Today I would like to introduce you to Kathryn, a blogger/vlogger located in Okinawa, Japan. Kathryn creates informational posts and videos about Okinawa, everything from exciting things to do, places to eat, and even basic japanese. Kathryn has been living in Okinawa for 7 years and is full of wonderful information and great ideas for those living in, moving to, or just visiting Okinawa. She was able to take some time to answer questions for anyone curious about the girl behind the camera, as well as anyone wondering about long term living in Okinawa, outside of being active duty military.
- What’s the number one thing you miss from America?
I honestly can’t say that there is anything that I miss about or from America. Nowadays with the iPhone and 3G/4G networks (something that didn’t exist when I first got here) I can talk, chat, send pictures to and even video conference with family at the drop of a dime. In fact some of my family members are closer to me now then they were when I was living only a few states away. I can’t say that I miss anything material either. You can get anything you need right here in Japan if you know where to look.
- Who initiated the idea of you staying on island after your husband’s enlistment? Was it a hard sell for the other person?
Neither of us had the idea of staying in Okinawa before the other. It was an idea that we came to collectively through a lot of discussions about what we wanted to do next in our lives. To be completely honest, I think that if you have to “sell” it to the other person you’re already starting off on the wrong foot because (as we will uncover throughout the rest of these questions) it’s a difficult journey. In my opinion both parties need an equal drive to make it work.
- What were some of the main reasons you wanted to stay, and what were some of your husbands reasons?
The both of us really liked the way our lives were going and liked what the future could look like if we stayed here. How safe the island is was a huge plus.
- What if any reasons were there for you to leave Okinawa?
- Do you ever miss being an active duty spouse?
No. I never liked being an active duty spouse or living a military lifestyle.
- How long do you plan on staying in Okinawa?
We don’t have any plans to leave Okinawa any time in the foreseeable future.
- How do you handle medical issues? Are you seen on base or do you go out in town? If you go out in town is it really expensive like it is if you were to seek medical care here in the states without insurance?
Great (and very important) question! I like to handle all of my medical issues out in town. There is a laundry list of hospitals, clinics and specialists on island who can help you and your family with any medical needs you may have. There are also hospitals and clinics that accommodate English speakers so being proficient in Japanese isn’t necessary. No. Even if you are uninsured you’re not going to see anything near the outrageous prices you will find in the US. Here’s an example. A few years before leaving the US I had this skin issue pop up on my arm and cause some problems. I went to the doctor, had to get a referral to a dermatologist and then from there had to try 2 or 3 different prescriptions to try and make the issue go away. The price tag with my insurance coverage was around $300USD not including the appointment to get the referral. Years later the same skin thing popped up again only this time making an appearance on my face. . . YAY. . . so I headed to the local dermatologist one morning during “walk in” hours. He recognized right away what the problem was, handed me a prescription and I was out of there in 10 minutes. Total price tag uninsured $60USD.
- What forms of insurance are available to someone who may be interested in staying in or moving to Okinawa?
The type of insurance you get depends on the type of job you have. If you find employment which gives you a Japanese work visa then you will be eligible for Japan’s national health insurance. This type of health insurance is based on your annual income making it affordable and will ensure you can be taken care of without having to worry.
(NOTE: There are also other types of health insurance available in Japan but that’s a story for another day.)
If you are working under SOFA Status you are likely going to end up with some form of international health insurance. International health insurance has it’s ups and downs. The biggest negative to international health insurance is that in most cases you have to pay up front and then file your claim getting the refund later.
- How hard was it to find employment to remain on the island? One of you has to have a job with SOFA correct?
First I want to answer the second part of your question. No, it is not correct that either you or your spouse requires a job with SOFA Status in order to remain on Okinawa (or more accurately in Japan). This is just one of your many options. Another one of your options is to go after a job that will give you and your family Japanese work visas. There are many ways that a Japanese work visa can be obtained which can all be researched through Japanese immigrations and your local embassy. The most common is to find an employer who is willing to hire you and sponsor your visa. You can also obtain a visa by opening a business or even based on your annual income. Again, you can research all of this information and find out what works best for you.
Now, how hard was it to find employment? It was a challenge . . . . . some might say difficult but I want to stress that it is not impossible. If you decide to go the route of staying in/moving to Japan (or any other country for that matter) you need to have a solid understanding of the fact that you aren’t going to just be handed a job. There are a lot of things that need to fall into place. You will need to be experienced and good at what you do, have a solid education and of course be what they are looking for. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. If you press on you’ll be fine.
- How hard was it finding housing that is not for active duty? Briefly what is the process?
Finding a place to live what the most difficult challenge that we faced throughout the entire “settling in Okinawa” process. We had to jump through a lot of burning hoops and even then we ran into problem after problem. Here in Okinawa there is not a solid process for finding housing like there is in other parts of Japan. With so many military members coming in and out all the time Americans are a huge flight risk so you’re at the mercy of any agency that is willing to work with you. In many cases it really isn’t even the agency but more what the landlord is or isn’t willing to accept.
- What are some reliable housing agencies for non-military
Reliable Housing Agencies – Via OkiNinjaKitty blog
- Generally speaking is Okinawa cheaper than the United States?
Is Okinawa Cheeper than the United States – Via OkiNinjaKitty Blog
- How fluent are you in Japanese? Can you read it well?
I know enough Japanese to get by in certain situations. I can also speak enough Uchinaguchi (the native language of Okinawa) to be polite with the non-Japanese/non-English speaking people I have met over the years. As far as reading goes I can read enough to order off a menu, go grocery shopping to find a shop that I might be looking for.
- How did you learn Japanese?
All the Japanese that I know I learned through practical application. For example everyone eats right? So I learned all the Japanese phrases and such that would be useful in a restaurant setting. This was a great place to start because I mean how often do you find yourself in a restaurant? All the time right! So you use that Japanese a lot, get the pronunciation down and move on to the next life challenge. For me it was the motorcycle shop. My bike needed a new tire so I learned all the Japanese phrases that I might need to communicate that to them and BAM now I can talk to mechanics with ease. The more situations I encounter. . . the more Japanese I learn. What other challenges do you face often, as an American living in a foreign country? Finding friends and meeting people has proven to be a huge challenge, not necessarily because I am living in a foreign country but, because I am living in Okinawa. This has become exceedingly more difficult as the years progress. The longer you’re here, the stranger position you end up in. Regardless who you meet everyone thinks you’re new here and that can be unpleasant after a while.
Friendship challenges when in Japan long term – Via OkiNinjaKitty Blog
- You have the YouTube Channel OkiNinjaKitty, how long have you been making videos?
I have had the OkiNinjaKitty Channel since early 2011.
- What made you start making videos?
That fact that I love filming as a hobby was a huge help. It wasn’t like I had to learn to like carrying around a camera. Then when I really started to sink my teeth into YouTube I started noticing that some of the videos that I was really enjoying were actually just home movies other people were posting but rather then making them personal it was as though they were telling the viewer useful information or even just fun tidbits about life. I found myself learning about everyday life in Osaka, Shizuoka, Tokyo, Hokkaido. . . . very cool. . . but very disappointing that none of these videos were coming out of Okinawa. I remember thinking about how cool it would be for those coming to Okinawa to have an idea of what was around even before they got here. A few weeks later I started filming and posting videos on the OkiNinjaKitty Channel.
- What are the questions you get asked most often?
I get a lot of questions. Most of which revolve around either living here without depending on the base (where to buy produce, where to buy clothes). “What should I pack for a two year tour in Okinawa?” is another one of the questions that I receive a lot. I also get a lot of questions about the relationship between the US Military and the people of Okinawa. These questions usually come after protests and big news stories. People want to understand both sides of the situation and I’ve built an environment with the OkiNinjaKitty Channel where people are comfortable to ask those types of questions without harsh judgement (something that doesn’t really exist here in Okinawa or on the internet for that matter). This type of environment (not just for US Mil/Okinawan Relationship questions but ALL questions/communication on my channel) is very important to me.
- What is your favorite Okinawan or Japanese dish to eat?
I love squid. My favorite preparation is either fried or dried. I just can’t get enough of it.
- What is your favorite place to eat in Okinawa?
My favorite place to eat in Okinawa would have to be Double Decker. It’s this great little pub style restaurant in Mihama, tucked away in the back corner of the Sega building. It’s got a great atmosphere and the food has consistently been great throughout the years.
Double Decker (1) Double Decker (Lunch!) – OkiNinjaKitty blog
- Do you cook Okinawa/Japanese dishes often? What is your favorite to cook?
I often find myself cooking Okinawa and Japanese style dishes. Although you don’t have to eat local to live here I find that it is not only enjoyable but it is easier on the wallet as well. My favorite to com is goya chanpuru. It’s easy, quick, affordable and my husband and I love it!
Recipe: Goya Chanpuru
- What are your favorite kinds of events to attend?
My favorite events to attend are the ones that you won’t find in a guide book. You’d be amazed at how different events are that don’t focus on drawing in tourists or impressing foreigners. The one event that sticks out in my mind are the goat fights. it was a small festival being held up in the mountains which turned out to be the most welcoming and enjoyable experience I had all year.
- What kinds of things do you do for fun? Beside making videos for your channel?
I like to draw and read but mostly only in the peak summer months when it’s too hot to do too much physical activity. The rest of the time I like to be doing something outdoors. I enjoy gardening and going for walks.
- I know some people complain about getting bored on island. How do you keep it interesting?
There are quite a lot of people here on Okinawa who complain about getting bored and it honestly blows my noggin’! I’ve been here nearing a decade and there are still lists of things I haven’t seen so long that I can barely keep track. It’s funny, I was talking to a friend of mine who has been here for over 40 years and he feels the same way. That being said when I see people on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook complaining about how they have been here 3 weeks and already “seen it all” there is a little part of me screaming inside going “There is more to Okinawa than Pineapple Park”!
We’ve kept things interesting in a few different ways over the years. At first we broke down what we wanted to find into sections. One of us would say “let’s find castles” and we would do on looking for castles. At first it was the more obvious UNESCO sites, then the popular castle sites and finally the not so popular sites (did you know there are actually hundreds here on Okinawa). Then it was parks, then it was beaches, then it was museums (there are tons of museums around Okinawa, many of them are free), dams and so on. Eventually we started to notice things on our way to find these places. A sign for a monument here, a sign that we couldn’t read but it looked super interesting there. . . so we changed out game plan. We started planning drives (and sometimes walks) with roads but no intended destinations. See something, double back and explore! This is how we have found probably about 90% of the awesome things that we have seen here on Okinawa.
- How do you feel about living in a largely military community?
Okinawa is not what I would describe as a “largely military community”. Describing the collective community of Okinawa as such suggests (at least in my opinion) that most people’s lives are driven by the military in some way or you’re bumping elbows with military members and their families no matter where you go. Neither of these are the case.
- Are you involved and comfortable with the military community?
No I am not involved with the military community. I would not say that I am uncomfortable with the military community as a whole but I would be lying if I said that I was never made uncomfortable by members of the military community based on the fact that I was an expat. It’s an unfortunate truth but one you should know regardless if you’re thinking about living here as an expat.
- If not, are you involved and comfortable with the Okinawan Community?
I am definitely involved with the Okinawa community as well as the expat community here and throughout Japan. I am 100% comfortable with the Okinawan community.
- Could you see yourself living there permanently?
- What would you change to make it a more enjoyable and/or comfortable experience?
I honestly can’t think of anything that I could have changed to make life here more enjoyable/comfortable. It would have been great to have more information about Okinawa from the start so there was not so much guess work. Of course I can’t go back in time to fix that but I am trying through my channel, blog and Facebook page to create what it is I wish I had when I first got here.
You can find Kathryn:
Hotto Motto– I love Hotto Motto! Love! Love! Love!
Daiso: Everything you need, No, Seriously
This video is my favorite because it’s very close to my old house, I used to ride my bike along this way almost every week, sometimes several times a week.
Who doesn’t love awesome vending machines?
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. If you have any questions for Kathryn, head on over to the OkiNinjaKitty Facebook page,
and tell her you found here here!