“Workin’ For A Livin” [PART 2]: More On Finding Work In Okinawa


Finding work in Okinawa is always a hot topic among my readers and viewers. Everyone wants to know the key to getting into a solid position and starting a life on this beautiful island in southern Japan. Unfortunately the answers to these questions are not quite as cut and dry as I am sure people would prefer. Often times they change from year to year. . . sometimes even more frequently. In fact the last “Workin’ For A Livin” post that I made was in February of this year (2014) and things have already changed.

So what has changed and what has stayed the same? First and foremost let’s talk about what has stayed the same. For the most part there are still three main options for foreigners seeking employment here in Okinawa. These include being an English teacher, working for the US Government or being a contractor. Of course there are a number of other options for those with specialized skills and fluency in the Japanese language but we’re going to stick to the basics again in this post. What has changed are the technicalities and details that goes along with each option. I’ll go into the specifics in detail throughout this post.

The first thing I want to discuss is being an English teacher here in Okinawa. Working as an English teacher here is in some ways very similar to teaching English in other parts of the country although there are some distinct differences. These differences are centered around supply and demand. Here in Okinawa there is not a very high demand for English teachers because of the size of the island. There is also an endless supply of English speaking foreigners, thanks to the US Military presence, making it easy to fill positions. Companies also benefit from hiring military personnel because they do not require visa sponsorship, benefits and are often will accept what would otherwise be considered an unfair wage. So what has changed with English teaching? Although the number of English teaching jobs here in Okinawa has not increased in the past few months there have been a few changes that those seeking employment in this area might want to take note of. First is education. Although to get a visa teaching English in Japan you’ll need a BA many people have often got by without needing any degree in order to work as an English teacher here in Okinawa. Nowadays however this is stating to change. We are seeing many more English school requiring that people have at least a BA or BS. In a number of cases schools are also requesting that English teachers have specific teaching qualifications (including a degree in Education and/or teaching certifications) as well as experience teaching English as a second language. I’ve also noticed in recent months that some English schools are being much more particular about where their employees live. Some schools are even going so far as to turn down employees based on the fact that they live in an area that, according to the school, is too far away. This is actually something that has happened to me multiple times within the past 6 months. We’re not talking major distances either. Schools about 45 minutes away from my home, which are within what I consider a reasonable commute, have turned me down because I live what they feel is too far from the school.

The next area to discuss is working with the US Government. This used to be a fantastic option for Americans wanting to live in Okinawa because being home to over 30 US Military bases the island had quite a few options available. However, things have changed quite a bit. The US Government has definitely started to tighten their belt when it comes to hiring people who are not currently military spouses or active duty military members. There have also been a huge decrease in the number of jobs which offer visa status. This makes it tremendously difficult for someone who is not military or married to a military member to find a job with the US Government here in Okinawa. Requirements are also changing. More and more entry level jobs which have not required a degree for the past decade are now requiring a BA or certifications. These jobs include such areas as working at the commissary or as a tour guide. Others are requiring that their employees be bilingual in order to be considered. In my opinion this takes working for the US Government of the list as an employment option for those wanting to live in Okinawa because it’s just not feasible. Then again these things change so frequently that I may be singing a different tune here in the next few months.

Finally let’s take a moment to talk about becoming a contractor here in Okinawa. Not much has really changed in this area. It is still a trickily area because contract work can be unsteady and unreliable. However, overall there has been no major changes to how hit or miss getting a contracting job can be. You can read all about finding a job as a contractor in the original “Workin’ for a Livin” post.

LIke anywhere else Okinawa has it’s challenges and advantages when it comes to finding a job. In recent months I would definitely go so far as to say the challenges are outweighing the advantages. As always it takes a great deal of effort to find a job and Okinawa is no exception to that rule. At the end of the day, however, it is worth it to live on the beautiful island of Okinawa. . . . if that’s what you’re looking for.

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Summer Update: What I’ve Been Up To & Why It’s Been Quiet


Things have been rather quiet here on the ONK Blog so far this summer and it hasn’t been without good reason. As most of you who have watched my videos in the past few months know the house that I was living in started quite literally falling apart. There were massive leaks, bug infestations and the ceiling starting collapsing.

In an attempt to resolve these issues we contacted the housing agency so that we could get a scheduled time for a maintenance crew to take a look at the house. This process alone, simply scheduling a date for them to come, took over 2 weeks. The reason was because the landlady didn’t want anyone working on the house other than her approved construction company. To boot the only way to arrange to have this approved company to our house was to first get in touch with the landlady who has no cell phone or landline. This meant that all requests and contact made to her had to be via Japan Post. . . . . snail mail. When the 2 weeks had finally passed we had a scheduled appointment for someone to take a look at the house. They came in and within about 10 minutes determined that there was a problem that needed immediate attention. This was then followed by 9 straight hours of construction work on the house.

When the construction crews finally left we were told that it could not be determined whether or not the house was safe to live in at this time and we wouldn’t know for at least another 2 weeks during which time the construction crews would be working 9 hour days removing rubble that had been falling from the ceiling for however many years. Of course I was not going to accept thing as an answer and informed the housing agency that they needed to find us a new place to live by the end of the weekend.

The weekend for me was horrible. Concrete dust that had filled my house made it difficult for me to breathe. I had a headache that lasted for days and I had begun to develop a cough. . . . only over 3 days. I had also not been sleeping because the house was so infested with bugs that we were literally waking up in the middle of the night because they were crawling on us of falling from the ceiling onto our begs. When at last Monday rolled around we had gone to the housing agency, this time with photographs and videos, to demand a new apartment. We also informed them that we would not be paying for repairs and/or cleaning fees as the house was currently being torn apart by a construction company. When the people at the housing agency saw the pictures they were disgusted. We had shown them piles of bugs that were gathering at parts of our house, the lines of them along the ceiling and of course the huge chunks of our roof that were now gone. Immediately they looked into our options which unfortunately was only one. That same day we went to look at the apartment and decided that we would be signing the paperwork.

We had to spend another week in our decaying house while preparations were made in the next one but it was a good opportunity to get everything in order so that we could prepare for the move. We did our best to gather all of our things, throw out what had become ruined because of the house (which was much more than we anticipated it would be) and then were on our way. We finally got our keys on Friday. The only problem was when we received our keys we were told that some of the things in the house (stove, air conditioners and fridge) might not be working properly. This would not have been a problem if we were told this prior to moving in but the housing agency kept this information from us until after we signed the contract.

Over the course of the next 4 days we slowly moved into our new apartment. It was a long and hard process to do on our own but we simply couldn’t afford to hire a moving company so we had to make due with what we had. Everything worked out well enough and finally we had everything moved in. Then we learned, the same day we moved all the cold items from the fridge, that it was not working. We called the housing agency and informed them that the fridge was not working and that we needed to have it repaired/replaced and we were swiftly told that if we needed it replaced we would have to replace it ourselves because the fridge, as well as all other items in the house, was not “part” of the house and therefore was not the responsibility of the owner. Of course this is not something that I was expecting. We were already having to pay out a number of bills because of a move that was out of our control and now we were going to have to purchase our own appliances. This was not good for our checkbook.

Pissed off and out of options I started looking for a fridge that we could purchase with our modest budget. We looked for something used but they were either too expensive or not what we were looking for. Then finally we decided that our only option was to go and buy something new. We went to every appliance store on the island and finally settled on a little fridge that was perfect for us and only about ¥20,000 which we could swing with our budget. The only catch is that it would take one week for it to be delivered.

The next week was one of the hardest I have ever had. Summer in Okinawa is bad enough but when you’re trying to survive without anything more than a cooler to keep food and drinks cold it is a huge challenge. We were eating mostly takeout and prepackaged foods which were making us both feel horrible because our diet usually consists of nothing but fresh foods. We were trying to get vegetables but because of the heat and humidity they would spoil in about a days time sitting on the counter in the kitchen. It was brutal. Then finally the fridge came. It was amazing! I was so happy that it arrived and I would not have to eat any more preserved pre packed junk. . . . . . . .

. . . . . . then it didn’t work. It wasn’t getting cold at all. In fact it was hotter in the fridge than it was in the house. It took us a few days to get the issue resolved because at the time there was a major typhoon coming through Okinawa. Nevertheless I marched over to the store and informed them that it was broken and it needed to be replaced. They were happy to replace it. . . . . but unfortunately there were no more in stock. I could either wait another 2 weeks to have one sent down from mainland or I could pick another fridge. The thought of living for another 2 weeks without a fridge made it feel like I was going to puke so I decided to go with the second option. . . . pick another fridge. The only downside to this option is that I would ultimately have to pay another ¥10,000 that I didn’t really have but it seemed totally work making financial sacrifices later.

It took another 6 days to get the new fridge delivered and to my delight it worked just fine. I cold finally start getting my life back together! At that point I had to start focusing quite a bit on the foods that we were eating and the money that we were spending. Our usual food budget runs us at about ¥1000 per day but that had gone up to about ¥3000 a day without a fridge. On top of that I was sick for about a week because my body was literally detoxing from all of the nonsense that I had been eating for the last 2 weeks. It was horrible.

Thrown in a typhoon, tropical storm and some other little hiccups and you’ve got yourself all caught up with where I am right about now. As you might imagine I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend making videos or writing blog posts which is why there hadn’t been much up on the ONK side of the house.

So where are we going from here? I’ve got a new channel called YenniePincher that focuses on cooking videos. That posts new videos every Tuesday and Thursday. I also have an all new channel called Kitty Does Japan which is posting daily vlogs and other videos to come in the future as well. I will continue writing here but it might be a week or so before things get back into full swing as I learn how to juggle everything that I am doing right now.

Stay tuned and of course thank you for your support!

Fukushu-en Garden: Transported to China


There is an entire category of tourist that includes only people who prefer to stay off the beaten path and avoid cities at all cost. Unfortunately for these tourists they end up missing out on absolutely beautiful locations just like the one I am writing about today. Nestled in the center of Naha City’s hustle and bustle, just moments away from the types of hot spots this category of tourist is desperately trying to avoid, is the Fukushu-en Garden.

Fukushuen Garden: Waterfall - Okinawa, Japan

The Fukushu-en Garden is not what you would expect to find in Naha. In fact it’s more like the places that you would find off a nameless road of northern Okinawa. The wide open spaces, intricate architecture and free admission make this an oddity for central Naha to say the absolute least. Nonetheless Fukushu-en is the prefect place to transport you to Fukusyu City, a Chinese city that along with Naha flourished as a center of trade.

Built as a symbol of the friendship between the two cities Fukushu-en uses materials and architecture which was brought over directly from Fukusyu City. This not only makes the park look authentically Chinese but also makes it feel that was as well. It’s a challenge to describe but having been on Okinawa for as long as I have you can tell that what you’re looking at is distinctly foreign.

Fukushuen Garden: Bridge - Okinawa, Japan

Strolling through the Fukushu-en Garden is a very unique experience. The garden itself does not cover a notably large space but the use of the space is done so well that you feel as though you are covering much more ground than you actually are. Skillful placement of plants, stones and structures divide the park up into sections which make each area feel secluded from the next. This makes it possible to enjoy each of the distinctly different landscapes.

Fukushuen Garden: Tower & Pond - Okinawa, Japan

Making the most of your trip to the Fukushu-en Garden means taking it slow. Those who walk through the garden as though they are just trying to complete a chore are likely to miss most of the amazing things that the garden has to offer. The beautiful paintings, sculptures, plant life, and architecture shines brightest when you take a moment to really look at it and not just glance as you’re walking by. Taking that moment to stop, sit and enjoy a few sips of water in the gazebo near the pond is really all it takes to see the little gems hidden around this garden.

Although this garden is an absolutely beautiful place to visit it does have some minor downsides. The biggest downside to this garden is the combination of it’s free admission. This makes it incredibly appealing for tour groups who want to squeeze in another location at no extra cost to the business. This can sometimes mean that you find a lot of people pushing and running through the garden which ultimately makes it much less a pleasant experience than desirable. However this can be avoided by keeping some of these very basic tips in mind. If you find yourself arriving at the Fukushu-en gardens and there are tour busses outside take some time and explore the nearby park which is immediately across from the entrance. The park is beautiful and includes some historic sites as well. Then when the busses of tourists have passed stroll inside to enjoy your visit.

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“Is that Kobe Beef?”: What you need to know before ordering!


Kobe beef (神戸ビーフ) is one of the many things that foreigners coming to Okinawa have on their “things to try” list. The chance to eat meat from a cow that has received a lifetime of massages , classical music and being fed beer is the very definition of luxury. Knowing this foreigners enthusiastically pull out their wallets and pay healthy sums of money for the “Kobe beef” on steakhouse menus around the island. However, most would be surprised to find out that the beef they can’t wait to tell their friends about is not Kobe beef at all.

The first and most important thing to understand is what exactly it means for a slab of meat to be called Kobe beef. As disappointing as this is going to be for those who take great pleasure in how weird and whacky Japan is massages, beer and classical music have nothing to do with Kobe beef. Although cows will undoubtably be rubbed down occasionally the notion that some day spa in the fields of unknown Japan exists is a myth created by someone who was clearly overzealous and probably a little drunk. In reality being Kobe beef means that the meat has come from a purebred Tajima steer that was born, raised and butchered in Hyogo Prefecture. The beef must also meet certain guidelines having a meat quality of 4 to 5 and beef marbling standard (BMS) of 6 to 12.

Seeing as how Kobe beef is such a high quality, and very scarce, product there is strict control over it’s distribution. Each and every carcass that meets the grade for both meat quality and beef marbling standard is given a ten-digit identification number (個体識別番号) which can be checked online confirming that you are getting the quality you are paying for. Retailers and restaurants serving actual Kobe beef are also certified and should be willing to provide you with the identification number of the beef that you are being served. If they are not willing to provide you with a ten-digit identification number there’s a good chance it’s not Kobe beef. 

In fact if you’re in Okinawa and are looking for actual Kobe beef you’re out of luck. The reason is because according to the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association’s list of certified sellers none of the retailers or restaurants in Okinawa Prefecture are certified. In other, more straight forward, words no it’s not Kobe beef that you enjoy at that teppenyaki place down the road.

The question now is what are steakhouses in Okinawa serving if not actual Kobe beef. Are they even serving high quality beef from Tajima steer at all? More importantly are you overpaying because of false advertising?

 

 

 

Okinawa Soba: A Beautifully Simple Dish


IMG_7259

Okinawa soba, or suba as it is called in Okinawa’s native language, is a well known dish produced in Okinawa Prefecture. Okinawa soba is made of a few simple ingredients including kamaboko (a type of fish cake), scallions, stewed pork belly, noodles and is garnished with beni shoga (pickled ginger). Although the dish is called soba the noodles in Okinawa soba are actually different from the noodles known as soba throughout other parts of Japan. They are not made of buckwheat and more closely resemble udon.

Although you can enjoy Okinawa soba at a variety of restaurants around Okinawa you can also make it at home with relatively no fuss and for a fraction of the cost. Here’s a simple guide to what you need and how to make Okinawa soba for you and your family to enjoy!

The very first thing you’re going to need to do is go to your local grocery store and pick up all of the ingredients for your Okinawa soba. I got everything that you are going to see today at Ginowan San A Convention City IMG_7256not far from the Ginowan Convention Center. As listed above you’re going to need noodles, broth, pork belly, fish cake and scallions. I choose not to put pickled ginger on mine because I am not a fan of it but if that little red stuff is up your alley go wild!

Once you have gathered all of your ingredients it’s time to start pulling the entire meal together. We do this by starting with the broth or 沖縄そばだし. This particular variety of broth or 沖縄そばだし came with about 4 packets inside and required about 300cc of water per packet.

(Each brand of 沖縄そばだし will have different directions. Simply check the back of the package for the number of cc’s/ml’s are required of water, 水, and you should be good to go.)

Once the 沖縄そばだし has been put in a pot it’s time to start thinking about the next ingredients. I prefer to add the stewed pork belly next. You have a great deal of options when it comes to the pork that you IMG_7258choose to include in your Okinawa soba. You can go the route of purchasing pork belly and stewing it yourself (sorry folks we’re not covering how to do that in this post), you can go the route of purchasing some nice high quality pork belly that has already been cooked and is ready to go or you can go with the low cost yet still delicious option. This is a package of precooked san-mai niku or 三枚肉 (literally translated to 3 layer meat). It’s a great alternative if you’re looking to make a small batch of Okinawa soba. 

I like to add the pork or 三枚肉 to the broth while it is warming up. It allows some of the delicious flavors stored in the meat to dissolve and make the broth even more tasty. It also helps warm the meat so so that it can be enjoyed when the rest of the dish is pulled together.

Finally it’s is time to add the noodles to the dish. Although you can purchase dry noodles and cook them I decided to go the route of precooked noodles. This is an easy way to make noodle dishes without having to IMG_7257worry about whether or not you’ve properly cooked the noodles. They can also be prepared very quickly and therefore cut down on the time it takes to make the dish.

After adding the noodles to the pot bring everything to a boil and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Finally when you feel as though everything has become the temperature of your liking it’s time to start plating your dish. First include the noodles followed by the pork and broth. This is also the time when you would garnish your dish with finely chopped scallions, the fresher the better, and also kamaboko or fish cake.

You’ll notice that I saved kamaboko for the very end. Kamaboko is a type of fish cake made from various white fish that has been pureed and combined with a variety of additives. It has a distinct fishy taste and is not for everyone. It can easily be left out of Okinawa soba for those who are not that adventurous but for those who are you can easily find it in your oden and processed fish section. It looks a little something like this:

From start to finish cooking this meal for myself and my husband cost a total of ¥500 and took me approximately 10 minutes from the moment I decided to cook to the second I sat down to eat. With a beautiful meal so simple to cook and inexpensive there’s no excuse not to give it a try!

 

 

Okinawa: What You Need To Know


Okinawa is a beautiful place to visit and live. However, there are some things that you definitely need to know if you are thinking of visiting and/or moving here. In this blog post we’re going to cover some of those topics that you need to know about and shine some light on this tiny little island in the middle of the ocean.

1. Okinawa is not a war zone 

The island of Okinawa was once the sight of the horrendous Battle of Okinawa during WWII. Many lives were lost and parts of the island were changed forever. Although today remains from WWII are still being recovered and US Military aircraft fly training missions in the skies the island is far from a war zone or combat area. In fact Okinawa is quite literally a resort island where millions of people each year visit the crystal clear beaches and immerse themselves in the unique culture.

2. Foreigners are welcome in Okinawa 

Being home to over 30 military bases and opening it’s doors to millions of tourists each year it is no wonder that Okinawa is a foreigner friendly place. In most cases shop keeps, business owners and restaurants do anything they can to accommodate foreigners. Even in all of my years here and all the off the beaten path places I have been there was never a time that I have been denied access to a place or treated particularly poorly because I was a foreigner.

3. Okinawa is Japan. . . . . . but it’s not

The history books and official documents tell us that Okinawa Prefecture, including Okinawa Honto is part of Japan. Trouble is when you tell someone planning to visit Okinawa that it’s “Japan” they can sometimes get the wrong impression of the island. Okinawa and Japan have some similarities. For the most part Japanese is the most commonly used language (although it is not Okinawa’s native language and some words are not the same such as “welcome” which we say by using the word “mensore” but other parts of Japan say “yokusou”), elements of everyday life are the same like the type of appliances we have in our homes and the styles of our home and some of the foods that are eaten. However pretty much everything else here in Okinawa is unique and in many ways different from other parts of Japan. We do not have trains or use mass public transportation other than busses which do not run on time and a monorail with very limited access. We do not have the same fashions or even pop culture trends. There is also a very different mentality down here in Okinawa and the way of doing things is very laid back.

4. There’s more than raw fish and rice on the menu

When I first told my family and friends that I was moving to Japan there was a lot of confusion and a lot of questions of one which was how will I survive on raw fish and rice. Although it seems like a sheltered comment there are actually a lot of people who are concerned about just this. The good news is that here in Okinawa, like most other places in Japan, there are more things on the menu than raw fish and rice. In fact it’s not uncommon to find pizza, tacos and even pasta pretty much anywhere you go in Okinawa. Even when you’re off the beaten path and not near restaurants convenience stores sell things like Cup Noodle and sandwiches.

5. Okinawa’s not so hot but very humid 

One of the first things that people say when you ask them to describe Okinawa is that it is HOT! Okinawa really isn’t that hot though. On the average year temperatures don’t get much higher than the 90’s which is, although unbearable for some, not actually that bad. The problem with Okinawa’s summers, however, is the humidity. When summer is in full swing Okinawa’s humidity will end up in the 90-100% range making it not only hard to stay cool but for some like myself hard to breathe. Although some feel as though this is unmanageable there are some things that can be done to make the summer months livable. . . . . . but we’ll talk more about that later.

What are some things that you think it’s important to know about Okinawa? Put them in the comments below and we will include them in our video of the same title!

Bistro De Mattaka


Finding a good restaurant for a date night can sometimes be a challenge in the south central part of
Okinawa. Between the large chain restaurants which are hustling and bustling with tourists and the smaller family friendly restaurants which don’t necessarily scream “romance” it can sometimes feel a bit hopeless. Luckily we stumbled upon a brand new restaurant (opened in March 2014) that is the perfect setting for a quiet romantic night.

Bistro De Mattaka: Exterior - Okinawa, Japan

The restaurant is called Bistro De Mattaka and is located on Route 58 in Ginowan. The small and easy to miss restaurant not only offers a fantastic atmosphere but also offers incredibly delicious cuisine at a surprisingly affordable price.

One of the first things that you will notice about Bistro De Mattaka is the elegant and simple decor. Creamy walls with dark wood floors and bar accented with bright white chairs give the space a warm and yet chic feel. Along one side of the building are windows adorned with postcards depicting beautiful images of France all the while French music is being played lightly in the background pulling the theme together.

Bistro De Mattaka: Bar Seating - Okinawa, Japan

Despite the French theme of Bistro De Mattaka the cuisine was not so focused. There were pasta dishes, various types of meat offered and even some favorites commonly found here in Okinawa. Although the cuisine was not what we had originally anticipated it was quite a pleasant surprise to see so much variety on the menu. Aside from food Bistro De Mattaka also offers a wide array of drinks (including alcoholic beverages) and has an impressive wine list.

Once you’ve taken the time and consideration to read through the menu, which features both Japanese and English, it’s time for the staff to take your order. As you might expect from any other restaurant in Okinawa the staff of Bistro Be Mattaka are inviting, charming and kind. They were even so kind to have the chef talk to us directly about the “chef’s choice” fish dish that we intended to order.

Bistro De Mattaka: Rear Seating - Okinawa, Japan

Bistro De Mattaka: Chef's Fish Of The Day - Okinawa, Japan

Bistro De Mattaka: Cheese Plate - Okinawa, Japan

Bistro De Mattaka: Lobster Dish - Okinawa, Japan

As good as the food looks at Bistro De Mattaka it tastes even better! Each and every bite was bursting with a delicious combination of flavors and spices all the while playing off the taste of the main ingredient not masking it. The flavors were also unique to anything that I have ever had in Okinawa before having no Japanese spin on any of the dishes that we tried. This was very refreshing.

Bistro De Mattaka is one of those places that I could continue on and on about. Between the feel which echoed sitting in a French roadside cafe and the food which leaves you wanting more the best way to experience this place is by enjoying lunch or dinner there yourself!

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: 

Bistro De Mattaka is not a family friendly restaurant. This is one of those places you should book a babysitter for. Also please consider that Bistro De Mattaka takes Yen cash only at this time.