Okinawa Part III: Here I Am!

This is the final post in this three part series.  I see now that it would’ve been a fantastic experience to share with you had I posted all along during the nine months I’ve been here.  Hey, I never claimed to be perfect!

This island is small (smaller than NJ) but feels vast.  There are several main highways and one toll rode.  Unless you travel to the far North, there’s not a lot of open space.  I am always amazed because plants that we typically see in the states as potted house plants are growing as plantings around people’s homes like we would plant azaleas, boxwood, pansies.  But these are what are commonly called pregnant onions, dragon plants, and several more.  I will miss that.

The first time I had an opportunity to use one of our company rental cars I was nervous.  I’m a good driver and can drive a variety of sizes and types of vehicles, but I’ve never driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.  After a little practice on some less traveled roads near the apartment I got the hang of it pretty quickly.  I’m sure when I get home it will take some time to go the side of my car where the steering wheel actually is!

It is my understanding that Okinawans drove on the right until the 1970’s when some changes took place with ownership and some other political issues and it changed to the left.

Everyone drives pretty slow here.  The speed limit is 50 kph which is about 30 mph.  That’s if you are traveling along at the speed limit.  Often you are sitting in traffic.  Traffic isn’t bad, but I will look forward to going home and being able to get on an Interstate and just drive even at the speed limit.  Because of this accidents are rare and there aren’t the fatalities we have in the U.S.  The toll rode speed limit is 80 kph which is just under 50 mph.  It feels like you are screaming down the road.

All the vehicles are pretty small.  They are generally brands that we have in the U.S, but because of some licensing issues they can’t use the model names we have.  Because of that it’s next to impossible to export a car here to the U.S.  The vehicle names are hilarious too.  The Suzuki Mr.  The Toyota Funcargo.  The Honda AirWave.  Once in a very great while you see a U.S. vehicle that a service member had shipped.  They stand out like a sore thumb.  I’ve seen a couple of classics, a jacked up truck, and a PT Cruiser.

Because the island is small, you can’t get very lost.  The rental cars have GPS so you can see the road numbers and where you are, but you can’t type in an address because it’s all in Japanese.  You can type in a phone number in some cases.  I’ve tried to just follow my nose and see what I find.  I’ve never been lost or not able to find my way home.

I shop at the 100 yen store which is the equivalent of the Dollar Tree at home except I think they have a much better variety at the 100 yen store.

No matter WHERE you go on Okinawa, hospitality is phenomenal.  We could learn so much from these people as Americans.  When you enter any business no matter the size, type, or how busy it is you are greeted.  No exceptions.  Cashiers can be running registers with lines of people and still will look up and greet you and welcome you.  When you check out and pay for a service, food, or merchandise you are thanked many times not just when you pay, but as you are exiting.  Generally it’s about 3 thank you’s.

Okinawan and Japanese people bow and I’m accustomed to bowing.  Not huge deep bows, but enough.  As you are thanked for your business with so much sincerity they bow to you and you say thank you and bow.  As they continue thanking you I find myself backing out the door continuing to bow and thank them.  It’s polite and respectful.  It’s such a welcome change.  When was the last time you had a customer service experience that made you feel like a person or business is there to serve you in the best way they can.

It is written in many reports of both Japanese and Americans prior to World War II that the hospitality of these people stood out to everyone that visited.

As a matter of history, the Okinawa people do not have much allegiance to the Japanese.  They were living happily when Japan took them over.  They had their own language and laid back ways.  Prior to World War II the Japanese started arriving knowing that this was the last defense before Allies invaded their home in Japan.  They were terribly mean to the people here.  They already treated them like trash and believed they were disposable people.  That became a terrible time for anyone in Okinawa.  The Japanese showed up and took over.  They forbid them from using their dialect for fear they would be spying, keeping secrets, talking about them, or siding with the Allies.  You get the idea.  The children were pulled from their homes and schools and forced into labor.

The Okinawans lost so much.  They lost their homes, land, family, respect, language and a large percentage were killed either during the attacks or forced to commit suicide by the Japanese to avoid capture.  But with all that, they are as hospital and friendly as if nothing ever happened.  You can’t help but treat them with respect.

I had the honor to meet a survivor and visited a memorial service on their version of Memorial Day.  It was an honor and very moving.  I would have never learned this or developed these opinions if I hadn’t lived here.  For that I am grateful.

Did you know that after the war Japan tried to pawn the island off on the Americans and really didn’t want it?  Did you know that Okinawa tried to become an American territory and created a flag, a petition of signatures, and many other aspects?  I was really surprised.

I will miss much here and will forever be changed.



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