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With the dollar hovering around its lowest level in three years against the Japanese yen, some U.S. servicemembers and their families are taking a more conscientious approach to holiday shopping.

Americans typically flock to off-base malls and stores during the holidays, funneling gifts back to the United States for friends and relatives. Many have limited such excursions this year.

“It’s too expensive to shop off base,” said Mardi Sizemore, a military dependent on Okinawa. “The prices are ridiculous even when the yen rate is good. I’ve done every bit of Christmas shopping on base.”

On Friday, the dollar’s exchange rate was 106 yen at military banking facilities throughout Japan and Okinawa.

According to the Asian Wall Street Journal, the dollar opened this year at about 119 yen. American currency hasn’t approached the 100 yen mark since November 1995, when it was rebounding from a modern-era low of 79 set earlier that year.

“I live off base, so it affects me a little more to be able to shop on base,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Klein, of Yokota Air Base’s 730th Air Mobility Squadron. “I won’t do anything drastic, but I will shop on base more now, just because I can use dollars.”

Capt. Michelle Plasterer, of Yokota’s 366th Medical Operations Squadron, said the surging yen significantly altered her family’s holiday shopping plans.

“We’ve definitely spent less on the Japanese economy,” she said Wednesday. “We’ve gotten a few things off base, but very few. If the dollar was stronger, we would’ve done three-quarters of our shopping off base.”

Sales are up 8 percent compared to last year at Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores across the Pacific region, according to Air Force Master Sgt. Howard Smith, an AAFES spokesman. It’s uncertain what long-term effect the weaker dollar may have on AAFES.

“It’s difficult to say because most of our concessionaires take both yen and dollars,” Smith said. “It’s the major stores that usually take dollars only.”

At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, the strong yen doesn’t appear to have influenced spending habits this holiday season, as many base residents opt to stay on base due to a wider range of choices.

“There’s a better selection on base for what I need,” said spouse Laurie Malecki.

Staff Sgt. Josh Gartner, meanwhile, did most of his holiday shopping online — something he said he would have done regardless of the yen rate.

“It’s inconvenient to send packages from here and stand in line” at the post office, he added.

Others on Okinawa didn’t seem too concerned about the yen’s increased value.

“It doesn’t affect us much,” said Dawn Wagner, who was shopping at a Jusco in Chatan with her friend, Jill Fensternacher, both wives of Marines who live on Camp Foster. “If I see something I want to buy, I buy.”

Adjustments to cost-of-living allowances tend to soften the financial blow.

“It doesn’t matter to us because the COLA rate goes up, too,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Pablo Vales, who was with his family at Jusco. “We do lots of Christmas shopping off base.”

But for Americans who don’t get a cost-of-living or post allowance, the devalued dollar hurts.

“I’ll definitely have to limit my off-base shopping,” said Natalie De Vito, who works for a base contractor on Camp Courtney. “I am paid in dollars, and there’s no compensation for when the yen increases in value.”

Sharon Hall, the wife of an Army solider, was also shopping at Jusco but said she’s prudent when it comes to purchasing items off base.

“If you want something that you cannot find on base, it’s just the price you pay. It certainly makes me think twice before buying things,” she said while paying for a Christmas ornament. “I bought this because it was 30 percent off.”

It’s been business as usual for the island’s shopkeepers this year.

“Our Christmas sales have been very good,” said Sachiko Uezu, the manager at China Pete’s, a gift shop on Gate 2 Street near Kadena that caters mostly to Americans. “It seems that we may have had slightly fewer customers than last year, but I don’t think it has anything to do with yen rate.”

The Oriental Bazaar, a popular shopping destination for foreigners in Tokyo, hasn’t encountered any sales shortfall, either. The number of American shoppers has also remained steady this holiday season.

“We have not seen notable effects,” said Yukiyoshi Ide, in charge of the store’s souvenirs section.

He said about 80 percent of the store’s overseas shipping is aimed at the United States, but that figure has gradually decreased over the past decade.

“I don’t think this is in result of the stronger yen,” Ide said.

Still, today’s weaker U.S. note won’t stop some shoppers from heading outside the gates.

“You’re only in Japan once,” said Angela Woody, of Yokota. “We eat off base and shop off base. It doesn’t matter to us.

“The yen rate is a lot like the stock market. It’ll go back up, but it really doesn’t affect me.”

— Jennifer Svan, Hana Kusumoto, Chiyomi Sumida, David Allen and Fred Zimmerman contributed to this report.

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