Tag Archives: Japan

Japan Living

My family and I have been fortunate throughout my military career, and one such blessing is that the Air Force has seen fit to station me in Japan for the vast majority of my 20+ years.

Japanese culture is amazing. Honor and courtesy matter a great deal. Service is valued and something people take pride in. Offering a tip at a restaurant, for example, is frowned upon. The workers know the quality of their product and their service, and they charge you for what is fair. They don’t need a tip as a bribe to put in good effort nor do they want you to feel like you have to help them out financially. (I’m probably vastly misunderstanding the reasoning behind this but the point is, you don’t tip like you would in the States.)

It sometimes seems like the treatment or culture that is too good to be true.

There are some downsides… Traffic laws are such that any accident is partly your fault even if it’s clearly entirely the fault of the other party. If you hadn’t been where you were, they wouldn’t have hit you, or so I guess the logic goes.

So when a landscaping crew’s high-power weed whacker accidentally launched a rock into my minivan’s passenger side window, shattering it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. 


While stopped and waiting for the light to turn green, I certainly didn’t expect the sudden pop and Pssshh of crumbling safety glass falling into my car. I may have said something unkind to the worker who–back turned to me, oblivious to my plight and rage–continued trimming the plants on the sidewalk’s edge. His co-worker noticed, called his attention to the situation, and helped start a rough conversation involving contacting his manager’s secretary who thankfully is bilingual. On the phone, she apologized and said someone was coming to take a look. 

In the States, I could almost imagine getting the finger and being sent on my way to sort matters out on my own. I worried that, like a traffic accident, this might fall into some mystical category of “But did you not contribute to the damage to your vehicle by placing your vehicle at that intersection, at that exact moment?”

The company offered to repair the window, which I at least hoped would be the case. I was happy enough with that.

Then they offered to get me a rental car in the mean-time. 

They repaired the car in less than half the expected time.

Then they cleaned out my car and (I’m pretty sure) filled up the gas tank. 

They paid for the rental–or technically, I paid for it on my credit card then they paid me in cash.

And then the manager handed me another envelope that looked like money. With some help and laughter from the bilingual ladies at the car rental office, I found out this was “for dinner.” It was a 10K yen note, which is roughly $100. I mean, the minivan might indicate a large family, but still… That’s a pricy dinner!

It would have been rude to refuse, because this is another custom. When you make a grievous error or do someone harm, you apologize and bring a gift of some sort to smooth the relationship.

As I type this, the taco style brick-oven pizzas my family loves are being cooked, purchased with the “dinner” gift, to be enjoyed with a family movie. Not too shabby. 

(Okay, being honest: the teens will probably thieve some pizza, opt out of family time, and hide out in their rooms watching YouTube videos. Just because we live in Japan, that doesn’t mean everything changes from what you might expect in the States.)

Banzai Chipotle

The first time I heard of “chipotle flavor,” I thought the restaurant chain was branching out into the grocery store.

Living overseas in the military, I got used to certain things being pretty much unavailable. There’s often no local branch of the popular stores Americans find at their shopping center. We get the Commissary for groceries (albeit at a very nice price for most items) and the Base Exchange for everything else… a sort of department store with a little of everything but probably not the specific thing you want.

Eating at Chipotle is one of these experiences you can’t easily get overseas. It seemed high on the list of things people were looking forward to on returning to the States. Online shopping has changed a lot of the frustration of unavailability… but you can’t well order a stuffed burrito in the mail and hope it arrives fresh.

So it’s a pleasant surprise to find a wannabe Chipotle’s on a base in Japan. I received news of a short-notice temporary trip away from Okinawa to avoid some high winds that might make flying impossible. Upon arriving, I discovered an ad for Banzai Burritos in my room.

Someone had the bright idea of opening up a might-as-well-be-called-Chipotle’s on base, and it’s right across the street from the lodging building I’m staying in.

Well how am I supposed to say no to that?


Cilantro rice… yes please. Delicious mixes of onions and peppers over grilled steak… of course. Fire-roasted hot pepper salsa? Sure, I’ll try a touch of that.

My first experience with Chipotle’s in the States was a military appreciation day. The local branch offered a free burrito to any active duty servicemembers (and I believe any veterans). Free is my favorite price to pay for something, so I made my way to the restaurant to find a line wrapped double around the entire dining room.

The burrito was worth every minute of wait.

Here at Banzai Burritos, every day is essentially military appreciation day. If I have to fly a long mission, I might as well pack a stuffed burrito in my bag. And if I have to spend an afternoon at this home away from home, enormous tacos will certainly ease the pain.

This trip definitely has a silver lining… wrapped around a grilled steak burrito.

Welcome to Okinawa

[Obligatory Trigger Warning: This post contains excuses for being absent from this blog for a lengthy period.]

My family and I moved to Okinawa Japan in June (more or less).

Just before leaving, I agreed to post more for the Omaha WordSowers, the writers’ group that my wife and I joined during our two years in Nebraska. I hoped (and still hope) to stay engaged with the group despite the distance.

So consider this the first post from Omaha WordSowers’ on-location overseas blogger in Okinawa, Japan!

Less than a month on island, and we were greeted with our first typhoon of the season (which stretches from June through October). Since Typhoon Neoguri appeared in mainstream news in the States, I figured a blog post on the subject is a timely way to return to this endeavor.

It might not be obvious from the reaction to this storm, but typhoons are frequent occurrences on Okinawa (and in this whole region of the Pacific). They’re essentially the same as the hurricanes that strike the East Coast.

The military installations on Okinawa are designed with this weather in mind. It would be no good if one of our primary airbases or Marine Corps camps got flattened every year by a common and easily anticipated natural weather threat.

Our housing is made like a concrete bunker, trading safety in a storm for the aesthetics we might prefer. Houses are not going to collapse, except perhaps in the most freakish of accidents. Occasionally we’ll see someone post a YouTube video of a tiny car getting pushed around or tipped over in the fiercest winds. But most of the time, a storm might mean a power outage or perhaps a small leak near a door or window.

(One wonders why they don’t make more houses like this in Florida and other coastal areas.)

The base did not escape completely unscathed this time. Some areas of the base are dealing with significant flooding. I’ve seen pictures online of water levels up to the windows of parked cars.

However, all military personnel and families are restricted to their homes for the duration of the storm, so one of the biggest problems requiring a solution is “What are we going to do to keep the kids occupied?”

As long as there’s electricity, that’s probably easy. But power can be fickle in a typhoon.

For my family, the power went out at 11:30 AM yesterday and stayed off until about 3 AM this morning. That led to some stir-crazy kids, a claustrophobic mom, and a frustrated dad thinking about how many dollars’ worth of food might spoil if the power didn’t get back on soon. We mitigated the boredom by taking advantage of the battery life of the iPad Air, on which The Lego Movie was previously loaded. I also read several chapters of Words of Radiance to the wife and kidlets, which is usually a treat.

The house really started getting stuffy and warm by bedtime. But this morning, I was able to take a hot shower and heat up breakfast. So I have no complaints, especially in comparison to what others are dealing with because of flooding. I’ll be in to work around lunchtime once the base finishes up recovery actions and releases us from our houses.

To those in the States who were concerned for me and my family personally or for the safety of our military personnel in general, you have my thanks. But I wouldn’t have you burdened with unnecessary worry, so I wanted to make clear that typhoons pose a fairly limited risk to all of us stationed out here. I’m more concerned about that flooding in other parts of the base than about the storm.

Here’s a picture of the view outside our house, from the front and back. You can see some busted branches and a tipped over can (not ours) that blew up against our van. All in all, the effect on us was minimal. Essentially I got a five day weekend.

Not a bad “welcome home” to the island where my family and I have spent 14 years already. We miss our Stateside friends and family, and I miss our writing community.

But thanks to modern technology, this is a first step to keeping in touch.