Sunday, February 26, 2006


I'm trying to look at my life in Japan through new eyes lately. After 3 1/2 years, it's all very routine. However, knowing that I won't be here forever, I've tried to notice what's different about my life here so I can record it and remember it. Below are some of the ways my life is different here than it was in the States. These are all related to working on a US Military Base. I'll write about Japanese things later.

  • I have to show military ID and sometimes have my car searched to get to work (on base). The only part that I get sick of is that the dude with the gun usually asks me how I'm doing, and when I repeat the question, his answer is generally "Motivated! Ooh-rah, Ma'am." I hate that.
  • There are fighter jets scrambling all of the time. They used to bother me and wake me up at night, but now I love them. I'm really going to miss those.
  • I shop at a commissary that is about the size of a large AM/PM store back home. We have very few choices, which used to irritate me. I don't mind it now. It makes things easier.
  • The only TV I get is AFN (Armed Forces Network). That means about 7 channels, with a lot of sports and military movies. They put the US networks together, so I turn on channel 4 and see NBC, CBS and ABC shows all one after another. David Letterman is on in the morning, and Katie and Matt are on at night. The most popular shows are delayed by a day, everything else is behind one season from what you all watch in the US.
  • Also about TV: we have no commercials on TV or on the radio. None. That is wonderful. Instead we have public service announcements about military history, the US government, or personal health matters. It's your basic propaganda, but I don't mind it because it's a lot better than having commercials.
  • (Watching TV in the US makes me edgy and irritable because ALL OF THE ADVERTISEMENTS ARE SCREAMING AT YOU ALL OF THE TIME AND COMPETING FOR YOUR ATTENTION. It's enough to put a girl on edge. I HATE it.)
  • And more about TV: I can only think of two TV events that we get broadcasted live: Presidential speeches and the Superbowl. That means it's always Superbowl Monday here. The bases shut down for the day and they throw big parties. Doors open at 5:30, pre-show and the breakfast buffet starts at 6:30. Yes, AM.
  • At my banks, our customers are service members and their dependents. For my job I don't really deal with customers, but I work with the base Commanders and Comptrollers.
  • My military security clearance level is top secret
  • There is a movie theater on base just like the theaters back home. It used to be free but now it's $2.50/movie. We get popular movies a few weeks after they are released, but they only show in our town for one or two showings, and then they're sent to the next base. We mostly get movies that you can imagine the military would want to see. At the beginning of every movie, the National Anthem is played and we all stand for it. (I started to stand up in the theater back home last summer before a movie.)
  • Everything comes to a standstill twice a day when the National Anthems are played (first the American and then the Japanese anthem) on loudspeakers everywhere on base. I used to live about two miles off base and I could hear them from there.
  • We have E-Clubs and O-Clubs on base. That stands for Enlisted and Officer, and you can't go in unless you are one. Everyone has either a military rank or a military rank equivalent. I'm an Officer, so no E-Club for me. (That's ok, as you can guess, the O-Club is generally nicer and yummier.) If you're an E, you can't even walk through the O-Club entrance.
  • On every base we have American post offices. Because I have an "FPO" box, which means Fleet Post Office, and because my address includes "AP" which means Air Pacific, Americans sending mail to me only have to pay postage to San Francisco. Then the letters wait there until the military wants to bring them over to me. It takes about 10 days to get a normal letter or package.
  • As a civilian contractor, I don't salute anyone. It's probably best because I don't really have the rank/uniform thing down. I'm just starting to learn that, and that's mostly out of boredom.
  • I can't go anywhere or buy anything without showing my ID. And because I'm on a military/gov't VISA in Japan, I can't leave or reenter the country without my ID. That's caused a problem on a few occasions (almost didn't get *out* of Korea once and almost couldn't get back *in* from Indonesia.)
  • Just kidding about that one back there, I don't have military security clearance
  • We don't use pennies here. Overseas theaters (meaning, the European or Pacific Theaters, not movie theaters) round up or down on everything (commissary, BX, food court, billeting, shoppette, gas station, etc.) because it costs more to use them than they are worth. At my bank, we're always trying to ship them home, and we can't get a flight because nobody cares about pennies! I've thrown them away for 3 1/2 years here.

No none of that is very exciting by itself, but it all adds up to my little life as a government contractor in Japan.

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