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How to Enjoy Japan as a Navy Wife

Being a Navy wife in a new country is hard but don't forget that you have just been given a whole new world to experience. Take advantage of it and your life will never be the same.

By 4 min read 13

“You might want to sit down. We are moving to Japan.” At that moment, hearing my husband utter these words, my world was changed forever. I am a Navy wife from a small town in Southwest Virginia, USA, and I’ve always wanted to get out and experience a place with lots of people and excitement. Little did I know, my wish would be granted tenfold. My husband and I got transferred to Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture with the U.S. Navy, and after spending time in Japan, I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade one moment of my experiences here.

If you are a Navy wife, Japan can be a scary and intimidating place. It’s full of strange people who speak a language you’ve never heard, the food is weird, and how the heck do the trains work? Add to the fact that your spouse is most likely gone for much of the year, and when he is actually home you can’t possibly make up for lost time and sightsee and take care of responsibilities. It’s tough. But I am here to honestly tell you that Japan can be the best duty station experience of your life, and certainly will be one you’ll never forget.

It’s important to realize a few things while living in Japan as a Navy spouse or service member. These tips will make your experience a lot more enjoyable, and quite possibly, the best time of your life.

Tips To Remember:

① Don’t be afraid to try new things.

If I didn’t try new things constantly, I would have never tasted delicious food, seen breathtaking sights, or met people who changed my life. One way I made sure I didn’t miss out was by trying one new thing every day for a month. I documented each thing I tried so I wouldn’t forget; it actually was a lot of fun and kept me busy, as I was still job hunting and getting settled into this new country.

Another way to try new things is by never ordering the same thing twice. Whether you’re at a restaurant, bar, or combini (convenience store), there are endless options for you to try. You never know, you may find out the least likely item will become your favorite. I found out that my favorite flavor is matcha (green tea), and lucky for me, everything in Japan is matcha flavor!

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② This is not America.

No matter how much you want to think we live in a “Little America” because the nearby store workers can say “thank you” in English, we don’t. Their customs and rules still apply, and after all, we are the gaijin (foreigners) this time. Especially if you’re with the military, you get used to the American way of life on base in Japan. However, it’s important to actively be in a different mindset as soon as you walk out the gate.

Eating out is an experience in Japan that is very un-American. Don’t forget that you have to call your waiter when you’re ready, food will not be served at the same time to everyone at the table, and definitely don’t leave a tip. These seem insignificant; but when combined, following these expectations will make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable and a lot less stressful.

Another thing to remember is that the foot traffic will be heavy and the people will be in a hurry. Japan is much more densely populated than any place in America and the people are used to moving in large groups and getting much closer to each other as they do so. Don’t be caught off-guard by rushing passers-by; they’re not rude, just determined.

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③ Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome.

For example, if you’re like me and had spent a whole 30 minutes on a train your whole life, the Japanese way of taking trains everywhere is a huge step out of your comfort zone. But the reason they do this is because it works! You can see practically any spot in the country by train. If I had avoided it because it was different, I would have missed out on some incredible experiences.

Tasks like shopping at a Japanese grocery store or market are hard, and very different from the American way. And if you’re with the military, you don’t necessarily have to shop in these stores because of the commissary provided on base. However, if you don’t try it out at least a few times, you will be missing out on some awesome food and really interesting things to see.

Like this fish market in Yokosuka; the fresh fish selection is amazing! Unlike anything I’ve seen in America.

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Overall, being away from your family is hard, and it’s even harder being separated from your spouse. Being thrown into a whole new world that seems totally overwhelming is just scary; and that’s exactly what happens when you get sent to Japan.

But whatever you do, don’t forget that you have just been given a whole new world to experience, and once you decide to take advantage of that fact and embrace the culture, your life will never be the same.

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  • Grace says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Hi Kelsey. I know this article been posted 2014. As I was searching if Yokosuka ever had snow. And yes indeed. But that was 10years ago. My son would enjoy it that will still happen☺️ This article absolutely accurate. We recently moved here in Japan(Yokosuka Naval Base). In one month, we been to Yokohama and Tokyo area. Family and I enjoyed it. Job is limited. But there’s lot of things to do in here, instead of just staying home(which there is nothing wrong with it) and just waiting to get hired to any available job. Moving in Japan makes me more extra humble and more greatful of what I have. What’s your every month to do list? If you don’t mind me asking. Maybe I can add some of it in my to do list. We gonna be here for awhile. I wanna make sure my family and I make memorable experience in Japan. Thanks in advance Kelsey.

  • Grace says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Hi Kelsey. I know this article been posted 2014. As I was searching if Yokosuka ever had snow. And yes indeed. But that was 10years ago. My son would enjoy it that will still happen☺️ This article absolutely accurate. We recently moved here in Japan(Yokosuka Naval Base). In one month, we been to Yokohama and Tokyo area. Family and I enjoyed it. Job is limited. But there’s lot of things to do in here, instead of just staying home(which there is nothing wrong with it) and just waiting to get hired to any available job. Moving in Japan makes me more extra humble and more greatful of what I have. What’s your every month to do list? If you don’t mind me asking. Maybe I can add some of it in my to do list. We gonna be here for awhile. I wanna make sure my family and I make memorable experience in Japan. Thanks in advance Kelsey.

  • Moshier's Tlc says:

    Hi this michael,
    Loved your article .
    I’m an ex navy serviceman myself.
    I wondering if you new anyone who some extra time to teach about America way of life.
    Thanks,
    Michael

  • Bobbi Boyd says:

    Hi Kelsey! I am also a Navy wife from Southwest Virginia (St. Paul 😉 ) and my husband and I are looking at orders in Yokosuka. I’m very curious about how much time my husband would actually be in port. I know he’d be forward deployed, but I am curious about the amount of time he’d actually be around.

    • kelsey says:

      Hi Bobbi! Thanks so much for commenting. What a small world! I think you will really like Yokosuka if you get it. As for time in port, it really depends on the command- my husband was on a DDG and spent 7-8 months away total throughout the year, but not all at once. The longest away at one time was about 5 months, and even then it was super easy to fly out and see him in ports. If you want to message me on Facebook Id love to give you some info!

  • Chuckmo says:

    Kelsey, this is a really interesting post. I’ve been in Japan just over two years now, and I agree with everything you wrote. But out of curiosity, would you be willing to share your one-month “new thing a day” list?

    • kelsey says:

      That’s a great idea! I’ll have to work on that for sure. Hopefully some of the things could be fun for others just arriving, or who are looking for something new! Thanks 🙂

  • Joyce Marion says:

    Kelsey this is great information. I wish all military wives could read this before they went to another country. They would enjoy their stay more and not get so lonely and homesick.

    • kelsey says:

      Thank you! I really hope that it can help other spouses enjoy their time in Japan.

      • Darlyn says:

        Hi Kelsey wanted to know if you knew anything as far as with a military spouse going to school out in Japan?how does that work?

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