Every few years, military families get to embrace different parts of the world that they may never have originally gotten to see. Though moving comes with a lot of decisions, and some heartache, it also has its perks — especially if you land a duty station with culture, tradition and delicious cuisine. For those lucky enough to score an overseas assignment, like Okinawa, Japan, the family is exposed to international flair on the military’s dime.
Air Force wife Kimberly Merritt says she was “really excited” when she found out her family would be moving from the cooler, rainy climate of the United Kingdom to the more tropical environment of Okinawa, Japan. Like most military spouses, she leaned on the internet to prep for the new location.
“I really just tried to plug into resources like local Facebook groups, and got connected with our key spouses. It would be our second international move. The first time, I tried really hard to prepare for everything. However, after the 10th or 100th thing went wrong, I quickly realized most things I can’t figure out until I arrive,” she said. “So other than the usual PCS prep, I chose not to add much else to my plate. I did, however, try to learn a bit about local customs and gestures prior to the move, which helped me feel more comfortable.”
Now, after living on the island for close to seven years, she describes it as “a gem.”
“I love walking down the street on a beautiful day to see the East China Sea bright with shades of blue, turquoise and greens. The hundreds of beaches that are covered in beautiful shells and sand dollars. Madea Flats, Cherry Blossom blooms at Nago, Bise Village, holiday lights at the Itoman Christmas festival, local Pottery Village, the fish market and shopping on Kokosai Street, or surrounding islands — like the Kuramas or IE Island — all stick out as some beautiful and cultural experiences Okinawa has to offer. This island is rich with so much. It’s difficult to choose, and even more difficult to make sure you see and do it all. I’ve always said you could live here for 10 years and still be finding new secret beaches or local cafes you never knew existed,” Merritt said.
While most families look outside of their area for things to do, Okinawa offers a range of activities for those opting for a staycation. Merritt, for example, says that beach combing and café hopping have become her favorite activities.
“I love coffee and the ocean air. Both bring peace, calming and happiness to my soul! Okinawa has the best of both! Each local eatery is unique, and no two beach spots look the same. I could drink coffee and collect sand dollars all day,” she shared.
The family also attends the local seasonal festivals that include fireworks, traditional taiko drumming and the biggest tug-of-war event worldwide.
And then, there is the cuisine. Imagine getting to dine on Japanese flavors for a few years before heading back to the states. Though, Merritt isn’t a seafood fan, she has adopted to experiment with other Okinawan dishes.
“I have fallen in love with other various meals: Okinawan Soba, Ramen, Taco Rice and Goya have been some of my favorites these last few years. And the pancakes and French toast. I swear this island has some of the best tasting, fluffiest, memorable pancakes and French toast that there ever was,” she said.
Her family is due to leave the island soon because of orders. Reflecting back on her experiences, she recommends others embrace any opportunity to be stationed OCONUS.
“Just embrace it. Throw out any expectation you have about ‘normal life’ and be open to the experience. Each duty station is what we make of it; this is especially true with living overseas. Spend more time off base than on; live off base if the option is given to you. Step out of your comfort zone and be open to opportunities to grow, evolve and expand your horizons. If you intentionally do this, you’ll certainly leave a better person than you arrived,” Merritt explained.
For those who happen to end up in Okinawa, Merritt says her top tip is to connect with others.
“Find a friend. Seriously, the Okinawa Facebook groups are life. Join the ‘Pin Drops’ page, the ‘Cafes of Okinawa’ group,” she said. “There are meet-up groups, hiking groups, play date groups, homeschooling groups, entrepreneur groups. Make some friends, meet some people and get yourself off base each and every weekend. Have conversations with the locals, even if you don’t speak a word of Japanese. There are even wonderful cultural groups for kids and families available, everyone can learn so much.”
As for the Merritt family, they will be departing Okinawa with a lifetime of memories and one new tradition.
“Shoes off at the door! This is a tradition practiced even by many local eateries here in Okinawa,” she added.Read comments