The 12 Realities of Living in Okinawa, Japan

As many of you may know, I have travelled the world quite a bit throughout my life. And while I have visited many places, most of my experience comes from actually living in different countries. Staying put for longer periods of time. This has allowed me to immerse myself in the culture, and really get accustomed to a different lifestyle. The things I learn, and experiences I have, are probably way different than people who are just passing through. And as I have jumped around the globe, living in country after country, the questions I get asked the most, are always related to lifestyle. What it’s like to actually live there.

What is life like in _____?

How’s life in _____?

What do you like about _____?

Obviously, I have different things to say about living in a country, as opposed to just visiting or passing through. But no matter where I have lived, or what country I have stepped foot in, I have found things I liked, and things I didn’t. Which means whenever I leave a country, there are always things I am happy to forget, along with things I know I will miss.

The 12 Realities of Living in Okinawa, Japan

This post will focus exclusively on living in Okinawa, Japan, where I currently reside. I am obviously no expert, but have my own opinions about life in Japan, after one year of being here. Things I love, things I don’t, and things I’m not quite sure about.

1) The Drivers are SO Slow

Yes! This has been a huge adjustment, especially coming from California, where everywhere is a freeway, and you are accustomed to going 80 miles an hour. Here, in Okinawa, the speed limit is typically 40km/hour. But the worst part is, that most of the Japanese here stick to it. Sometimes even 5-10km under. And not only is the speed slow, but everything is slow. Slow to merge, slow to turn, slow to signal, slow to stop, slow to take off. You start to feel like you can walk faster.

2) It is Extremely Safe

I trust my life here. I trust my daughter’s life here. There is pretty much no crime, no violence, no drugs, no kidnappings. Nothing. It is so safe that children here, often as young as 3 years old, walk themselves to school. Everyday.  On the streets and sidewalk, completely by themselves. I have even left my purse at a beach for hours, not realizing it, only to come back afterwards, and it still be in the exact same spot. Not touched. And nothing taken.

3) Not Many Restaurant Options

Now many people may disagree with me, but being a vegetarian, I’ve found my options quite limited. Plus, add in the fact that before Japan, I was living in southern California, the holy land for vegetarians and vegans. I was used to having choices, lots of them, but here I haven’t had much luck. Most places I go to, don’t have vegetarian options, or very little. My husband jokes that we should always pack a lunch when we are out exploring, because most times, if we try to stop somewhere for lunch or dinner. I will be paying good money just to eat plain rice. Now obviously this isn’t every place. There are still some vegetarian restaurants. They are just not as common, and they are all centralized in one location near American Village. So, if we are off exploring and need to eat, I am typically SOL.

4) Friendly, Polite People

We live off-base in the middle of a Japanese community, so I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of our Japanese neighbors. All of which are extremely friendly, nice, kind, caring, polite. The list goes on. And this isn’t just because they are our neighbors.  No matter where I have gone, restaurants, shops, stores, streets, parks, I have yet to meet one rude, arrogant Japanese person. They are always smiling, bowing, waving, greeting others, and offering their kindness. I have great respect for the Japanese people, and am learning a lot from them.

Living in Okinawa

5) The Weather is HOT!

Not just hot. Humid, sweaty, scorching, tropical, burning. To the point that all of summer, about 3 months of the year, is black flag. Conditions so hot, that it is not advised to do any physical activity outside. Marines don’t workout, and kids at daycare can’t go outside. Your options are limited. And when you become accustomed to such heat, sadly 27C or 80F starts to feel like a cooler day. Now I’ll probably never survive the cold of Canada.

6) Beautiful Scenery

The scenery here in Okinawa is breath taking. Whether underwater snorkeling and scuba diving. Or up above with mountains and coastline. Whether you want soft sand beaches, with crystal clear turquoise waters. Or mountains covered with thick tropical jungle, complete with clear-cut views of the city below. Okinawa has it all. There is scenery here for everyone.

living in Japan life in Japan

7) No Garbage Cans

I don’t know why I noticed this? Maybe because it shocked me. There are literally never any garbage cans. Anywhere. But what I am most shocked about, is that their parks and beaches aren’t completely covered in garbage. While there is still some littering, not as much as I expected, especially considering no garbage cans. The Japanese don’t really eat or drink while on the move. They eat wherever they buy their food from, then leave the garbage there. I learned this quick, because I was always stuck carrying my garbage around with me.

8) Driving Time

It seems no matter where I go on island, it takes forever. The shortest distances, can take the longest time. And I’m sure part of it has to do with the low speed limits. But there are other factors: narrow, curvy roads, inattentive drivers, and endless stop lights. So, driving 1km can literally take over 10 minutes depending on the lights, who is driving in front of you, and the road you’re on. Then comes rush hour. You are stuck with quadruple the cars, still the same endless street lights, inattentive drivers, and narrow, windy roads. You’ll be lucky when you finally get home.

9) Kid & Family Friendly

This is by far the most family friendly place I’ve been to. No matter where we go, they seem to accommodate children. There is an abundance of nursing rooms, play centers, parks, attractions, and festivals. Most of the restaurants here have booster seats, high chairs, kids’ menus, and some even have family rooms, full of toys for the kids to play with. The Japanese actually enjoy children. So when you have to bring your kid with you, everywhere you go, this family-friendly atmosphere really helps. And sure, this is only the 5th country I’ve been to with my child, but Japan still holds the prize.

Okinawa, Japan life in Japan

10) Learn the Language

Obviously here in Okinawa, Japan, they speak Japanese. I do not speak the language, and truthfully, I haven’t put much effort into learning it either. After living in so many different countries, and starting to learn so many different languages. I have almost given up, because if I am not going to continue practicing the language, it will get lost pretty easily. So… if you want to learn Japanese, great! If that’s really not your thing, communication can get hard. I’ve learned a few phrases to get me by, and then I rely on Google Translate.

11) OH, The Cars……

The vehicles here are hilariously small. Maybe to match the drivers, and the roads. They are also old and cheap. My 1996 car cost $1000, and I absolutely love it. I’ll take tiny, affordable, and ancient, any day of the week. Another bonus, is that the steering wheel is on the opposite side. So, if you wanna learn to drive on the left side of the road, you will definitely get your fill.

Okinawa, Japan

12) Phone Addicted!!

This one surprised me the most, although it is not always evident, and I know Americans do it too. But the Japanese love their phones. People stop their cars constantly. Anywhere. And everywhere. In the middle of the road, in the middle of a hill. Just so they can talk on their phones. Right this second. They even use their phones while driving. Probably more than they care to admit. Countless times I have been at a red light, with the Japanese person beside me, playing or watching videos on their phones. Then they miss the green light, causing a whole minute to pass before even realizing the light had changed. I’ve even tried to take pictures of it, obviously as the passenger, and not as the driver. But haven’t had much luck!

Now there are many other things I have noticed or learned while living here in Okinawa, Japan, but these are my favorites. Or the ones I believe to be the most common. A little bit of “this is great”, a little bit of “not so much,” and a little bit of “I’m not sure!”

so many changes

Have you ever been to Okinawa, or another part of Japan? Would love to know your experience!


Come back to learn about life in Mexico, Colombia, California, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.

And don’t forget the monthly challenge of reading everyday!





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