In light of today’s terrible earthquake in Japan I think now is a good time to take a break from our somewhat normal programming for reflection. (Please go here for the latest information on the earthquake, tsunami, and aftershocks.)
My dad was in the Navy for over 20 years so naturally, I did a lot of moving around while I was growing up. We primarily stayed on the US East coast (Connecticut, Philadelphia, Charleston, and a few places in Maryland) but for one tour we were stationed in Japan!
I was in 3rd and 4th grade while we were there so luckily I was old enough to have a lot of memories from that time. Even though some of the details have gotten a bit fuzzy, I remember loving every day that we were there. At first we were on a waiting list to move into base housing, so we lived “in town” in a real Japanese house with paper doors (some inside doors only), tatami mats, really low doorways (which my dad, at 6’3″, did not appreciate), and a traditional Japanese bathroom. Here’s a picture of the tub area (click the picture to learn more about Japanese bathrooms).
After about ten months we were finally placed in a new town house on the Navy base in Yokusuka. There were some high rise condos too but I’m glad we didn’t get one of those because it was much easier to feel the numerous minor earthquakes that way. My brother and I attended school on base so it was an American environment and the students were all other kids from the States. We had two Japanese classes – one for learning to write the language and one for learning to speak it. Both were easier as a kid and I doubt I would be able to pick up either at this point (and no, I don’t remember any Japanese). One year, I was in a Spanish immersion program so a few of my classes were taught in Spanish (math and social studies, I think) and there was also a Spanish language class. In addition to regular school, we attended Kumon which is an after school program devoted entirely to learning math. Kumon centers are becoming more popular in the US now and I believe they actually offer reading programs, too. (And people wonder why the Japanese are so educated and motivated…)
On weekends and breaks from school we traveled around a lot exploring the country. One winter we went up to the Northern island of Hokkaido for the Sapporo Snow Festival. It was soo amazing and there’s too much to tell so just go here to check it out. We took mini-vacations and would go stay at the Navy hotel located in downtown Tokyo. As a kid, riding the subway and just being in a city like that was fascinating. We would venture off the Navy base to all the shops and restaurants (and yakitori stands!) right outside the gate. One weekend we even took a small military plane to Hong Kong and did some shopping there. I remember the Starter jackets being super cheap, and it was the 90’s so of course we each got one! And I can’t forget to mention that my dad climbed Mt. Fuji while we were there, too! 🙂
Nothing else in my life has compared to living in Japan for two years. It was the experience of a lifetime and I appreciate it so much more now that I’m older. It has influenced me in so many ways… I am so open to trying new foods, meeting new people, traveling anywhere, culture shock doesn’t bother me (in fact I crave it) and I know there is more I can’t think of at the time. My heart goes out to the people of Japan.