and public space lawn care is usually provided by prisoners.  In Okinawa, it is provided by little old 65 year-old women who operate what appear to be weed-whackers on steroids.  Seriously, these gas-powered devices replace our plastic cutting cord with a large and sharp hard-metal scathe.  The ladies are serious about their business, without the additional worry of escapees.

The character of the Sunabe area of Chatan Cho has shifted.  While the central and south sides remain fairly unchanged and in-tact, the north side up near the “junkyard” has been built-up with American-style condos, duplexes and single-family homes all arranged on zero-lot lines and in rows like some post-WWII housing boom in middle America.  It is terrible, and only Americans live here.  Of the 30+ properties we viewed, maybe 3 were what I would consider traditional Okinawan/Japanese construction.  What has happened to this region of Okinawa should be regarded as criminal; as one realtor put it, these greedy land-developers are taking all the good space for substandard American-esque housing….  As another stated, if Americans want to live in a gated-like community, stay on base!  There is certainly a very large gate and fence there….

What's Better than Hello Kitty; Hello Kitty Covered in Delicious Curry!

What’s Better than Hello Kitty; Hello Kitty Covered in Delicious Curry!

CoCo Curry, a 24/7 Japanese curry house, is still going strong!  Nothing like hot, freshly-made and completely customized curry for a 4th meal snack at 1 am.

Many restaurants here employ end-to-end electronic service (provided by a human, mind you) – and have since I was here in 1999.  There is a cordless button on the table you can press to place your order and get additional service (if needed).  Your order is taken on an electronic handheld tablet at tableside, then it is verbally recited to assure accuracy, and then immediately transmitted to the kitchen.  In the sushi-go-rounds, the plates of food selected from the conveyor of delights are embedded with an RFI device and color-coded, both to reflect price of the individual food selection.  When you are through, a waitress comes by and literally scans your stack of plates, and a total is printed out for presentation and payment at the cashier.  The level of food service efficiency and quality of product on Okinawa (off-base at least) is refreshingly astounding to those of us used and conditioned to mediocre service back home.  And all this without tipping – a custom not practiced in Japan.  Rather, good, professional, expedient service is the expectation!

Graffiti that Cracks Me Up!

Graffiti that Cracks Me Up!

There is a quick yet effective neck, head and scalp massage offered as part of a Japanese haircut.  The sound of cupped hands hitting in rhythmic fashion is instantly recognizable, albeit long forgotten….

The power, elegance, and necessity of the “Han” stamp.

A Charming, and Low-Visibility Ride

A Charming, and Low-Visibility Ride

“Platters,” an on-base dining facility, is still located in the Schilling Center, and I happened to hold a discussion with the manager there during a lunch-time meal.  All the materials on the walls and displayed around the diner are authentic.  However, the real jukebox, controlled by remote stations located at each table, is gone.  Inquiring as to this sad shift in affairs, he informed me that it became too hard to not just get parts for the machinery, but to find people and places that could repair them.  So, these iconic elements of any 50’s diner were removed…and replaced by the same soundtrack, collapsed into one gigantic playlist and played now through a characterless and unseen iPod….

Udon soup at the “San A” near Hamby Town is unassailable.  No place I’ve ever tried in America can replicate the almost chewy texture and fresh taste of Japanese Udon noodles.  And that’s before they are paired with all the other goodness served in a heaping bowl of boiling broth.  Pair this with crisp, freshly-fried chicken (katsu), and the meal of my dreams becomes reality.  As it did this past Wednesday!

Jody Enjoying a Ramen and Gyoza Lunch

Jody Enjoying a Ramen and Gyoza Lunch

What would any of us do without Lawson and Family Mart, the island’s two primary convenience store chains in Okinawa?  The list of reasons why starts with public Water Closets (“W.C.”), and probably ends with bento boxes.  Or Spam, readily available.  Oh, and no lotto sales here which at home often results in something more akin to inconvenience.

Transit Café, for us Regulars

Transit Café, for us Regulars

The Transit Café not just survives along Sunabe Seawall, but seems to be thriving.  We will soon be neighbors living about two blocks away and will be frequent fliers and pleasant patrons, hopefully not seen simply as transiting visitors.

Transit's Open-Air Bar

Transit’s Open-Air Bar

My old apartment endures, and remains relatively unchanged, although my donated scuba locker downstairs is MIA.  The empty lot next door, once a bottle recycling location, and then overflow parking for guests, now contains an additional “Sea Dream” unit of apartments, owned by the same man.

The diversified beauty and vast availability of Ryukyu Glass is a prominent fixture on Okinawa.

Okinawan Ryukyu Glass has American GI Coke Bottles to Thank for it's Start

Okinawan Ryukyu Glass has American GI Coke Bottles to Thank for it’s Start

The sensual spirituality of Obon and auditory and visual delight of Eisa, both cultural celebrations taking place here this week and worthy of their own blog – stayed tuned!

Vending Everywhere and Anywhere you Want to Be

Vending Everywhere and Anywhere you Want to Be

And finally, last but not least, one venerated vernacular v-word:  vending.  The idea that vending machines, happily selling cold and hot drinks alike, should be available anywhere and everywhere one could possibly imagine parched thirst worthy of immediate satiation is part and parcel with Japanese culture.  They are everywhere, quite literally.  People will double-park, of course with their hazards on, and run out of their still running cars to grab a quick drink, not minding the inconvenience to rush-hour traffic.  After all, a coffee fix is a coffee fix, no?  Or, better yet, I once passed a lone vending machine in the middle of sugar cane fields at a country crossroads.  Okay, not so odd you might think; farmers get thirsty too, especially working outside in the subtropical heat and humidity here.  Not so odd until you realize that not only was a concrete foundation prepared and poured for this sole vending machine which protruded into one of the fields, but that power poles and lines were run only to power this one machine!  Those are quite parched farmers, or, more likely, this is the best visualization of the power of Big Sugar I have ever witnessed!

A Jewel of the Pacific

A Jewel of the Pacific

Okinawa retains its charms and more.  And these charms are not just skin-deep, certainly not derived by physical appearance or man-made structure.  It remains steadfast in the language, the culture, the customs, and the climate.  But in the end, it remains most safely secured in the peoples that share this island.

I live a charmed life, and I live in Okinawa, Japan.

Bear a Charmed Life

Bear a Charmed Life

Jody Drives Naked in Japan!!!


Naked Buttocks

Naked Buttocks

“It’s not illegal to drive naked…if you have your seatbelt on….”

“Like, would you drive to school naked?” ~The Breakfast Club

“Art can never exist without Naked Beauty display’d.” ~William Blake

Naked Displayed

Naked Displayed

One of the first priorities in Okinawa is buying freedom.  Remember from my last blog, it costs at least a buck-o-five.  Seriously, without wheels, this island is prison-like, given the locales that must be covered to search for lodging, treks that must be made as part of required indoctrination, and the Ramen House that must be sampled.  Oh, and Jody has to go back to work, sometime….

Jody's Near-Naked Leg

Jody’s Near-Naked Leg

So it’s important for those intending to come to Okinawa at the invitation of the military and pleasure of the sequestering-President to know that it is not allowable such prisoners (actually, more accurately those on Status-of-Forces-Agreement [SOFA] status) to rent cars on the island until they have a United States Forces Japan (USFJ)-issued driver’s license.  Even though car rental is provided at various places on various bases.  Where people without license congregate and need transportation most.  Like at the Shogun Inn main building just down the street from our Temporary Lodge Facility (TLF), where rental prices are a wee-tad higher than those in the states, but where you can be zipping down the road at a raging 50 K’s an hour faster than you can repeat three times “SOFA Status Superstar.”  Don’t ask me how I know this; I, of course, would never improperly rent a car (wink)!  In any case, as of yesterday, I am a SOFA-licensed driver, so such conjecture about car rental is OBE.

Go Naked.  We don't own fur....

Go Naked. We don’t own fur….

But part of getting that all-important SOFA license is to take a driver’s test.  This, of course, administered after military-specified required prisoner mistreatment, courtesy of the Marine Crops’ safety department on Camp Foster.  This test is offered on various days during the week, but is only given at 10 am.  And although your on-island sponsor and annoying command may not think so, taking and passing this test must be a priority.

Naked Feels Great.  Cosmo Says So.

Naked Feels Great. Cosmo Says So.

Remember, freedom is at stake.

However, the license is only issued after attending the required island new-comer brief given on Wednesdays.  Now, since military intelligence is, as they say, an oxymoron, this “brief” lasts from 0730 through at least 1430.  Yes, it’s one of those times where the briefs will continue until morale improves (beatings are no longer tolerated in the modern kinder, gentler military as it was in those nostalgic days of piracy).  And since the “brief” is required for all family members, the kids and babies are all ripe for testing at the end of such an enlightening day of nothingness.  The SOFA license test is given upon the conclusion of this day of the dead, but if you have already taken the exam, you’ll simply pick up your license and save yourself at least 90 minutes…of freedom.  Or at least finally obtaining the free freedom to buy real freedom.

Naked Feels Soooo Good!

Naked Feels Soooo Good!

One note about his test.  This is a test, like in one that you have to study for, especially if you have never driven overseas.  Get your hands on the driver’s manual, and seriously, read through it at least twice.  Unlike the states where you’ve been driving already for a year (or more), you take this test COLD, without benefit of real-life, real-road experience.  Oh, and the test has very little to do with driving…but more to do with whether or not you studied.

Drive Naked Today

Drive Naked Today

So, once you have your SOFA license, which took us almost a week, you can purchase a car.  There are two basic approaches:  buy from a Japanese used-car salesman, or, buy from a pardoned prisoner (those who own vehicles).  The latter preferably in a way that takes advantage of another’s misery, which is really how capitalism operates most efficiently (think about how we all get those great deals on homes and yard sales and the truth is no longer “out there”).

He Can't Drive Naked.  He Won't Fit....

He Can’t Drive Naked. He Won’t Fit….

The island has the usual suspects of car dealers – less ALL the American brands – but is literally covered with used-car lots, most targeting American GIs.  One of the absolute truths of the Universe, though, is that used-car salesman share an almost incomprehensible amount of genetic material worldwide, the same scary stuff that would, in another era, result in a Darwin Award, and the eventual extinction of the species.  The cars from these lots may come with warranties, and probably on average are at least checked and/or repaired prior to sale, but alas, such services and assurances come with a price.  And there’s no real consensus whether that additional expense is justified.  Cars on these lots often can be gotten at times on-base for almost half the cost….

They Are All the Same

They Are All the Same

Which brings me to the Kadena Air Base “Lemon Lot,” more properly known as the “Auto Resale Lot.”  It’s been moved since I was here last time, and is now much closer to the Exchange, located in the parking lot of the uniform/dry-cleaning shop across the street of the base’s main shopping complex.  All the vehicles I have purchased on-island were acquired this way; 3 out of 4 did me just fine.  The one dud turns out to be a recall issue on Toyota Surfs (the direct equivalent of a Toyota 4Runner) due to over-heating issues in hotter climes such as Okinawa.  Which is exactly what happen to my old truck, which had to be junked.

Me, my Young Kids, and the Old Surf

Me, my Young Kids, and the Old Surf

Lemon Lot

Lemon Lot

Jody and I started looking for cars almost immediately.  It’s a daunting prospect, but easy enough process.  The cars are registered on-base, who are supposed to “vouch” for advertising accuracy.  And the owners (usually) put an information sheet in the car’s window, which must include – it seems by base regulation – “super cold AC runs GREAT!”

Really, I’m sure they all do.

What you are secretly hoping for is someone pressed for whatever reason (and there are many) to sell their car now-now-now, but not that guy who’s dumping a lemon and knows it.  So we go from car to truck to van to car, and discuss the relative merits of each vehicle.  It’s odd there are NO pickup trucks here.  Of course we act like we know a lot about cars, and no doubt you can tell much by kicking a car’s tires (just like in aircraft:  “kick the tires and light the fires!”).  Oh, and it’s like 97 degrees outside with 97% humidity, which makes the whole affair, well, in a word….

Moist.

Green Naked Envy

Green Naked Envy

And then we come upon “it.”  NAKED.  There is not much talk at first glance between Jody and I, but I know we are thinking the same thing:  this is the perfect name for a car.  For us.  Especially for me.

Ask my postman in Pensacola.

Naked Porn

Naked Porn

We start to examine the car.  It is small.  Boxy, like most modern Japanese cars tend to be, but with welcome relief in not its lines but its very construction.  It’s a great puke-military-green color, shinier and more attractive than olive drab, and strikes us immediately as a mini-Humvee.  Like the cube root of an H3.  Naked may suffer from tire envy (my motorcycle has bigger wheels), but size doesn’t matter when they’re carrying the torque of 659 white-lightn’n cubic inches of shear, raw 58 horse-power-generat’n combustion!  And that, my friends, is less than half that of my motorcycle, and not much larger than a Vespa!  Seriously, road taxes in Okinawa are based on engine size, and this car with its motor qualifies for the coveted “A” plate – much cheaper taxes – a can’t miss yellow plate with, yes, you guessed it, the letter “A.”  For those not in the know, the majority of cars on Okinawa have white plates, and those registered to SOFA status personnel are marked with a leading “Y” on the plate.  The joke is that this stands for “Yankee.”

"A" Stands for Acceleration

“A” Stands for Acceleration

"Y" is for Yankee!!

“Y” is for Yankee!!

I’m not so sure it’s a joke.  Or the joke may be on us.  Or at least the Rebels….

We fell in quick like with this car.  Which as we looked more and more (and it got hotter and hotter) quickly turned into a moist love affair.  A phone call to Steve, the owner and Air Force EOD officer, a test drive, and handshake later and the deal is done.  Dirty deeds done dirt cheap.

Freedom.

Celebrating Naked

Celebrating Naked

After $3,700 for the car, about $275 for title transfer and insurance, and 90 minutes standing in various lines at the military’s version of the DMV (and every bit as thrilling), we are literally handed the keys to our freedom.  And to Jody’s first drive in, well, let’s see:  Okinawa, Japan, Asian, west of the International Dateline, and oh yeah, on the left side of the road!  Although she was dreading it, it finally came time to put her big-girl panties on and take the great Naked leap of faith.

Right-Hand Drive on the Wrong Side Ride!

Right-Hand Drive on the Wrong Side Ride!

The only drawback?  We’ll probably have to tie the car down in typhoons….

Sometimes being Naked Blows

Sometimes being Naked Blows