Commissary: You can do most of your grocery shopping on base. They do carry a lot of the local vegetables and other grocery items. You’ll probably be missing some of the staples you can buy in the US. But if you’re open to trying new things, you just might find out that you will like and even miss some of these regional delicacies when you return to the states. Most of the produce is shipped from America, so by the time it reaches island it is nearing the end of it’s shelf life. There will be times when the food for sale is rotten or moldy but the commissary is good for giving refunds. Links to the commissaries: Camp Courtney, Camp Foster, and Camp Kindser.
Off Base Shopping: You can go shopping off base for many things and there’s a much wider cultural variety out in town. There are even carts with fresh produce, ran on the honor system; you just take what you need and drop your money in the box. People have raved about great sushi, yakisoba noodles, fresh vegetables like bok choy and cabbage. There’s a grocery store in town called Aeon Big ( formerly Jusco) where they have certain foods for 99 cents on Wednesdays. A great way to stretch your dollar. There also are Aeon malls which have numerous shops where you can find almost anything. The 100¥ stores are near every base and have higher quality items then the average dollar store.
Note you will have to have cold hard cash, better called the Japanese Yen, when shopping out in town. Your credit card will charge you a fee for changing your currency and can add up quickly. You can change money at the bank on base or exchange at the machines at Aeon or San-A, however the exchange rate may not be as good. Lucky Exchange will give you the most bang for your buck, you just have to navigate to get there Many local restaurants and shops will take US dollars, but they will not give you a very good rate.
Cars: What to do for a car in Okinawa? Unless you want to pay tons of money, don’t plan on bringing your vehicle with you. When you get to Okinawa, go to the “Lemon Lot” (cars from private people) on Kadena. You can pick up a really reliable car for around $3500, or a really crappy car for around $500. Most of the cars are old, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t reliable. For a newer car there’s several used car lots (businesses) on Okinawa, you may end up paying more but can possibly get a warranty on. There are classes offered for buying cars that you can take through MCCS. Once you buy a car, you will be required to pay a road tax of approximately $65 or $155 a year. Also when car shopping, look at the JCI date. The JCI must be done on all vehicles every two years and can cost from $300- $1400+. The JCI is an inspection to make sure everything is in good condition on your vehicle to lessen the chance of an accident. When buying a car that is cheap with a nearing JCI expiration, you can almost bet the JCI cost will be expensive. Sometimes it is cheaper to junk the car and buy a new one.
Driver’s License: All US Citizens are required to get a Japanese driver’s license. If you are under the age of 26 with or accompanied by someone with military orders, you are required to take a driving class before you can drive there. They do conform to international driving signs and rules, not the US way of doing things: that means driving on the left side of the road on the right side of the car. Don’t worry, you will get used to it after a few weeks. Just hug the line and you’ll do fine!
The Green Line: This bus system runs seven days a week and is open for everyone to use. However, you will usually find young Marines utilizing this service.
Homestore: You are given a yearly allowance on the base homestore, you will not receive this money in your paycheck. This is based off rank and dependents It can average from around $1000+. You can use this money to buy baby safety products, paint, or any other household items they have. There’s also a place you can checkout yard supplies like lawnmowers. Be forewarned, only those living on base can use the homestore. For those living off base, there is a Makemans store (otherwise known as the Monkey-Man store because you will see a large happy money on the sign) that is basically something between a plant shop, hardware shop or Home Depot.
Family Representative: When you move to Okinawa, you will be paired up with another family of the same rank to help show you the ropes. This is a great way to get questions answered and meet other people in the area.
Recycling: Recycling is mandatory off base and highly encouraged on base. Each base and area differs on rules for recycling practices; plan on sorting through everything or else they won’t pick up anything. You have to recycle aluminum cans, glass and plastic drink bottles.
Events: There is always something going on in Okinawa. There are tons of festivals out in town and the base provides a myriad of activities. Okinawahai.com has a lot of information regarding activities and what the numerous events are for. Most of the activities usually happen on Foster and Kadena.
Exchange: The exchanges are pretty good on Okinawa and you can find one on almost every base. They usually run out of the “good stuff” fast and on occasion have shipping issues that will force you to shop online.
Bowling Alley: There are bowling alleys on every base and are pretty busy at all times. There’s many bowling lanes out in town as well as bowling is a very popular Japanese pastime, but can be very expensive.
Flea Market: There is a rotating flea market every weekend on Okinawa. You will sell most of the items to the locals who are notorious for being extra cheap. You might have to bring your items down to half price and they will still try to negotiate.
Golf Course: Taio Golf Course is the newest professional course on island. Kadena has two golf courses as well and all three offer numerous tournaments throughout the year.
Boating and Fishing: It is easy to find rentals on and off base for jet ski rentals, sailboats, kayaks, windsurfing rigs, and boats. Take a fishing charter, dive charter, or banana boat rides up at Okuma Recreational Facility (Air Force). There are many who fish off of the many sea walls as well.
Scuba: Links to all the bases offering scuba services.
Tours: Links to all of the base services offering local tours.
Movie Theater: Each base has a movie theater that plays movies 4-5 times a week. There are usually one or two movies played each day, but they will offer more showings for the more popular movies. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait a month for a movie to come to the theater by you. There are off base theaters that have American movies too. The movies tend to run $10-$16. There is one within walking distance of Lester in American Village or a 5 minute drive from Foster.
Food on base: Aside from the usual clubs there is: Burger King, Taco Bell, Manchu Wok, Charles (subs), Subway, Pizza Hut, Anthony’s Pizza, Baskin Robins, Popeye’s Fried Chicken, Captain D’s, A & W. Camp Foster has Macaroni Grill and Kadena has two Chili’s.
Food off base: McDonalds- not the American menu, but the food is still deep fried and tasty. You will have workers run to your car to deliver the food to you. A&W- not the American Menu either but still has good food. Baskin Robins, Tony Roma’s, and Starbucks- Offers most of the American menu but also has things you will only be able to try in Japan. There are many different restaurants to try from yakiniku to habachi. Okinawahai.com has many restaurant reviews and directions. Just note that many places are closed on Monday, or have tricky parking and weird locations.
Maps: Remember that things look close on the map, but something as close as 2 miles away can take 20 minutes. We’ve found several Okinawa maps for your viewing pleasure, hope that this helps makes getting around easier for you! A free paper map is available in the yellow pages.
Okinawa Detailed Map: This is a very detailed map showing different camps. Please note that it is interactive and you can move it around!
Okinawa Big Picture Map: This shows the island of Okinawa as a whole. It is not interactive.