Summertime Tips: Tattoos


Who doesn’t love summer? Bronzed bodies at the beach, temperatures are going up and up which means people are wearing less and less. For many this is the perfect time to show off the hours upon hours that were spent in the tattoo parlor getting a piece of art permanently etched onto your skin. However, for those of us with tattoos there are some things that should be taken into consideration before you head outside.

Damage From Tattoos: 

Tattoos are made possible by sharp implements breaking skin and jabbing ink. Not very poetic but I think you get the picture. Long story short damage is caused to the  skin which starts to bounce back after a few weeks but take a bit longer to fully heal. Sometimes the only permanent change to the skin is the color where as other times the skin in 28582_1448944585873_1575565_nthe area of the tattoo may never really be quite the same again.

This is important to consider for both those who already have tattoos and those who are thinking about getting tattoos during their time here on Okinawa. If you already have tattoos it is important to understand that those areas which have been “damaged” from tattoos that you have received in the past may react differently than you are used to. For example you may have never found it necessary to wear sunscreen when spending a measly 5 minutes out in the sun while in the US but now that you are here in Okinawa your tattoos get burned even after limited exposure.

For those of you who are thinking about getting your first tattoo while here in Okinawa it’s important to consider that the area will also be extremely sensitive during the healing process. This means that you’re not going to be “beach ready” a short three weeks after stepping out of the shop.

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Keeping Tattoos Covered: 

Tattoos are like fine art. If you’re going to go through all the trouble and money of getting one in the first place you might as well keep it in good condition. The best way to do that is to keep your tattoos covered. As a rule of thumb I always have either sunscreen or a UV protective layer of clothing to cover my tattoo (particularly the one on my arm because of its likelihood of being exposed) at all times.

There are a number of products which you can use to protect your tattoos. One of my favorites was the TattooGoo brand of tattoo sunscreen which came in stick form. I really liked it because it allowed me to almost paint on the protection where the tattoo needed it most rather than just lather up the whole arm right away. I also very much liked the stick form because being about the size of lipstick it was easy to carry and therefor not easy to forget. The only problem that I had with this product is that when the summer came around it started to get really mushy and clumpy when applied. I tried some other stick form sunscreens but finally settled for a nice Japanese brand of lotion which absorbed quickly and worked very well without leaving you sticky.

The other option that I often have with me during the summer months is a UV protective shirt which I can use as a pullover. The reason that I like this is because although it gets hot here in the summertime the facts are when you go into some of these stores the AC is enough to keep your freezing and wanting another layer. So having a UV protective shirt or pullover is like a win win. I can wear it outside if the sun gets hot and I want some extra tattoo protection but I can also wear it inside and prevent myself from freezing to death. These types of shirts are also helpful if you are out and about but might find yourself in a place where it may be more appropriate to have your tattoo covered.

Tattoos + Japan = Bad: 

One of the things on the list of grossly misunderstood topics about Japan is tattoos. There are a lot of things that can be said on this topic and I will be happy to talk more about that later but for the sake of this post I want to keep things short.

24361_1425903369857_1556400_nTattoos aside, when you come here to Japan (regardless if it is Okinawa or Tokyo) there needs to be an understanding that it is not the United States (or your country of origin). There are going to be things that are done here which are different from your home country and since you are now here you need to accept those things. One of those things is taking off your shoes another is covering your tattoos when in certain social situations. There are a lot of people out there who will go on and on about how if you have tattoos you will be discriminated against while in Japan. I personally have never found this to be true during my years in Okinawa or travels to Tokyo. That being said let’s go through some basics and clear up a few things specifically about Okinawa.

Believe it or not when it comes to tattoos 90% of what you encounter here in Okinawa isn’t going to be much different than what you encounter in the US. Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who prefer to skip over facts and history in order to build a case of “social norms are totally weird in Japan”. The one we hear most often is that in Japan tattoos were reserved for criminals and yakuza. True? Yeah sure it is. However, tattoos being the mark of a “hard” person is not unique to Japan. In fact in our good ole’ US of A there are a lot of the same stereotypes which associate tattoos with gangs, crime and all around tough guys.

Even with all of this being said most of the things you will find you should be covering your tattoos for when in Okinawa are the same things you would cover your tattoos for if you were in the US. (i.e. Formal restaurants, formal events, religious establishments). The only time that you may have to be even more careful if you happen to have explicit tattoos.

The other 10% are things which you may not fully understand but my short response is that you are now in Japan and just like taking off your shoes when going into a home, there are going to be some things you do without fully understanding why. This most commonly includes being in the water whether it is at select beaches, bath houses or water parks. In these cases you will still be allowed to enter (although not always in the case of bath houses because they are primarily nude bathing) but you will be required to wear something that covers your tattoos like a swim shirt or sleeve/sock. I cannot stress enough that this is not discrimination against foreigners, it is simply the way business is conducted for everyone.

Last Work & My Experience: 

At the end of the day having tattoos here in Okinawa is not going to be a bad thing. In fact during my years here the most inconvenient thing about having tattoos has not been covering them when it social situations but rather keeping them protected from the summer sun which is why I wrote this post in the first place. Actually generally speaking I have never had a problem with my tattoos exposed or not.

 

 

TYPHOON SEASON PREP: Preparing Dogs For A Storm


With typhoon season on the way I’m releasing a number of blog posts which will have information to help you prepare. This information is based on my past experiences going through typhoon seasons and I hope that you can find elements of these posts helpful. 

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Typhoon season brings a lot of concerns but one that many people have contacted me in the past about, and that I have already received a question about for this upcoming season, is how to prepare dogs for typhoon season. Of course unlike cats and pocket pets dogs are taken outside to relieve themselves so how does on go about doing that when it’s raining and heavy wind is blowing outside? In this post I am going to discuss some of the things I have done throughout the years to prepare my dogs for typhoon season.

Training: 

If you chose to have dogs during your time here in Okinawa one of the things that is most important is to ensure that they have proper training not only to be an obedient dog but also so that they can handle any situation which is thrown at them. In fact these elements of training your dog to handle these situations is why I chose to make this the first post in the series because it is likely to take some time. Regarding typhoon preparation the type of training that we will be focusing on today is the dog’s ability to “hold it” until you can bring it outside. This will prevent accidents from happening in the house. This training usually starts very young but can be done by slowly increasing the intervals between the time that you take your dog outside. Maybe today you take him outside at 7am but tomorrow you take him out at 7:30am. This is not only helpful during the typhoon season but if for whatever reason you leave the house and don’t get back home in time you can be confident that your dog is not going to relieve himself or herself in the house.

Another thing I like to do which helps me with this is training your dog not to “go” unless you’re ready for it. This is a very simple concept and also will make your life a lot easier. Contrary to popular belief dogs do not need to go for a walk to relieve themselves. In fact there are a lot of people who think that this is necessary but mistake their dog’s habit for marking as their need to urinate. Take your dog to the same spot every time you take them outside and allow them to establish that when we are here it’s time to do your business. Also do not allow your dog to mark when on walks by preventing them from excessively sniffing. This will not only prevent your dog from pulling you and frequent stops but it will also teach your dog that marking . . . doesn’t need to be saved up for (let’s say). They will then relieve themselves all at once rather than feel the necessity to be out for long periods of time. We’ll talk more about why this is necessary in the “During The Storm” section below.

Food and Water

Naturally the amount of food and water that you give your dog is going to determine the frequency of trips outside which is why if there is a storm in progress I limit my dogs’ access to food and water. According to various dog experts dogs can go for about 2 or 3 days comfortably without food and with limited water. This is reflected in various sources regarding preparing your dog for a long flight. Of course being that I am with my dogs unlike if they are in transport via jet or what have you I can still give my dogs food, I just limit the amount. The way I decide how much to give is based on the severity of the storm and when it is hitting. (I suppose it might also be determined by your location as well). If the storm is going to hit during the time that I usually feed my dogs but will be over by the next morning I may only give them a few bites each whereas if the storm is not very severe I might not have a problem giving them about half a serving each. Another technique I use especially if a storm is going to last for quite a long time is to treat dog food like treats and give a few kibbles throughout the course of the day. This keeps the dogs active, playing and still with something in their stomach.

When it comes to water I have a slightly more structured but similar approach. There are two methods that I have tried and seem to work well. The first is that I leave the water bowl down but only put enough water to cover the bottom of the bowl. This gives the dogs just enough water to wet their whistle but doesn’t promote nonstop drinking throughout the day. The second method is to pick the bowl up completely and only put it down about 3 or 4 times a day for about a minute at a time. This gives the dogs the chance to gulp up some water but not get too much where they need to immediately after head outside. Although this would not be an acceptable practice for long term use it is just fine for a few days while a storm passes.

During The Storm: 

Much like children dogs need to be entertained so I usually make dog treats/bones an item to pick up when I am doing my typhoon shopping. I try to pick up something that I do not give them regularly which keeps their mind off the noises from the storm and distracts them from the regular schedule that they might have. They chomp away at the bones or whatever and have something to concentrate on which is very helpful.

I also find myself paying close attention to the radar to see when bands are sweeping through. This will give me a good indication as to when there will be a break in the storm and we can run the dogs out briefly before the wind and rain picks back up. This is why it is important to ensure that your dogs are trained to use a particular area as a spot to relieve themselves. Bands and breaks in the storm come as quickly as they go so it’s best to know that you can run out very fast and be back before conditions pick back up again.

It may take a little prep and hard work on your behalf but preparing your dog(s) for the typhoon season is worth every second of hard work. What are some methods that you’ve used in the past? Did you find anything effective or ineffective? Let us know in the comments below!

Okinawa’s Rainy Season: April Showers Bring May. . . . Goya!


If I were to guess I would say the the second least enjoyable season here in Okinawa among Americans (summer coming in at the first) would have to be the rainy season. Usually starting around the April time frame rainy season is Mother Nature’s way of saying that summer is on it’s way.

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What Is Rainy Season: 

As I mentioned above rainy season usually kicks off in April and continues into June. During this time of the year it’s common to experience rain (go figure) and a lot of overcast days. According to some travel websites that I scanned in the interest of “science” before beginning this post we can expect rain about 40% of the time during rainy season. Now, I’m not saying that I’m an authority or anything but I will say that it feels like more of 70% of the time. That’s just me though.

These aren’t your average “drip drip drop little April showers” either. When Mother Nature makes it rain during rainy season she’s not kidding around. It’s not uncommon for rainy days to include non-stop hours of rain which sometimes last for two or even three days at a time. Most times this can lead to incredibly inconvenient puddles waiting to make your new shoes all soggy or even flooding in some areas.

Why Rainy Season Is A Nuisance: 

I don’t know about you but I hate being wet and soggy. More than that I hate showing up to work after 30 minutes of getting ready to find myself looking like I put my clothes on before I stepped into the shower. Then man oh man there is nothing like stepping into an ankle deep puddle on your way into the first stop on your list of places to go for the day.  Sound like rainy season is a nuisance? Well yes it can be. (More about how you can fight back later.) 

One of the other reasons that rainy season can be tough for some, especially those new to the island, is because this is the season when the humidity starts setting in. You’ve probably heard that Okinawa is hot during the summer months which is fair enough to say but it’s the humidity which is the real killer. As the rainy season presses on and the temperatures start to change the humidity starts to increase. This usually means that you start to feel sticky and grimy. This can add to the all around nasty of rainy season.

Fighting Back Against Precipitation:

Rainy season doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact there are a few things you can do which will make rainy season much more of a pleasant or at very least a less soggy experience. The first thing you can do is get yourself a pair of rain boots and/or rain shoes. Not only are they are great way to prevent you from recreating the ice capades at the grocery store or on your way back down the hill after taking your dogs outside but they are also a great way to preserve shoes from becoming waterlogged. You can also get them for a great price out in town too! I paid about ¥2000 for mine two years ago and it’s worth every penny.

Another very worth while purchase is a good rain coat. No I’m not talking about a wind breaker which is “water resistant”. I mean a good ole’ “I’m plastic I laugh at the sight of rain” rain coat. I spent a lot of time trying to find what I was looking for without any success until one day I was killing time at my local Makeman (a DIY and garden center) and found the rain suit section (insert heavenly chorus here). Now I know what you’re thinking. . . “why do I need an entire rain suit”? Chances are you don’t unless you’re like us and spend time outdoors a lot and/or ride motorcycles BUT even if you never use the pants ¥3000 is a great price for a rain coat! These are good raincoats too! I know because I have had mine put to the test:

Last but not least is the umbrella. In my honest opinion the umbrella is the “oh sh*t it’s raining and I am completely unprepared” option. Although it doesn’t offer near the same amount of protection as a rain coat and will do absolutely nothing to protect those shoes of yours it will at least ensure that your head and potentially parts of  your torso are covered. (And ladies let’s be honest. . . everything else will dry but if your hair gets wet. . . it’s game over.) 

Umbrellas are incredibly inexpensive also. Even at their most expensive you might only find yourself paying something like ¥300 for a standard umbrella. If you’ve got a keep eye you might even be so lucky as to pay closer to ¥100 or even less. With a price like that I usually have one in the house and one in the car at all times so no matter where I go, or if it stats raining once I leave the house. . . I’m good.

Turn That Frown Upside Down: 

When all is said and done rainy season isn’t much to be gloomy about if you’ve taken the time to prepare yourself. As you can see above just a little bit of effort can make things a lot more bearable during this transitional season. So turn that frown upside down, pull on those rain boots and go splash around in the puddles!

MCAS Futenma Relocation: My thoughts on some recent articles


There has been a lot of news recently coming out of Japan regarding the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma.    All of the news articles share the same theme and major details. . . a base is in the city, the people want it gone, the governments do not. Add in a lot of overly used buzz words and the options of people who have obviously never been to Okinawa and you’ve got yourself an article for The New York Times.

Naturally as a person who lives here in Okinawa, in the shadow of MCAS Futenma no less, I have my own thoughts on the situation. As I have done in past blog posts I thought that this would be an interesting topic for me to discuss. So let’s get right into it.

Very VERY Brief Background 

For those of you who are reading this and have never heard about MCAS Futenma before here’s a tiny nugget of information so that the rest of this post makes some sense. During the Battle of Okinawa an airfield was built and unlike other airfields around the island it was not decommissioned. It was then turned into what we now know as MCAS Futenma. There are a few things which are problematic with the base. The first is it’s location. After the war many people returned to their “homes” (land and so on) to find it was now part of the area covered by the base. The result was many people building around the base therefore making Ginowan a crowded place to be. The second problem is the type of training which is conducted at MCAS Futenma. The base is known for conducting low altitude training which ultimately has the helicopters and other jets flying not far above homes, schools and businesses. The complaints have come in many forms. In some cases residents complain about noise as drills are known for being conducted into the late hours of the evening. In other cases residents worry about the safety of the jets and helicopters flying so low. This concern was made a reality when a helicopter crashed into a local university.

Over the years there have been many plans to move MCAS Futenma to another part of the island in the 1996 timeframe however the people of Okinawa, already having 30 something odd US military bases on the island, rejected the plans wanting the base to be moved outside of Okinawa altogether. The governments of Okinawa, Japan and the US have basically been going at it ever since.

Moving The Base Up North

The main focus of this entire debate, all other things aside is that the base is to be moved to a location in northern Okinawa. The plan is to fill in a coral reef and create an off shore runway. Now naturally there are a lot of people, especially those who are concerned about nature and wildlife, who are not happy with this. I imagine that I don’t have to explain why so I won’t. Of course playing devil’s advocate over here there were a number of environmental reports which evaluated the situation in terms that those of us without lab coats probably don’t fully understand. There have been a number of people who have been protesting the movement of the base simply for this reason which I think is great because I always support having your voice heard but all of these protests and petitions made me wonder. . . . . Did the people of Okinawa have the same reaction to when the coast was filled in creating what is now Hamby Town and American Village? I do know that Hamby Town was once part of the Marine Corps Base which is now Camp Foster (not sure about American Village). I am also curious to know whether or not there was significant impact on that area or was there no one keeping track back then?

One thing I did want to mention about the article that I read in The New York Times was the statement that referred to the northern part of Okinawa as “the island’s jungle-covered northern end”. For me this statement is a bit misleading. I have spent a lot of time in this part of the island and this statement makes it seem as though it’s a part of the island which is uninhabitable and therefore a perfect location. . . . not entirely true. It should be mentioned that up in this part of the island is a lot of tourism, wild life reserves, mountains and a bulk of military training areas to include something called JWTC or Jungle Warfare Training Camp. There are people who work and live up there. To be clear I am not saying this as a platform to discuss whether or not the base should be moved up there I just think that people should have the proper image painted in their heads.

My Very Brief Opinion 

To be completely honest I am not entirely sure how I feel about moving MCAS Futenma to another part of Okinawa. Part of me feels that it would be a good idea because there is a huge need for some more space in the Ginowan area and truthfully I do not believe that the flying of aircraft as low as they do (which would not be permitted in the US) is unsafe. At the same time I am curious to know how the flight paths (which never quite end up being what the governments agree on) would effect the lifestyle which is happening in the northern parts of Okinawa. Personally I feel that there are a lot of questions which have gone unanswered and I also feel that there is a lot of misunderstandings about the US Military which makes it a very complicated situation.

 

Never Doubt Obaasan!


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I live in Oyama, one of the very congested parts of Ginowan which is sandwiched between the coast of the East China Sea and MCAS Futenma. At one point it used to be a large area full of fields (some of which are still in use today even though the city has grown up around them) but now this is no longer the case. Fortunately there are still a great deal of people who work in their small yards making the best of every available inch to grow fruits, veggies and flowers as I am sure their families did before them (although on a much smaller scale.)

At least four of these backyard gardens are immediately next to my house all being tended by older women (obaasan). Day in and day out they are out there working in their gardens waving to me and yelling out an occasional “konnichia” up at me while I am out on my deck. Like clock work they are out there tending, weeding and sometimes just watching their gardens grow.

Now that it’s spring time, however, there has been a change in the attire worn by the obaasan. Rather than just a light covering over their heads they have started to wear their straw hats. These straw hats come in all different shapes and sizes. Some of 384133_10200842905217195_376062264_nthem seem like easter bonnets where as others look like a traditional Japanese style hat with a point on the top. Seeing as how I have a garden now and will be spending a great deal of time out in the sun tending to it I figured I would take the leap and pick one up for myself. After all if wisdom comes with age then these women (easily on their way to 90 years old) have got to have something here right?

Then the other day while I was at my local DIY and Garden Center I spotted it there out of the corner of my eye. I almost missed it because it was on the bottom rack hidden behind the veils of a few other visors and hats that hung above it. I immediately grabbed it saw that it was about ¥500 and tried it on (thank goodness my husband had his camera phone handy lol). Yep this was for me because if nothing else I would at least look super kawaii (and probably a little silly but I’m fine with that)!

Unfortunately as luck would have it soon after getting the hat home I had a day of clouds and then almost 12 hours of non-stop rain. Needless to saythere was no chance to see my hat in action. . . until today. I was so happy to see that the sun had come out I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed my folding chain, book, sunglasses and hat then headed out onto the deck. After spending much time on the deck under the sun I realized how nice it was to have a straw hat. Not only did the hat breath really well but it kept the sun off my neck and face. I knew those obaasan knew what they were doing!

Summertime Savings Tips


The summertime is upon us and it’s time to start thinking about saving some money, because let’s face it everyone wants to save a little coin! Here are a few ways that I find helpful in saving money during the summer season!

Don’t let the water run. . . . save it! 

Many houses in Okinawa have what is known in the US as On Demand Hot Water Heaters. Unlike what many Americans are familiar with this type of hot water heater must be turned on for hot water to begin running through your pipes. 

Rather than letting water run down the drain while you’re waiting for the hot water to get to your shower, for example, why not collect the water and use it for other things around the house? One thing we like to do is to save our large PET bottles and full them up nightly while waiting for the hot water. We then use the bottles of water to do other things around the house like flush the toilet, water garden plants or even wash dishes. Each time a shower is prepared it can take anywhere from 3 to 4 water bottles before the shower is running hot water so why let it go to waste? Believe it or not this simple task can reduce your water bill.

Unplug your appliances. 

You’ve got vampires in your house! That’s right but rather than sucking blood they are slowly sucking electricity! Appliances like TV’s, computers, gaming consoles, hot water heaters (the ones you make tea with) and anything else with a stand by mode are not just sitting there waiting to be used. . . . they are sucking your wallet dry.

Rather than leaving your appliances plugged in unplug them unless you are actually using them. Although it may be a little less convenient then it would be to keep everything plugged in at all times you will see a HUGE drop in your electricity bill the next time one comes around.

Be smart with your AC. 

There is no way around it, Okinawa gets hot and humid. However, its important to be smart with your AC so that you don’t end up like the many families who have approached me in the past wondering why they have a $600.00 electricity bill.

Fighting the urge to keep your house as cool as a walk in fridge can be difficult, especially in Okinawa’s hottest months, however, there are some things you can to in order to use your AC smarter during the summer months. The biggest tip is to remember NOT to keep rooms AC’ed that you are not using. Although it can be nice to go anywhere in your house without having to wait for the room to cool off it can also be a huge financial burden.

Another thing I like to do is designate a small room in my house as the place to go if the heat gets to be too much. I chose the small room because it’s easier to cool and takes less energy. Although it’s a small room it’s a great place to watch movies, play board games of do other non-physical activities while trying to stay cool.

Unplug your super toilet. 

Look. . . . I get it. . . . no tush should ever have to be subjected to a cold toilet seat in the middle of the night BUT your “super toilet” or heater toilet seat can be unplugged during the summer months.

 

6 Things NOT to do in Okinawa


We often focus on what to do while when traveling to a new place but what should be avoid? Figuring that this would be an interesting post I put together a list of 6 Things NOT to do in Okinawa.

Now I have to admit this is a bit targeted towards those people who are moving here for a job or maybe with the military but there are a few important details in here for tourists as well. I hope you find these tips helpful and if you have any of your own please feel free to add them in the comments below!

1. Don’t assume you’re not understood because you speak English. 

The language most commonly used in Okinawa is Japanese, however, English is also known by a number of people. Sometimes those people are comfortable enough to strike up a conversation in English but others may be more timid and keep to themselves. Regardless it should be common practice to conduct yourself as though others understand what it is you’re saying . . . . . because they just might.

2. Don’t be afraid to shop around. 

Okinawa has a lot of conveniently placed “deals” for military members and tourists alike. Merchants, dealers and other sales professionals know that you’re going to eat up the first thing you see so prices tend to be inflated. Believe it or not this can be avoided by walking to a shop further down the street or even visiting a car dealership which is more out of the way rather than right outside a Base’s main gate.

3. Don’t limit your travel to your neighborhood. 

Easily one of the biggest mistakes made by those who move to Okinawa (particularly military members who are here for a few short years) is the unwillingness to travel beyond their immediate area. Sure they might travel to Churaumi Aquarium or Okinawa World but all the spaces in between seem to be “too far” or “too out of the way”. The unfortunate result is a lot of gems that are missed out on possibly until it is too late.

This isn’t limited to tourist attractions or historical locations either. Some great salons, restaurants and other businesses are usually just beyond where some people are willing to go.

4. Don’t stick to the guide book. 

A good guide books is always a great place to start but if you find yourself only doing what is in the guide books you’ll end up only seeing about 1% of what’s here on Okinawa. . . . . . and some of it isn’t even the best stuff! I say use the guide book as a stepping stone and don’t be afraid to explore the surrounding area and see what you stumble upon. Even as I approach my 7 year mark I still have multiple laundry lists of things to see. . . . and I haven’t been much of a couch potato either. In fact most of the wicked cool places on the island are marked with signs and easy to find if you’re willing to go off the designated path to or from some of Okinawa’s major tourist attractions like Okinawa World or Churaumi Aquarium.

5. Don’t forget to keep an open mind. 

There is no denying that Okinawa is an entirely different world then you are used to. The cultural and all around lifestyle differences can be hard for those visiting Okinawa (or living here) for the first time to adjust to. Although you may not find yourself completely understanding the culture or differences in lifestyle it is important to remember to keep an open mind. Those who keep an open mind, even if they do not see eye to eye with some of the cultural or lifestyle differences here on Okinawa, tend to have a better more positive experience then those who brush off or completely disregard Okinawa’s culture.

6. Don’t “play the gaijin card”.  

The term “playing the gaijin card” is usually in reference to someone who is choosing to dismiss culture and/or rules that they are aware of with the intent of getting away with it because they are a foreigner.

Although some people don’t see the harm taking advantage of the understanding and tolerant nature of the businesses around Okinawa can often have negative results. Some businesses may change policies or in some cases may even go so far as not assisting foreign customers.