The Nakasone Era


The Nakasone Period

The time we spent at the Nakasone Apartments wasn't long and I have few memories of that place. It was small. That's what I remember - it was small!!

We lived upstairs! That wasn't good. Debb was pregnant and we needed every bit of space that we could find. She was big!! HehHehHeh!! We knew DyLon was on his way, so I was actively seeking out a bigger place. But there were a couple of things that stand out in my memory there. It was during that time that I was still trying to settle into the job. I was immediately assigned to the Emergency Room at the base clinic. I think I was still working the day shift then but it wasn't long before I'd be going on nights.

There was another American living at Nakasone. His name was Paul, and for the life of me I can't remember his last name. Maybe it'll come to me later. It was January, 1973. One night, we heard a lot of commotion outside. To get to our apartment you had to climb up a flight of concrete stairs. Paul was at my door.... "Mick, they're taking your car!" I had rented a car when Debb got there. I didn't have the money, but somehow I was able to rent for a while. I'd be damned if someone was gonna rip it off!! Paul and I took off after these Okinawan kids. Running like fools, we got one of 'em and dragged him back to the apartment complex. The Koza City police box was right across the street so I went over and told 'em what was going on. This was the first encounter that I'd ever had with Japanese police. They're different. I appreciated their efficiency! They took custody of the one boy we'd caught and I remember one of the policemen pushing and kicking him against the concrete stairs. In no time he had confessed to stealing my car, another car and a purse! I got my car back and, as a bonus, got the idea that I didn't want to ever mess around with those Japanese cops!! Even the RAFP cops were bound by American standards of law enforcement. I don't think they'd have gotten away with treating a suspect that way. But then, maybe I'm naive! I never saw them in action!

So, here I was, a three-stripe Buck Sergeant, taking home maybe $100.00 every two weeks - I really don't remember, but eventually I had enough to register that little Daihatsu. Thought I was in heaven! I had bought the thing while I was still living in the barracks on Kadena - before Debb came over. Paid all of $200.00 for it too!! It sat in that barracks parking lot for a few weeks - lame as it was, I used to go and drive it around the parking lot. It was fun - such a tiny little thing!! Anyway, I got it registered and on the road. On Okinawa, a guy has to get a vehicle through the dreaded "inspection" before it can be registered. Back then, it took fully two days to get your car registered. Had to drive down to Zukeran (Sukeran) where the Okinawans had their inspections station set up on the Army base. That was a hold over after reversion, I guess, since, by this time the American authorities had nothing to do with regulating what vehicles would be on the roads. Anyway, I got there a little early... there were only 20 or so cars in front of me. These people weren't stupid either - there was a snack bar right there at the inspection station. To the uninitiated, if you went to get your car inspected and didn't bring anything to eat or drink, you ended up spending a lotta money surviving through the day.
First step was to get in line alongside what looked like an old trailer home with a bunch of windows cut into the side. There were 5-6 of those windows. Well, I stood in line for the first one - a half hour later I was in line at the second window.

Ya know, somehow the lines seemed to get longer!! It took the entire morning to get through those windows, shuffling papers, paying dollars here and yen there. Eventually, I was finished with that and had a hand full of papers that made little or no sense to me. Most of it was in Japanese but much was in English...still hold-overs from when the American military ran the show!

I finally got to the inspection station and held my breath. The Japanese don't want "junkers" on the road. It doesn't look good!! My li'l truck had a rotted out rocker panel on the right and the right front quarter panel flapped in the breeze whenever my speed exceeded 3 MPH! *grin* So, having no money to fix it, but having a little Yankee ingenuity, I had taken some plaster casting material (ya know, like the rolls of Plaster of Paris used for making casts) and had applied layer after layer to that rocker panel and fender. Smoothed it out as best I could then spray painted it! The back window of the truck was cracked and I'd known that THAT would never pass inspection, so.... well, the boss of the Emergency Room used to have a sheet of plexiglas covering the top of his desk. Seems that it somehow came into my possession one night and I cut a new window out of it and stuck it in there in place of my broken glass. During the inspection, the guy tapped on it a couple of times and winked at me. I wasn't sure what that wink meant!

So, here I was with this nasty little beater of a truck - plaster rocker panel, plexiglas window and having been painted with black spray paint on the sides and brush-painted with brown deck paint on the roof, hood and tailgate. Still holding my breath I proceded through the inspection station. Cost me an extra $1.00 to get the headlights adjusted. I later learned that EVERYONE had to pay a buck for that! Didn't matter whether it needed adjusting or not, those headlights got a couple of turns with a screw-driver and I'll bet those guys divvied up those dollar bills at the end of the day!! *chuckle*

Okay... got through the inspection!! Wow!! And it was only mid-afternoon.

What to do now? I thought maybe there was time to get to the Japanese Land Transportation Office down south. So, I hit the road. Highway One! (Now it's called HW 58) It was mostly a two lane that somehow was turned into a 3 or 4 lane depending on how big a hurry people were in! Traffic was slow but it was only a few miles. Well, friends, driving 5 miles on Okinawa is like 35 here!! And, in some cases, can be like driving 100!!

By the time I got there it was about 45 minutes till closing time. I thought, "No problem! How long can this take?"

Once inside, I got a sense of how long it would take. To myself I said, "Come back tomorrow!"
The following day I got it all done. It was tedious but uncomplicated and I got it done. One thing I did learn there that day though - privacy is a state of mind to these people whom I did not understand. I had felt the need to use the toilet before leaving to drive back up island. I asked someone, "Sumi masen, benjo doko desu-ka?" The guy pointed and I went. Got inside and found a big open room with a series of little porcelain "bathtubs" sunk into the floor. There was a little splash guard looking thing at the front. I wondered about this for a minute, wishing that all I had to do was take a leak! I noticed that there seemed to be more wear alongside these little bathtub-looking

things and it was muddy on both sides. So, I had it figured out. I was to drop my drawers and straddle this thing, squat down and do my thing. Okay, I can handle this!!! I was doing well, kinda enjoying the cultural experience when I heard the door come open. Now, being a fine young American, I like stalls, right? But, I had been through basic training after all and that was all open bay toilets - except those you could sit on if you wanted to! No problem, I figured - but really was hoping it wasn't another American. I figured at least if it was a local, they'd be used to such things. Well, it was an Okinawan... trouble was - it wasn't a he Okinawan!!! I didn't know whether to shit or go blind!! Somehow, it didn't bother her at all.... came alongside, two "tubs" down, hiked up her skirt and squatted! Yeah, sure! Easy for her!! She has a skirt to cover everything up!! But, it really wasn't any big deal! She did her thing, washed her hands and was gone. No eye contact was made throughout this ordeal, by the way!!

When I left, I looked again at the door, from the outside. I figured I'd walked into the "women's room" by mistake. Nope!! An Okinawan man slipped past me as I was gawking at the kanji sign - I figured he knew how to read that stuff.... and presumably so did she!!

Welcome to a new culture!! Now, in fairness, I have to say - when I returned in the late 1980's I never encountered such an experience and never saw a unisex bathroom again. Not to my knowledge, anyway!! And, gratefully, almost all toilets are the sit-down kind now!!! *sigh*

But I digress!!! *chuckle*

We weren't in the Nakasone very long. I had been out looking for a place and Don Lackey had helped me look around. The housing office on Kadena had a list of places currently available for rent on the local economy. Well, turns out we found a nice two-bedroom place... concrete block of a house, but it was BIG and it could be ours for only 30,000 yen a month. Back then, the yen rate was 305 to the dollar, so it was right around $100.00 a month, plus utilities. Thank God that we got a housing allowance from Uncle Sam!! Would never have made it without that! As it was, I recall a few times when I couldn't drive because we didn't have a nickel to buy gas until the next payday! And, no, I wasn't irresponsible with my money!! Just didn't have the money to be irresponsible with!! *chortle*

So, Nakasone in a nutshell: small, concrete stairs, carrying groceries up those (we were able to buy maybe three or four bagsful at a time so it wasn't THAT big a deal), Debb carrying herself up those stairs, car thief, kick-ass cop, looking for a new house, getting ready to go on nights. That's about it for the first few months. Pitiful, huh?

Oh, we got out once in a while, but it's warm there in the springtime and even hot some days! Always humid! Now, I've never been pregnant, but I just accepted that Debb didn't always feel up to going exploring our new world! We did walk around our part of Koza though and became familiar with places that we still love to this day!

Soon, we were to move. We'd found that little concrete box in Awase! Up on a hillside, right off Highway 13 (now HW 329) and overlooking Nakagusuku Bay.

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