After experiencing my fourth year in Japan, I’ve noticed some “blended” cultural nuances, of sorts. Sort of a random hodgepodge of Japan, Base life, and being an American trying to figure it all out. I’ve listed fifteen semi-entertaining quirks that I have noticed about myself while living in Asia. And they certainly don’t make a whole lot of sense to folks stateside (especially in the civilian world).

Picture caption: (Son Sebastian, born in Sasebo, but a blend of it all as well)


Top Ten Reasons you know you were stationed in Japan (or Asia) AND in the military:

1. Your family has at least one ever-so-tacky but delightfully comforting mink blanket.

2. You have patiently explained to those back home more than once “You can use a regular stamp”

3. You find yourself bowing unconsciously instead of saying the ever trite HI!

4. You have bought a dual-time zone clock for your folks back home, set to Okinawa time, yet they still call and say, “Oh…I don’t know what time it is over there in China”.

5. You get a letter from a pal with eight stamps on it, and JAPAN in large letters across the bottom.

6. You find yourself standing erect at the beginning of a movie.

7. Hey, can either of my kids (both born in Japan) be president? Not that I would wish that on them. Curious, nonetheless.

8. You thought you would never choose decor in an “asian theme” and now your living room resembles a Shanghai Hotel Lobby.

9.You wish that the military could insert a barcode under your skin instead of having an ID card. (Well, at least I do and have thought of this on several-lost-id-panic situations).

10. There’s an earthquake somewhere in Asia and everyone thinks you must have felt something.

11. You find yourself lazily writing “textiles” on ALL your customs forms at the post office, while scratching out some random date and signature. Textiles does cover pretty much everything though, right?

12. You sheepishly-shrug (feeling undeserving) in your seat when a young, cute Marine salutes your car.

13. You have no problem dropping 5,000 Yen at dinner. It still doesn’t really seem like fifty bucks to me.

14. You don’t lock your car off base. You do lock your car on base. Sorry if that offends anyone.

15. You can meet all your shopping needs, at 11 PM , at Family Mart. Wouldn’t be caught dead in a 7-11 after dusk, though.

Humor us dear readers. What are some other clues that we’ve all been lucky enough to call this place home?


  1. Anyone know how to get my hands on one of those mink blankets. My daughter really thinks itโ€™s hers and moms not having it. I need a real Osan street vendor blanket. And thatโ€™s hard to find it turns out.

  2. when you celebrate all U.S holidays a day earlier.
    i dont have any kids but i flash the peace sign when taking pictures.
    Not knowing what that apple is going to taste like when you bite into it.
    Hand signs is a second language.
    Being able to Snorkel/Scuba before or after work

    thats all I have lol
    but the above posts and the original crack me up

  3. You can buy a piping hot CAN of coffee from the vending machine! What a surprise the first time I punched that button…LOL!

    How sad that some people don’t get out and experience all of the great things Japan, and Okinawa specifically, has to offer. I miss it already and would love to go back after my current assignment.

  4. Another one, You sit down at a restaurant and don’t mind when the other person starts eating his/her meal because it came out 5 or 10+ mins. before yours, (whereas in the states you want everyone’s meal to come out at the same time.)

  5. so funny! we’ve only been here a few months and already sad we’ll have to leave this amazing place one day, I have one more…this one’s mostly for the ladies and definitely an Okinawa one…

    You see the name Cocok’s and gasp in delight instead of horror…

  6. I had to laugh! We just got here 1 1/2 weeks ago and can laugh at these already! After the 3rd day here I wanted to extend. This Isle is amazing and the people here are wonderful! We have a wonderful sponsor(s) and haven’t had to worry about a thing…other than crapping myself when I took out 5000 yen and thought my husband was going to scold me….only to realize it was a mere $50.00! Who needs McDonalds heart attack burgers when you have an ATM! We move into our place in 2 days and can’t wait to “line up our shoes” in our new place. The photo opt already happened to my 2 year old blond Granddaughter a week ago! And she flashed the “peace” sign as well. Thank you for this awesome site and I look forward to many more tidbits from ya’ll! Thanks a bunch! A greenie in OKI!

  7. Skype/Vonage users:
    you frequently have conversations with family members trying to convince them that yes, they can call you just like anyone else in the US. Dial the number just like any other number. Yes, it really is a normal phone number. We promise.

  8. All of these insights are right-on and hilarious! Coming back stateside, I still overbuy on fresh fruit – afraid of when it’ll skyrocket in price (i.e. strawberries), STILL turn on my wipers instead of the signal. And still look for landmarks when heading somewhere new instead of relying on street names! And the no-shoes in the home habit has become a lifelong one. keeps the house much cleaner!

  9. Or going 80 clicks on the expressway actually feels like you’re going really fast!
    Seeing motorcycles and scooters using the roads and sidewalks interchangeably doesn’t even phase you and they no longer startle you when out of nowhere they suddenly appear right next to your car.
    At first you are amazed by all the drink machines every 20 feet, but before you know it you are using them all the time and panic when you don’t see on right away when really thirsty!

  10. How about when you start buying turkeys and pumpkins WEEKS before you know will actually need them (in case the good ones are gone later)?

    Or when you stop mulling over purchases and start buying things you MIGHT need later (eg. space heaters, turkey roasting pans etc) as soon as you see them, thinking it is better to return something you don’t need than to need something that is no longer available to purchase? aka the island mentality…

    Or when you no longer look at the price of gas; you just pull up to the pump and fill-er-up?

    Or when you realize that you are more likely to go through a yellow light than to stop…unlike you used to do!

  11. Staci, those are awesome! How fun! I laughed at 8 & 12. Julia and Tracy had a good point! I have turned on windshield wiper instead of blinker many times! Jennifer’s kid’s showing peace sign when taking picture is cute! My child loves to do that, too. That’s definitely from Japan. The image of Isabel’s lining up shoes at the front door gave me a smile! We’re creatures of habit!

  12. Love the list! I would add …
    — Once you’re back in the Staates:
    You visit people for the first time their jaws just drop when your whole family walks in their house and automatically lines up their shoes by the front door.
    *The first grocery store you look for is an Asian food store.
    *People asking you ,once they find out you’re military, where do you consider home? -and your kids all answer in unison:Okinawa!
    * you got shisha dogs outside your front door
    * you don’t let the kids walk down 1 Block to a friends house without a cell phone to call you once they get there.
    * everytime you walk into a $-Store you wish you had a 100Y-Shop nearby!

    We’ve spend almost 7 years in Oki and are looking forward to come back there again in a couple of years ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Van Emerson and Janet:
    if you find Okinawa revolting, maybe you aren’t getting out to see the true beauty that it offers. how many people get the chance to see such sites first hand. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience or maybe you arent’ used to it yet. But if you think it’s a revolting place, you won’t see any of the positives.

  14. I was actually thinking of getting the ID tattooed to my forehead so I could just turn my head and smile :o)
    Also, you know you’ve been in Okinawa when you invite geckos into the house, have a massive pot of seaglass lying around and can sleep through the loudest roaring motorcycle sounds!!!
    Great post, Staci!

  15. a few more…
    -your 3 year old is throwing a tantrum screaming “but I want yakiiiii-sobaaaaa!”
    -you graciously accept a little candy from a sweet local and actually give it to your child.
    -you think nothing of the same sweet lady holding or touching your baby
    -if you travel by plane for less than 12 hours and make only 1 connection…it’s a quick trip.
    -consider spending $4000 car to be a lot
    -find it perfectly normal to not always know exactly what you ordered to eat at a restaurant
    -driving more than 20 minutes to get somewhere is far
    -when you visit friends and family in the States and they suggest stopping for a quick bite at Chili’s you yell “NO” instead of politely declining
    -you think Sushi Zen is expensive sushi
    -exclaim “where’s the corn?” when you order a local pizza, taco, pasta, anything.
    -take seeing the ocean every day for granted

  16. Mine could probably apply to a stateside base as well…
    We are in Ks now…but on Okinawa you get so used to saying “out in town”…One day, a lady looked at me like I was crazy, and asked me what I meant by that…LOL!!!
    and wen we first got back, I totally tried to show my ID at Walmart…:o)

  17. R-U Serious? You must not be getting out to enjoy it!
    Asia, spcifically Okinawa, is the worse place to be stationed in the entire world!!! i’ve been here for a year and hate it! it’s the most revolting and most barbaric place ever.

  18. REASON NUMBER 9!!!! My husband have always thought about this-our idea was a laminated hospital like bracelet though-and we think that the barcode should also have your orders incorporated in it as well-that way anywhere you go they can scan it and its waterproof!

    • I’m sorry but I have to ask… Did it ever get better for you? I have been here 7 months so far and I still really don’t like it. I come from Eglin AFB so the climate and beaches are about the same minus the need for water shoes. The best food I have tasted here so far has been ok at best. It’s starting to becoming a little depressing. I just need someone to be able to tell me they went from hating it to loving it eventually, because most people I know whose come here hating it has also left hating it as well.

  19. LOVE IT, Staci! I have a couple more (and OMG, yeah, the earthquake thing with my mother EVERY TIME.)

    -People ask you if you know some other person who’s stationed in Japan or lives in Japan but it’s mainland and they think Tokyo is just up the street.
    -(this is my #1) – “Have you seen that new…”(insert Apple, Verizon, AT&T, or whatever other big business)”…commercial? It’s hilarious!” Uh, NO – I have AFN. NOBODY understands that we do not see any commercials.
    -Same as people asking if you saw the latest eposide of ANYTHING pretty much, on TV.
    -“Honey, don’t forget – it’s daylight savings tonight!”
    – You turn off your lights at night or early morning when you get toward anything resembling a gate.

    Oh I’m sure there are more. Phone calls and customs forms are definitely constant annoyances – the math for the time difference can be rough for west-coasters in particular. And we kept our Vonage line as our old San Diego phone number- so sometimes we get a call, “We’re going to be in your area and wanted to see if you needed your carpet cleaned!” Yeah… I doubt that.

  20. Ha Ha Ha I love this post. I agree with Jennifer my 4 year old use to only pose in pictures now every picture is not only a pose but a peace sign in it.
    I also have to add to the list: you know your living in Okinawa when you find yourself telling complete strangers it’s ok to take a picture of your child cause they think they are cute, when in the states you would most likely freak, out grab your child and run!!!!

  21. oh my gosh, I’m lmao. We were stationed in Okinawa twice and coming back to the states, I’ve said ‘hai’ MORE than enough times. The windshield wiper instead of the blinkers, and walking into the BX or any on base place, you are programmed to show your ID card. And I have told people about a BILLION times that the only place to shop on base is the BX. My girlfiend kept telling me, ‘go to the mall, go to the movie theater, etc” um, the movie theater here shows ONE movie.

  22. You return Stateside and find that you’re turning on your windshield wipers instead of your signal. And you almost find yourself on the left side of the road when you’re not chanting “right, right, right” in your head.

    You say “hai” to everyone instead of yes. Hopefully they just think I’m being friendly…again.

  23. My family is still afraid of customs forms! My father as you know is the KING of the post office and is the family go-to-guy on everything that gets mailed here. I’m missing out on 1st and 2nd grade class pictures and soccer and baseball pictures because of those damned things!!! Even if you pre-fill them out they still freak out 3/4 of my family!

    And the asian house- Steve and Travis took care of that one Valentine’s Day while we were in China and they were left to their own devices!

  24. Great list….I found myself nodding in agreement to everything! I noticed that my soon-to-be 3 year old son (who was born on mainland Japan) had picked up some Japanese nuances….like when he plays cars he makes them “beep” when they back up!

  25. Brilliant list…may I add my almost 2 year old says “arrigatou” very clearly EVERY time we leave the Family Mart, Starbucks, McDonald’s drive-thru and the video rental store on base as well and we’ve only been here 3 months. That surely must be a sign you were stationed in Japan.

  26. Staci, this is hilarious and sadly so true for me. The stamps, the time zone, the earthquakes and China are all issues that my family and friends seem to struggle with… I have given up and just let everyone think that I actually live China.

  27. I’m right behind you in line for that barcode! I guess we all go through that-I “lose” my id all the time! I blame it on having to keep up with two small kids, and their stuff…
    and the mail thing-my inlaws always write “Japan” on the customs form, no matter how many times I’ve told them not to!

  28. I had to laugh at #10. There can be an earthquake between Russia and Northern Japan and my mother in law still calls to see if we felt it.
    She lives in CA….I told my husband next time there is an earthquake in Alaska we are calling to see if she felt it.