“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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Chemicals in the Playground – Part 2: Commander raises more questions than he answers


It was approximately 10AM today when the 18th Wing Commander released a statement addressing the recent concerns surrounding barrels unearthed a short distance from two of Kadena Air Base’s schools. (Read more detailed information about the barrels HERE.) Unfortunately if given more than a passing glance the release actually raises more questions than it answers.

Men and Women of the Kadena Air Base Community,

I am aware of the concerns expressed over the discovery of unexplained barrels under Okinawa City’s soccer field between the Okinawa Expressway and Prefectural Highway 23. Our kids are our #1 priority, and we are doing everything possible to stay abreast of new information and address our community members’ concerns. I want to assure you that I am fully focused on this issue and all evidence points to these barrels posing no threat to the people on Kadena Air Base, and specifically to the students and employees at our schools. We understand your concerns, and as such plan to host a town hall at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 28) at Ryukyu Middle School on Kadena Air Base to share further information and address your questions.

First and foremost I think that it is important to note for the purpose of continuity that the barrels which were unearthed are not what I would describe as “unexplained”. In a variety of articles (including later in this statement) it is documented that barrels were labeled Dow Chemicals which, by the nature of the company, would make one assume that there is likelihood of the barrels containing chemicals at one time or another. Dow Chemicals also released a statement which said they could have been used for hospital waste or trash. Furthermore, tests (again as is mentioned in this very statement below) indicate that dioxins, petroleum based oils and heat resistant oils were in the barrels. What was “unexplained” is why it took an outside source, months after the story broke in the local and national news, and a parent’s post on Facebook for the base to even acknowledge that the barrels were unearthed in the first place.

The discovery of barrels under the Okinawa City soccer field is being thoroughly investigated by the host nation, and they have full control of the site. They plan to publish a full report later this year, and we will ensure the results are publicized within our community. To this point their testing has found evidence of petroleum oils, heat-resistant oils and dioxins on some of the barrels themselves; however, the soil across the soccer field around the barrels has been tested and does not exceed Japanese environmental quality standards.

There is no evidence the materials on the barrels have migrated at all. Moreover, the entire space between the soccer fields and the base is designed to draw substances away from the schools. Based on the site set-up alone, it is highly improbable that any material from the Okinawa City soccer field could have reached the schools on Kadena Air Base.

I can’t help but wonder: Why the space between the soccer fields (where the barrels were, and some still are, located) and the base would be “designed to draw substances away from the schools” if there was no prior knowledge of the barrels being buried there? Of course it is naive to believe that the base had absolutely no prior knowledge of these barrels as someone buried them there, likely when the area was part of Kadena Air Base prior to 87. However, if there were no harmful substances, why “design” an area to ensure they are “drawn. . . away”?

There has been significant speculation as to what might have been contained within the barrels originally, and at this point we do not definitively know. There have been three studies thus far conducted by local officials, and those results did not lead to a specific answer. To get the full information, we will need to wait for the results of the host-nation study.

Except there were relatively specific answers at very least from one of the studies conducted. In fact just a month after the barrels were unearthed the Okinawa Prefecture Environment Science Center detected dioxin in all 22 barrels including 2,4,5-Trichlorophenol which is one of the two major components used in Agent Orange.

Although we believe the area to be completely safe, we have collected and analyzed survey samples of soil and air around the schools on Kadena Air Base. All samples have come back well within environmental safety standards, but we plan to conduct an additional round of more stringent compliance sampling in the area in order to provide additional reassurance to parents and community members.

Finally, there have been some concerns expressed about the drinking water in the schools. Let me stress that all of Kadena Air Base’s drinking water is drawn from commercial sources unrelated to the site where the barrels were discovered. Additionally, the base ensures high quality drinking water by running a strict compliance water-sampling program and ensures that all drinking water meets or exceeds EPA standards. Any discrepancies found are published annually on the Internet in the Kadena Air Base Consumer Confidence Report, which can be downloaded at http://www.kadena.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-130610-056.pdf.

In conclusion, I want to assure you that our kids are our #1 priority, and we are doing everything possible to stay abreast of any new information and address potential concerns. I look forward to seeing you in person at the town hall on Tuesday.

-Brig Gen James Hecker
18th Wing Commander

Unfortunately the town hall meeting which is happening Tuesday is scheduled during a week long base wide exercise (during which time military members will work 12 hour shirts participating in a mock war time scenario).

Although some are content with the answer others remain skeptical noting that the information does not coincide with information which has been released through the past 7 months.

Tomori Stone Lion


I have often said that living in Okinawa is like spending every day in a museum. History is not only all around us here but there is such a huge value and respect for history that all you have to do is walk about 20 feet before you (sometimes quite literally) stumble upon it.

Although all of Okinawa’s historic sites are special some stand out above the rest. The Tomori Stone Lion is one of those sites.

Tucked away on a hill side of southern Okinawa is a shisa looking off into the distance. It is weathered and aged yet nor terribly damaged even after all of the fierce fighting which took place here during the Battle of Okinawa.

Although over the years we have seen hundreds if not thousands of shisa, historic places and battle sites there is something that makes the Tomori Stone Lion stand out above the rest; a photograph. During the battle of Okinawa someone snapped a photograph of military men stationed around this very shisa on this very hill. Looking at the picture you can see clear recognizable faces standing on the very spot of land that we were standing on.

There are really no words to describe how I feel about visiting this location. Standing where those men stood and resting my hand upon the stone that they undoubtably rested upon is almost surreal. Furthermore if this guardian could stand through such a time of battle and fear what did it see before the time when that photo was snapped?

OkiNinjaKitty’s Best Blog Posts of 2013


As 2013 comes to a close it’s time to take a look back at the posts that were most viewed in the past year. Here’s the ten most viewed posts and a little something about them.

#1 – THE OKINAWA EXPRESSWAY: HOW TO USE IT AND WHAT IS ETC

The Okinawa Expressway is a great way to travel long distances on the island. This posts features information about how to use it. . . . there’s more information in here than you might think!

#2 – BUYING A CAR IN OKINAWA

A lot of people have cars here in Okinawa mostly because there is not much public transportation here in Okinawa. This post features information on the types of cars you can find here, basic pricing information and other stuff you’re going to want to know.

#3 – JAPANESE PUBLIC RESTROOMS – A LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP 

Everyone uses a restroom sooner or later. In this post we talk about all the little things that I love and also hate about restrooms here in Japan.

#4 – HA HA HA CUPCAKES 

When a new cupcake shop opened here in Ginowan I couldn’t help but give it a try. Find out what I thought in this post.

#5 – PONTA CARD: WHAT IS IT AND HOW DO I GET ONE? 

Ponta is a point card system here in Japan that can be used at a variety of shopping facilities. You can earn points to get products or even fun novelty gifts.

#6 – OKINAWA’S RAINY SEASON: APRIL SHOWERS BRING MAY . . . . GOYA!

Rainy season in Okinawa is tough but it doesn’t have to be THAT bad. Find out my thoughts in this post.

#7 – VISITING OKINAWA: WEATHER IN JUNE

June seems to be a popular time to visit Okinawa. In this relatively popular post I talk about the weather

#8 – HOW TO EXPLORE OKINAWA

Probably my most favorite post, and if you were to ask me the one which has the most valuable information, is How To Explore Okinawa. This post features information about how I learned to explore Okinawa and what you can do to enjoy the island the way I do.

#9 – JUST DON’T GET BIT BY A HABU

Habu are a not so friendly critter that lives here in Okinawa. In this post we talk about it what a habu is, where is safe and of course how to take care of a habu bite.

#10 – BRAS IN JAPAN: SECURELY STOW THOSE BOOBIES!

Bras are a necessity for many women and finding one in Japan can be intimidating. In this post we talk about bras in Japan, sizing and where you can find them.

Foremost Blue Seal Co. – More than just an ice cream parlor.


Big Dip is one of those special little gems that you don’t find too often here in Okinawa. I mean you probably already know that Big Dip has Okinawa’s best ice cream and a pretty good menu . . . but what most people tend to look over is that Big Dip (particularly Big Dip Makiminato) is in fact a historical location!

It all started in 1948. American forces were now stationed around Okinawa at many bases to include onewhich stood where Camp Kinser stands today, Camp Makiminato. Much like today the American diet called for dairy products, a need that Okinawa could not meet at the time. Foremost Co then entered the scene beginning construction on an establishment to house dairy products for the American military forces. Originally Foremost was restricted to only those who had base access. There was such a buzz that in the late 70’s (and what I can assume was a small amount of land reclamation) Foremost Blue Seal Co, the company we all know and love today, was born. Military, locals and tourists alike have been enjoying the high quality ice cream every since!

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Even at 10:30PM on Friday night Big Dip Makiminato is filled to the brim with families young and old enjoying a tasty treat.

Hint: Next time you enjoy a scoop of your favorite ice cream at a Big Dip location look closely to see if you can find a photo of the original Makiminato location. 

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Today Big Dip doesn’t disappoint still serving customers the same blue seal quality* ice cream and a variety of other foods which are sure to send any American back to their favorite drive-in burger joint in 3 to 5 bites. Big Dip also goes above and beyond creating delicious offerings that are American style with an Okinawan twist. One of those items is the “Okinawa Tacos Dog” a play on Taco Rice, an Okinawan Favorite, and the classic American hotdog. This dog features the fixings of a taco on top of a hotdog in a soft delicious bun. Sure it’s a little messy but it is delicious nonetheless. Finish off the meal with some ice cream created from the many delicious Okinawa inspired flavors such as Mango, Sea Salt or Purple Sweet Potato.

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If classic American is more your style you’re not going to want to miss one of the burgers Big Dip has to offer. Prepared just like my favorite drive-in back home these are actually grilled to perfection and topped with fresh vegetables between an again soft and delicious bun. If this doesn’t take you back “home” I don’t know what will.

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For those, like me, who take their desert seriously a simple scoop of ice cream might just not hit the spot! No need to worry because Big Dip has an assortment of pies, doughnuts and other classic ice cream sundaes to boot. Try a banana split, smoothie or pie topped with rich creamy vanilla ice cream.

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Pressed for time? You can still enjoy all the goodness that Big Dip has to offer. Not only are items on the menu available for take out but there is a large selection of ice creams in single scoop and cartons for purchase. There are also special ice cream pies during the winter holiday season (pre-order only).

At the end of the day sure Big Dip has great ice cream and food but they also offer a little piece of “home” which can be especially helpful for curing homesickness. And even if you’re not feeling homesick, who can pass up on a piece of pie that looks that good? Whether you’re here for a weekend or going to work here for a few years make sure Big Dip is on your list of things to do! 

*In America outstanding dairy products were often awarded a blue ribbon or seal. The use of this ribbon or seal in the company’s name and on signage today is an indicator to customers that they can only expect the best.

Friendship Challenges When In Japan Long Term


There are always challenges when moving to a new country. However, when moving to a country so very different from your own, like Japan, the number of challenges you face increase. For those who live in Japan long term one of those challenges is making and keeping friends.

Friendship, like any other relationship, takes a lot of time to develop. Sure you might be friendly with someone on a train or at work but there’s certainly a difference between that and having that person that you can talk to and share experiences with. Developing these types of friendships living in Japan (or presumably anywhere else other than your home country) can be very difficult especially if you are a person who lives in Japan long term. There are many reasons for this but probably the biggest is because most foreigners who come to Japan are here short term and then move on to a new place. This is especially true down here in Okinawa where there is a large presence of US Military members who come and go every few years.

This can be hard on those of us who are here long term because we find ourselves saying “goodbyes” almost constantly. Just as you start to really get to know someone they find themselves whisked off by Uncle Sam or the appeal of a new adventure and we’re left here with the promise of staying connected through social media. It doesn’t take long to learn that you are not likely to be contacted again. It’s understandable, people move on, but it still takes a toll.

Another challenge that those of us who live here long term face when it comes to making friends is continuously having to explain ourselves. I am not sure if this is something that those who live on the main islands experience but here in Okinawa this has been a big challenge for me. From my experience the longer I live in Japan the less “from America” I become. Naturally this goes both ways because no matter how long I’ve lived in Japan, specifically Okinawa, I am always treated by those Japanese people I meet as though I just walked out of the airport yesterday. This usually makes me the center of attention, in a very side show freak kind of way, regardless who I meet.

Americans can’t figure out how I can sleep on a futon, eat a primarily Japanese diet and enjoy squid legs as a snack where as the Japanese people I meet can’t figure out how I can sleep on a futon, eat a primarily Japanese diet and enjoy squid legs as a snack. Regardless who I am with it feels like the worst kind of cultural exchange. Everything I do is unusual and requires some type of explanation. Sometimes it’s almost like you simply can’t be yourself because if you do something as nonchalant as ordering the goya chanpuru you will end up starting the “wow you actually eat that stuff” or “that looks disgusting” conversation.

There is no doubt that over time this can be difficult to deal with. A thick skin and incredible amount of patience is required in order to not find yourself in the middle of a restaurant exclaiming “of course they don’t have forks this is a sushi place” or “don’t call over those people that neither you nor I know so that they can watch me eat fried squid”. (Seriously this did happen to me.) Instead we gingerly explain that chopsticks aren’t that hard to use or smile as the old man offers to buy me yet more squid.

At the end of the day the reality of being in Japan (or anywhere else) long term is that there are going to be hardships in many areas. Finding and keeping friends is one of them. I am of the opinion that your personality will determine your experiences as will your location. Being in a place like Okinawa is not easy for a long term foreigner to make friends. I think this is because there are more people who are here by chance then by choice but that’s a topic for another blog post all together. I hope that this brief account of my experiences can give you a little insight on what you might expect or if you happen to be experiencing the same thing as I have at maybe some piece of mind that you’re not the only one.

Myth vs Reality: “The US Military Presence Will Ruin My Trip To Okinawa”


Believe it or not there are people out there who think twice about visiting Okinawa because of the US Military presence on the island. Of course one might assume in theory that this could be the case as there are a lot of people on the planet with a number of different views but what brought this to my attention were some people who had made contact with me regarding the subject. All of the people seemed to come from a different point of view. Some had a bad taste in their mouth regarding the  US Military. There were others that were supporters of the US Military but felt that the unrest of the people of Okinawa (mainly around the time of the Osprey and MCAS Futenma situation) would be a concern. Finally there were those that seemed neutral about the US Military itself but did not want a visit to Okinawa that was too Americanized. The concern being that you could not avoid being surrounded my US Military and therefore immersion into the culture would be very difficult.

After a few months of receiving some messages and reading comments of this nature I figured that it would be a great topic to discuss here in one of my Myth vs Reality posts. My thought is that if I can take some of the concerns that people have regarding traveling to Okinawa and shine some light in the right places, mainly the ones that remain dark to someone who has not spent a lot of time here on the island, those concerns can be eased at least a bit. With that said let’s jump right in.

Myth: 

With the large US Military presence on Okinawa it is impossible to immerse yourself in the culture. Everywhere you will go is either a tourist attraction, English speaking or adapted to the lives of the US Military members and their families. This will make it hard to avoid being surrounded my US Military and their families therefore defeating the purpose of traveling here with the intent to experience the unique culture of the island.

Reality: 

There is no denying that there is a large US Military presence on the island and therefore there are a lot of military members and their families out and about enjoying themselves during the short time that they are here. Who could blame them, Okinawa is a tropical paradise! Naturally this results in some areas being more congested with US Military and their family members then others. Generally speaking these areas are around Camp Foster, Camp Lester and Kadena Air Base. However, it’s not just the US Military presence which that has made these spots congested. The location being in the central part of the island is also very ideal for tourists from all over the world. Staying in one of the hotels in the central part of the island cuts down on the distance between all major tourist attractions and historic sites. As you might imagine with the bulk of tourists and the bulk of US Military other things fall into place such as English (which is spoken many times by not only the Americans but the tourists who travel to Okinawa and other parts of the world as a common language). Popular restaurants and other types of “tourist” type attractions pop up as well in these areas. For those who want to immerse themselves into the culture or those who simply are living here  these areas are, simply put, places to avoid. It’s not about any group of people in particular as much as it is about the fact that at least half of the people you encounter are not from around here which can make completing daily tasks that much more difficult.

Once you move yourself away from the areas which are designed as playgrounds for tourists there is quite a bit to see on the island. Many of the traditions and much of the culture which was here on Okinawa before the war has stood the test of time. Of course like anywhere else in the world times have changed and Okinawa has become more modernized but I think you would have to be kidding yourself if you didn’t think that this would happen. Even with some areas becoming modern there are others which still look as they did years ago in the northern and southern parts of the island. In some cases people do not speak Japanese and continue to use the Ryukyuan Language. Rituals and traditional dancing also continue today although like other cultures they happen during certain times of the year.

Overall if immersion and experiencing the culture is your goal this is absolutely possible if you know where to look and where not to look. The unique culture of Okinawa is still alive and well even though there have been changes to the island over the years.

Myth: 

There has been a lot of news coming out of Okinawa regarding the US Military in recent months. Between the misconduct of some military members recently and the deployment of the Osprey to MCAS Futenma the number of protests and unrest among the people of Okinawa seems great. Traveling to the island will result in an uncomfortable situation because as I am American (or of European descent) Okinawan’s won’t distinguish between me and the Military. This may result in a negative experience.

Reality: 

There is a lot of history between the US Military and the people of Okinawa. Simply put: Some people are not a fan of the US Military and others are. No, not everyone is happy with the US Military bases on the island especially when governments (both US and Japanese) don’t do what they promise they will do. When things get heated the people of Okinawa, much like people in the US, voice their opinions with things such as protest, stickers, posters and pretty much any way that they can.

Although there are people who have these feelings in my almost seven years (and yes there have been a lot of protest and unrest during these years) I have never been treated negatively because I was an American. This is not to say that you aren’t going to experience the same types of strange looks that you might experience regardless who you are traveling through Japan. There are people out there who are going to see that you’re an American and have thoughts regarding the stereotypes and experiences they have had with Americans in the past. However, what you will absolutely not find yourself being the target of aggression because MCAS Futenma didn’t move to Guam like it was schedule to nor because of the recent misconduct of a Marine.

Understandably the idea of going over seas and being caught up in some sort of protest is still a bit nerve wracking so there are some things that you can do which will assist you in avoiding those protests. Most of the time the protests are centered around the main concerns such as MCAS Futenma, Kadena Air Base and the proposed location of the base at Henoko. All of these locations, believe it or not, can be avoided without hindering your trip to Okinawa. Another helpful thing to remember is that in many cases the protests are announced in advance which will allow the bases to prepare and others to gather in protest as well. This information can usually be found at various places on the internet and I find myself posting them on my ONK Facebook page as often as possible as well.

When All Is Said And Done:

Your experience in Okinawa is going to reflect your approach. If your approach to a trip to Okinawa is that it is going to be ruined because of the US Military presence on the island then it without a doubt will be. Yes if you curse every plane that flies by you will find yourself missing out. . . on a lot. Yes if you find yourself annoyed by every American family who is just trying to experience the island for the first time and isn’t 100% accustomed to the culture you will not enjoy yourself.

The key is to approach Okinawa with the understanding that like yourself many others are trying to enjoy a place that is new and unique to them. If you keep that understanding and gear your trip to what it is you want to do, such as avoiding heavy traffic tourist areas, you will find your experience in Okinawa pleasurable.