CONTRIBUTED BY LORI

Lori contributed a write-up about her on-base housing in New Lester last week and agreed to tell us about her experiences using government furniture while stationed here in Okinawa.  We have two other posts on this topics in our archives; Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.  We have closed comments on those older posts in order to keep the new conversation going on this one, but the input from our writers and readers over there is still invaluable.  (And, as you can see from the pictures across all three entries, not much has changed in this area since 2008…)

Okinawa Government Furniture | okinawahai.com

Government furniture. Are there two less inspiring words in the English language? Still, it was a source of curiosity for me before we moved here and remained mostly a mystery until ours arrived.

What to bring is one of the biggest dilemmas before moving to Okinawa, especially given that you won’t know where you’re living until you arrive. Would we be able to live off base? If so, would our furniture fit through doorways and stairways, then into the space we had? And if we’re living on base, what will be provided and what should we bring?

The dilemma was mostly moot for us, since we were on weight restriction. This meant that what furniture we didn’t sell on Craigslist went into non-temporary storage. We learned too late on this that if you’re storing dressers, you need to either remove your belongings yourself or let your packers know that it needs to be packed separately. It’s fortunate that we moved to a warm climate since most of my sweaters, long-sleeved shirts, and socks will reside in Florida for the next couple of years.

Okinawa Government Furniture | okinawahai.com

We had heard that there would be some opportunity to choose our furniture from a list or catalog, but were told by our housing agent that it wasn’t an option anymore. She said she’d try to add a bookshelf to our order, but otherwise, we’d just get the standard set for a couple with no children. (We didn’t get the bookshelf, but were pleasantly surprised when our shipment came to find that we hadn’t sent ours to storage.) Our furniture would be delivered before we could pick up our keys. If there was anything we only needed temporarily or didn’t want, we could schedule a one-time pick up. Anything we wanted to return after that, we’d have to bring ourselves.

What we got was a couch, two chairs, coffee table, two end tables, dining room table (seats 8 with two leaves put in), six dining chairs, China cabinet, desk, desk chair, double bed, two nightstands, tall dresser, and a large dresser with a mirror. Is any of this a style of furniture we would choose for ourselves? No. But the couch and chairs were brand new and everything is clean and in good condition.

Okinawa Government Furniture | okinawahai.com

The one problem we had was the bed. My husband is 6’2 and easily takes up a double bed by himself. We asked about the possibility of getting a queen size bed, but were told they were for senior officers only, so we had to buy one. The only other thing we needed to buy was a microwave since they aren’t built into the kitchens in our housing like they had been in our previous homes. We did also buy a grill and patio furniture we found on Okinawa Yard Sales since we have a patio and small yard here.

When we first moved in, our living room looked a lot like a dorm common room to me, lacking in any personality. But then I bought a rug from some neighbors about to PCS (who had the same furniture we do, so I felt confident it would go nicely) and a tablecloth from Uptight Imports, both of which helped to break up all of the oak furniture and flooring. Once our shipment came, we put up our artwork, added in the furniture we did bring (TV stand, cedar chest, ottoman, bookshelf) and filled the China cabinet with our own glassware, wedding cake toppers, and my grandma’s cookie jar. With our bedding on the new queen size bed in our room and the government double bed in the spare room, decorations from home and things we collect here, it feels so much more like home already.

Okinawa Government Furniture | okinawahai.com

I’m never going to fall in love with the looks of my government furniture and I know I’ll be happy to have our own furniture back when we get back to the States. But already I can tell that we’ll have great memories evening spent lounging on our couch and dinners eaten around the table with friends that will make me look back fondly on them.

My advice? Bring or buy the things that will make your base housing feel like home and embrace the government furniture for the rest. Anyone you might want to impress with your decorating taste probably has that very same blue couch anyway.

Editor’s Note: I’ve lived overseas twice, in Germany and Okinawa.  Both times we took advantage of using government furniture while living abroad; the first time because we were newlyweds who hadn’t yet lived together and didn’t own any, and the second time because the Army severely restricted our weight allowance.  I’d love to echo what Lori has said: what you’re given to use during this tour might not be even close to what you’d choose to purchase for yourself, but it works.  With a little creative decorating – a few colorful throw pillows here, a one-size-fits-all slipcover there, and a $10 tablecloth to hide the scratches on that dining room table, you may find that you can infuse your own style into it pretty easily.  For more tips about how to spruce up your living quarters on and off base in Okinawa, check out all the posts in our Making Your Home category.

We would also like to note that with the exception of some senior personnel, all government furniture is equal.  He gets it, she gets it, and that family over there likely has the exact same coffee table, dressers, and bedside tables that are in your house, too.  Though leaving the majority of your furniture behind in non-temporary storage for a few years stinks, knowing that you don’t have to spend your hard-earned money to replace it when you get here is one of those often unrecognized benefits afforded to us.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Husband and I got married in Okinawa. Because he’s moving from dorms to a house, we were not allowed to borrow furniture. And every thing in Okinawa is over priced. Used we’re gonna be in a little debt….lol
    Trying bookoo and free stuff, but growing up always being told never to buy furniture second hand I’m cringing that I have to!

  2. Just got my orders to PCS to Kadena in August. This is my first duty station and I’ve never lived outside a dorm so I have no furniture. I will be living off base. Do I still get loaner furniture if I’m living off base? Do I get it for my entire tour? Is there anything I should buy in the States and ship or can I get everything I need/want for my apartment in Kadena? Thanks in advance!

    • Yes you get loaner furniture if you live off base, and yes for the entire tour. You get one free pick up within 2-3 months if you buy furniture while you are here. As for things to bring, if you want a personalized style or certain color scheme, get those things first. Throw pillows, rugs, wall hangings, towels… the selection is very limited here, even off base.

  3. Hi, I”ll be PCS’ing to Okinawa soon my very first move. My husband is a Marine & is already there but is petitioning for me to be there. The paperwork is almost complete. I have loads of questions maybe someone will be able to guide me. Has anyone PCS’ed after their spouse ? Did they ship your household items or anything that you wanted to bring (appliances, kitchen items, mattress/bed, rugs) im not bringing the rest of our furniture bc they are really big but would I like a good night sleep and i heard govt beds aren’t the way to go. Are the govt furniture usually new, scared of used mattress’. What are some things you all wish you brought and didn’t ? I love planting my own herbs, do you think there will be a restriction on bring my own seeds?
    Thanks, Kerisha

    • Hi Kerisha,
      My husband is Navy, and I PCS’ed here five months after him. They did ship our items for us. I live off base, so I don’t have a microwave or dishwasher, and sometimes wish I did. Unless you already have a fully designed house, I would recommend getting a few things first. The PXs and local home design stores are very limited in colors, designs, and styles. Unless you like what they have, don’t care, or don’t mind having the same stuff as your neighbor, get throw pillows, rugs, tableclothes, wall hangings, etc. Also, depending on your size, the same principle applies to clothes. The PXs are very limited, and I, at 5’7″ and wearing a size 10 dress/pant, can rarely shop locally due to size. I was concerned about going over my weight limit, but was shocked at how little I actually brought.

      The government furniture is new, but you get 2-3 months to return it, which gives you time to buy your own things if you don’t like what you’ve been given. I have a combination of local, on base, and government furniture. I’d check out Nitori (there are posts on it here) for home furnishing needs. Okinawayardsales.com is always full of people selling of their furniture as well. And yeah, you’ll probably want your own bed. We sleep a ton better with one from the yard sale site than the government one.

  4. Editor’s Note: Due to technical difficulties this comment was not saved on our server. We are re-publishing it now to continue the conversation on this post.

    From MaryGG on 9/12/13:
    “We recently found out that we are going to be on weight restriction, so I guess my question is does everyone who is on weight restriction get govt loaner furniture for their whole tour? My husband is an E6 with the Navy if that matters.
    I also was curious about what things people wished they had brought or wish they hadn’t brought. I am planning on bringing my sofa and my bed and perhaps the guest bed, but should I bring some of the storage furniture stuff like for the bathroom and living room etc?”

  5. my husband is in the Navy and we have a 2 year old and a 3 month old. We just arrived here and we shipped all our furniture. There is a weight restriction of 2700 pounds I believe but we didn’t really worry about that we just shipped most of our furniture and it was fine. We have the government furniture until it arrives. Our express shipment had a restriction of 700 pounds and we sent blankets, pillows, sheets, towels and a slow cooker, pan and some other kitchen stuff. Also we sent the crib and baby swing. Flying with the kids was not fun. The flight is long so we had to work together to keep our 2 year old occupied and the baby happy. Neither me nor my husband got much sleep and we were exhausted by the time we got here. The time change did not help either because once we got here the kids were wide awake at midnight. It was a few days before we felt a little more rested up. We had to stay at the shogun inn for a week before we got a house. I feel pretty lucky to be here though, the preparations and the trip have been stressful but it’s all coming together now

  6. Be sure to see if you’re on a weight restriction or not. If you’re not restricted, they won’t let you keep anything. We were stationed here 3 1/2 years ago, with no weight restriction, and were allowed to pick and choose what furniture we wanted to keep using. When we got here this time, with no restriction, we weren’t allowed to keep any of the government furniture.

  7. Back on the subject of the government furniture, it is ok for what it is. Do beware though, as I also have children and pets that tend to dirty these couches fairly often, after washing the covers only twice the seams are falling apart. Slip covers are probably a good idea.

  8. Sorry, my phone sent before I was ready. A king size bed would definitely fit in our bedroom with no problem. That being said some off base houses may not fit the bed. It all depends. My biggest advice, if you want to live on base really push the housing office. I have heard more than a few stories of them telling people there was no room on base. Then with a little persuading they found somewhere for them to live. As for the car, that will be pretty easy. You can buy from someone on Okinawayardsales.com or the Lemon Lot on base. There are also car lots off base that will sell a car and finance it for 18 months. It was the easiest part of the process for us. We flew with a 3 year old and a 2 year old. I was terrified because it was going to be a lot of traveling. It will be different if you are flying commercial or taking the Patriot Express. We flew on the PE which meant spending the night in an airport and 2 days of traveling. My kids did amazing which was a relief. I would bring a few small toys to keep them occupied, LOTS os snacks, pajamas or a change of clothes, and something for them to watch (iPod, iPad, TV player). The Patriot Express had family movies playing for the whole flight. Honestly my kids played and slept the whole 12 hours on the plane. I think the biggest thing is just to be patient with them. They will probably do better than you expect.

  9. We live on Kadena (technically). We live in a small housing area right outside of Kadena’s gate. A king size bed would definitely fit in our bedr

  10. We’ll be PCSing to Okinawa in Dec. This will be our first big move. Is there anyway to figure out what housing will be at or will we just have to wait until we get there to find out. Also does anyone know if a king size bed will fit into the rooms either on or off base? What about vehicles? I’m just extremely nervous about this whole situation. We also have a 2 year old. Any tips on flying w a toddler? Any help will be greatly appreciated!!

    • I live off base and have room for a queen bed and oversized chair with room to spare … I could surely fit a whole bedroom suite in there as well but don’t need to because of the awesome built in closet shelving and drawers. I think living off base is a blessing. As for vehicles, like Amanda said, it was extremely easy. My husband and I went to BC motors right outside of gate 2 on Kadena and had our paper work done in less than 30 minutes. They take 2 days together the car ready for you, but in the meantime there is a free shuttle on base that takes you wherever you want to go. Taxis are expensive and walking is free. I got here in Oct so walking was my choice most of the time… But in this summer I’d opt for the shuttle. 🙂

      Also I second the recommendation to check out bookoo. If only I had known about that before I spent way too much on furniture and stuff.

  11. My husband is in the Marine Corps so I am guessing the rules are the same. I agree with Lori that all the houses that we were shown we plenty big enough for American couches and beds. We have a queen mattress but we have friends that have a King. Also, all the houses/apartments we looked at in town were just as spacious and would have had room for all our American furniture. I am guessing the only consideration would be elevators and stairwells to move furniture into and out of because in town you will probably be on the 5th or 6th floor of a building.

  12. Thanks for the reply Lori, I guess I’m going to have to do further research with my new Command. I just realized too that you guys are in the Army and i’m in the Navy, there might be a difference…. Any Navy folks out there that can chime in?

  13. I know there is paperwork you want to do as soon as you can, though I don’t know what specifically since my husband did that. If you live on base, you shouldn’t have problems with the size of your furniture – base housing is American size in rooms and doorways. I’ve heard that a lot of the housing near base is also American style, but if you go further out, you might find more Japanese style housing, which can be smaller. We were only allotted 25% of our normal weight allowance coming here, which is why we left almost all of our furniture in storage.

  14. Good thing I check up on this site at least 2-3 times a week. Anyway, my family and I will be PCSing there in a few months to Camp Foster. We are completely clueless in regards to the housing and it’s size. So are there size restrictions on what bed/couch we can bring? Also regarding on-base housing, is it wise to put my name in for the waiting list prior to our arrival? My family and I would highly prefer to live on base, thanks in advance.

  15. When we moved, we were told that we had to live off base. It will depend on rank and where you or your husband work. I think they try to put you as close to the base that they work as possible but that doesn’t always work. On another note, if you have to live in town be prepared to spend A LOT of money up front in rent and fees. When I heard that we would have to pay over $6,000 up front when moving off base, I was shocked. Also be prepared for hefty utility bills. You will get an allotment to pay for it every month but I have heard from more than a few people that some months that allotment does not cover all the bills. My word of advice is make sure you have plenty of savings when you move here because there are a lot of costs that you won’t realize until you get here. We have only been here 4 months so this is still fresh in my mind.

  16. If base housing is not 95% full then you are required to live on base. We had hoped to live out in town, but housing was only at 94% when we arrived. One of my husband’s coworkers arrived less than a month after us and was able to live off base, so it’s really just a matter of what week or day you arrive. We had originally planned to try to move off base after a year, but we like our house and neighbors, so I don’t think it will be worth it to me to pack and unpack again.

  17. Hi my family and I will be pcsing to Oki in dec and i was wondering was it mandatory that you live in base housing? or did you just choose to live there?

    • Where you live depend in where your husband works and what the capacity percentage is. We arrived in February and housing was at 94% so we were not given the option to move off base. Both on base and off have their own pros and cons imo. I live in a tower that has huge rooms. I could easily fit a king size bed in the master.

    • Hi Brittany! We will also be moving to Okinawa in December. Do you know what flight your going to be with? We are going to the 67th, I think it’s Red team on Kadena.

  18. We were able to send our dry spices in our express shipment, but friends told us they had to ship theirs because their movers wouldn’t take them. I guess it depends on who you get. And yes, I did get here with some long-sleeved shirts and socks (fortunately, we visited some friends in Seoul on the way here, where it was cold) and I anticipate having to buy some more. Nothing like the amount I’d need though if we were most other places. It was reassuring when we heard people complaining about how cold it had been before we got here to find out that cold meant 50s! I can cope with that, just not in shorts and t-shirts.

  19. Thanks for the post on the furniture! We moved here in January and got the issued furniture due to weight restrictions. Definitely not my style but it works and for us, we have 2 small kids that we are gong through potty training and lots of food spills. I am happy to go through that on furniture that isn’t ours and hopefully when we go back to the States we can buy nice furniture that my kids won’t destroy. On a side note, if you have kids, the issue for their rooms are a twin sized bed, a tall chest of drawers and a nights stand. My suggestion when moving here is epbring your own mattress and box spring. The double bed they gave us was not comfortable at all, but we had a friend tell us as much before we moved so we brought our mattress. The govt issued headboard will convert to a queen size, you just have to rescrew the bedtime on in the right position. We were furniture minimalist before we moved here so we have way more issued furniture than we owned before.

    January-Our movers packed up all our dry spices. I don’t know if that is standard but they did for us. And I would definitely bring long sleeves and some sweatshirts. It doesn’t get cold but it does get chilly.

    • Thanks, Amanda and Lori for the feedback. The furniture is definitely an ordeal. I would love to bring our dining table at least to make it feel like home. Such a stressor when you have weight restrictions on your home stuff. Everyday, I am looking all over the house trying to figure out what I can live and live without for 3 yrs. Ha.

  20. Hi there,
    We are PCS’ing to Okinawa in a couple of months and I have so many questions, so any help is greatly appreciated. First, can I bring dry spices with me? And, second, is there any need for long sleeved tops? We are currently stationed in Mississippi, so I know humid but I also know cold and did not expect it to get down to mid 20’s in the south.
    Help.

    • Yes, it does get rather chilly and cold here during the winter. Bring your winter clothes. I live off base and our house has no heat; we had to go purchase space heaters.

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