Okinawa: A new view of a familiar place


It is not uncommon for me to be asked about the relationship between the people of Okinawa and foreigners. This is likely due to the US military presence on the small island and the tension that is created from various situations that have happened over the years. This is why I was not surprised to be asked a variation of this question during my recent trip to Shizuoka to visit some friends. I answered the way I usually do ultimately saying that Okinawa is foreigner friendly for the most part. We continued to carry on with the visit and before I knew it I was on my way home.

Once arriving back in Okinawa, however, I started to see things in a different way. It was as though I had a new view of a familiar place. Everything was as it was before but somehow there was something different. Things didn’t feel as at home as I remembered them to be. Being that I had not spent even 24 hours back on the island I figured maybe it was just my imagination and moved on. Then later that afternoon while talking a walk through my neighborhood I did as I usually do and greet those who are in close proximity to me. The owner of a car dealership down the street was standing on the sidewalk facing me. I said a friendly konnichiwa but received no response. Then the antique dealer a few storefronts down was tending to her American surplus furniture outside. . . konnichiwa. . . no response. This continued for another 4 or 5 people during my 3 mile walk. This lack of response did not bother me. In fact I am not often greeted back despite how many attempts I make. 

The follow day I decided to take another walk to the local FamilyMart to grab a bento for dinner. I passed by another car dealer who was outside with his very adorable bulldog. Konnichiwa. To my delight he responded with a greeting and a smile. Then I started to think about the day before. This was the first in about 7 people to acknowledge me in any way. Then I started to think about my short time in Shizuoka and Tokyo. Even on my last day I had a full conversation, all be it brief and challenging, with a woman at the train station and here in Okinawa I could barely get a “hello”.

Finally I arrived at FamilyMart, chose my dinner for the evening and made my way to the register where the woman cashing me out did not murmur so much as one word to me. Not a “¥750” or an “arigatou”. In fact she finished the transaction, put the bag on the counter and turned away before I had so much as returned my wallet to my purse.

These experiences over the past two days have really got me thinking about how it is that foreigners are treated here in Okinawa. Although there is no doubt in my mind that foreigners are treated well it is quite an interesting observation to see how different average everyday interaction can be in Tokyo, Shizuoka and Okinawa.

Jetta Burger


Jetta Burger first came on my radar when I tried their amazing soft shell crab tacos at the C1 Gourmet Challenge back in November. Although we could not stop talking about how great they were we never had the chance to head over to the restaurant and test out other menu items because we honestly don’t eat out that much and Depot Island isn’t really one of the spots we frequent. Then today after realizing our favorite restaurant for special occasions, Double Decker, was closed we came up with the idea of giving Jetta Burger a try.

Jetta Burger: Exterior - Okinawa, Japan

To be completely honest we had a little bit of trouble finding Jetta Burger. We knew that it was in Depot Island but weren’t quite sure where. The labyrinth of colorful corridors with countless boutiques and shops honestly didn’t make our search any easier until we finally decided to go up the spiral staircase which popped out right at the entrance. 

We were immediately greeted by the staff, a young and fashionable guy with a great English vocabulary, and asked to seat ourselves. Once inside we dove right into the extensive menu which featured everything from burgers to tacos to burritos and more. The countless delicious options made ordering incredibly challenging. If money (and calories) were no option I would have gladly tried everything on the menu because it sounded and looked so good. Finally we made out decisions.

Jetta Burger: Teriyaki & Egg Burger Set - Okinawa, Japan

Rusty had the Texas Burger which was a combination of a 100% beef patty, egg, bacon and cheese with fresh lettuce on a soft bun. The combination was “phenomenal” according to Rusty who couldn’t put it down.

On the other hand I went for something more creative, the house special which included a 100% beef patty, avocado, crisp lettuce, chocolate sauce and peanuts. Yes you heard me right “chocolate sauce and peanuts”. 

Jetta Burger: Specialty Chocolate & Peanuts Burger - Okinawa, Japan

Despite how strange the combination of chocolate, peanuts and hamburger sounds together I have to admit it was quite amazing. The sweet rich chocolate sauce with the roasted peanuts made a great compliment to the rest of the burger. The flavors weren’t overbearing either. It wasn’t as though each bite was as though you had plopped a chocolate bar down on your burger.

Jetta Burger: Nachos - Okinawa, Japan

As a side we also ordered some nachos (I’m a sucker for nachos) which were what I would describe as “loaded”. They were absolutely amazing and made with the most crisp chips I have ever had. They were so crisp that even under all the toppings only 1 of them was slightly soggy. . . . now that’s what I call a good chip!

The prices at Jetta Burger are competitive coming in lower than some of the other burger joints on the island. A basic burger came in around ¥700 to ¥800 with the addition of fries and a drink being around ¥250. The sides on the other hand, like the nachos (¥800), did get a little pricy but were offset by the lower cost of the burgers.

Overall this was a great place and I will definitely be going back. The prices weren’t bad, the people were great and the atmosphere kept our eyes wondering throughout the meal!

 

Jiro’s Bakery: Kiyuna’s Hidden Gem


Who doesn’t like coffee and doughnuts? Unfortunately getting really good doughnuts in Okinawa can be tough. Luckily you’ve got the scoop because you follow OkiNinjaKitty in one way or another!

Hiding in plane site is a great little bakery in Kiyuna on route 81 called Jiro’s Bakery. The bakery sits amongst some other businesses to include Lawson and another shop which used to be Mitz hair salon (what is coming next is to be determined). The bakery is not very big, in fact it’s only one small space with enough room for a single file line to snake through the delicious treats but they offer up some amazing baked goods.

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The second you step into Jiro’s you’re going to be hit with the wonderful smell of fresh baked pastry and bread. It’s not something you get too often here in Japan but when you experience it you know you’ve found something amazing! One of the delicious offerings available at Jiro’s is their doughnuts. They have a large variety (although the good ones go fast so be sure to get there early) for reasonable prices. They even have a special where you can get 12 doughnuts for ¥1200.

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Aside from doughnuts Jiro’s also makes some of my husband’s favorite sandwiches. They also have fresh breads, cookies, doughnuts, cakes and so much more! The prices are reasonable too! Next time you’re in Kiyuna be sure to check it out. Please consider that this establishment take yen cash only. 

 

Burger King Japan: BK Ringo and NY Whopper


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I have learned very many things since coming to Japan, one of them is that Japanese companies (or Japanese branches of companies) take competition very seriously. Whether it’s Lawson and Family Mart, Starbucks and Tully’s, or Burger King and McDonalds everyone is trying to out-do the competitor and bring in the customers. This makes it incredibly hard for consumers, like myself, to pass up on some of the interesting and intreating offerings being served up.

In what seems to be an answer to the McDonald’s American Vintage campaign Burger King has released their American flag wavin’ version of a burger in the NY Whopper and the BK Ringo. As if that wasn’t enough Burger King also flips McDonalds the bird with their own version of BK Cheesy Fries. . . . . yep they went there.

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Being that we couldn’t resist the opportunity to give readers a side by side comparison of McDonald’s “Classic” Fries and the BK Cheesy Fries we went ahead and substituted our regular fries for the calorie packed artery clogging goodness. Despite the nature of both fries being the same they came with some drastic differences. These fries came with melted cheese and a meat sauce, like pasta sauce, on top. Although BK hit the nail on the head with the fact that the cheese was hot they didn’t quite hit the mark. The cheese wasn’t quite cheesy and the meat/pasta sauce was good but couldn’t come close to the deliciousness of McDonald’s “Classic” Fries (room temperature cheese and all).

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Despite the slightly (and I do mean slightly) disappointing fries Burger King really made me say “God Bless the USA” with their BK Ringo. The burger included a patty with lettuce and a grilled apply slice (ringo in Japanese) sprinkled with a little bit of cinnamon. Although it might sound strange apples and hamburgers were meant to be together. I have been putting crushed apples in my homemade patties for years but I never thought about simply putting a grilled slice right on top. The apple adds an amazing texture and compliments the beef perfectly.

Although there is no denying that these burgers aren’t close to gourmet they are tasty in a pinch or when let’s say. . . your husband is in the mood for a fast food burger. As tasty as they might be they aren’t something that I would run out to get again although I can’t wait to make some burgers of my own with a nice juicy slice of fresh apple on top!

 

 

“Workin’ for a livin” : Finding work in Okinawa


I am often asked about how to find work while living on Okinawa which is a really great question. I have done some videos on the subject in the past but the reality is that so much changes from year to year that it was time for an update. That being said in this post we are going to talk about finding a job, what some of your job options might be, what resources you may find useful and of course a little bit of my personal experience tossed in there as well.

Foreigners living on (or planning to move to) Okinawa have three main options when it comes to employment. The first is to be an English teacher, the second is to work with the US Government and the third is to work as a contractor. It is important to note that there are a number of other options for those with specialized skills and fluency in Japanese, however for the sake of this post we will be sticking to the basics.

Being an English teacher in Okinawa is very similar to being an English teacher in other parts of the country. There are companies which hire teachers and pair them with schools as well as schools that hire teachers directly. However, there are also a few differences. The main difference between being an English teacher on Mainland Japan and being an English teacher in Okinawa is the demand for teachers. Because of size alone you’re not as likely to find a job teaching English here in Okinawa as you would be in Mainland Japan. The US Military presence here in Okinawa also can sometimes make finding a job as an English teacher in some areas complicated. Some schools take advantage of the fact that military members like the idea of cultural exchange but don’t know the “business” end of things like what is a fair hourly wage.  This does not make finding a job as an English teacher impossible but it does mean that from time to time you may have to sift through some unreasonable job offers.

The second option is to work with the US Government. With the island of Okinawa being home to over 30 US Military bases there are a lot of options too. Military bases are like self sustaining communities and therefore the right person can find a job doing just about anything on a military base. This includes working in a department store like AAFES, working at a restaurant, daycare, post office, specialty shop, grocery store, gym and the list goes on. Of course working on a US Military base is not for everyone. Some jobs are only available to US citizens, others are only available to Japanese citizens. Some jobs will be geared towards hiring military spouses (MCCS and 18FSS) and others who are already here on Okinawa under the SOFA. Other jobs (USAJobs) will be available to others including those who currently reside outside of Okinawa and will require relocation and visa sponsorship. 

The third and final option for finding employment here in Okinawa is to become a contractor. Being a contractor on Okinawa can be tricky, especially if you are planning on settling down in one place for any long period of time. Contracts change hands all the time and not all are lengthy. This can make them not the most secure of job choices here on Okinawa. Not all contracting jobs offer visa sponsorship either which is an important detail to ask about during the application process and/or at the time of the interview. As is with everything else being a contractor is not for everyone. Those interested should have a strong background and excel in their field. Finding contracting positions can also sometimes be challenging because of the different companies which hold contracts in Okinawa changing on a yearly basis. Research and inquiries are the best solution to finding who is hiring those in your field.

Like anywhere else Okinawa has it’s challenges and advantages when it comes to finding a job. It takes a great deal of work and effort to find a job. At the end of the day, however, it is worth it to live on the beautiful island of Okinawa!

It’s a man’s . . . . holiday: Valentine’s Day in Japan


Romance and the smell of chocolates is filling the air. . . . . must mean that Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Like many other holidays that are celebrated by both Japan and the United States there are some interesting differences.

Although you can find chocolates, cookies and cakes the one thing about Japan’s version of IMG_5422Valentine’s Day that is different is who gets them. Here in Japan women give gifts of chocolates and pastry to men including love interests, co-workers, bosses, friends and family members. 

(Don’t worry ladies you’ll have your chance to receive lovely treats from the gents on March 14th. That’s a holiday called White Day when the roles are reversed but the concept is very  much the same.) 

Like in the United States department stores, specialty shops and bakeries around Japan jump at the opportunity to show off the delicious confections and other fun treats. Often times the wide variety of products are shown off in large displays like the one depicted at the local San A Ginowan Convention City in Okinawa.

IMG_5423With mountains of chocolates and sweets available how on Earth is a someone supposed to decide what to get? Luckily there are a few guidelines that can help you make your choice. For those men in a woman’s life who are not a love interest there are chocolates called “giri-choco” or obligation chocolate”. These are the chocolates given to co-workers, bosses and other men who may be involved in your everyday life. In general these giri-choco are smaller, less expensive chocolates.

For the love interest a woman might buy more expensive, elaborate chocolate or even make treats of their own. These are called “honmei-choco” or “prospective winner chocolates”.  Although that translation might not be the best  I think the idea comes across.

In more recent years there is a new trend of women exchanging chocolates with their girlfriends on Valentines Day and has been given the name “tomo-choco” or “friend chocolate”.

Whether you want to confess your love for that hunk at work or share the love of chocolate with your friends department stores, grocery stores, bakeries and confectionaries around the island are bound to have what you’re looking for!

Prefectural Road Construction Monument – Nakagusuku Village Designated Historic Site


One of the reasons that I absolutely love having the OkiNinjaKitty Channel and Blog is to share some of Okinawa’s gems that many drive by day after day without giving a passing glance. Today I stumbled upon one of those little gems on our way back from the Nakagusuku Cosmos Field. The site might not look like too much to the untrained eye but we knew right away that it was worth stopping and taking a closer look.

Prefectural Road Construction Monument: Monument - Okinawa, Japan

Along side this large marker was a sign with information in Japanese and English which reads:

“Most roads within the Arakaki settlement in the old days were stone-paved. The roads were no more than 2.7 meters (8.9 feet) in width and were barely large enough for horse carts to pass by. 

Since cars were not able to pass, villagers had no choice except to transport commodities to the settlement by hand or by horse, creating an enormous burden. 

Concerned by the situation, Zenshun and Yoshinori Isa, father and son, lobbied the municipal assemblies and worked timelessly to stress the need for roads wide enough to accommodate automobiles. The hard work of the Isa family and the villagers of Arakaki eventually bore fruit. Route 35 (former Futenma and Yonabaru route) was constructed and their long sought dream was realized. 

To commemorate the opening of the road and the great contribution made by the Isa family, a youth organization of the settlement unveiled this monument in October 1934. 

Inscriptions on the monument recount the hardship the settlement experienced, the process to open the road, and the achievements the Isa family made. 

The monument was formerly located about 100 meters to the east of where it is now. It was moved to the present spot due to post war construction works to widen the road. It was designated a historic site March 7 1997. “

Prefectural Road Construction Monument: Road With School Children - Okinawa, Japan

 

This small but important site is one of the many around Okinawa hiding right under your nose. Be sure to check it out next time you’re driving down Route 35 in Nakagusuku.