So You’ve Got Orders to Okinawa…

So You’ve Got Orders to Okinawa…

okinawa japan torii gateIt’s about that time of year. Service members are receiving orders for the upcoming PCS season and Okinawa, Japan seems to be a hot spot. I have received an influx of messages asking for advice from those who’ve obtained orders.

I won’t ever forget my dramatic reaction to the news that we’d be moving to Okinawa. Through a static filled satellite phone call from Afghanistan, my husband’s words changed everything I had envisioned for us following his return. To say it mildly, I was paralyzed with apprehension. Which when I look back on it today I realize I was severely overreacting. However, I understand the trepidation that comes with the news of moving overseas.

What I wish I had during that time was firsthand information from someone who lived in Okinawa. I barely knew anyone or anything about this foreign island. Without the comfort of my husband, who was still serving in Afghanistan, all I had was Google. I spent the majority of my days researching on my own.

Now eight months into living on the island, I feel relief. I am beginning to see this island as home and am accepting the culture as my norm. I hope to assist anyone with their move to Okinawa , by sharing a few tips.

First, get all legal and medical documents early. Attaining all the necessary paperwork and completing them quickly will allow your forward unit to adequately prepare for your arrival. As a dependent there are some extra hoops to jump through to get area clearance, including medical clearance. We know too well how sluggish medical can be. Making an appointment to see your physician should be first on your agenda. Once those formalities are out of the way you can focus on other aspects of your move with ease.

Get to know your sponsor, let your sponsor get to know your family. Upon receiving orders your family will be appointed a sponsor. This sponsor has been assigned to make sure you are prepared by answering any questions, as well as arranging for your arrival. The sponsor is usually of equal or greater rank and they should match your family composition. Once you arrive your sponsor is responsible for picking you up, setting up lodging and providing a way for your family to get around while you settle in. This includes helping you purchase a vehicle. Stay engaged with your sponsor and their family. It makes for a smooth transition once you arrive on the island.

The number one question I receive from friends who are moving to Okinawa pertains to furniture and household goods. Yes, there is a weight allowance; a pretty weak and disappointing one. It’s almost borderline insulting. However, there are ways you can use your allowance to benefit your family. I recommend bringing all your beds. If anything, pack your mattresses. Trust me, you’ll want your own bed. Clothing wise, bring both winter and summer options. Believe it or not, it does get cold on Okinawa. And if you plan on traveling during the winter months, anywhere north of the island gets snow. When it comes to household goods, bring as much as you are willing to take. If you plan on buying appliances or electronics while in Okinawa understand there are only a few places to do so. And don’t be fooled, the BX isn’t always your friend when it comes to costs. Also consider buying a dehumidifier before you arrive on the island. If you still have wiggle room with your weight bring your couches and rugs. Don’t bother bringing your dining room table. The one they offer is of decent size.

Plan trips! The best way to deal with moments that may cause some apprehensions is to have something to look forward to. Plan a trip to explore around the island, or if you are feeling adventurous, off the island. There are so many opportunities to travel to places you never thought you’d be able to see. Utilize your time in the Asian Pacific as best you can.

Lastly, prepare for the inevitable mess that consumes the chaos of PCS moves. Accept the fact there will be hiccups. For instance, you may get stuck during your transfer. Whether that is on the West Coast of the United States or on mainland Japan, it’s not going to be easy. Accepting that may ease the tension that could occur for you and your family. Learn to practice patience.

PCSing overseas is a doozy. Hopefully these few tips will help alleviate some concerns. Above all, understand that getting orders to Okinawa is a privilege. Acquiring the opportunity to live on this beautiful island is one you will remember for a life time. Enjoy the ride and “Okinawa e yōkoso!”

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have any questions about Okinawa, feel free to ask Nicole in the comments section and she will do her best to answer them.


6 thoughts on “So You’ve Got Orders to Okinawa…”

  1. Hey Nicole! I just arrived in Okinawa and remember exactly what it felt like when we FINALLY got our orders so we could actually begin the moving process! We are army so I think things are a little different for us, and because there are so many less of us here I found it even harder to get advice – we were very fortunate with our sponsor – however we had a dog and they didn't move with a pet, boy is that process tough! But I completely agree with you – it was all worth it, we love it here and never want to leave!!

    1. Hi Heather! Welcome to the island. The dog fiasco is a bit trying. But I’m glad all is well and you are enjoying Okinawa. I’d love to recommend some hidden gems for beaches as Spring Break is around the corner (If only this weather would clear up!) Hamahiga and Ikei Island have gorgeous beaches. And they tend to be less crowded. And I love Sesoko Island up near Nago. Also, the outer islands like Tokashiki and Ishigaki have great areas to explore and enjoy gorgeous crystal blue water.

    2. Heather,

      I realize this was a few years ago but we are Army as well. Currently in S Korea with projections to Okinawa. I’m having problems finding any information about Army PCSing to Japan! Any advice? For instance, what do I need for the medical screening for myself and daughters? We’re dependents included on your orders or did you have to go through a command sponsorship approval like we did for Korea?

  2. Thank you so much fro the insight, Nicole, you’ve made a great article – detailed and well written, just how I like them! 😉 I’ll put it in bookmarks as Japan is one of our wishes, so fingers crossed! 🙂

  3. Nicole,

    I have a couple of informational videos for the basics of purchasing used cars in Okinawa and the actual buying process; what is required and so on. Would this be of interest to you to maybe put a link in your story to the videos? I believe it would be a good source for information for newcomers since getting transportation is one of the first things they need immediately. If you go to my website, you can have a look and make a determination. Thank you for the consideration.

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