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Travel Log: Living in Okinawa, Japan

November 4, 2009


Travis Amsbaugh is a former U.S. Marine who was stationed in Okinawa and also served in Southeast Asia.  His travels as a member of the military offers a unique outlook that differs from that of the everyday traveler.


One thing that I love about traveling and seeing the world is that it gives you such a greater appreciation for life. Unfortunately before I ever did travel I was the typical sheltered, arrogant, naïve, bubbled American. Thinking that the American way of life was how everyone operated. Sadly I was mistaken. When I was 18 I joined the Marines, and since then have seen a lot of the world. My short time in the service has taken to many locations in our nation and many more countries abroad. One of these places was Okinawa, Japan.

Okinawa is a small island off the southern coast of mainland Japan. It is part of the Ryukyu Islands that is made up of hundreds of tiny islands. Okinawa is filled with a rich history and culture that even has an impact here in the states. I was stationed at one of the 14 bases on the 60-mile long island. There are currently 40,000+ military personnel in Okinawa, occupying 18% of the island. The island has been occupied since WWII during the Battle of Okinawa. Since then the island has grown back to full potential and operates as a tourist destination. A large portion of the southern island is heavily urbanized with hotels and businesses. It is kind of like what Hawaii is to America. Okinawan people insist that it is different from mainland Japan. The cultural influences don’t just come from Japan, but from China and Thailand as well. One of the best exports Okinawa has on the rest of the world is Karate. Developed and influenced by Chinese Kung Fu, it is one of the most well known martial arts in existence.


Enjoying a day off in Okinawa

My time on Okinawa was amazing. I spent my first year living on base, but still saw a lot of the island. But my second year I moved out into town to really experience how it is to live in another country. I rented a small apartment in Ginowan City not too far from work. This gave me the real experience I was looking for. Living out among the people of Japan and having to survive. It was very challenging at times, but also so rewarding. I got acquainted to my new surroundings very quickly and began to get comfortable with them. Everything in Japan is tiny, well for me being 6’2”. This includes streets, cars, doorways, chairs, and bathrooms. My apartment was so compact that the bathroom was about 5’ by 5’ with a drain in the middle and a showerhead just sticking out of the wall. My kitchen wasn’t even big enough to cook a dinner for two. There wasn’t an oven, which I found out later is typical because a lot of Japanese do not bake. It took me about 2 ½ months to figure out that I had AC because I couldn’t read the remote to the unit. My car was a Toyota Aristo, which is the same thing here in the states as a Lexus GS300. It took me a good month to get good at driving on the other side of the street. It actually took me longer to get use to driving back here in the states when I finally moved back. I almost had a head on collision driving out of the San Diego Airport. The food there was amazing. I personally do not like seafood, but there was so many other things that I could eat anywhere I went. All the malls had a grocery store on the bottom floor and then each level above that was divided into gender related clothing. Usually the top floor was electronics. You could get basically anything you really wanted there. The hospitality is what really blew me away. For a country and culture that is being occupied by another country you would not expect such sincere generosity. The people were some of the best parts of living there. Their whole culture is just fascinating, and a very clean way of living. I was really thrown into that way of living, but I loved it.

Living in another country and really experiencing all that it has to offer makes people grow. Well at least it did for me. It builds character and knowledge in people. It is something you cannot emulate or begin to imagine until you actually do. Unfortunately most people will never be able to do this. But go travel, and go visit new places. Places that you wouldn’t think would be interesting, because some of the best places I have been to, are not found on a brochure in a travel agents office. Experience life and all that it has to offer.

– Travis Amsbaugh

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 5, 2009 12:52 AM

    Great post. Living in Japan sounds like a challenge! However, I bet that after being able to adapt to a completely different way of life you feel like you can pretty much adapt to living anywhere.

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