To start off my story I must first explain about our experiences in living overseas as it is where this journey all began. It all seemed like it just happened yesterday……..my husband’s job afforded us the opportunity in living abroad where he has managed Food Court’s on military bases all over the world. We have been in many different places in the United States and have also been stationed overseas in which we have had the privilege of living in Japan for the last thirteen years. We initially came to Japan in 1998 shortly after my husband had come back from serving a six-month tour in Bosnia with his company AAFES (Army, Air Force Exchange Service), which is a branch of the DOD (Department of Defense) for the military. It is hard to believe that they actually have a Food Court in the middle of a war zone, but it is amazing what they can do for the troops.
We were stationed at Camp Zama, Japan which is an Army base located approximately twenty-five miles from Tokyo and our family spent six wonderful years there from August 1998 – May 2004. We had many great experiences there and were able to see and explore the culture and country of Japan. During our time at Camp Zama, I was initially volunteering at the school that our children attended and eventually was hired on with DODDS (Department of Defense Dependent Schools) as an office assistant, but later transferred to a job as a Special Education Paraeducator working with special needs children. I really enjoyed that job and the children that I worked with, but later I had the opportunity to move in another direction and became a Substitute Teacher. The majority of my time with that position still afforded me the experience in continuing to work with special needs children.
Many of the opportunities in seeing and exploring Japan were through the schools with the various field trips that I took with my children’s classes and those that I taught in. We also were able to explore the country on our own as well visiting many temples and shrines, tasting the unique cuisine of Japan and going to the shopping districts in Tokyo with the variety of shops that have an assortment of merchandise to include traditional souvenirs. In addition, we were able to immerse ourselves in many of the numerous festivals which take place throughout the country both near Tokyo and others in Northern Japan.
Living in a foreign country enables you to learn another language. Although learning the Japanese language is not an easy task, it is something I wished I would have immersed myself into more; however, I learned enough of the language to get by while shopping in stores, restaurants and so forth. My husband on the other hand, he dealt with the language on a daily basis as most of his employees were Japanese. Being affiliated with the military you meet so many people from all kinds of backgrounds. The only bad part about that is that people come through in and out rather quickly and so you only get to know them for a short time and then it’s time for them to PCS and move to another location.
In 2004, we received orders to PCS again, but were afforded the unique opportunity of staying in Japan at another location in Northern Japan at Misawa Air Base. We spent the next seven years at that location. We have really enjoyed living abroad and it has been a wonderful place to raise our two daughters in such a rich culture with really wonderful people. How many people can say that they have lived in a foreign country for over thirteen years? I consider our family very fortunate to have had this opportunity. Most military people definitely don’t stay in one place for too long, usually it is a year or two and then it’s time for relocation.
Northern Japan is different from other parts of the country as it is mostly agricultural areas and is a lot different than Tokyo, which can be really busy city life. Misawa is very relaxed and you don’t feel the hustle and bustle like there is in city living. I think that I enjoyed living in Misawa the most, because of the relaxed environment. Japan is truly what they call “the land of the rising sun,” as it really does rise quite early in the morning. I can recall many times, especially during the summer months in Misawa when the sun would rise between 03:30 and 04:00 in the morning, which was something that I had to get used to.
Misawa is a really great place and a wonderful community where everyone knows you well. When we had moved to Misawa I was able to secure another substitute teaching position with DODDS, at the schools on the base. Since we were civilians, we had to live off-base but had a really wonderful house that was considered a Japanese home, but with a bit of American standards. The neighborhood we lived in we were surrounded by many Japanese neighbors, but it was also mixed in with many Americans as well. Life was going really great and I really enjoyed my substitute teaching job and had some great experiences working mainly with special needs children again, which I absolutely loved. In addition, I taught an amazing group of youth for my church.