When the Sailor sent me an email from Puerto Rico where he was for over 2 months for relief work after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria saying, “WE GOT ORDERS TO JAPAN,” I was ecstatic. WE were ecstatic. What an adventure! A tropical island, completely different culture with a long complex and interesting history and we would be right on Tokyo Bay. We both immediately talked about climbing Mount Fuji, seeing the historic cities with their shrines and temples and listing all the surround countries that suddenly became long weekend trips. We were like little kids talking about summer camp. But no one really warns you about the process of moving over seas and what it entails so let me enlighten you. IT FUCKING SUCKS!
It sucks if you don’t have a perfect health history (check) and if you have pets that you can’t (or in my case re-home – check) and I can not even imagine it with children. It gets infinitely more frustrating and draining with each seemingly mundane aspect of your life. You think you have an idea of packers coming into your house and wrapping up all your stuff and taking it away… for 2+ months and living out of duffle bags. Eating on paper plates and plastic flatware with dollar store pots and pans in an empty house. Going to work and coming home to an air mattress and 2 lawn chairs. Then it happens and you realize, “Ummmm, this feels shitty,” because suddenly your home is empty and doesn’t really feel like home.
You think you understand that you’ll have so many days to relax, travel and visit your family and friends before boarding a very long flight but, suddenly 30 days of leave to do all that blows by and your standing at an airport waving goodbye. Funny, though no one ever really talks about flights getting delayed or canceled and having t frantically call your ride back at 3am to come lug you, your 4 giant duffle bags and 2 yowling scared shitless cats BACK to your family’s house again. Yeah, that happens. More frequently than I was aware. Then 24 hours later you do the same choked tearful goodbyes to the same family.
Then suddenly you’re watching a stranger wheel your two pets away to be loaded into the belly of a plane where they will be for the next 12+ hours and you cry some more because, they don’t friggen know. You know they don’t know and there isn’t anyway to tell an animal, “It’s fine. You’ll be fine. It will be over in no time.” You can barely explain that to a small child. You just see their sad little furry faces wide-eyed from the back of their cage looking at you like, “So this is how it ends” and your heart breaks because you haven’t slept in almost 36 hours because your original flight yesterday was delayed for 24 hours and you’re stressed and nervous. And the little girl whose dog is riding on the same cart with your cats is crying saying, “It’s ok boy. You’ll be OK. I love you. I’ll be waiting for you Japan.” And it’s just too much so, you cry too. Yeah, that was me.
No one warns you that as soon as you get here, all you’re going to do is run all over the damn base; apply for housing, immediately choose from a list of houses sight unseen or immediately know you want to live off base, then you’re on your own, 72 hours to report your pets entry onto base because they are under temporary quarantine, schedule a quarantine appointment to have the 12 hour quarantine lifted, get a Japanese phone, get a mail box, go to a week long area briefing, make an appointment to have your household goods delivered, make an appointment for a pre-move in inspection of your new home… It’s constant. It’s unrelenting. And you walk everywhere because you don’t have a car and it’s hotter than than Hades and more humid than his balls. Even if you did have a car, you couldn’t drive it because they drive on the left side of the road here (or if your egocentric, the “wrong side”) and all the traffic signs are in Japanese.
So you get your house. For us, since it was our first time in Japan and our first time living abroad, we chose base housing. Well, Kyle chose our house. Without me. I was salty for about 30 seconds. Then I didn’t give a shit because I just didn’t want to have to live in the Navy Lodge (aka Hotel on base) for months. When he went to the housing office early one morning to see what he had to do to request housing, they directed him to a house brief. After they told him he had to choose base housing or off base housing. Off base housing had another briefing. If he chose base housing then they had a list of base homes available right now for him to choose from. If he didn’t choose right then, the next guy from the briefing in rank got a choice and when he brought me back with him the list would be shorter. The next guy in line that the Sailor just happened to out rank smiled. He knew what he was choosing if the Sailor passed to come ask me. So he chose and a high-rise called Satsuki Heights became our new home for 3 years. Sight. Un. Seen.
Then you have a choice, pay to continue to stay in the hotel until your household goods are delivered, pay to rent furniture and shit to live in your new place until your stuff is delivered or move into an empty home and rough it on the floor until your shit arrives. One guess what we chose.
So you’ve made it this far. All your appointments are made, and you’ve begun attending the week long area briefing classes that basically spends the first 3 days telling you about the base, and reminding you that you’re living on a military installation so, ya know, don’t do stupid shit like talk about ships and what they are doing and when. Oh and don’t get in fights at the bars or drive at all if you’ve had even one drink because the Japanese blood alcohol limit is .03% which is the rough equivalent of smelling a decent beer. During this time, they give you a sweet photocopy booklet to study for a written driving exam. Yes. It’s a booklet with all the new laws of how to drive on the left side of the road and what all the traffic signs mean. The translation is a little sketchy so the descriptions are… well, I was really glad for the pictures that accompanied the descriptions. On your final day of briefing you take the written exam if you want to get your SOFA license. BTW, SOFA is just a fancy acronym for status of forces agreement. Basically it’s just a host country (in our case Japan) agreeing that us foreigner living here for military purposes can get a quick license if we already have a US license, pass a set of simple tests proving we can handle the subtle differences (among maaaaany other things). There are 50 questions on the written and you need an 80% to pass. Here at Yokosuka they gave an incentive to really study. If you got 100% you get first choice of schedule availability for the driving exam. The Sailor assured me that he’d get a 100%. Needless to say, I was one of 6 that got 100% and he didn’t. HA! I haven’t taken the driving exam yet. I’m sure that will be complete fuckery. I’ll let you know how it goes.
If you’ve made it thus far without losing your shit, bravo. Sadly, thats about to change. Because now comes the delivery of your household goods. The Japanese movers are polite, nice, patient and effective as fuck. No matter how awesome they are thought, they can’t fix what the US packers and movers drop kicked across the country and on to a container ship. Some of your shit will get broken. If you’re lucky it will be a cheap clothes drying rack or small bowl that had seen better days anyway. If you’re unlucky your grandfather clock will be jacked up bad enough you don’t know how to fix it and the corner of your flat screen 3D TV will be broken off among other things. Yeah, it will make you mad. You will silently rage and if you’re like me you’ll shut down and take a nap on the couch surrounded by chaos. Then when the movers are done and you look around at all your stuff and wonder how in the hell you fit this much crap into a one bedroom apartment back home, you’ll crack open a delicious Coca Cola, chug a few swallows then tip in a shot or two of Sailor Jerry straight into the can and sit down to spew your woes of the last several weeks out online.
And that’s how I ended up tipsy on a Tuesday afternoon.