Pizza with corn and mayo? Getting used to life in Japan may take some time
September 25, 2008
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Angela LeMay wasn’t sold on Japan at first.
The Midwest native wasn’t keen on moving overseas, and she was annoyed by one of her military-based co-workers always nattering on about "how great Japan is," she said.
"He was always saying ‘in Japan, we have this,’ or ‘in Japan, things are this way,’ and I would always think, ‘hello, what about America?’ "
Then LeMay’s husband and job took her to Japan and to Yokosuka Naval Base’s Fleet and Family Support Center.
"I never thought I’d be here in Japan," said LeMay, who has lived here two years. "And now I’m that person telling my friends at home about the cool stuff they have here. … I never saw that coming."
But getting used to Japan isn’t a "given," and it doesn’t happen all at once, the experts at the FFSC said.
There’s a big fear of the unknown, said family life and education specialist Scott Keehn.
Most of the people moving to Yokosuka have little or no experience moving overseas, which can be very stressful, Keehn said.
Concerns usually start with such remarks as "How am I going to clear customs?" and then branch into worries about finances, spousal employment, child care and schools for families, Keehn said.
"Single sailors mostly just wonder: ‘What am I going to do while I’m here?’ " he said.
Then, once they get here — between getting oriented and everything else — it’s a matter of information overload, Keehn said.
"People get so much information that it’s easy to get overwhelmed," Keehn said. "I tell them it’s like drinking from the fire hose."
The good news is that life in Japan does get easier for most everyone, with a little effort.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the surroundings, advised Robert Appleman, FFSC’s counseling and advocacy services supervisor. Start with learning the base, then try dinner outside the gate, and then adventure farther. Try a pizza with corn and mayo.
"Figuring out chopsticks. Driving. These are called mastery experiences, and they are very empowering," Appleman said.
Adaptation is no thunderbolt, rather little victories over time, he said.
"It’s a very nice growth experience," Appleman said. "Japan is not for everyone, but most people will be surprised at their ability to adjust and adapt. It usually happens faster and easier than people expect."
And everyone adjusts at their own pace, said LeMay, who is still learning things all the time about her new home.
"We all adjust at different rates," LeMay said. "We have our own time clocks."
Those clocks have moments of pure homesickness too, she said.
"We’ve all been homesick," LeMay said. And when that happens, her cure is to go to base and grab a burger, she said.
"It’s a little slice of America — your own Mayberry, where everyone speaks English," she said. "There’s a lot of stuff to do here, and it can be challenging, but there is lots and lots of help available."
The lay of the land
Tips for acclimating to life in Japan:
Call someone stateside when you feel homesick.Vent to someone when times are tough.Take it slow and easy; there’s no need to do it all at once.Ride the base bus around a few times to get the lay of the land.Change some money into yen and cruise "Blue Street."Buy an umbrella and carry it always.Ask questions — not only will people help you, but you are also validating their overseas experience and allowing them to be experts.Read books like "Shogun" and "Making Out in Japanese" for other perspectives on Japan.Learn these key phrases: sumimasen (pardon me) and domo arigato (thank you) — and use them often.Avoid negative people: Your overseas experience is what you make of it.Sources: Robert Appleman, Angela LeMay and Scott Keehn of Yokosuka’s Fleet and Family Support Center