How Do You Get A (Social) Life When You Live Off-Base In Okinawa?


I so wish I had thought of this question myself. I did not. It came from a woman who hasn’t arrived in Okinawa yet. But don’t you wish you could have asked this before getting here. Yes, yes, you wished that. I know that on-base folks face the same question so join the conversation with your own spin.

I’ll take a stab at it.

I was very lonely for many, many months in my off-base house. I gazed longingly at women everywhere from the commissary to the sidewalks summing up our compatibility and wondering just how to start up a conversation. You like bananas? Me too! It was much like dating. Or junior high school. The painful parts.

After a good bit of sulking, I set aside the emotions and made a project of getting a life. I decided that my days would revolve around Eli (Henry was in utero) and getting exercise. I figured that if I put my energy in those directions I would connect with women I could relate to. I scoured all the print publications. Okinawa Living. Venture. Stars & StripesJapan Update. I went to Baby & Me on Foster which is a playgroup for mothers with babies under a year. I went to Lapsit which I loved and Eli hated. I went to my husband’s work events. I chatted with strangers. I went to the Thursday Okinawa Playgroup on Kadena. I volunteered at the Children’s Waiting Room. I smiled and just hoped that someone would like me in line, on the playground or at the vending machine. I had assumed I was a fairly likable girl. I was feeling very sorry for myself. Also I was freshly pregnant with Henry and nauseous and dramatic. DRAMATIC.

I whimpered a lot at night and then got back on my horse in the morning. And finally I connected and bonded and found a home here. And I love my lady friends. Perhaps all y’all that live on-base had a similar experience. From the other side of the fence, it seems like connecting happens more naturally with the whole neighborhood, same boat situation. Or that it happens more readily than off-base.

We all set our priorities when we get here or anywhere new. Military life. Church. Career. Friends. Exercise. Motherhood. Travel. Saving money. Interior design. Volunteering. Next time, I’m going to have be firm and clear about my priorities and have more faith that my people are out there even if it takes seven months to meet them.

This has been my maiden voyage with the military so this is all probably very been there, done that to most of you all.

Or not. What’s your story?


  1. I am a single father with a 7 year old girl and had similar experiences when I first moved here. I finally met some very cool American families; however, everytime my daughter got close they would move. I decided to attempt to break through the 4th wall in Japan and make a concerted effort to engage with the locals. Now 3 years later, my daughter is fluent in Japanese, goes to a Japanese school and has friends over every other day. Now I have a very large group of Japanese families in friends that do a lot of great events together (i.e cmPong over with about 12 kids at Okuma, trips etc.) now my problem is exactly the opposite; my daughter has no American friends. So if anyone with kids 5-8 are a bit lonely and wish to take advantage of my very large Japanese family network, we would be more than glad to welcome you. Bry

  2. Hello i just moved here a week ago, im 25 & kinda lonely while my husband is at work if anyone is out there that wants to hangout and fix up our houses together like newbies im so interested i live in Kadena….shoulderso@yahoo

  3. Hi, I see no one has posted here in a while. Maybe someone will still see this though. I just arrived to Kadena a month ago. I’m 23 and have a 6 month old daughter. I’m pretty dieing for some girl company. I love my husband, but you know what I mean. If anyone sees this please email me at Wow I just realized I kinda sound pathetic lol

  4. @ashleigh – my first suggestion would be to head over to the Forum and begin poking around there. You’ll find a discussion (under the “Forum” tab) called “Friend Finder” that might be helpful. Good luck!!!

  5. Hi, I’ve been here for a couple of months now and haven’t really met anyone yet. I almost feel like I’m putting up a date app. lol but I’m 21, I don’t have any children and I don’t mind people who do, I ran a daycare back in the U.S. Anyways some adult conversation would be great so if anyone is interested in talking or hanging out, just email me at Thankyou.

  6. Hey everybody! I am new to the island. We are stationed on Kadena. We have only been here since sept 11. And myself like alot of others are scared to strike up a conversation with a completly random person. So, maybe this will help me meet some people and break the ice..I am a 21year old mother of a 5month old daughter. But id love to meet some of you.. my email is.. i also have a facebook .. Tara Thompson

  7. We lived in Okinawa and loved it. We lived on base, but I will tell you that we became best buddies with an Okinawan family and that was the best thing ever! I taught English, and you can easily do that on base or off base. Just start asking around and this is such a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. I learned so much from my students about Okinawa, including practicing my Japanese. Not to mention–you can make some good money doing this! Then I would get together with my students and we would often spend the day together on the weekends!

  8. Bethany (and others) – go visit the Hai Society, sign up, join some groups, and meet some people. It really helps us connect. Many of us have young kids, so they are always welcome, and it always helps to have another mom around.

  9. Well, I’ve been here since January, but still only have one close friend. I’m up to meeting new people, but you have to be patient as I chase my 15 month old around. 🙂 I live out in town (Kitanakusuku), but I drive everywhere. My email is alicorn_28 at yahoo dot com. (I try to avoid the spammers!)

  10. I’m not a very social person, Unfortunately I have a hard time going up to someone and striking up a conversation. I currently live out in town and have no english speaking neighbors around. I’m slowly getting involved with groups (slowly= thinking about it…lol) I’d love to get out and meet some ppl, anyone wanna get together?

  11. I am used to the military life for over 6 years now, but this place is like a twilight zone to me. It’s so beautiful, so many things to see and do but yet I feel sad. I got here on island in June and was lost in being in vacation mode the first couple of months. Now that my two boys are in school and my husband is not on leave I seriously don’t know what to do with myself. I would consider myself an outgoing gal, I have always made friends easily, till I got here that is. I do own thing like running and cleaning my house, but you can only do those things so many times a day, or the thrill of getting messages on my facebook from friends back home! My kids have made friends but it’s like when I small talk with their parents they have no interest in my existence!I am a younger mother maybe that is it. I start getting paranoid thinking did I say something wrong..or did I scare them off somehow. I suppose over time being here I will make a buddy. Till then I will continue to venture out on my own..I am going to enjoy this place the best I can! It would be more fun with a friend though that’s for sure!

  12. The thing that has been a life saver for me for meeting people was joining the Hai Society (that box in the sidebar that says Now Serving Okinawa on it). I’m not your average person (just a little odd, in all honesty), I am quiet and withdrawn, I just don’t meet people or make friends easily. But I joined and I put myself out there and made it happen. I was not going to sit at home while my husband was deployed, wishing I had a friend to go do things with, feeling boo-hoo for myself. I am definitely socially awkward and I made it happen- made it happen so much I had to start printing out callendars and writing down all the different activities. So, if someone like me can do it and meet some people, then anyone can.

  13. I to find it hard to make friends. I’m new to the Military life as well and at times feel like I’m in JR high again. I have had women ask me what my husband rank is were I live and what kind of car I drive before they even ask my name. I have 1 1/2 year left and still have hopes to meet and make some down to earth friends before I leave.

  14. Oh I wish i could meet some new people my newest friend is my hair designer i call her that cause we do crazy things with my hair. But other than that i have been on Okinawa for 3 years and havn’t had any one to hang out with so ive been stuck in my house with my 2 kids 6 and 4 for 3 years doing nothing im going crazy lol. I have been to a lot of the groups but im not a normal girl so no one really gets me so im stuck and still trying maybe and it will be funny if i find a few good friends 2 months before i have to move lol. I think a lot of it has to be im very shy but i still like to go places and do things i just can’t fins any one that wants to go any where besides a bar yuck. Thats my story i hope other people can get out there and do things and i can read about it.

  15. Hi Erica,

    My advice is just to try to get involved in a lot of stuff (not so much that you’re overwhelmed, but just so you’re out doing things and meeting new people). The play group will be good for you and your daughter…Also, the airman family readiness center offers free cultural classes, some have childcare available that you can take. If you go to church or are interested in doing a Bible study, PWOC (protestant women of the chapel) meets Tues. mornings and anyone is welcome to attend ( (and they have childcare available). There are a lot of craft classes you can take at Crafty Things or if you’re a fitness buff, you can go do free fitness classes at the gym. There are tours you can sign up for with Kadena ITT or MCCS Tours Plus…or maybe you can hang out with some of the readers on here. I would just try to get out and do something to help make the time pass and to make some new friends so you don’t get lonely. Hope this helps, and welcome to the island!

  16. Erica — you totally are not alone in your feelings!! It’s very hard to adjust to being this far from home and away from family. I think the idea of trying a playgroup or other activities with your daughter is a totally great way to begin meeting more people! You can also check into some of the groups on Hai Society that get together for things… Hang in there — you can do this — and even enjoy it!

  17. I see no one has entered in this section in a couple months, but I stumbled upon it today and felt very compelled to write a comment. Today I have been on the island for two months. I was lucky enough to have my cousin from the states stay with me. She helped me along with my two year old daughter explore the island and kill time while my husband was at work. Her Visa ends in April so she will have to go home. It hit me today that besides my husband and daughter I am completely alone on the island. To make matters worse my husband is leaving to Kosovo in August for 8 months. I went into full panic attack mode thinking of the holidays and birthdays my daughter and I are now destined to spend alone. In the states I was surrounded by tons of family and friends. I had a very successful job even though I am only 26. For the first time since I arrived I am truly scared. I know I am not the only person going through this so that brings comfort but it doesn’t make it easier. We are here for three years and I truly want to make this a great expereince for my husband and daughter. Any suggestions anyone has would be great. I am thinking of taking my daughter to the playgoup on Kadena and go from there.

  18. a fairly newbee on island, I have also found this site to be very helpful on finding my way around island and places to put on my list to go, visit, and revisit!! You have already come to a valuable resource that I hope will be as helpful to you as it has been for me!

  19. Kathryn-

    Possibly you could get connected with other ladies at Bible Study, volunteering, gym, etc..whatever it is you enjoy doing. Take your husband to work so that you have the car to come and go and get out to see all this island has to offer. When you do meet some friends, you could take turns driving so that transportation isn’t an issue. Defiantely get out and don’t stay indoors..especially since your husband is even encouraging you to do so. Hope this helps.

  20. Kathryn-

    Possibly you could get connected with other ladies at Bible Study, volunteering, gym, etc..whatever it is you enjoy doing. Take your husband to work so that you have the car to come and go and get out to see all this island has to offer. When you do meet some friends, you could take turns driving so that transportation isn’t an issue. Defiantely get out and don’t stay indoors..especially since your husband is even encouraging you to do so. Hope this helps.

  21. Hey Kathryn–
    I remember being new to the military too! My husband and I have only been married about 3 years. I’m also younger than a LOT of people here (there seems to be a high concentration of couples in their 30’s with children…my husband is in his 30’s but I’m 12 years younger, and we don’t have kids). We’ve only been here about 9 months, but if you ever want to hang out, or go out to dinner or whatever, shoot me an email!


  22. We just got settled into our house. I’m brand new to this military thing, and brand new to this married life thing. My husband works swings at the 353 MXS, and we only have one car. I feel so isolated here at the house, and he wants me to get out and do stuff, but that’s a little difficult when I’m a night person with no car, and neighbors that are never home to talk to. I really want some friends to talk to, go on okinawan adventures with…basically, I don’t want to leave this island later on wishing that I had a better experience.

  23. Thank you for the encouragement, ladies! I appreciate the honesty and vulnerability. Sharing your stories remind me to keep picking myself up each day to meet new people, try new things and enjoy this crazy life we lead as military spouses! You are amazing women!

  24. Masayo,
    I feel so bad for you, I hope you can make friends down Kinser way, once one comes along, it’ll be like a snowball effect. You should join the mum’s meetup group, mine are both school age too so I won’t meet up as much these days, but they are a great group of women. If the women on different floors are so cliquey you don’t wanna know them anyway…get off the couch, throw some music on in the car, come and hang up this way, I’ll go swimming with you!

  25. Although with this tour we live on base,verses the last time I was here 20 yrs ago. We didn’t have much of a social life either, but the great part was, Our landlord in Nakama apts near Camp Hansen was very friendly, and he invited us to many Okinawan get togethers, birthday parties,parties with the mayor of Kin town( which was his uncle) brought food to our house from his daughters engagement party since we were unable to attend. At the birthday party we attended you paid 100 yen to attend ( which our landlord paid for my husband and I to go) we left with a very nice gift, as did everyone ( same gift for everyone , a stainless steel cooker.They took to our blonde headed daughter like crazy.. Okinawans love blonded headed babies,often they would stop us on the street in Ishikawa and tell us how pretty baby is, and give her 1000 Yen. We also met up with other military families through on base sports. Back then if you didn’t know how to play spades ( card game) when you got to Okinawa, by the time you left you were a pro at it. now it seems not too many play spades that I have noticed, but I hear and read about dominoes being the big game now. Good Luck Masayo and I hope you meet many people and have long lasting friendships from this tour. I still have a friend that I keep in contact with that I met over here 20 yrs ago..

  26. I really loved the article. It describes my lonely life to the ‘T.’ We moved here in mid-June and I was dealing okay during the summer with my kids suffering boredom with me…”misery loves company” theory…well now they have returned to school. Once they leave I just lay on the couch all morning feeling sorry for myself. I miss my family and friends and with the huge time zone difference calling them at the right time has been difficult. I live in the towers on Camp Kinser…thinking I’ll make lots of friends with neighbors only to discover that the tower I live in is only 50% occupies. I only have one neighbor on my floor. He is a single dad who is never home. Well, I tried to make friends with the other floors only to realize that floors befriend only that floor….the word was ‘you’ll find your own friends.’ Ouch! But this article has given me hope. I’m not alone in loneliness…and that it will end…eventually….I hope sooner than later.
    I will hit the gym like I used to…maybe go and explore and learn some new skills like swimming….Can you believe I’m from Hawaii?:)
    Thank you ladies…I’m glad I stumbled onto this site while googling for parks in the area….
    You’ve given me hope!

  27. People who don’t pre-judge can be my friend! (My name is Kandy. And no, I’ve never been a stripper..LOL) I hear you Roberta, and you’re in luck. There are plenty of people coming out of the woodwork as I type this, I’m sure, to get to know someone who is comfortable enough in their skin to put herself out there. Look me up on OkinawaHai Society as well. I don’t think there are any other “Kandys”

  28. Great orig post Meredith! This is the first I’ve seen of it. I really need to go back and start reading stuff. I just wanted to add in that I think it’s horrible that age is an issue when making friends. I look at making friends sort of like I did with dating. You kind of just have to weed out the bad ones (the people you just have nothing in common with, etc.)until you get to the great ones. When I was in VA I was the baby in my group of friends. I loved that all of my friends were a good few years ahead of me and I couldn’t wait to be where they were in life. I really looked up to all of them and they taught me a lot about myself. Now I seem to be the oldest (though 31 is still very,very young:) and I dig it too. Age is nothing more than a number to someone like myself so hang in there. I know there a ton of others out there who feel the same.

  29. Caroline, I have never noticed the age difference between my husband and I until We moved here. Age is such a number….too many folks seem to put too much importance on. I’d love for you to e-mail me also.


  30. Roberta, have you joined Okinawa Hai Society? There are opportunities to meet people there. Also, get involved in things that interest you. I’m part of the Kadena book club that meets once a month. I agree with what you are saying. I have friends of all ages and I believe we all have something to offer one another. Good luck.

  31. I’ve been on Island for a little over a month. I’ve found it very difficult to meet people.I am older than my husband by 15 years, we are here without children. I find that most of the women I’ve met so far see my age before they see what I have to offer as a friend. I’ve been very discouraged by that at times but keep plugging away. I have always felt that no matter where you are women need women and I’m sure I will find that much needed companionship if I keep getting out and doing different things.

  32. I am moving to Okinawa in July. I’ve found openings for employment on base. I’ll take whatever I can find, but I’d love to be able to work out in the community. Do you know of any places/websites that I could search for a job out in the community other than being an English teacher?

  33. I’m on my way to Okinawa on in early November! I’m so excited to get there! I’m an active duty SSgt in the Air force, my husband is a MSgt. We have no people kids but I have to labrador children;) Hoping it won’t be to hard to meet new friends!

  34. I am going to be moving to Kadena the beginning of next year with my husband, 4 year old daughter and 2 year old boy girl twins. I am so excited to be moving over there, but yet scared at the same time. We have been stationed in Virginia for the past 6 years. This will be our first move in the military. I am nervous about how to meet people and if i will have the time to meet others with raising my three kids. I really like this link. It has answered a lot of questions that I had in my head.

  35. I so agree that you have to force yourself out and keep trying and trying. Definitely a challenging time for both you and the baby. Wanted to mention that Kindermusic classes and Lapsit at the library are also great resources. The key is to put yourself out there and really make the effort to connect with others.

  36. I agree with DTJB.
    Whereever you are, I think there is a sense of isolation when you have a newborn, unless you are with close family/friends…
    When I had my first child at Camp Pendleton, I felt the same way, you literally have to force yourself out, it feels kind of strained at first but it gets better. Now mine are both in preschool/school so I meet a lot more people also I have my work friends, all I am about to leave :o( so I will be in the same boat soon too!

  37. Hey Christine,
    We arrived here with a newborn as well and its hard getting to know people at first. I started out with the playgroups run by the base. Foster does play mornings for toddlers and so does Kadena. Its open to everyone with SOFA status. That’s actually how I met Meredith! They are advertised in the base newspapers and on line I think. I also think that the stroller strides class offered by Lauren Colunga is really nice as you can exercise, bring your baby, and make new friends. There are a lot of people who regularly attend and you can look up the info here on the blog. There is also a baby/toddler playgroup that is at Chapel 1 every other week and I can get you the info if you’re interested. Once you get into a group, invite a few people you like to dinner at your place and hopefully you’ll have a support network in no time. Hope that helps! Julie

  38. I have been here almost a year and half and have a 6 month old. I really only know 2 people who barely talk to me. I would love to find play groups and friends out here to socialize with. Just no time to get out to meet people. How do I do that?

  39. Turns out that I live on base and I’m an officer’s wife! I’m also not qualified for either. We’re completely new to the military and Okinawa is our first tour. I will say that I came in with a lot of expectations of military life and stereotypes of Gung Ho military people and what they would be like. I have been so surprised and pleased to find that most of the folks I meet on and off base are hard working, conscientious, responsible, and down to earth. The kind of people you like to imagine are part of our country’s military and dealing with the stresses and pressures of being in the military, especially now. The moms I meet are awe inspiring in how much they can do and juggle with their husbands gone. I may not always have a lot in common with some people and certainly we don’t always agree on politics or policy but I love how much my views have changed and how much I’ve learned from others since I’ve been here.

  40. We live off-base. I gave up trying to get to know people on-base a long time ago. It seems I forgot to submit my resume to see if I met all of the qualifications to be an officer’s spouse on this island. I have never been treated so rudely or snubbed so often in my life. What a joke….

  41. Not sure about anyone else Pamela but most of the group here at Okinawa_Hai aren’t part of the Officer’s or enlisted wives club. I think there are definitely non stereotypical military people on Okinawa. I will say though a lot of it for me was finding a core group where I fit in as, like you, I’m a little out of the ordinary. Good luck with your move!JUlie

  42. does the officer wives vs the enlisted wives ‘invisible wall’ exist out there? I have always found this bizarre. I am a wife of an enlisted person but I am also from London, don’t care about rank and do my own thing and have my own Batchelors. But I have experienced a stand-offish response from some wives of officers that I have met and seem to have a lot in common with, ONCE they have seen my husbands rank. It’s almost like some of the wives wear their husbands rank for the mselves.Please tell me this is not the norm, I’ll chat with anyone, regardless of rank, as long as we have stuff in common.

  43. I lived in Okinawa for 5+ years, 2 tours separated by 1 year in VA. I was single both times I moved there. Both times, my social life started with neighbors and coworkers. Yes, I lived off base.

    Long walks along the seawall were a great way to meet people and chat, both Okinawans and Americans. Consider getting a dog; it’s a great conversation starter, and you’ll help with the abandoned dog problem there if you head to Karing Kennel.

    The best 2 social events of the year for meeting people are Okinapa in September and AKA’s Men Who Cook in the spring. Don’t miss either.

    I found the chapels were the ideal place to make friends, but that’s because our value system matched. Cursillo, and similar retreat groups are a great way to develop intimacy.

    Best of all, once you have a friend or two, you expand each others’ social circle. In fact, a very close friend set me up with the guy who is now my husband of 11mos.

    Another way to meet people would be in the conversational Japanese courses offered on base.

    For anyone moving to Okinawa for the first time, take heart. I’m shy and a military brat and it was the easiest 2 moves of my life where making friends was concerned.

    My husband and I both miss life in Okinawa very much; please enjoy it to the fullest!

  44. When I read this topic, I was like, I have to reply to this one! Goodness, don’t we all struggle with this? Crafting a response though, has been more difficult than I anticipated. How do you make friends/get a social life off base? I may be wrong, but I don’t feel that living on base or off base really makes that much of a difference in terms of the quality of one’s social life. (I’m coming from the kid-less perspective, mind you.) I’ve got friends on base and off base. I suppose I do spend more time with the people who live somewhat closer to me though.

    Probably if you are reading this blogsite, you have a few moves under your belt. But, if this is your first, or your first out of country all I can say is, take heart! You can and will make friends here. And you don’t necessarily need to do it by joining loads of clubs and social organizations. Speaking from experience, I know that that kind of thing is not for everyone. (Although if it is, more power to you! As Karen mentioned, there are lots to choose from. In the ones I have checked out, everyone’s been very open and friendly. I find that living overseas lends itself to a “we’re all in the same boat” mentality, which is quite supportive.) But if you’re not into clubs, or don’t find one that suits you, there are other friend-making options.

    For one thing, there are classes. While there are tons of classes on base, let’s not forget the off base classes. There are several dance studios, martial arts dojos, language schools etcetera that are more than welcoming to foreigners. (I just started an awesome belly dancing class off base!) If you are an artistic type, you can make use of the arts and crafts centers on base – and not just for lessons. You can use them like studios to work on pottery, framing, ceramics and stuff. There are lots of interesting and creative people who pass through them. Plus, you can see their artwork, which is nice. Scuba diving is also a super social activity that’s popular here among Americans and Japanese. People are always looking for dive partners. Also, toting that Japanese phrasebook along in your purse DOES WONDERS for meeting people. Simply, stopping in at the same hairdresser/restaurant/playground a few times (especially ones that are not overrun with Americans) and popping out a few phrases of Japanese can very likely elicit offers to dinner/parties/an English-Japanese exchange…even if it does take you 5 minutes to utter one phrase.

    It may take some time. Okay, it may take a long time, to find the people who you really connect with. And you may really miss all those people you care so much about at home. But don’t worry. Those people will still be there for you when you get back. They will not forget you and they will be so excited to hear about all of your adventures in your new home! In the meantime, you have been blessed with the opportunity to learn about a new place, a new culture, and new people. It can be uncomfortable and even scary to step into this unknown world. But, my best suggestion, I guess, is to decide to embrace the discomfort and delve into it. ‘Cause in the end, that’s what makes the move (and all the sadness, loneliness and confusion that can come with it) worth it.

  45. This month marks our two year anniversary of living in Okinawa. It has flown by and been great. When we first moved here I had no desire to extend but my husband was planning on a one year extension. Well after two weeks I said, “Why not a two year extension?!”, and we now have another two years ahead of us.
    We were lucky to move here at the same time as some other families in the office wo eating out every night was part of the social agenda.
    I enrolled myslef in pottery classes, crochet classes (where I met two of my best friends), joined OIWC~Okinawa International Womens Club, MOSC (Marine Officer Spouses Club) and, because I befriended a lot of Camp Courtney & Mctereous ladies I joined NIOSC (North Island Officer Spouses Club). These clubs offer smaller clubs like golf clubs, cooking clubs and even trips at a great rate for members. I just went to Kyoto with NIOSC a few weeks ago for three nights/four days at $550 for hotel and airfare. I also sing so my husband and I have made some great friends at the Butler O Club on Friday nights at Karaoke.
    You need to be sure of yourself, make yourself approachable and be yourself. Approach people who you think you might like. A friend of mine puts it this way…”Making friends here is a lot like dating. You make a lunch date and see how it goes. If you are exchanging phone numbers and making plans you know the ‘first date’ went well.”

  46. Ooooh, we’ve been there, we’ve done that but you nailed it on the head. After 14 years of this military life, I still have those moments with each new move. Some things get easier but new is always new.

    …more later but great post!…

    • Im new to Okinawa and I feel exactly how you all describe it I’m a mother of two and im trying to get settle as well as meet and make new friends so far it hasn’t been a success I’m very shy and quiet and I see it’s rubbing out on my kids because they kids playing and they are afraid to approach them. I just trying to take it one day at a time and make it a happy home for the kids and me anyone has any ideas