Living off base more fulfilling
My husband and I read with interest your story about housing at Misawa Air Base, Japan ("Misawa joins on-base approach to housing," Sept. 19, Pacific editions). As two-year residents of the nearby town of Oirase, we felt compelled to write about our experience. The article suggests significant savings for the U.S. government, and cites an average of $2,000 in monthly rent paid by off-base residents. While it is true that military personnel with dependents, and some civilians or contractors, pay that amount or more, it seems suspect that the $2,000 figure is the average rent for all off-base military families. Nonetheless, our disagreement with the story doesn’t come down to dollars and cents (or yen). There are things that fall outside the bounds of economics.
I appreciate that off-base living isn’t for everyone. For us, however, the primary reason for taking orders overseas is to experience another culture and make connections with the host nation community. We wonder what we would miss if we couldn’t stroll to the local Lawson’s store to pick up that last-minute dinner ingredient, or have the unique experience of paying utility bills without online banking or even a common language. As we write, our son is playing with the Japanese children in our neighborhood; he doesn’t speak much Japanese, and some of them don’t speak English, but Rollerblades and tree climbing apparently don’t get lost in translation.
Another Japanese neighbor invited our family into his home for a tea ceremony. We reciprocated with golf dates and helping to write an English letter welcoming new Americans to the neighborhood.
You can’t put a price tag on these interactions. Part of our role in Misawa is to serve as ambassadors representing our country to the local Japanese community. How do we do that if everyone gets stuck living on base? Living off base pays dividends in intercultural relations that far outweigh the cost of housing.