Okinawa & Japan

Since a couple of people asked, here’s a bit about my time in Japan and Okinawa while I was in the Navy. I was stationed on Okinawa, part of NSGA Hanza (Naval Security Group Activity, aka, ‘spooks’), for 18 months but got up to the mainland on a short vacation, primarily to climb Mt. Fuji. My biggest regret at the moment is the lousy camera I had at the time. I’ve pulled a few pictures that seemed more interesting than others. Most of the photos I have are pictures of shipmates while I was there, and so not of much interest to anyone but myself.

Anyway, to start with, Okinawa was my first duty station after the various schools the Navy sent me to around the country. I have to say it was more than a little surreal as it was also the first time I’d ever been out of the country. I’d never so much as gone to Canada or Mexico, so it was quite an experience. Surprisingly, learning to drive on the opposite side of the road seems to come quickly to people. I don’t recall anyone having any real trouble adjusting. It was also where I learned to drive a manual transmission, so I learned to shift with my left hand. I had more trouble readjusting to driving on the right when I came back to the States.

Here’s a shot of the Army base I was quartered at, Torii Station:

The Navy had separate barracks (just there on the left in the photo) from the Army people, and strangely we really didn’t mix with eachother. The inter-service rivalry was alive and well. Humans have an amazing capacity to divide themselves into separate groups, we seem to find reasons to keep our little tribes away from eachother. Anyway, the entrance to the base was through these torii gates. Behind it you can see the South China Sea. I remember one time driving down the hill where I took this picture and seeing two water spouts (tornadoes at sea). That was quite a sight. Sadly I did not have a camera handy at the time.

One of the first things we all had to do when we reported there was to take a class on some basic Japanese phrases, to help us navigate out “on the economy” as we used to say. We were also briefed on how to dial phone numbers there (longer and somewhat more intricate than in the States). Then, when we had just enough knowledge to be dangerous, we were packed off on an Okinawan bus to the capital city, Naha, for the day. Once we arrived we had to use a local pay phone to call back to the base. A gaggle of my buddies and I somehow made our way to a shopping mall and spent some money. I set about testing my new-found Japanese skills on a girl who worked in one of the shops, and bought several items. I guess they were impressed that I’d embarrass myself publicly like that and gifted me with a little red glass bell windchime, which still proudly hangs in my kitchen to this day. The moral of the story is, they don’t care how little you know or how badly you pronounce the language. They’re so pleased that you’ve made an attempt to speak it, they will bend over backwards to help you out.

This is one of my favorite pictures that I took. It’s a group of schoolchildren, not sure where they were heading, but I thought they looked like a row of ducklings in their matching yellow outfits toddling down the sidewalk. I’m guessing they were kindergarten age, they were so cute. Their teacher is at the head of the line there.

This pic is actually a postcard that I was smart enough to buy of a cemetery filled with mausoleums. I have pictures of another one closer to the base that are more rounded on top, which at the time we referred to as ‘turtle-back tombs.’

And here are some ladies we met up with outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo who were kind enough to pose for pictures in their lovely kimonos.

And this is the moat around the Imperial Palace.

A group of us had gone up to the mainland for a week or so primarily to climb Mt. Fuji, and then I spent a few extra days on my own visiting a friend who was stationed at another base, Kami Seya. Wow, there’s a story and a half which I think I’ll save for another time. Instead, I will tell you about climbing Mt. Fuji. You’ve all see photos of Fuji-san from a distance, so here’s what it looks like on the trail. Honestly, I have no idea how high up we were at this point:

We’re above the tree-line here, above the clouds. It’s not really all that pretty at this height. It’s composed of volcanic rock, and the trail most of the way is several inches deep loose volcanic gravel. We all had walking sticks with the Japanese battle flag attached and bells that tinkled with every step (most of us removed the bells before too long). The sticks are branded at different stations on the way up, to mark how far you make it. There’s a station (8th? 9th?) that is the last before the summit climb where hikers stop overnight. Then, they get you up about 3:00 AM to finish the climb to the top to watch the sun come up. I skipped that part, believe it or not. Ok don’t yell at me, I was young and dumb. I remember sitting down to rest at one point on the climb, and as I sat there catching my breath a couple of older Shintu priests who were briskly making their way up started waving and smiling as they went by, saying “Come on! Come on!”, urging me on. What could I do? I got up and started walking again. I forget how many hours we climbed, at least four, possibly five. We didn’t start at the base, we were bussed to the “5th” station to begin the hike (which was good as a few of us had gotten hammered on sake the night before…I do not recommend climbing mountains with a hangover, for the record) You can see a hiking stick being carried by someone in the photo below. I still have mine.

While wandering around a couple days before the climb, we made our way to Kamikura, where we saw this enormous bronze Buddha. It’s said to have been housed inside a temple once. Then centuries ago a tsumani washed over the area and destroyed the temple, but left the Buddha in place.




Monument to Atomic bomb casualties






Typical street on Okinawa

25 thoughts on “Okinawa & Japan”

  1. Oh, DD. I’m so glad you shared some of these stories and pictures. I have been so intrigued about your time there. I also found the picture of the little kids to be adorable. They do look like ducklings. 🙂

    I can understand that it would be harder to re-adjust to driving on the right side of the road when you came back to the States. They say it usually is harder to re-adjust once home, than to adjust to a different country’s ways.

    Now I’m waiting to hear about Kami Seya. 😉


  2. Thanks, Tasha 🙂 It sure brought back a lot of memories of that place. I have so many stories, this tiny little post barely scratched the surface. I felt very at home there by the time I transferred out, it was really hard to leave. If anyone is interested I may do another post and just talk about some of the more amusing scrapes I got myself into.

    I don’t have much to tell about Kami Seya itself, except for the base and the visit with my friend there (who was also in the Navy). But getting there is one of my fav stories from my time there. As they say, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey 😉


  3. HI DD, I would love to hear more stories. Within each stories and post a person can learn more about another person pieces and pieces at a time. And some what experience if not get an understanding through you.

    I enjoy reading about your experience. I had to smile a few places I have read. I have an navy friend that lives in the State and who are trying to get deploy in Germany. She tells me all the time how most of the Navy women are catty and always ready to gossip so she tend to look for friends outside the navy base. She said it is different with men.

    I have a question for you. You mention it was a bit surreal and you clarify why. My question is after the army have that open you up to travel more without being in the army. I know your dream is to go to Prague and visit and I am very sure you will do so. But have you continue traveling after the army to see what else is out there (I know there is no other place beautiful than Oregon both John and I were sad to had left)?

    I love what you had said about the Japenese people and so proud of you that you made an attempt to speak the language. Your state is so true about how another nationality feel about you or any at least making an attempt does not matter how big or small. The attempt says that you have interest.

    LOL DD, I am not mad at ya, lol, I would of took a break too and say forget watching the sun rise. But I am so happy the two older Shintu priests was passing by to give you a word of encouragement. Plus the way I look at it everytime I go walking and want to start looking for a taxi. If these older people can walk carrying loads of bags or pushing their walkers so can I. I love how older people can inspire us within so many ways. So good for you for hiking that famous mountain. You should be proud and amaze that you did that. Not so many people get that opportunity Mt. Fuji. I think that is wicked (cool).

    to climb P.S. the children uniform do look like a school of duckies, lol


  4. Hah, well, the reason I don’t travel now is quite simple: no money. I am a pauper. It’s also why I’m still on a dial-up internet connection at home, have a 7-yr-old cell phone, and haven’t had tv cable for years. Oh, and my car is 21 years old. I just realized my car is old enough to drink.


    1. DD your not a pauper! Your smart and know how to conserve money when other people spend like they are drinking water. Who need cable when so many shows are showing via stream (legal without downloading). 7 year cell phone just show that you are more careful and have a good phone. Heck I still have mines that when you talk you have to pull out the antenna (don’t laugh it is true…I would use it here but it does not have a sims chip and would be more expensive to use abroad). And your car is a classic! Yes, I remember the post a few months 3-4 months ago. Like I have told you then I tell you know. I love the auto you have. It might take a licking now and then but it keep on ticken. So sorry my friend you are not a pauper.


      1. I concur with startingover – we’d all love to have unlimited funds, but you have some remarkable stories to tell, and you’re smarter than the people who piss their money away, pretending to be affluent.

        “The moral of the story is, they don’t care how little you know or how badly you pronounce the language. They’re so pleased that you’ve made an attempt to speak it, they will bend over backwards to help you out.”
        I have found this to be true everywhere I’ve gone, including the much-maligned city of Paris. French people, Parisians especailly, may not like it when Americans pretend to be all fabulous and fluent, but a little merci, sil vous plait, and humility go a long, long way. I got lost in a big shopping complex one day, and a French-speaking security guard got me to where I was going, with a long, cheerful, monologue excuted entirely en francais, which I do not speak. He was so nice, and making such an effort to be helpful, that I did my best to pay attention and watch his hand gestures, even though the only word I recognized was “gauche,” for left. I went in the direction he’d pointed toward, turned gauche, and damned if I didn’t find just what I was looking for! When we were trying to find Rue Bergere, a English-speaking Parisian politely corrected my husband’s pronunciation (he sez “Bergere” like the McDonald’s beef patty,) telling him, “If you say that, no one will know what you’re talking about” – and again, guided us right to the street we were looking for. My proudest moment on that trip came when I was browsing in a record store and another shopper asked me, in French, if I knew what time it was; I was SO EXCITED that I comprehended her well enough to point at my watch!


      2. Hey! You’re back! 😀 Yay! Everything functioning normally now?

        It’s very gratifying to be able to understand a little of the language of whatever country we visit. What fun for you, navigating Paris even with limited French! Sounds like you brought out the best in the locals.


  5. Thanks, guys. I’m afraid everything else will pale by comparison to climbing Fuji-san. I’ll fish out some more pictures and relate a couple of scrapes I got myself into 😉


  6. I think I was too quick to assume MJ was back. I heard from Rosie that the transformer near MaryJ blew, and it could be a couple weeks (!) before it’s repaired/replaced. Ugh. 😦 I’ve been without power for a almost that long, and it’s a pain in the butt.


    1. We left town early this morning – we’d been planning a trip this weekend anyway, and it sure is nice to stay someplace that has electric lighting and wifi! We’ve been making do all week with transistor radios, flashlights, and a lot of takeout food – you should see me walking around the house with this flashlight attached to an elastic band that I strap around my head. We hear thru the grapevine that power was retored in our neighborhood today – Friday – shortly after we returned, but I’ll believe it when I see it. We’ll keep you guys posted.


  7. Ugh, yeah, that’s cute for about a day and a half and then it’s just annoying. We’re too used to being able to flip a switch and have power, it’s not like we grew up with candlelight and woodburning stoves! Hope power’s back in your ‘hood.


  8. Candles help, but I think I need to pick up some unscented ones – trouble is, I have different colors & fragrances all over the house, and the cookie-scented ones in the kitchen clash with the beach/ocean scented ones in the bathroom and the lavender or sage kind I have in the living area! And you’re right – it’s been a week and I still haven’t stopped flipping the switch on the wall every time I open the door to the basement, even though nothing happens when I do.


  9. Although the locals have been helping each other with the status of services this past week, I can say that the levels of tolerance for living off the grid varies widely even within families. A cousin out on LI was still w/o power late Thurs. night, and although she had had enough of living by candlelight she was even more irritated by her spouse’s cheerful attitude that it “was just like camping.” Maybe his attitude sprung from his lucky situation that he didn’t need to report for work every day last week? We’ve taken to leaving a flashlight outside the bathroom door — it seems the one place you can remember where you left one last.


  10. Thanx Rosie! I tried hard not to complain, but the idea that anything is “just like camping” is not my idea of a recommendation. In fact, if Fang ever tries to tell me how swell it is to go camping in those little cabins with no electricity/heat and that locker room shower down the road, I’ll remind him that he was the one who hated doing without cable and refrigeration in the days after Hurricane Irene 😉


  11. Camping sucks. There’s a reason we don’t live in caves anymore. As my eldest sister once observed, “Camping is everything you do at home, only ten times harder.” At least when I lose power, I still have hot water because I have a gas water heater. I just wish I had a gas range, but I have cooked scrambled eggs on the barbecue. Pain in the butt, but at least it’s an option.


    1. Same here: one of the many reasons I married Fang, and not his predecessor, is that when he’s in the mood to go camping, he just goes with a couple of the guys instead of trying to drag my ass along. The other guy thought it was some kind of challenge to try & convert me to his P.O.V., and I see no point in tagging along on a junket where I would be a wet blanket, hating the entire experience.
      We have gas heat/stove/hot water, so at least I was able to stay clean and boil water for tea, and I cooked a couple of meals on the stove top until everything in the fridge spoiled. Those drip-filter-cone devices make a respectable cup of coffee, too, until all my milk went south.


  12. Oh, you are entitled to love camping all you want, Gypsy, as long as you don’t try to convert any indoor cats. (Where do people like to go camping in Eastern Europe? I read somewhere that there’s an awesome primeval forest in Northern Poland.) We’re headed home tomorrow and then I can confirm whether our power is back on.


    1. “Oh, you are entitled to love camping all you want, Gypsy, as long as you don’t try to convert any indoor cats.”

      Drats! And I spent all this time drafting my “Find the Inner Camper Within You”- pamphlet. 😉


      I’m not sure what places are most popular. But I gather the Black Forest must be a top destination.

      Fingers crossed that your power is back on!


  13. “…they don’t care how little you know or how badly you pronounce the language. They’re so pleased that you’ve made an attempt to speak it, they will bend over backwards to help you out.”

    How true! This has been my experience too, everywhere I’ve been. It is so worth it to learn a little of the language when you travel somewhere. The effort pays back in quadruple.

    I’d love to hear the story-and-a-half of visiting Kami Seya! I notice that a few of your other readers feel the same way. Hope you’ll post a few. 🙂 I’m sure Fuji-san won’t outshine Kami Seya; different places, different blog posts. 🙂


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