This Isn’t My First Time You know….

This isn’t my first time in Japan. I was here for one day in 1999 during a stop over from the US to Taiwan. We took off in a blizzard and the de-icing on the wings required a fuel stop in Anchorage. The delays resulted in me missing my flight to Taipei so I was put up in a Raddison near Narita for the night.

So while I wasn’t totally unprepared for Japan, I can’t say I’m really experienced either. I must say I’ve been somewhat surprised by Okinawa.

Okinawa was the only part of Japan proper which felt the brunt of a full scale invasion in WWII. Okinawa was also under direct US control for far longer than the rest of Japan. While most of Japan was under direct control of Mcarthur for only five years, the US didn’t give up control of Okinawa till 1972. Since 1972 the US has had a big presence on the island. Over 25,000 US troops were stationed here plus their families.

Given the strong US presence here, I figured that Okinawa would have a stronger American influence than the rest of Japan. So far, I’ve seen next to nothing.

Signage and usage of English is well below what I saw in Taipei. I’m only surprised at that because of the history of the island. I’ve seen very few westerners here. Only a small handful. I’m at a “western” restaurant right now typing this (because they have free wifi) and I’m the only white person in here. Everyone else is Japanese.

I was also surprised at how hard it has been to find an ATM machine, and in particular an ATM machine that will take foreign cards. Even in Minneapolis, I could find ATM machines that would work in six languages (English, Spanish, Russian, Somali, Japanese, and Hmong). I have since learned that the Japan Post Banks (the post office here is the biggest bank in the country) will take foreign cards. I have yet to find anywhere else that will. I guess I just assumed Japan would be on the cutting edge of ATM technology. They’re not. (most of the machines are designed to read passbooks, as in passbook savings account that you saw in the US 20-30 years ago).

Japan is going to be interesting. In many respects, this is the most “foreign” place I’ve been on my trip so far. Tomorrow I leave Okinawa for Kagoshima and Yaku Island. From there, I finally cash in my Japan Rail voucher and head to Hiroshima.