Jun 13, 2012

Household Goods Arrive

So, we moved in to our apartment on April 25th. We had been in the Lodge since April 6th. That doesn't really seem like a long time, but the room is only so big for a family of 6. We did have a separate bedroom, but the kids all slept in one room. Fro most families, I'm guessing this is the "living room." The kitchen was a tiny thing, with a table for only 2. I'm not complaining about it, because it was wonderful of our sponsors to line it up for us. It was on the base where Steven would be working, so that was convenient. There was a small playground by the lodge, a library, and a huge dip in the ground where we played lots of inventive games.

Anyway, for the day of the move, Steven was told that he needed to be there. This was extremely generous of his command, and doesn't always happen. Otherwise, it would have been me emptying the Lodge and greeting the movers with all 4 kids in tow. And when you're expecting movers, you better be there early. Steven planned on getting to the apartment at 8am, but the movers were there by 7:30ish! Our neighbor messaged me through facebook and let us know we were late! I am pretty sure that he showed up right before they were planning on leaving.

Luckily, our Express Shipment had arrived already so we had a few things from home. In our situation, we were not allowed to pack any furniture or mattresses for this shipment. Basically, it's the necessities: utensils, towels, sheets, blankets, pots, pans, plates, bowls, cups, etc. I am a part of a Chaplain Spouse group that offered their loan items to me. We went to the Kadena Air Base Loan Closet to get a few loaner items. We received a few more utensils, laundry basket, pitcher, and a toaster. This service is free and you can check them out for 30 days. We had to extend that by a few weeks, but that was taken care of with a phone call.

Another popular option is Okinawa Yard Sales or Okinawa Bookoo (they are one and the same). We purchased our van, our car, a couch and chair, bunk beds, and a loft bed through this. We don't need new items. We went to the furniture store on Foster, but it's just too expensive. I wanted to buy a nice rug, but ended up buying one that was stained just because I still have young children and there's going to be spills! No reason to buy expensive and new when cheap and used will serve it's purpose.

At the Housing Brief Steven went to, they sent home a list of government furniture we were allowed to borrow. (Here's a good link about what it looks like.)We are also allowed to keep whatever items we want for the duration of our tour here. We chose to keep a dresser, a dresser with a mirror, and a nightstand. The day that we met the movers, they also dropped off mattresses, a couch, chair, end table, desk, dining chairs, and a dining table. It is decent stuff. I was afraid that it would be gross and/or grimy, but it wasn't. I really think they must do a good job of cleaning stuff up. My only complaint is that the bed is SO uncomfortable!

We also had to borrow the fridge, stove, washer and dryer. We were not even allowed to bring our own appliances to Okinawa.

Finally, home! Well, sort of. Not all of our stuff was here, but it was still nice to be out of the Lodge, out on our own!

Jun 10, 2012

Off-Base Housing in Okinawa

An ocean front apartment we couldn't afford!
One of the main questions families have about PCS-ing to Okinawa is all about housing. Will I live on base or off base? Our friends had PCSed a little earlier than we had and they were told that housing was too full on-base (this seemed to only be for Navy men and women working with Marines). So, we prepared ourselves for living off base. When we arrived, however, everything felt so foreign, plus the base housing I had seen looked pretty nice, so I really was leaning towards on-base housing. 

Steven went to the housing brief alone and the Off-base Housing info was already pulled up on the big screen, so it's not like they were going to give us a choice! For his rank and all that, we qualified for 180,000 Yen (he's an O-2). When he came home, he had a whole list of houses, apartments, and "plexes" that were available. I had been looking online at some good websites like Total Okinawa.

Let me just interject with this: YOU WILL NEED A CELL PHONE RIGHT AWAY. I know that it's tough when you haven't gotten wheels yet, but this is one of the top priorities when you get here. Ask your sponsor to take you to the BX to get your phone. Because you will need one to call all these housing agencies.Plus, they will want to call you also.

Anyway, back to the housing info. After studying the list, crossing out, highlighting, etc, we came to the conclusion that the list was worthless. Really, you just need to call/email about 5-7 of the top agencies and tell them what you want: how many bedrooms, how far you're willing to commute, and most importantly that you want American hook-ups. You do not want to have a Japanese stove/fish broiler or washer and dryer. You can make it work and I know some who are, but why do it, if you don't have to? You will need to use the list the Housing Office gives you for approved agencies though.

Some top companies are Koza Housing, Ajast Housing, and/or Central Housing. These agencies will begin looking for you and will call you back with a few choices. They will also offer to meet you at one of the gates of whichever base you're staying at. Our situation was a little difficult in that there were 6 of us and very few Japanese agents have a car that large. So, thankfully, our sponsor's wife watched the kids while we went to a few appointments. We met one lady at the gate and she drove us in her vehicle. So if there's only 2-3 of you, that should work perfectly. Otherwise, you're going to have to find childcare, send your spouse alone, or wait until you get licensed and get a vehicle.

We went to several different places before settling. I really wanted a house, but it just wasn't something we could afford. We went with an apartment that Keiko from Koza Housing found us. They took us to a great 4 bedroom that was big enough for us. The rent was more than what we were allowed by about 20,000 yen, but it was worth it to us to have the extra space. 

The apartment we live in has tile floor (not ceramic) throughout. In fact, I don't think any of the places we saw had carpet. It must be because of the humidity and mold issues? Anyway, you won't find carpet unless maybe you live on base. Our apartment is air conditioned, but not centrally. Each bedroom has it's own unit and the living/dining/kitchen/laundry area has one big one. Since electricity is quite expensive, we shut all the bedroom doors during the day and only air condition the living area. About 30 minutes before bed, we turn our AC on in the bedrooms. The bathrooms have nothing. You will need to purchase a dehumidifier for your  main living area. The AC units have a dehumidifier, but I've heard mixed reviews on that. Some say it's too expensive to run, some say it doesn't really work anyway. And don't forget that the remotes to these AC units are all in Japanese. our housing agency labeled a few of the buttons with English, but I still am not sure I'm pushing the right buttons!

Trash: another big deal here. Some areas are very picky and some are not. This is not America--- you will become a recycler, like it or not. I'm not against recycling, but I don't have time to sort every piece of trash I throw away. Luckily for us, we have 2 trashbins out front: flammable and non-flammable. So our metal and pop cans go in non-flammable and the rest in flammable. We also have to use clear trash bags and label them with our apartment number. Not every apartment complex has to label their bags. I have seen the trash guys pick up. Some trash trucks actually play music like the ice cream truck-- do not get excited, it's only trash. Anyway, they wear gloves and tear into the clear bags to make sure you're throwing away appropriate items!

Specifics on our apartment: Electric was about $144. Trash was $45. We don't know what our water is yet. We pay our bills through G.I. Bill Pay. That way, we don't have to worry about paying our Japanese bills. They take care of it for us.

We love where we are....off-base. Of course, since this is our first duty station, I have nothing to compare it to. My kids have made friends with other American kids in the apartments here. I know a few people now also. It's nice to be able to go somewhere and not have to show your ID to get back home, you know? We have the 100 Yen store down the street, which is like a Dollar Store. Restaurants all around (even and A&W and McDonald's up the road). Clothing stores, gas station, convenience stores.

Sorry it's been so long since I've updated. We just got our HHGs yesterday and I haven't had my desktop keyboard. I hate typing on laptops and ipads.