Red Lights Running: Johnny Law in the Far East


traffic2

“A careful driver is one who honks his horn when he goes through a red light.”  ~Henry Morgan

“An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight.  The truly wise person is colorblind.”  ~Albert Schweitzer quotes

“Shut the front door!” I scream in my mind as I accelerate through the intersection, realizing I’m actually running a red light…with a Japanese police car right behind.

“Great, just great,” I think as I contemplate braking, but just as quickly realize that I’ve gone too far to stop.  If I did, I would have to back up, which would not be good if the cops had started to follow me through the light.

But the police car didn’t move….

And for the next block before my right turn, and even after that right turn for the four or five blocks until reaching the sanctuary of my condo building’s parking garage, I scanned my rearview mirrors much more than I did the road that lay ahead.

ledtrafficlight

You see, in Japan, the crosswalk signals for pedestrians utilize the exact same colors as the traffic lights intended for vehicular traffic.  In practice, this similarity might instead result in vehicular manslaughter for an inattentive American…much like me…and others I’ve seen doing the exact same thing.  Modern crosswalk signals in the United States generally use pictograms of an orange upraised hand and a white walking pedestrian.  Notice that the color scheme is just enough from our traffic light color convention that it’s not so easily confused.

28213368-realistic-pedestrian-traffic-lights-off-illustration-on-black-background

Most secondary or tertiary roads in Japanese neighborhoods signal a green “walk” to pedestrians only when all traffic lanes have a red and are stopped.  There is no turning on red either, so in essence, pedestrians have complete right of way by design.  Sometimes there are even diagonal crosswalks, which allows for 6-way pedestrian traffic all at once at busier intersections.  Cars in Okinawa are a much more recent technological invention, and with an older and much more island-time generation on the move, there is simply too much respect for pedestrian right-of-way that the “get out of the way!” attitude that can be prevalent in an inpatient ambulatory America.

paper-trafficlight1

So, drivers here can find themselves sitting at a quiet intersection at night with a red light up over the car for traffic, and while looking at the cop with his emergency light on in their rearview mirror, the same driver can spy out of the corner of their eye a red light quickly flash to green…which means go, and go indeed we all do.  Green means go, right?

A Traffic Intersection in my Neighborhood

A Traffic Intersection in my Neighborhood

You see, the cop and his red swirling light distracted me.  One might think I was already in trouble, but seeing emergency lights in Japan is a much more common occurrence.  Why?  Simple:  Japanese police cars, both marked and even unmarked, routinely patrol with their red lights ON at night.  It’s almost impossible to resist the urge to pull over here when you see these lights; we Americans are so ingrained (at least if you attempt to follow most traffic laws) to pull over for emergency vehicles that it really is second nature.  However, in Japan, pulling over for mere red radiance is actually reason enough for the Japanese to, well, actually pull you over!

Police in Japan (like everywhere else in the world) pull over drivers because of suspicious action.  Ironically, suspicion is often produced when unknowing Americans slow down or pull over for a Japanese police car with their emergency lights on.  Pulling over in this Far Eastern nation for no apparent reason when trailed by a lighted police car may itself be probable cause enough to cause one some unnecessary troubling delay.

police-lights-japan-1062

A major – and perhaps the major part of law enforcement in Japan is to DETER crime and to ensure good public order.   The police in Okinawa are nothing like the cops and robbers of American television where the priority is on enforcing the law and catching criminals in the act…or shortly thereafter.  So, red lights in Japan don’t mean an emphatic and immediate “pull over!

“No, it’s a cardigan, but thanks for asking!”  ~ Harry Dunne, in Dumb & Dumber

When Japanese police do wish to ruin your day they use their siren and/or Public Address (PA) system, through which they can bark out instructions like the voice of god.  In fact, in Japan, emergency vehicles of all kinds seem to always be talking.  Some of it is a recording, but some are actually live announcements, like an intention to travel against a red, or to scold someone off their cell phone.  It’s a lot easier to issue a warning if you never have to leave your patrol car.

pull-over-1062

BTW, the Japanese take driving and using a cell phone much more seriously than we do.  It is against the law, and punishments here don’t toy around with mere tickets or traffic school.  Instead, you simply lose your license.  The Japanese are, in fact, so weary of this that when they want to use their cells while driving, they simply place their hazard lights on and literally stop along the right of way, pulled over slightly, but still double-parked.  This often results in a nightmarish blockage of traffic…for which they should also lose their licenses.

Luckily for me, vehicle stops are relatively rare in Japan.  Hell, even seeing a police car actually patrolling the roads is relatively rare…compared to the states.  Japanese drivers do speed (but not by much), but are almost without exception polite and safe while on the road.  The most common reason for a traffic stop here is speeding; no surprise there.  But most of these “stops” are sweeping radar speed traps where you are actually waved off the road and receive punishment assembly-line style.  And Japan, like many other first-world countries, is moving more and more to traffic enforcement cameras.

Bicycle theft takes up more man-hours than traffic stops.

In Japan, bicycle theft takes up more man-hours than traffic stops.

I have no idea why these two particular cops, red running lights on, decided not to follow and stop me having literally run a red light.  Perhaps they saw my Y “Yankee” license plate (which only Americans have) and deduced my mistake…having surely seen it many times before.  That, combined with the lack of pedestrian and opposing traffic, probably was enough for them to shrug this off.  I wouldn’t have been so lucky at home.

Have you had a run-in with the law in Asia?  If you have, tell me about it here!

Castaway


3870_headingI know what I wrote way back when in August under my blog Leaving Home for Home.  And while I still be in those central tenants of the idea of “home” as opposed to stuff in the physical world, I need to re-characterize my thoughts just a bit.

You see, our “stuff” has been castaway by our moving company Deseret Forwarding International.  Please read below (the graphics are from the company’s website)….

shday-movers

“Mr. and Mrs. King,

I apologize for your shipment being so severely delayed, and unfortunately, I do not think there is going to be an explanation that is sufficient.

NOT

NOT

In meeting with my operations team today, and specifically our outbound coordinator Rachel Sigala, it appears that she mistakenly thought all 7 pieces moved on the original load plan that arrived to Okinawa on 9/24. We have gone back over our operations procedures in hopes that this type of mistake does not happen again.

The Fortune Rachel Sigala Should Receive

The Fortune Rachel Sigala Should Receive

I also spoke with our port agent to see how/why your shipment has sat at the port waiting to sail for so long. They stated that they had no other freight going to Okinawa, and as a result were not able to load your shipment into a sea container. They never did find enough consolidation in Jacksonville, FL, so they moved it to the port in Savannah, GA where they will have enough freight for the sailing scheduled to depart on 11/6 and arrive in country on 11/26. This is the soonest sailing that we are able to place your shipment on. We are not able to move HHG through the military AMC system (like code J shipments move.)

Except in Our Case

Except in Our Case

I understand that no reason is sufficient, and that your family has suffered a great inconvenience. I sincerely apologize for our lack of service in your case and for any feelings of neglect or abandonment. It is never the type of service we aim to provide to our customers.

Except for the One About Actually Shipping Our Stuff

Bar for the One About Actually Shipping Our Stuff

I have attached our form with information on filing an inconvenience claim, and if you will send it directly to me, I will get it processed asap.

If you have any other questions, please let me know.

Well, All of Them Less Us

Well, All of Them…Less Us

Sincerely,

Lizzy Escobar

Deseret Forwarding International

http://www.deseret-intl.com

Phone: 915-615-0802

Fax: 915-774-5177

lescobar@hopeadmin.com

So, given this change in our circumstances, certain “stuff” really can be sorely missed, and life can be at least, well, quite cleaner with certain items.

Pick Movers Who Will Move You

Pick Movers Who Will Move You

We had been holding out for our shipment.  When a single crate arrived, the alarms bells should’ve been going off – and that very day I should’ve been on the phone tracking our “stuff.”  But we waited, having faith in the system, the government, and the military.  We assumed the shipment was split for whatever reason.  We reasoned that the back-to-back storms on Okinawa delayed arrival of our goods or resulted in a ship’s re-routing.  But alas, every check and balance in the system failed us.

Wooden Sailing Ships Would've Been Faster

Wooden Sailing Ships Would’ve Been Faster

So we’ve been doing without a vacuum cleaner.  Two of the four drinking glasses we brought with us have broken.  We have only the most basic kitchen supplies of a frying pan and a sauce pan or two, along with one small Pyrex baking dish and a tiny cookie sheet.  No rice-cooker, no blender, no toaster (for which I would trade the microwave which we do have), no utensils, no coffee mugs, and very limited flatware.  No iron or ironing board.  We have very little cleaning materials.  Only a single set of linens and pillows.  No cool-weather or winter clothes.  No furniture, no Blue Ray, no computer desk, none of our papers or files.  No scanner or printer (sorely needed for work and applications).  I have none of my pro-gear, which includes the vast majority of my scuba diving equipment I need to tech and dive out here; this is GREATLY affecting my earning potential.

My Reaction Upon Reunification with My Asian Rice-Cooker

My Projected Reaction Upon Reunification with My Asian Rice-Cooker

But that stuff aside, it is still only a very few focused items that we find ourselves longing for.  Our coveted “chair-and-a-half” and its accompanying ottoman which fit us as a couple like a glove and where we are able to decompress from the day’s pressure close to one-another.  We would very much like to move the computer off our dining room table so that we can eat like normal well-adjusted adults.  Lamps would allow us to read in bed in the evenings.  A printer/scanner would update us to at least 1997.  And our outdoor furniture would permit us to take full advantage of the panoramic views from our fabulous balconies now that the weather has cooled off and the humidity has dropped….

Tom's Furniture is More than We Have on our Balconies at Present!!

Tom’s “furniture” here is more than we have on our balconies at present!!

An X-Files word of advice to those moving in or with the military:  trust no one.  The military (which for purposes here is the same as the government) literally didn’t care when our shipment was late, nor were they willing to help or were they even able to track our shipment.  We had to go through a moving Japanese moving agency here (who were extremely helpful), which contacted the shipping lines, who contacted our moving agency in the states….  Who ultimately simply dicked-away our household goods shipment, and then forget about our “stuff” sitting around a warehouse…or two it seems, nor did they inform us of anything adverse along the way.  CHECK ON YOUR SHIPMENT when you move.  No one is watching your back or protecting your interests; you are and remain your own best and sometimes ONLY advocate.  We are both so very through with the military and this type of treatment.  One would think with the hardships endured by the US Military that there would be more recourse or relief for situations like these.  That is sadly not the case.

David_Duchovny___Trust_no_one_by_PascalWagler

We started to buy essential supplies that will be billed to Lizzy and Deseret International.  So, in effect, we went shopping tonight with someone else’s checkbook…but we did and will continue to do so in moderation and well within reason.  Tomorrow I will be able to vacuum, clean the floors and toilets, and put away our new dishes and cookery.  I have a wetsuit for the cooler weather and waters, along with a shiny new steel 80 cubic foot scuba diving tank so that I won’t be paying $10 in rental fees for every class and each dive.  And that’s for starters…for now.

Send a Review of this Blog over to Deseret!

Send a Review of this Blog over to Deseret and perhaps It’ll be their Featured Monthly Review!  (probably not)

If you can empathize with our situation, and you’d like to help do something about it, drop Deseret Forwarding International and/or your local congressman/senator a note and let them know how terrible you found/find this/our situation.  While Lizzy did a fair job “answering the mail,” she will never know the inconvenience she and her company have caused in our lives – until it happens to her.  I understand bad things happen and mistakes are made, but it’s much too easy to brush them aside with a simple email and “so sorry;” in the end, we are nothing more than a bill of laden number to both this company and our own military and government that is already forgotten.  And I have do doubt that the expense of our travel claim is already well-accounted for statistical in the company’s costs.  In other words, this is nothing more than a cost in this case of their failing to do business.

This is about the extent of our in-home entertainment

This is about the extent of our in-home entertainment

And although we choose to find and leverage the humor in it all while still making the best we can of our qwuirky home and far east fling here in Okinawa, deep-down inside, we still feel like we were abandoned and castaway.
At least seven additional weeks to wait for our stuff….

dreamstime_s_8736416

It’s a good thing our “stuff” can’t share in such feelings.  No one – or thing – deserves to be abandoned or be made to feel like such a castaway.

Becoming a Fixture at the Transit Café; A Restaurant Review


Not This Kind of Transit Spaghetti

Not This Kind of Transit Spaghetti

Transit Café:  2-220-2F Miyagi, Chatan, Okinawa; 098-936-5076; Open Lunch 1100-1600, Dinner 1700-2330.

Ambiance:  Very Good; indoor smoking is allowed during meals

Service:  Very Good

Cocktails:  Outstanding; wide range of international cocktails; the drinks alone are worth visiting!

Food Quality:  Very Good.

Features:  indoor eat-at bar counter, outdoor bar, late lunch, pet-friendly (terrace only), set lunch, sweets, terrace seats (limited), tropical cocktails, wide variety of alcoholic beverages.  Located across the street from Sunabe Seawall with terrific scenic views.  English menu available; credit cards accepted.  Due to limited seating, reservations are HIGHLY encouraged.  The establishment is not very kid-friendly, in terms of space, ambiance, and meals/food selection.

Cuisine:  International Café Fare; Japanese & Okinawan; tapas-style plates with mains available.

Price/Value:  Expensive but Exceptional!

Trendy Ambiance at the Transit

Trendy Ambiance at the Transit

“A thought is an idea in transit.” ~Pythagoras

“It is safest to take the unpopular side in the first instance. Transit from the unpopular is easy… but from the popular to the unpopular is so steep and rugged that it is impossible to maintain it.” ~William Lamb Melbourne

Fresh Food, Fresh Air, Fresh Ambiance

Fresh Food, Fresh Air, Fresh Ambiance

Lucky for us, the thought of grabbing a bite to eat at the Transit Café is still a very popular idea.  I am so very happy that the Transit has survived the ravages of time and fickleness of people.  It, however, remains as trendy and with even better service and selection that during my previous times living in Okinawa.

Eagerly Awaiting our Next Cocktail Creation at the Indoor Bar

Eagerly Awaiting our Next Cocktail Creation at the Indoor Bar

The Staff Really are this Cool - and Good

The Staff Really are this Cool – and Good

The Transit Café was one of the first places I took Jody to help introduce her to Okinawa, Chatan Cho, and the Sunabe Seawall area.  We have been back numerous times already.  With little surprise, we found the place packed regardless of time or day.  Reservations are a must here if you want to sit at a table, inside or out; bar seating, however, is most likely available for a small party (2-4), and provides an intimate relationship with the staff and cooks.

Seating is Limited; Make a Reservation

Seating is Limited; Make a Reservation

Drink Selections...From Miami??

Drink Selections…From Miami??

The food at Transit changes slightly based on availability of ingredients, but they typically always have certain signature dishes.  One of our favorites is their version of “cheese fondue.”  This can be ordered with a few options, but the one we’ve settled on is the larger platter, complete with meat (shrimp and chicken), assorted veggies, and bread (you can request extra, as we do) to dip.  This is a large plate of food, so be careful when ordering more!  Luckily, many of the dishes are Okinawan/Japanese-reasonable size, more akin to tapas back home, so you can order a few to share.  The mains are, as well, on the smaller side, but certainly provide more fill.

Not to Miss:  Transit Fondue!

Not to Miss: Transit Fondue!

Frozen Mojitos; Currently our Fav

Frozen Mojitos; Currently our Fav

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on their cocktail selection and preparation.  The staff at the Transit Café are consummate professionals when it comes to mixed drinks; they are prepared perfectly, and presented as a feast for the eyes.  Out of all the places we’ve visited, this is the only restaurant to really provide a first-class drink experience.  In similar fashion, their desserts are at once decadent and always delightful.  Being only two blocks away, we find ourselves venturing down the street just to sample a cocktail and split a dessert….

Fondue and Frozen Mojitos

Fondue and Frozen Mojitos

Unfortunately, Smoking is Allowed

Unfortunately, Smoking is Allowed

The ambience at Transit is very peaceful and serene, with a host of international easy-listening and romantic tunes playing on their sound-system.  Transit Café is located on the 2nd floor across the street from the seawall, and if you are lucky enough to sit on the balcony (remember:  make a reservation), you will have scenic vistas of the East China Sea as it rolls in and meets and washes over Okinawa.  However, like I’ve already mentioned:  don’t discount sitting at the bar.  It’s amazing to watch the magic and choreographed dance this staff of 5 or 6 move around a combined bar and kitchen area the size of most closets in order to produce such high-quality, fabulous delectable delights.

The Transit Sits Over the Bar Next Door

The Transit Sits Over the Bar Next Door

Although Jody and I are, in essence, ultimately only transiting through Okinawa for the next three years, we will most certainly become fixtures at the Transit Café.  Visit them; you’ll be glad you did!

Trendy Music Displayed and Played

Trendy Music Displayed and Played

Website: http://www.transitcafe-okinawa.com/transit/index.html

Directions:  The Transit Café is located in Chatan on the seawall.  From Kadena Gate 1, turn left onto 58. Take your first right (GI Bill Pay and Sunny net will be in the shopping plaza on the right corner).  Follow that road straight until it dead ends at the sea wall.  Turn right and Transit will be just on your right.  Find parking where you can along the seawall.

transit-map

Even Monkeys Fall From Trees: Moving to Japan


Even He Scratches His Head at Our Missing Items

Even He Scratches His Head at Our Missing Items

Head-Scratching & Expressly Missing

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” ~John Wooden

“Little things console us because little things afflict us.” ~Blaise Pascal

“百日の説法屁一つ” ~Japanese proverb, loosely, “breaking wind in front of the congregation ruins 100 days of sermon….”  Or, that the little things sometimes mean the most.

Or, “Saru mo ki kara ochiru (猿も木から落ちる),” literally, “even monkeys fall from trees….”

even_monkeys_fall_from_trees_postcard-rd1092d78fd70496baf49699b90a1bb16_vgbaq_8byvr_324

That last Japanese proverb is more commonly interpreted as anyone can make a mistake.  And mistake we did in setting aside items for our “express shipment” to Okinawa.  You see, when you move overseas in the military– technically called a “Permanent Change of Station (PCS)” – you are allowed two moves.  Three, if you are not entitled to your full weight allowance, which figures on both rank and whether or not one has dependents (read:  a family).

The Majority of Our Stuff Going into Storage

The Majority of Our Stuff Going into Storage

To Okinawa we are limited to ¼ of our nominal weight allowance, which is odd because the Army and Air Force generally come with their full moving entitlement.  The Navy (and Marine Corps) argue that the places here are too small to handle the American plethora of goods, and while there is some truth to such a statement, the truth is always somewhere in the middle.  And by middle I mean that it saves the service money at the expense of the member….

It takes more than the village...to move properly to Japan.

It takes more than the village…to move properly to Japan.

At the Lieutenant Commander rank with dependents (that’s me), our moving weight entitlement is something like 17,000 pounds.  Thus, moving to Okinawa we get about 4,300 pounds for this move…which includes all three individual moves:  1) an “Unaccompanied Baggage (UB)” express shipment to Okinawa of about 1,000 pounds maximum; 2) a HouseHold Goods (HHG) shipment of the remainder, or about 3,300 pounds; and 3) a Non-Temporary Storage (NTS) shipment of the rest of our “stuff” that goes into storage state-side for the three years we are assigned to Japan.

We actually used 700 pounds of UB, and almost 7,000 pounds of household goods!  Not sure how the Navy is going to feel about that, and we still, as of writing, have no idea how much our storage shipment weighed.

Our Express Shipment Crated

Our Express Shipment Crated

Our Express Shipment was picked up on the 8th of August in Pensacola, Florida, and had a “Required Delivery Date (RDD)” of 12 September.  That’s about 35 days for those of you who are counting, and believe me, I am a counter…when you are depending on a loaner-kitchen.  Prior to the arrival of this “stuff,” we are literally living out of six suitcases carried with us via commercial airliner.  This included one 65 pound bag dedicated to two full sets of dive gear, and a whole host of cat-equipment, including not one, but two pet carriers….  See “Feline Fiasco” and “Nine Lives and Hard Travels” for more on those particular necessities!  We did get the most basic kitchen utensils from the Marine Corps’ “loan locker” here…but for just 30 days.

So, one can quickly image that after five full weeks of living out of suit cases and kitchen something like you might find while camping, and trying with all your might to attempt to delay purchases for those items which you know are coming, for which you start counting not only days, but hours until that all-important unaccompanied baggage is due to show.

In our case, there was nothing heard from the military personal property office on our express, right up until the required due date.  I, of course, being jaded about the military and their intelligence at times, was already considering the worse:  the shipment, clearly, had washed overboard from some third-world-lowest-bidder freighter in one of the four tropical storms to affect Okinawa since our arrival.

Surely our crate washed overboard....

Surely our crate washed overboard….

Alas, Jody calls on our due date and, like pennies from heaven, our shipment did indeed arrive Kadena Air Base on the 12th.  Or so we were told.  Talk about a “just-in-time” means of delivery; it makes me wonder whether or not the shipping company shipped to arrive at the latest possible time, or, did they have the opportunity to get it here earlier?  Like I said, I’m jaded at times…and every time when it comes to the government.

Our Crated Goods in Japan

Our Crated Goods in Japan

Unfortunately, our shipment didn’t or couldn’t clear costumes and the military officials in time for delivery that day.  But it was scheduled for the next day, and thanks be the gods (or at least Hermes), our long-anticipated and much-needed 700 pounds of mystery possessions do indeed show up at our doorstep.  Or at least in our parking lot.

Secured Goods.  We Hope.

Secured Goods. We Hope.

After okaying the costumes seals were still intact on our crate, the movers open and start brining boxes up one after another.  The first thing I will say is that 700 pounds doesn’t go very far.

And the most important thing I’ll say is that no matter how much weight you receive, if you didn’t pack the right things at the shipping end, you end up revisiting all those purchases you’ve been denying yourself thinking certain things were, most certainly, on their way!  But aren’t.

That Sinking Feeling of Items Forgotten

That Sinking Feeling of Items Forgotten

So, for those of you either packing to come overseas, or for those of you just merely interested in where we fell short, here’s an expressly short list of things we really wish we had packed for Okinawa:

Christmas Can Be Early:  Check Your List Twice

Christmas Can Be Early: Check Your List Twice

  • A Vacuum Cleaner, especially since we bought a brand-new one for Japan; our new rugs are looking old before their time, and will have to be swept I guess….
  • Except we didn’t pack a Broom, either.  Or a Dustpan, or Swifter, or even Basic Cleaning Supplies.  We’ll wait, unhappily, for the vacuum, but we had to get these basics to help clean up this mess, literally and figuratively.
  • Pillows & Blanket.  Well, we ended up buying pillows and a lame blanket two weeks ago to used on our military-provided full-size bed (yes, I said full-size), so this one isn’t so bad.
While there may be cushion in the government's budget, there is none in their beds.

While there may be cushion in the government’s budget, there is none in their beds.

  • Except that I set aside the Pillow-Top under-covering for our bed since I was afraid the dang thing would take up too much room.  It was the size of a small Japanese car, mind you.  Make sure you have the linens you really want; sleep is a very important commodity when you are dealing with ten time zones of change.
  • Coffee Mugs.  I did a great job setting aside about ¼ of about the ½ of the kitchen we are bringing (did you follow that math?).  This 1/8th of our state-side kitchen is quite well-appointed; in fact, as the familial domestic engineer and kept man, I cooked a kick-ass Sage & Basil Chicken Fettuccine dinner just last night with our newly arrived cookery.  Included are enough pots, pans, utensils, flatware, and dish service for four.  There is Tupperware for storage and for Jody’s lunches, along with our microwave.  And we even have our K-Cup machine…but with no mugs in which to brew all the good get-me-up juices.  I consider this a good investigation of our tempered drinking glasses.
Okay, you got us:  we are tea drinkers....

Okay, you got us: we are tea drinkers….

  • Toaster.  We have a microwave – another boxy but larger cooking accoutrement, and it’ll heat bread like nobody’s business, but it won’t brown bread to an ultimate crispy, golden deliciousness.  The microwave’s littler boxy cousin takes up no room and weighs next to nothing; do yourself a favor and keep the kissing cousins together!
Bring Your Toaster

Bring Your Toaster

  • Iron & Ironing Board.  Can you begin to even imagine how wrinkled our clothes are having spent the 36 day journey in a lay-down wardrobe…that’s been shifted to and fro?  Do you really think that those clothes stay neatly packed and their hangers??  The government really should throw in a few extra bucks so that we can at least have standup wardrobes for international moves.  They don’t, ‘cause such standup boxes take up too much room…which equates to money.  The Navy should be paying for some amount of dry-cleaning and pressing, at least.
Built-in Shelving from our Okinawan Home in 1999

Built-in Shelving from our Okinawan Home in 1999

  • Shelves.  They are not just for books in Japan.  It’s odd to me that while traditional Okinawan homes often have a wide variety of built-in storage, modern construction here lacks almost any type of storage outside of the most basic (and small) closet.  We have, over the years, accumulated a number of those stackable, customizable heavy metal shelving units that are so popular in Japan.  I had a number from my last time here, and Jody purchased some while stationed in Cuba.  In any case, although we have a whole host of linens, towels (beach & bath), and wash-cloths, we have nowhere to put them!
Sexiest Cartoon:  I am the Spouse...and Domestic Engineer...and Kept Man!

Sexiest Cartoon: I am the Spouse…and Domestic Engineer…and Kept Man!

small_things_quote_webWe are often told to “…not sweat the small stuff,” and that the little things don’t matter.  And while this type of philosophy may result in chicken soup for your soul, it’s awfully hard to cook that soup without a kitchen.  Accordingly, sometimes the littlest things do matter, and they do very much.  If you stop and give this discussion a dose of contemplation, and then think about what you would really want if you only had a thousand pounds of your “stuff” to live with, your list would be quite drastically different than if asked what things you would want to live for.  The latter includes all those big-dollar items of plenty that make our lives so (and maybe too) busy and full in America…so crammed that self-storage business in the United States is BIG business.

But it is the former where we are able to make living a life not just feasible, maybe not quite comfortable, but so much more agreeable.  Delicious freshly-cooked food, newly-brewed hot teas and coffees, a hygienic home and clean clothes, and, at the end of the day, sound slumber.  In all these ways, it is indeed the little things that allow for the big things in our lives to materialize.

Where's the Book on "Packing for Japan"!

Where’s the Book on “Packing for Japan”!

PS – Check out this link for a rather eccentric yet comprehensive list of things to pack for Japan.  It’s part of this blog about surviving a move to Japan!

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“Protected Green?” Diving in Japan


Any excuse for a party....

Any excuse for a party….

“I’ve stopped racing to get to the red light.” ~Kyle Chandler

“Experience is by far the best teacher. You know, ever since I was a little girl I knew that if you look both ways when you cross the street, you’ll see a lot more than traffic.” ~Mae West

“On a traffic light green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it’s just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the hell did you get that banana at…” ~Mitch Hedberg

My money is on these being invented in Japan

My money is on these being invented in Japan

I have an issue with driving in Japan.  No, it is not the “American Vehicular ‘Hello’…” which is flipping on your windshield wipers in the middle of a perfectly clear day when turning.

Think about it.

Right!  We drive here on the “other” side of the road, and thus we sit on the other side of the car to drive.  Since your shifting hand must be the more free hand – to shift, but more obviously to be placed on your main squeeze’s thigh and other important biologic landmarks – turn signals in cars are usually, by-in-large, on the outboard side of the steering wheel, opposite where the manual shift would be.  So, here in Okinawa, it takes some of us a long time (or longer than others) to break the habit of signaling for a turn…using our windshield wipers.

The American Vehicular Hello:  Windshield Wipers

The American Vehicular Hello: Windshield Wipers

At least it looks as if our car is waving.  That’s the charming thing about the Japanese:  they are able to always see the bright and cute side of things!

Happy Crab Crossing is as Cute as it gets.  Real Sign.

Happy Crab Crossing is as Cute as it gets. Real Sign.

No, it’s about traffic lights in Japan.

“How different can they be?” one may think.  Different enough, in some very important and potentially disastrous ways.

Confusing Traffic Lights

Confusing Traffic Lights

In Japan, by convention for which I really can find no clear reasoning, a green arrow is never displayed with a circular green, or even on its own.  Instead, green arrows must be shown with a circular red, which denotes that opposing traffic has come to a stop, protecting the flow of traffic in the direction of the displayed green arrow.  What results is the potential for a traffic signal to display green arrows pointing in all possible directions, along with a steady circular red!  At first this is very disheartening; when glanced while driving, your brain can quickly thin-slice your consciousness into believing you are running a red-light, or worse, your equally unfamiliar gaijin passenger cries out in terror assuming that a red light is being run!  Nah, this hasn’t happened to me….

Yes, another actual traffic signal.  The red denotes the arrows are "protected."

Yes, another actual traffic signal. The red denotes the arrows are “protected.”

Indeed, here is what a Japanese government site has to say about Arrow signals in Japan:  “Even when the traffic light is red, you can proceed in the direction of the arrow.”  Okay, so maybe they only want us to figuratively stop and think about the meaning of the conflicting colors.

For the Older Gen, I Guess

For the Older Gen, I Guess

In American, our turn signals are referred to as “protected greens.”  This means, basically, that the green arrow is “protected” by a red light applied to oncoming traffic and pedestrians, with the implication that you are protected in making such a turn across opposing traffic and through crosswalks.  In Japan, a “protected green” is displayed quite differently, with green arrows and a circular red combined.

Do I Stay or Do I Go Now?

Do I Stay or Do I Go Now?

However, something even stranger happens at certain signals in Okinawa.

Waiting to turn left at Hwy 23

Waiting to turn right at Hwy 23

At such dubious signals without turn arrows at all, you find yourself with a green circle waiting for a break in oncoming traffic to cross in the Far East’s version of our left turn – actually a right.  Suddenly, you see the oncoming vehicles slowing…and then stopping…without much reason.  Your light remains a steady circular green, but with no arrow to indicate a “protected” status.  Or, more eccentrically, you are waiting to turn at an intersection with a circular red and a straight green arrow, which then shifts to a steady circular green…while the oncoming cars remain stopped.  Such intersections actually are “protected” as the oncoming traffic light has turned or has remained red; it’s just that you, in the all-too-dangerous position of having to make that turn across traffic, has absolutely no indication of “their” red.  So you end up hesitating, wanting to believe that oncoming traffic has stopped, starting across very slowly while you remain very unsure…all the way through the intersection.  Sure, once you learn the location of these traffic signals you’re in the know and can zippidy-doo-da your day away on the mean yet slow and polite streets of Okinawa, but until that point, it is a very unsettling feeling indeed.

Same Signal, now green, but with no indication that opposing traffic is still stopped!

Same Signal, now green, but with no indication that opposing traffic is still stopped for the right turn!

Stop for Fire Hydrants? These signs will get'cha sooner or later.

Stop for Fire Hydrants? These signs will get’cha sooner or later.

Oh, and try and pick out the stop sign, the give way sign (actually, it translates to “proceed slowly”), and a fire hydrant sign!  These can really throw you for a loop, as you’ve probably never stopped to think about how much you subconsciously “read” traffic signs simply by their shape and color.  Catching a glimpse of a partially obscured fire hydrant sign can lead to a passing instant of panic since it is, during your first weeks here, misconstrued as a stop sign….

This is a Japanese Stop Sign

This is a Japanese Stop Sign

Driving on Okinawa is actually a very pleasant experience compared with home, ignoring the previously discussed eccentrics.  There is NO road rage here; the Japanese are very polite and professional drivers.  And that’s simply not just lip-service.  Chances are if you are pissed off on the road, it was due to a Yankee-plated American….  Okay, so it’s illegal here to make a left on red (our standard right turn), which can be very frustrating at times.  But, the speed limits are all very slow; the “expressway” is the fastest road on island, clocked at a blistering 50 mph (80 kph)!  And, using your horn is illegal unless for emergency, and oddly enough, people here actually follow their traffic laws.  It’s refreshing to see a community and country appeal to the greater good for everyone and set aside any narcissistic driving tendencies so prevalent in America.  Jody, who I believe was very anxious about driving here, had absolutely no issues with the driving, technically that is.  Driving naked certainly helps.

However, navigating around the island is a whole different matter!!  More on that later.

Okinawan GPS Spaghetti

Okinawan GPS Spaghetti