Army Life in Okinawa Part 1

Home Life

While I was in the Army I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. I was an Army Private, when I first went there, but since I was in the intelligence Corps, I had the good fortune to get permission to bring my wife. A few weeks after I arrived there, my first wife Marcia joined me and we found a small Asian style house to live in. It was much better than most native houses. It was made of concrete, had plumbing and the other usual amenities we were used to.

Me holding Thatcher next to our Okinawa home.

The house had a formal entry, a formal parlor, a family room, a bedroom, a sunken tub, a flush toilet, a kitchen and  was about the size of a 2 car garage. The rooms were small but without bulky furniture it was surprisingly spacious. The floors were traditional tatami mats, 2 inch thick rice straw mats covered with wolven rice straw coverings. Each mat was bound on the edges with black fabric creating a 2 inch border. Each mat was approximately 3 by 6 feet. Each room that had tatami mats was described by the number of mats that would fit in the room for instance a 12by12 room was called an 8tatami room. We sat on the mats and since we were westerners we sat against the wall. Asians were used to sitting cross legged and squatting and did not feel the need to lean against the wall like we did. We had a futon pad to sleep on, which was rolled up and put in a closet durjng the day. Each room had sliding doors with paper covering the wooden structure.

We had sliding glass doors that opened into a small fenced yard, but we never used the yard because there was a rock wall on one side and we feared snakes might be living in the holes between the rocks. Snakes were called habu and they were cobras. To help keep the snakes from multiplying too fast they brought in mongooses but there were still enough that we were wary.

Thatcher in Okinawa

The kitchen had a wooden floor as did the entry and the hall to the bathroom. The kitchen had a table and chairs which was our only furniture.

The roof was flat and made of concrete. It had a stair way on the outside of the wall and a railing around the sides. It was used for many things such as a clothesline and patio parties. When we had a party on the roof we collected several large tin cans, put a roll of toilet paper in it, added a few inches of kerosene, to make a torch which provided light and attracted and killed mosquitos.

The reason the house was made of concrete was because Okinawa was in typhoon alley. If you didn’t have a concrete house you had to evacuate every time there was a storm.

Thatcher was born while we lived in this little house. Most houses in Okinawa had steel bars on the windows to keep burglars out, known as steely bars. Since we didn’t have them we had to shut our shutters at night and when we were gone.

We had 2 neighbors on our little dead end street. One was in a concrete house like ours he was a bank auditor and the other was a farmer who lived in a wood and corrugated steel shack. The farmers were young with a little boy about 1 year old. One day I was taking pictures while the mother and the baby were outside and I pointed my camera at the baby. Before I could click the shutter the mother snatched the boy and disappeared into the house. At first I thought she didn’t want his picture taken but in an instant they returned with the little guy in his best clothes. I took some pictures and made some extras for her. I think that she was actually hoping I would, because I don’t think they could afford pictures.

There was a 55 gallon barrel, propped up on some rocks in their yard which they would fill with water, build a fire under and after dark the whole family would bath one at a time in it.

We had very little contact with them because of the language barrier but when ever they heard someone come to our house they would open their shutter enough to make sure everything was okay. They didn’t look after the bank examiner’s house. I know because his house was robbed. The bank examiner spoke english and he and his wife invited us over for sukiyaki. While we were there he had a second story built on his house and rented it out to another military couple, with whom we became friends.

Our church calling was teacher of the young adults which meant the single soldiers and the single women who were mostly teacher,s who taught at the school on base. We had a lot of fun. they were our age and really liked having a house to come to to get away from the base. I home taught several young soldiers. It was the easiest home teaching I have ever done I just invited them over for home made cookies.

While we lived at this house we didn’t have a car. I took the bus to work. It cost 7 cents.

Cars were classified in 2 groups: cars that had been shipped by Americans to Okinawa and ones that had not. If a car was a local car you would have to pay to have it shipped home but if it were purchased from another American who had brought it  from the states then if you had enough rank the military would ship it home for you. The first car I bought was not eligible for shipment. It was an old Volkswagen bug which we had fun with until we saved enough to buy a better one which was eligible to bring home and we did bring it home at the end of our tour.

You could get your car repaired for 50 cents an hour. My home teaching companion was an MD and he had an old car that he bought to use until his car arrived from the States. He told me that he went to the junk yard and asked for a car that was repairable. The one he bought had a problem with the automatic transmission. He took it to a mechanic and said “How much to fix?” He was told “Come back tomorrow”. When he came back his transmission was disasembled and spread out on the floor of the shop. The Okinawans don’t use benches they work on the floor. The vice was on the floor as was everything. The mechanic said, as he held up a part, “This one no good.” The total cost for the transmission overhaul was $15.



This entry was posted in Family History, Personal history and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Army Life in Okinawa Part 1

  1. Lara Updike says:

    I love this picture! I’ve never seen it before. It looks like Nate and Thatcher melded their faces together.

  2. Peggy Jones says:

    Very fun dad. I dn’t suppose you have any pictures of that house?

Leave a Reply