Last Sunday afternoon, our family of four walked out our front door together. We walked right by both family cars (lemons that we paid a grand total of $4,200 for when we arrived in Japan). We walked down the sidewalk of our duplex-lined street, passing neighbors, busy playgrounds, our commissary, the building where mommy volunteers and eventually wound up at the base theater.
I paid $12 for four tickets and we shuffled inside to grab popcorn and drinks before our movie. In line, we saw friends and made plans for future lunch dates. Once seated, I did the classic mom move and divided the popcorn between kids with just enough time leftover to squeeze in an adult conversation with my husband before the previews started. We were quickly interrupted by our 6-year-old son who tried frantically to get me to take the popcorn tray I had just given him. When I asked him what was wrong, he replied confidently, “They’re about to play the anthem, mom. I need to stand up.”
It took exactly three movies in that theater for my son to remember to stand for our anthem before the start of our movie — something a civilian movie-goer would probably find strange. I was so proud that my usual Star-Spangled Banner goosebumps rose twice as tall. The anthem ended, we sat down and I passed the popcorn tray back down to my son.
The differences between a Sunday afternoon here and one back in the states, living off base, are subtle. However small, though, our life is different here. We are different here. Maybe it’s because we’re getting our first real taste of base living, or our first real taste of overseas living — maybe some combination of the two. Before any big move, parents ask themselves something like, “Are we doing the right thing for our family?” We asked ourselves that very question before moving to Japan. The answer is revealed in little moments like our son remembering to stand in the theater; our lives have been shaken up in the best ways by moving here.
- We start our day with morning colors. I never have to look far for Monday motivation — it plays every morning at 8 am, without fail.
- We pause for Kimigayo. Out of respect for our host nation, we remain standing for the Japanese national anthem that directly follows our own. Our kids know the name of the song and why they are standing for it. That, to me, is a real-life lesson in respect.
- We walk. The value of our cars in the second sentence of this blog was not a typo; we paid next to nothing for them. They get us from point A to point B, unless point B is within walking distance, as it usually is on base. I drove to the pool once. By the time I found a parking spot it was within sight of our house and I felt ridiculous. We haven’t driven to the pool since.
- When we do drive, it’s painfully slow. There’s a poorly translated cautionary sign at the end of our street that reads “Dead Slow.” If you’ve ever driven on base, you get it — you’ve probably even thought it a couple of times. The 30 kph (less than 20 mph) was tough to adjust to, I’ll admit, but I don’t mind it now. There are so many pedestrians and bicyclists, many of them kids, that I prefer to take it slow and keep everyone safe.
- We watch old movies. Our theater shows movies long after they’ve premiered in the states, including the one I mentioned earlier. I feel confident in speaking for everyone when I say that not a single person cares.
- We get creative with groceries. It’s fantastic living right down the street from the commissary, except on the days it’s awaiting a shipment. Walking down the bread aisle only to find dinner rolls and otherwise empty shelves was a first for me. But, I’m not complaining. Our local Japanese grocery stores have fresh produce and plenty of opportunities to be adventurous. It’s nothing like grocery shopping stateside, but that’s why it’s an adventure!
- We take care of each other here on base. Family members, classmates, neighbors, friends, it doesn’t matter. We recognize that we’re all together here in this community. Regardless of rank or situation, we tackle things together.
- We fall asleep to TAPS. Even on the worst day, when nothing went right, it’s a little reflection and a little perspective.