Touring the Local Area

Even though we have been in Japan for almost two weeks, we actually haven’t seen too much outside of the base. We have been pretty busy getting ourselves set up with a house, car, new phones, and all the other things that go along with a big move. However, we have gone out into town on a few occasions to check things out and try out the many great restaurants (more on food in another post!). Yokosuka is a Navy town, the United States has a large base here and so does Japan.

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You can see both the Japanese (left side) and American (right side) naval bases in this picture. Interestingly, neither of them are actually called bases. It is the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force and United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, respectively.
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Yikes!

Yokosuka is a city of about 400,000 and a little over an hour away (by train) from Tokyo. Like I said, we really haven’t explored it too much yet except for the area right around the base, but we will in the next few weeks.

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The main street right outside of the base. Yes, that is a replica of the Statue of Liberty you see in the background. It sits atop a Japanese love hotel, the Hotel Goddess. Love hotels are hotels that you pay by the hour for or that cater to couples looking for something, ahem… different.

This might make me sound like a total idiot, but I never realized how much of Japan was mountainous. About 70% of the land is mountainous terrain, and much of it is so rugged that it is not suitable for agriculture or dwellings. The base itself is very rocky and rugged too, with lots of tunnels and caves everywhere. In fact, during World War II, over 250 caves and 20 extensive tunnel networks were built in the immediate area to protect the Imperial Japanese Navy from bombings. You can still see a lot of these around the base today.

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There are numerous tunnels around the US Navy base in Yokosuka.

Besides just being very busy, we also were prohibited from leaving the base area until we had completed a required introductory course on living here. The five day long course went over numerous things such as base procedures (don’t do anything dumb), emergency procedures (don’t panic), getting around using public transportation (don’t get lost), proper manners (don’t be rude), driving (don’t get in an accident), and repeatedly reinforced that if you mess up terribly you will go to a Japanese prison and have to eat fermented fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next 20 years. Seriously, we watched a video on it and it was kind of terrifying.

Despite learning about all the ways we could end up in a Japanese prison, we got brave and decided to start venturing out and learning about the area. We started by going to a beautiful neighboring city (about a 20 minute train ride away) called Kamakura.

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Up on a hill overlooking the rooftops of Kamakura.

Kamakura is a city known for having a lot of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and is a popular spot for tourists to visit. When we visited there were a lot of people who came in their yukatas (summer kimonos) and were walking around enjoying the sites.

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After enjoying a tasty lunch we visited Kamakura’s most important shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. This shrine was founded in 1063 and has a commanding view of the city below.

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The steps leading up to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
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Up close view of the gorgeous architecture.
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Torii gates marked the entrance to a smaller shrine within the same complex.

After walking around this shrine for a while we decided to go check out another one of Kamakura’s famous sites, the Great Buddha.

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The Great Buddha is 43.8 feet tall and weighs 93 tonnes! It is made of bronze and dates to 1252.

We took a little break here and enjoyed some green tea soft serve ice cream while sitting in the shade of the Buddha, pretty cool! The temperature was in the mid 80s and the humidity was 94% this day, so that was actually my third ice cream cone… don’t judge.

After seeing the Great Buddha we stopped at a Buddhist temple called Hasedera. This time of year it is famous for it’s large hydrangea garden. No one is totally sure when the temple was first established, some say in the 8th century, but there are official records of it dating back to the 12th century.

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The temple was quite large, this is just one of the beautiful buildings.
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The whole hillside was covered in hydrangeas.
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Pretty!

Now that we have had our first glimpse of Japan we are eager to get out and start exploring more! What a beautiful country!

 

Finding a House

As I was writing this post over the weekend the terrible accident aboard the USS Fitzgerald happened in which seven sailors lost their lives. Although I am very new to the Yokosuka community I can say with certainty that this is a tight knit place and the loss has been felt by everyone here. Please keep them, and their loved ones, in  your thoughts. 

Have you ever heard that everything in Japan is smaller? Cars, streets, houses… well that rumor is true. This was first made very obvious to me our first night in Japan when we got to our hotel. We had been awake for so long by the time we landed in Yokota, and then we had to take a two hour bus ride to Yokosuka. I was so tired and spent the whole bus ride dreaming of walking into our hotel room and laying down on a big fluffy hotel bed and falling fast asleep. Well, we finally walked into our hotel room only to discover that it was probably the smallest room we had ever seen at a hotel and the big fluffy bed was actually a small double sized bed with so little space around it that you had to walk sideways. There was absolutely no room for our ten suitcases and us.

I fully realize that this is a first world problem (poor me, my hotel room is too small), but when you have so much stuff with you it felt like a big problem at the time. Numerous scenarios flashed through my brain of us spending weeks in this tiny room while we waited for housing, madly trying to search for things we needed in our suitcases while we watched the one English channel available on the television and tried to figure out how to use the toilet. However, a shower and a bowl (okay, two) of ramen later and I had somewhat regained my sense of adventure and composure, somewhat.

Fortunately, the next day we were able to check into the Navy Lodge on the base which had a much larger room for us and our stuff, and I knew how to work the toilet, another bonus! If you are PCSing to Yokosuka and the Navy Lodge website says that they are sold out (which it did repeatedly for us), do your best to call them or just show up when you get here to see if they have last minute availability. The hotel caters to people PCSing with larger rooms, closets, and kitchenettes… it is really nice those first few crazy days. Another great thing about the Navy Lodge is that it is located right next to the housing office, so convenient.

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Our home for our first week in Japan.

When you get stationed in Yokosuka you do not get to choose whether you live on or off base. If there is room for you on base then you have to take it. It was actually kind of nice not having to think too much about housing ahead of our move. That is usually one of the things that stresses me out the most before we PCS. Finding a new house every one to three years, and one that you will be happy in, is kind of daunting. However, I had loved each of our previous homes and was nervous that I wouldn’t love our home in Japan as much since I had less control in choosing it.

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Our little treehouse in Virginia Beach, Virginia
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Our lovely brick townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia
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Our cozy cottage in Newport, Rhode Island

We checked into housing on our second full day in Japan first thing in the morning. After filling out a few forms, we were given a list of houses on the main base, Yokosuka, and a housing base about 20 minutes away, Ikego. If you are moving here you probably read (like I did) that there is a third housing base near Yokohama. Just FYI that this is no longer an option for DOD families, all of the housing is now in Yokosuka or Ikego. Because we have a dog, there were only three places total that we could have lived. So we at least knew that we would be on base, and not off. Now it was just a matter of choosing which one to live in, we were given one day to decide.

One of the options was on the other base, Ikego, and since we knew we did not want to live 20 minutes away, we eliminated that right away. Our other two options were on the Yokosuka base – one apartment and one townhouse. We were pretty sure we wanted the townhouse since that would be easier for us taking our dog out and to have a bit more space, but we walked over and looked at the apartment anyway. We ultimately went with…

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Our new townhouse in Yokosuka, Japan!

So, there is really no getting around it… the military housing in Yokosuka is… kind of ugly on the outside. All of the townhouses look exactly the same and the apartment buildings all match them in style and color. They feel very Cold War Era. And considering how much it rains here and how humid it is, the grass looks surprisingly sad.

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Our new neighborhood.

However, many people find ways to dress their space up and make it their own. You are allowed to put potted plants out and anything else that will personalize your space more. We took this place without seeing the inside so I was not sure what to expect, but the next day we got to go in and I was pleasantly surprised.

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I can work with this kitchen, small but functional! Very light and airy!
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Nothing but potential here, I see a new grill and outdoor patio set in our future!
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Ooo a laundry room! I’ll take it!
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Never thought I would move to Japan and have a walk in closet! Excellent!
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Living and dining room, nice space to hang out in!
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HUGE second bedroom for all of our (hopefully) guests who come to see us!

Since our furniture is not arriving from the US for quite a while the Navy gave us some loaner furniture to use in the meantime. I cannot wait to start decorating this place and putting my own touch on it. My concerns about liking my new house in Japan before we moved here were unfounded, I am already in love!

The Big Move

A lot of our friends and family were very curious about the details of how exactly we were going to be moving to Japan. It is, after all, pretty far away from Rhode Island. We also could not find too much information ourselves about the experience online, except for a few other blog posts. So hopefully, if you are military PCSing to Japan you will find this helpful as well!

Our move from Newport, Rhode Island to Yokosuka, Japan (pronounced you-koo-ska) took about a week and a half and involved a couple of pit stops along the way. We started off by driving from Newport down to Washington, DC (thanks goes out to our awesome friends Paul and Tessa for their hospitality!) where we caught a flight to San Diego. We got to spend about a week in San Diego and had a chance to visit with a lot of our family, so nice to see everyone. All of the military flights going to Japan and Korea leave out of Seattle, so that was our third and final stop in the US.

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Gorgeous weather for our long layover!

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We just had one day to spend in the city, but we loved going to Pike’s Place Market and Bainbridge Island.

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So much delicious seafood. We went back later in the afternoon and this stand let me try some things for free!
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Not such a bad way to spend a long layover!

The military flights work a little differently than your regular commercial flight. To start with you do not get a seat assignment until you check in for the flight. Although the flight was not scheduled to leave until 8:50 am, check in was from 2:50 to 5:50 am. We read that it was a good idea to get there earlier in order to get a better seat assignment. People actually start lining up the night before and just sleep in the terminal. We aren’t that dedicated though, so we got there at 2:15 and waited in line.

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The line in front of the ticket counter at 2:15 am, these are the hard core people who lined up the afternoon or night before.
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But wait, there’s more…
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The line actually stretched all the way down the international terminal. There were probably about 200 people in front of us. At least no other airlines operate on this crazy schedule so we had the place to ourselves.

Although there were a lot of people in front of us, one of the reasons the line was so incredibly long was because everyone was traveling with a lot of crap stuff, including us.

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OMG too much… The airline weighed all of our luggage and our checked bags came to 194 pounds and carry ons came to 72 pounds.

It took us close to two and a half hours to get through the check in line, and in retrospect I do not think it was worth it to get there so early. Even with all those people in front of us we were still seated in row 17 (of 40) right next to each other. Quite a few other people showed up around the time we were checking in and they did not have to wait in a super long line, and they got a couple more hours sleep than us… but oh well. After finally checking in we went through security and headed over to the Centurion Lounge to spend a couple hours before our flight took off.

The DOD charters flights using a company called Atlas Air. So if you ever see one of their planes at an airport you can probably guess they have a plane full of military people being moved someplace far away. They also claim that their flight experience is similar to a business class one on other airlines.. not so sure about that, but okay, whatever.

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Our plane to Japan.

We boarded the plane but then sat on the tarmac for about half an hour. They announced that we were overweight (ouch!) and that everyone needed to de-board while they got rid of some fuel… I’m no expert but getting rid of fuel before flying halfway around the world did not seem like the best idea. Fortunately, the people operating our aircraft know more than I do about these things and we got back on the plane a couple of hours later and took off.

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Finally taking off, so sleepy!
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Bye USA!

The flight to Yokota, Japan (the US Air Force base nearest to Yokosuka) was about ten hours. Besides being long, it was fine and uneventful. As usual, sleeping was not easy and we both spent most of the flight reading, listening to podcasts, or playing games on our phones.

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Breakfast… we didn’t eat the dinner offered.
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Our first glimpse of Japan, so pretty!

After we landed everyone going to the Japan bases got off the plane while those going on to Korea stayed on (they were allowed to get off a little later to stretch their legs). We got to watch a fun video to introduce us to living in Japan. It included helpful advice like not trying to enter the country with porn or drugs, probably a good idea for any country! After the video we got our passports stamped and orders checked and boarded a bus for Yokosuka. At this point we had been awake for well over 24 hours, but we finally made it!