“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!

Lipton Japan: This ain’t your grandma’s tea!


This Ain't Your Grandma's Tea: Peach Tea

Tea is to Japan what apple pie is to the United States. There are few places around the country where you won’t find tea and even fewer people who don’t consume it at least twice a day. However, the tea here in Japan is not often like the tea that Americans, like myself, are familiar with. They tend to not be as sweet and lack the elaborate flavorings that you might find from a company like Arizona or Sobe. Of course there are always companies trying to boost sales with new and interesting teas that stand out about the rest. This is where Lipton Japan comes into the picture.

This Ain't Your Grandma's Tea: Shikwasa

Lipton, a tea company that most Americans are probably familiar with, has a decent size presence here in Japan despite focusing only on tea (unlike Coke, Kirin and other brands which also have juices, alcoholic beverages and more). They sell a variety of tea offerings here in Japan including three main types of containers to include cans, PET (plastic) bottles and cartons.

This Ain't Your Grandma's Tea: Orange Marmalade

In my household the favorite type of Lipton tea are the ones that come in a carton. They can be purchased for around ¥100 at local grocery or convenience stores and come in a variety of flavors. Like other companies in Japan it is not uncommon to find Lipton playing with different flavors and themes to include the most recent which is known as “Tea’s Travel” where they sample flavors from around the world.

This Ain't Your Grandma's Tea: American Tea Lemonade

This creative theme took consumers on a journey through places like Turkey with their “Turkey Apricot Tea” and London with their “Orange Marmalade Tea”. They even went to the good ole’ USA with “American Tea Lemonade”. Each tea is unique and features a distinct taste that is different from the next. Unfortunately all are only available for a limited time.

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Saburo


There are many paths that lead to many exciting and interesting places on Okinawa. Lying relaxed and exhausted at the end of a recent path I had taken was Saburo a three legged dog who is surrounded by a whole lot of love!

I first learned about Saburo in March of this year (2014) while reading an article in the Ryukyu Shimpo, a popular Okinawa based newspaper. It was not the title that grabbed my attention but rather the photo of a joy filled puppy running along the beach. Unable to resist I clicked the link and started reading.

Saburo is far from an ordinary puppy and he has overcome far from ordinary circumstances. Once a stray Saburo was the victim of a hit and run last year which left him seriously injured. When Kiyoshi Oshiro, a nearby sabani (traditional Okinawan fishing boat) builder, heard the loud bang and Saburo cry out he did what he could to help the injured dog. With the loss of his rear left leg and a broken back local veterinarians told Mr Oshiro that Saburo didn’t have a chance of recovery. However, despite the professional opinion he was given, Oshiro didn’t accept this diagnosis and sold his very own sabani in order to cover the cost of Saburo’s surgeries which would ultimately save the dog’s life.

Saburo-kun: Miracle Dog - Itoman City Okinawa, Japan

Following the surgery, as one might expect, Saburo could not walk. This is where Tomoko and Kazukai Takara step in. This husband and wife team, who work along side Kiyoshi Oshiro, faithfully took Saburo for walks along the beach twice a day using a special harness to help support his lower back and remaining rear leg. Day after day they continued this rehabilitation until one day it finally happened. . . . Saburo’s rear leg started moving. The rehabilitation continued and now Saburo not only runs enthusiastically along the beach every day but also enjoys daily swims in the ocean.

The article, which reminded me of the good in the world, put a smile on my face. I shared it with a few of my dog loving friends and then, like sometimes newspaper articles do, it went out of my head. It wasn’t until months later when I spotted a sleepy three legged dog in the corner of a sabani workshop that I remembered of the article and exclaimed to the man who graciously was showing us around: “That’s Saburo!”

Immediately the room filled with love and the men, who just seconds ago were making a beautiful sabani by hand, came over to greet me and introduce Saburo. Kiyoshi Oshiro quickly informed Saburo that he had a visitor and that he should get up to greet me but the dog, who was clearly worn out from his early morning swim didn’t do much more than glance my direction and accept a belly rub.

Having the chance to meet Saburo was purely chance but I have to say I am very glad that the opportunity presented itself. He is such a wonderful dog who is surrounded by a whole lot of love!

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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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“Where are you from?”: A simple question with a complex answer


Being a foreigner living in Japan means that you will find yourself answering a lot of questions. One of the most common questions is “where are you from”. It’s a super simple question that is often asked by other foreigners who are curious as to what corner of the planet the person they are conversing with is from and by Japanese people who want to break the ice. (After all it is one of the first 10 phrases foreign language students learn to say.)

Providing an answer to this question isn’t much of a challenging task. Spit out the name of a place, the other person usually says something like “oh really” and you’re on your way to whatever topic it is that follows. There really aren’t any wrong answers. . . . . . . or are there?

The unfortunate truth of my past experience is that there are in fact wrong answers. The odds that you will say something that someone else won’t necessarily agree with or understand are about 50/50. In fact there is even a small percentage of people that you will flat out piss off because you consider yourself “from” a place that they do not think is acceptable. This can put a person in a very difficult position. Do you answer with the place that you consider yourself from or the place that is socially acceptable to the person asking the question?

Over the years this very question has troubled me. Ok so I’m not having sleepless nights or anything but to say that I haven’t entered a social situation and cringed at the thought of being asked “where are you from” wouldn’t be entirely true either. The reason is quite simple. . . I answer with “Ginowan” and people (particularly foreigners) have a problem with that. How much of a problem you ask? Enough of a problem where people will drill me with questions like “no I mean where is home” or “where is your family” to which I continue to respond Ginowan. My choice of Ginowan as the place that I am from is not because I am some type of smart ass who has anything to prove (anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that) but because for what is coming up on a decade I have made Okinawa, Ginowan being where I have lived for a good chunk of that time, my home. My car is in Ginowan, my home is in Ginowan, my family is in Ginowan. . . . my entire life is in Ginowan. 

Of course the socially acceptable answer to this question is Boston although I anticipate that it doesn’t really matter where you answer as long as it is somewhere within the United States. Then why not just answer with Boston? Isn’t it easier just to fold under the peer pressure rather than making waves? Nope. It’s not me and it’s not home. I mean how can a person even call themselves a proper Bostonian if you can’t navigate your way to a lobster roll or give directions to the best blue plate special in town? The less comedic and more depressing response is that many of the things I remember as being “back home” are now gone. People have moved, local favorites demolished and the nice neighborhoods have edged their way closer and closer to becoming the slums. The reality is after 10 years where you were from becomes more of a memory than anything.

As much as places have changed I too am not the same person that I was, nor am I the type of person that can be represented by saying that I am from Boston. The reality, despite what anyone else will tell you, is that when you start to come in on that 10 year mark almost everything about you changes. The food you eat, crave and make will change. The clothes you wear, how you get around and how you sleep will all change. In other more easy to understand terms if you’re living in Japan as long as I have you start to become more “Japanese” in the way that you live and operate on a daily basis. This is where ‘reverse culture shock’ comes from. People find themselves going back to a place where they grew up, like Boston for example, and realizing that everyone is really loud and there is too much food being served on the plate. . . and what the hell is a cronut?

At the end of the day it’s really the person answering the question who determines what the most appropriate answer is. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask. . . . that’s my philosophy. So what if the answer is Mars, Ginowan, Atlantis or Georgia? Just smile, nod, maybe throw in a “oh that’s nice”. Why not try asking questions that don’t criticize the answer like “how long have you lived here” or “what brought you here”. If you’re not happy with the answer simple move on.