Drinks · Recipes

Hard Cranberry Pineapple Punch

This is my absolute favorite punch, and it is SO easy to make. I will warn you just like I do any of our guests- this stuff is pretty strong, but you might not even know it’s alcoholic by just tasting it. With the equivalent of over an entire bottle of rum, you would think it would be obvious. This stuff just tastes like regular punch!

I make this for almost every holiday get-together, and I hear often that it is dangerously good. We use my two gallon glass dispenser any time that we have friends over- and I have just adapted the punch recipe over the years to make the perfect amount to fill that 2 gallon dispenser. (I linked the one we have below.) Depending on your glass size, this will produce around 25-30 servings. You could easily cut the recipe in half if you have a smaller crowd- but even with a group of 5-6 of us, we always end up drinking it all.

If kids are over, I like to split the punch before adding any rum and make a non-alcoholic pitcher too. If you do this, add just a little less rum (unless you want it even more potent, but trust me- this stuff is way stronger than you think already.)

Todd likes to photobomb my blog photos. Ellie isn’t impressed

Happy New Year, and drink responsibly!

Hard Cranberry Pineapple Punch

  • Servings: 2 gallons, makes around 20-25 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients
-64oz cranberry juice (one bottle)
-46oz pineapple juice (one can)
-1/2 can pineapple, cut into rings (you can also use fresh pineapple)
-1 lime, juiced
-1 lime, sliced for garnish
-1/2 bag of frozen cranberries for garnish
-2 tablespoons vanilla
-2 cups coconut rum
-1.5 cups white rum
-2 liters Ginger Ale (we only have cans here in Japan, so I use around 6 cans)

Instructions
1. Mix all ingredients together and stir

I like to add a sugar rim to my glass and garnish it with a slice of lime.

Enjoy!

Ellie · Japan Life Updates

Two, Three, and Four Months- Ellie

Two, three, and four month updates… Isn’t that title just the epitome of second children? I always swore I wouldn’t be this mom, but here I am, making one blog post update for three months. Oops. At least I have 14,000 photos of my kids on my phone.

So here is some photo dumping- mostly month four, but also a mix on months two and three.

Ellie girl is four months old!
Weight: 13 lbs, 3oz.
Eye Color: Pretty darn blue! I keep saying I’m not convinced they will stay blue, but I somewhat am now. Ask me again at 10 months, they will probably be brown by then.
Hair: A little thinner than before maybe, and a little lighter too! Don’t worry, mom’s hair is thinner too. #postpartumhairsucks
Size: 3-6 months

  • Ellie girl started sucking her thumb around 5-6 weeks old consistently, and is still doing it daily at 4 months.
  • She ONLY sleeps on her stomach. We lay her on her back to go to sleep, and it takes about 6 seconds for her to roll to her belly. If you lay her on her back when she’s already asleep, she will 100% wake up. She sleeps on her belly with her thumb in her mouth. I.e. don’t touch my kid’s hands. Ever. Ha. (I only somewhat kid there, they are ALWAYS in her mouth.)
  • Poor little lady has battled thrush since around 6 weeks old. Seems like every time we get rid of it, she passes it to me or I pass it back to her. I think we are finally near getting rid of it for good at 16 weeks though! She has been very cranky for a couple months now, and understandably so, because that thrush is brutal.
  • Ellie has pretty severe “stranger danger” and hates big crowds. We are working on it. She only loves her thumb and her mama, and she’s not sorry.
  • She loves car rides still, and almost always goes to sleep in the car.
  • Girlfriend rolled for the first time around 8 weeks, and both front to back and back to front around 11-12 weeks, and does both with ease now. She has been scooting around and rolling where she needs to go for several weeks. She mostly sits up on her elbows, and raises her legs completely off the ground. I’m guessing crawling will happen during month four.
  • Baby girl is getting some chunky legs, and I’m not mad about it. Chunky thighs and pretty eyes for life, right?
  • Ellie 100% prefers tummy time or to be sitting upright. She HATES being on her back.
  • I’m predicting she will walk by 8 months like her brother. (Which is both really cool, and terribly frightening. You don’t understand until you see an 8 month old walking upright with their tiny, squishy little heads…)
  • Ellie is more of a mean-mugger than anything. She smiles every once in a while, and definitely has her favorite people that she grins at, but she’s usually just quietly watching and listening.
  • When she laughs, she almost never smiles. It’s kind of the funniest sight ever.
  • The baby mullet has arrived. I’m hoping her hair grows fast. Her brother had already had a haircut by this time. Her hair is definitely much lighter than her brother’s was. I can’t wait for baby piggy tails, for real.
  • Baby girl had her second heart checkup. Unfortunately she still has a hole. Thank goodness though, it has not enlarged any- praise Jesus for that!
  • Henry acknowledges her more lately, and likes to drop things on her face while saying “here you gooooooo!”
  • Baby girl is about a week or two from consistently sitting up. She tripod sits with ease and unassisted sits frequently too. She LOVES to sit up and watch her brother.
  • Ellie loves Henry and me. That’s about it. She sometimes decides that she loves Drew too, but mostly she’s a mama’s girl. That’s okay, because Henry has decided he is 100% a daddy’s boy.

Our babies are sweet, beautiful, funny, kind, and darling little ones. They make life so fun, and it’s hard to believe Ellie is almost through her first year of life. I really can’t imagine what life was like before these two existed, and I’m pretty blessed for their existence.

Drinks · Recipes

Slow Cooker Hot Apple Cider

I won’t keep the description on this one long, because it’s Christmas- and I know you’re after one thing anyway- the recipe.

This is my favorite at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I throw it in a few hours before a get-together, and it not only makes a delicious cider, but it is also a free way to make your house instantly smell like the holidays (everybody always thinks we are baking an apple pie when they walk in.)

Also, here is a secret I learned a few years back:
Purchase cranberries when they go on super sale, usually about a week before Thanksgiving. I bought 6 bags this Thanksgiving for 99 cents each. The cranberries are good for up to around 10 months in the freezer, so I always purchase when they are cheap and store them until I’m ready to use them- usually by Christmas.

In addition, if you make my hard holiday punch (will release my recipe for this soon-it’s pretty darn fabulous) you can use frozen cranberries as a chiller for your punch. Win-win.

So without further adieu, the simplest and most delicious hot cider recipe:

Merry Christmas!

Slow Cooker Hot Apple Cider

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients
-3 apples, sliced (I like to slice two apples finely, and one in large rings-as seen in photos-to make the cider prettier.)
– 2 oranges, sliced
– 6 oz cranberries (about half of a regular 12oz bag)
– 4 tablespoons cinnamon (plus I typically throw in 1-2 cinnamon sticks)
– 1 teaspoon cloves (you can throw these in for spice, or leave them out)
– 2 cups water
– 3 cups apple juice

Instructions
1. Put all ingredients into a slow cooker and make sure there is enough liquid inside that the cranberries can be seen floating on the top.
2. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, or low for 6 hours. Depending on when I need it ready by, I do both. I never cook on high if I am cooking it overnight.
3. Scoop cider directly from crock pot- strain if desired.
I add water or apple juice throughout the day as it depletes, and squish down the fruit a little more each time I do. This recipe fits perfectly in my small crock pot, or the 4qt one. I make a double batch for the bigger crock pot. My small crock pot typically produces 4-6 regular sized mugs of cider.

Enjoy!

Merry Christmas!

About Me

20 Facts About Me

  1. I have never received a ticket, and have never been in an accident. I started driving at 16, but didn’t get pulled over for the first time until I was 23 years old, and it was for driving without headlights on- which I didn’t realize because I was driving through a very lit town.
  2. I have always had hope for becoming a foster parent in the future, and we have tentative plans to adopt when the kids are older. I think the foster system is incredibly broken at times, and I would take in all the little ones in the world if I could. We don’t want any more biological children for a few reasons, but for me it’s mostly because I really do not enjoy being pregnant.
  3. I won homecoming queen my senior year. I was also yearbook editor, class president, and I graduated head of my class. Absolutely none of it has mattered since I graduated. Ha!
    73704_10151370137094525_290840520_n.jpg
    I also had very red hair during my senior year. Enjoy a couple of my senior photos below.
    272942_10151343068604525_525610838_o
    622086_10151266929479525_274633544_o
  4. Coconut is my FAVORITE. Coconut milk is the stuff. I will drink coconut rum straight. Anything and everything coconut is my jam. My favorite thing I have ever tasted is a coconut boba tea from a food tent at a festival here in Japan.
  5. I don’t make the bed every day.
  6. We didn’t plan on having kids until we were in our late twenties. We had planned to live and work in the parks each summer for several more years. Henry was our biggest and best surprise.
  7. Henry and I lived with my in-laws for almost five months while Drew was away for his job training. Yep, I lived with my in-laws WITHOUT my husband after they graciously invited me to do so, and it wasn’t weird at all. One of the best summers of my life, actually.
  8. I graduated Valedictorian of my high school class, and I took every single math class that my high school offered- up to Trig, Calculus, and Math Analysis, and I haven’t opened a math book in the 6 years since.
    981775_10151601235974525_751501774_o.jpg
  9. I graduated with my Associate of Arts in Christian Ministry from a private Christian bible college but haven’t gone back to college to finish a Bachelors. Eventually I would like to get my Bachelor’s in Business Administration or Marketing. I would love to dive into Advertising, and so much in the business world intrigues me.
  10. I have one tattoo on my wrist that I got my senior year of high school. Enjoy my terribly plucked eyebrows here, too. We all went through that stage, right?
    902365_10151499633084525_648154058_o.jpg
  11. I have watched basically everything there is to watch on Netflix. I am thoroughly addicted to Jane the Virgin, and I believe that Parenthood is the best series ever produced. Edit: Now that we have Hulu too, I am editing this bullet to say that The Handmaid’s Tale is now the best series ever produced in my opinion. (Releasing my binge-worthy shows soon- I’ll continue my ranting there soon.)
  12. I get asked often what kind of false eyelashes/eyelash extensions I use. I have naturally really long eyelashes, but they are SO blonde without mascara.
    23722321_10155942423609525_7272766313419229517_n.jpg
  13. I am married to my high school sweetheart, and we have been together since I was 15. We went on our first date at 16. I have known him since his family started attending our church around the time he was in 2nd grade, and he first asked me out in 6th grade. He used to tell me he loved me all through middle school and junior high. I didn’t give him a chance until the summer before my sophomore year.
    We broke up for over 6 months during my senior year and had no intentions of getting back together. Life sometimes comes full circle, huh?
    (If you want to know more about him and I, read more about our story in this post.)
    383092_10150491340199525_288573866_n.jpg
  14. I have one biological sister who is 12 years older than me. Our voices sound identical over the phone- when we were together, we used to like to trick our mom and not tell her which one of us was calling.
    10348939_10152396610669525_2677568113761004905_o.jpg
  15. I worked in the Grand Teton Mountains doing a ministry for a summer during college with Drew, and we both absolutely fell in love with Wyoming during that summer. He proposed to me on a hill that overlooked these mountains.
    10498135_10152484119559525_1036838250236650424_o.jpg
  16. I was known for my art in high school. I was actually offered a pretty hefty scholarship to Memphis College of Art, but turned it down. I won our district’s art show all four years of high school, and I designed the half sleeve my husband just got tattooed on his arm. (The artist changed it to be his own rendition of my design) Below is a charcoal drawing I did my junior year.
    316519_10151237562429525_1646381250_n
  17. I really really love hosting people at our home, but our house is probably dirty if we don’t have plans to have people over. Toddlers don’t allow for clean houses, man.
  18. I was actually heartbroken when I found out we would be moving to Japan, and I didn’t believe Drew when he called and told me. I thought I would hate every second of being here. Turns out I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the country.
  19. My eyes are blue, green, grey, and yellow. They usually look green or blue in photos.
  20. I’m a die hard Apple fan. Drew is a die hard Samsung fan. It’s the biggest conflict of our marriage. I kid. Although three years ago I hated him daily after he convinced me to get a Samsung, and he has hated me for a year now as he fights his iPhone. We balance each other.
Misawa Guides

Misawa Newcomers Guide

I will start out this post/guide by giving you a giant WELCOME TO MISAWA!

23845854_10155950451964525_4839590248875840862_o.jpg

I am confident that you will fall in love with Japan if you embrace it for all that it has to offer. You are coming to a relatively remote and rural base that is nothing like Tokyo, but the community here is incredible. The base offers SO many trips and events to make your tour here awesome- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEM! Misawa is definitely what you make of it, and there are so many opportunities to make it amazing. Get out of your house, get off base, and enjoy it! I don’t know of many people that don’t ache for this place after they leave.

I have a series of a few posts outlining all I have learned about Misawa so far. We have been here for a bit over a year as I write this, so we are still learning as well. But I felt it would be helpful to compile a lot of the resources that have made life easier for us. This is the main post with my general tips, but please also refer to my other posts about exploring the country/saving money while here!

Saving Money in Misawa

Exploring Misawa & Car Tips

Tips for Remaining Polite

Remember, while you have orders to be here, you are a guest in another nation. The Japanese are SO kind 99.9% of the time, and respecting the culture in Japan is one of the ways to be kind back. Take the cultural tour that is offered to you when you get here! We never got to take ours, and I missed a lot of great information because of it.

  • Be sure to always carry socks with you. Many restaurants and offices require shoes to be off, and being barefoot is considered rude from everything that I have read and heard. I always keep socks in my bag for myself and our kids just in case we find a place that requires shoes to be off and I am not wearing socks.
  • DO NOT TIP. Tipping is generally considered rude, and most of the time if you hand over too much money, they will just hand it back.
  • If you are coughing/sneezing, wear a mask! The Japanese wear masks to avoid spreading germs or getting sick themselves- if you are sick even in the slightest, wear a mask off base. I have been told this even includes a runny nose or allergy-type symptoms. They have them at Daiso for like 10 yen each. (Pack of like 8 for 100yen.)
  • Yen or cards are typically placed in the small tray by the cash register, not usually handed directly to the cashier. But if handed to them, be sure to use two hands.
  • Restaurants do not usually ask you if you are ready to order. We had NO idea of this when we arrived, and were waiting FOREVER for service. Most restaurants will have a buzzer on the table of some sort. Press this when you are ready to order and the waitstaff will come to you then.
  • Most restaurants offer free water, but any other drinks MOST of the time do not come with refills, unlike the states. Some restaurants will serve you water, others will have a pitcher and glasses sitting at a central location in the restaurant.
  • It is a toss up on whether restaurants will seat you or if you will pick your own spot. We generally wait at the door until told where to go if we aren’t sure.
  • Be aware that the Japanese recycle and sort their trash very well. I say this to remind you- when you throw out your trash, be aware that somebody will likely later be sorting it by hand. Wrap up diapers, rinse out your recyclables, don’t put sharp or dangerous items loose in your trash, and sort your recycling if at all possible. There is a reason we have a hazardous waste building on base, pay attention to your guide you get when you accept your house so that you do not create a dangerous situation for a worker.

 

Making Off Base Life Easier

  • PINS. I had no idea what people were talking about when they talked about pins. GPS does not always work correctly here, and places are often hard to search for when you don’t know Japanese. Also be aware that there is a LOT of American names for places, that aren’t necessarily the Japanese names.
    I.e. if you ask where Yumeya is, nobody may know. If you ask for “cat balls” it’s an easy find from Misawa Asks or Out The Gate. (You’ve gotta’ discover that reference for yourself… also the food there is amazing.)
    If you use coordinates or a pin, you will be able to navigate MUCH easier. Google Maps works best for most people, to my understanding, but I do know a few who swear by Apple Maps.
    Google Maps has a tab for “Your Places.” We drop pins anywhere we would like to revisit, and label them accordingly.
  • Drop a pin directly to the main gate until you know how to navigate the streets right around base. If you try to navigate back to the base itself by searching “Misawa Air Base” in the search bar, it will take you to some weird side street. Having a pin directly on the gate location will take you straight home! We just label ours “home” and have Siri “navigate us home.”
  • Google Translate will allow you to scan any kanji and translate it into English on your phone. It works best if you take a photo of the Japanese text, highlight it, then translate it. Also if you are out of data on your phone, it probably won’t work.

Fresh Food & Produce Secrets

  • 9’s Market (Veedol Plaza)
    This is a farmer’s market that occurs on the 9’s of each month. (9th, 19th, 29th) This is TOTALLY outdoors though with small tents set up, so I recommend making sure you are prepared for the weather! I always take my toddler in a stroller/wear my baby.
    Much cheaper fruit and veggies than on base at times, they sell fresh (and beautiful) flowers, plants, fish, and sometimes fried foods. Beware, one of the popular stands looks like pancakes but is actually a sort of miso tofu.
    Cash only, they CAN make change for big bills but it’s always nice to have small change. I usually don’t spend more than 1000-2000 yen here, so I bring coins. Open in the rain and snow too, usually the parking lot is the most free around or after 9am. They usually pack up by noon-ish. If you come around 11, lots of the stands will make you good deals. The biggest produce stand very often throws in produce for 100 yen if I buy something around 11am.
  • Green Roof Market (directly outside of base)
    This indoor grocery store sometimes has INCREDIBLE prices on produce. I always check here for watermelon in the summer, and pumpkins in the fall. I have also heard they discount produce on Tuesdays, but I somehow haven’t made it on a Tuesday to check. I believe they are cash(yen) only.
  • Aeon Mall Shimoda (bottom floor of Shimoda Mall)
    There are several markets on the bottom floor of the Shimoda Mall, and the biggest Daiso in town right around the corner too. The market across from the actual Aeon grocery store is USUALLY the cheapest. I always browse both sides before grabbing a shopping cart and buying anything. There is also a side with all sorts of meats for sale. The fruit and veggie market only accepts cash(yen).
  • “Apple Lady” (by the train station)
    There is a small garage that a sweet Japanese woman sells apples out of right by the train station. If you take the first left coming from base to the train station, you will see a big apple sign. The apples are AMAZING. Cash(yen) only, and be prepared to usually buy a LOT of apples if you purchase from her. Most of the time they are sold by the crate. I have a group of friends that usually split a crate, making it super cheap and the perfect amount of apples. Aomori is famous for its apples, and I’m telling you, they are SO GOOD.

Cool Family Tips

  • If you are a nursing mom, many malls and bigger buildings have “nursing rooms” to use instead of a family bathroom. There are areas where you can breastfeed, change your baby, and there is even hot water for making a bottle of formula!
    Most restrooms also are equipped with “kid holders” so you can wrangle your toddler while you relieve yourself. Take note of that, America!
  • If you are pregnant, most parking lots consider you “handicapped” and you are allowed to park in the parking up front. There is usually a sign with a pregnant lady on it.
  • Almost every mall has the fun “car” carts for free. In the states you often have to buy these for $1-$5, but in Japan they are totally free to use. Most malls also have lockers that you can rent so that you don’t have to carry your purchases with you through the mall. Shimoda’s lockers are on the bottom level just after the supermarket. Lifesaver when you are hauling around kiddos.
  • If you are ever somewhere with kiddos in the winter, and are pretty cold, almost EVERY Lawson’s/Family Mart/Seven Eleven will have hot beverages! Hot chocolate or a hot coffee can warm you up any time. Vending machines also offer hot drinks if the button is RED. Blue buttons mean the drink is cold. Vending machines are everywhere, and they are usually really cheap. If you have super hungry kiddos, they often even stock the vending machines with soup. (Corn soup is the STUFF.)

23244382_10155893984109525_8443494698206065809_n.jpg

 

General Tips

  • You will be trolled on Misawa Asks. Embrace it. Learn to GIF in return. Use the search function before asking a question. NEVER ask for the number to Pizza Hut. You’re welcome.
  • The Mokuteki’s pizza is by far the best. They can sometimes be on the slow side though, so if you need something quickly, I recommend calling ahead and ordering for pickup.
  • Check out ITT and the 35FSS websites. They both have AWESOME information about trips, festivals, events, and tons of stuff that you can do- accompanied or unaccompanied! ITT trips are absolutely worth it- I haven’t been on one yet that we didn’t love.
  • You can reach just about any number on base by calling the operator. I don’t usually mess with dialing a number directly because it usually doesn’t work for me for some reason. Call the operator, press 1 for English, then 0 for the operator. Then ask for what facility/shop you need, or tell them the number you’re trying to call.
    Number: 0176-77-1110
  • Store the emergency number as a contact in your phone. If you are in a situation where you need to call quickly, it is so much easier to say to Siri “CALL EMERGENCY” than try to remember the long number.
    Emergency number for off base or from a cell phone: 0176-53-1911
  • Beaches off base have iron in the sand. It will stick to you badly, and will also ruin suits/clothing. The sand is mildly magnetic, so I recommend NOT taking your devices to the beaches with you if you will be in the sand. It took me a long while to get sand out of my Apple watch when I made that mistake the first time.
  • You will see lots of the pretty glass orbs around base. Fishing floats can be found at lots of the beaches around Misawa. People are typically pretty secretive about how to find a float, but if you search enough posts, you can find the good tips.
  • The Japanese have lots of holidays where most everything in the country will shut down. The two major ones I have noticed are New Years week and Golden Week (usually during April.) Just be aware that places like the car mechanic or insurance places off base will be closed (and your car WILL break during that week) and places like the mall or the gelato place will be PACKED. During these holidays, many places and services ON base are shut down as well. Plan ahead for these!
  • The AFRC will be your best friend if you are a new family here. I have called them for SO many questions. They have awesome classes and information seminars monthly that can help with a variety of questions. Their staff at this particular location is SO helpful. If they don’t have an answer for you, they will find somebody who does.
    Also you are free to make copies/print pages there for FREE (reasonably- don’t print a million things. I believe the limit is 10?)
  • I do not personally recommend downsizing before you leave the states. We got rid of SO much, and had to buy it again when we got here. The furniture store here is excellent, but any furniture stores off base will have MUCH smaller furniture than you are used to. I recommend buying ANY items that you’d like furniture wise before you leave the states. You can always sell things on the buy and sell pages once you get settled into your home if you do not have space.
  • I also state this in my exploration post, but I think it is important enough to talk about twice. Do not drink at all if you are driving. I know this sounds self-explanatory, but Japan is NOT like the states. One drink is likely already over the legal limit of .03. If you drink at all, have somebody else drive. The penalty off base for drinking and driving is extremely harsh from everything that I have heard- Japan really doesn’t mess around with drunk driving.
    Also, public drinking is totally normal, so don’t be startled by that! People will be drinking beers on the trains, walking down the street, and in cars (as long as they aren’t driving.) Almost all festivals sell beer at their booths!

 

I will add more to this guide as I think of it, or as y’all suggest additions! I hope this can be an awesome help for newcomers for years to come. Misawa is a pretty special place, and I hope you fall so in love with the base, the city, and the country of Japan.

Welcome to Misawa!

Misawa Guides

Exploring Misawa & Car Tips

24059558_10155971680884525_14014885808045303_o.jpg

JCI Information

JCI is a complicated process which basically boils down to the inspection and licensing of your car. Japan is definitely much more thorough than the states from everything I have experienced. It can be a HUGE stressor for some families, and can cost a pretty penny to get your JCI renewed. (I have seen people pay as little as $200-$300 if they do it themselves, or upwards of $800-$1000 if they go to somebody for the JCI inspection.) Most vehicles here cost anywhere from $500-$4000, so often people simply junk their vehicles if the repairs are too costly. When you purchase a vehicle from a buy and sell page, considering how much longer the JCI has left is a good idea.
This is why most do not recommend bringing your vehicle from the states to Japan. I won’t get into this here because it is a matter of opinion and preference, but definitely use the search bar in Misawa Asks to learn more about JCI inspections and the pros/cons to bringing your vehicle with you if you are considering.

My biggest tip for car maintenance that some don’t think about? Wash your car once a week if you can. Cars will fail a JCI inspection because of a rusted bottom, and if you have never lived in constant snow, you don’t realize what damage the road salt can do. Cars may look beautiful on the outside, but the salt will rust out the bottoms very quickly.

24210211_10155971682004525_7012655009874022387_o.jpg

Car Safety & Winter Tips

There are summer tires and winter tires, and most cars that you purchase here will come with a set of each. Of course a set that is already mounted to rims is way more convenient, and makes the process of switching between the two much easier. The base will publicize what date your winter tires HAVE to be on by. Please realize that having good winter tires really is super important. In addition, you can actually get in trouble if your winter tires have crappy thread and you get into an accident. It’s best to just spend the money and make sure your vehicle has excellent winter tires that will provide decent traction on the snow and ice.

Keep an additional set of coats, gloves, hats, and blankets in your car at all times. One for each family member if at all possible. While it may seem redundant or silly, it is cold here, and it is snowy. It can be sunny one second, and then drop 7 inches of snow in an hour. If you didn’t know, Misawa is the snowiest base in the Air Force, and Aomori is the snowiest city in the WORLD.
Always be more prepared than you think that you need to be. I put our set of coats in the car at the end of September, because it can randomly snow/get cold very early in the season. I can’t tell you how many times I have thanked myself for doing so.

Police ALWAYS have their lights on. I thought I was being pulled over the first time one came up behind me. Sirens mean pull over/get out of the way. Lights are just regular patrolling.

Cars WILL stop in the middle of the road with their hazards on. Like… anywhere. Always be super cautious of this, because sometimes they are somewhat hidden. Pedestrians are also extremely common in Misawa- very very many people walk or ride bikes in the town.

Most Japanese back into parking spots. If a car in front of you suddenly stops and turns on their hazards, give them space. They are likely backing into a parking spot off of the road. When you park, it is common to fold your mirrors in. If you forget, the Japanese often will do it for you. Parking spots and streets are NARROW, so this makes it easier to avoid clipping another’s vehicle.

Do not drink if you are driving. I know this sounds self-explanatory, but Japan is NOT like the states where some can still have a beer and legally drive. One drink is likely already over the legal limit of .03. If you drink at all, have somebody else drive. The Japanese take drinking and driving VERY seriously. The legal drinking age here is 20, and the base chooses to follow the country’s law here as well.
Also, public drinking is totally normal! People will be drinking beers on the trains, walking down the street, and even in cars (as long as they aren’t driving.) Most festivals that you attend will sell beer at the stands that they have, and chu-hi’s are actually pretty delicious here. (Like a Mike’s Hard. My favorites are pineapple and peach.)

Some roads will not have a speed limit sign whatsoever. I usually follow the flow of traffic in these situations, but here is a general guideline for driving off base if no speed limit is posted. The Japanese have very little tolerance for speeding from everything that I have heard, and if you get pulled over, warnings are usually not a thing if you were speeding. If it is posted, follow the signed limit. The Japanese will pass you often, but we have never had an issue with driving the posted limits.

Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 4.32.32 PM.png

During the winter, expressways (toll roads) will have signs updated digitally. They aren’t always the best at updating these from what I have seen. Don’t drive fast if it’s icy- duh.

ALSO: Please be aware that no matter what GPS you use, to my understanding, the maps do NOT update to let you know a road is closed due to snow/accident/etc. If you are traveling during the winter, it really is best to take the toll roads and just dish out the money, or take the trains and avoid driving all together. Trains can be relatively expensive, but the toll roads usually aren’t too bad. We tried avoiding tolls one time on our way to go snowboarding in Aomori, and ended up being stopped by a 9ft wall of snow that had been plowed into the road. We drove 45 minutes down that road, and had to drive all the way back when we realized it wasn’t passable. The toll roads will cost some yen, but you can almost always guarantee they are passable. You can typically search Misawa Asks to find out how much each toll road will cost, and you will also learn what back roads DO stay clear.

 

Misawa Guides

Saving Money in Misawa

When you first arrive in Misawa, you may be startled and discouraged by many of the prices you see. Produce was the first thing that disheartened me, because I am a watermelon girl for life, and definitely wasn’t used to seeing them for $17. There are several ways to save money in Misawa though, it just takes a little while to figure out all the tricks. Between COLA and shopping smart, you can still easily survive, and even save money while stationed here, no matter what rank you are.

23800095_10155950450869525_4377749034539187959_o

Buy AC units during the winter months

If you PCS in sometime other than June-late August, BUY AN AC IMMEDIATELY IF YOU SEE ONE. Check all the buy and sell pages- there are at least 5 of them. If your home is equipped with AC- you are awesome, and you kind of suck, but you can ignore this. But if you do not have AC in your home, I highly recommend buying one during the cold season.
During the winter you can find AC units for as cheap as $40-$50. If you try to purchase one in the melty months of summer, you might be paying $500-$600 per unit. Two units are allowed to be on at one time on base. Pro tip: We own three but ONLY ever run two at a time. The base is very strict on this- those things suck energy like mad. But this way we are able to have an AC unit in each kiddo’s room upstairs for sleeping at night, and one downstairs for during the day. We only ever run two at once, but this keeps us from having to move them up and down the stairs. It can be miserable with kids if you do not have an AC during the hottest months, so make sure you plan ahead.
Also… dehumidifiers are your best friend, and will also be WAY cheaper during the winter months. You won’t even realize how humid it is here until your hair starts moving towards the stars and black mold starts appearing in your bathroom like your kid splattered paint on the wall. I highly recommend keeping your bathroom fog fans running 24/7. We have left ours on since we moved in, and I have seen no mold yet.
Daiso has small dehumidifier bags that you can purchase, and DampRid works very well for closets. (I linked the ones I buy from Amazon below, they are my affiliate links.) I use these hanging ones for my closets, and put the buckets in my cabinets behind towels or food where my kids can’t reach them.

Take advantage of the thrift store-

IF YOU ARE E4 & BELOW, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEIR PROGRAMS!
For E4 and below, when you first arrive in Misawa, you are eligible to receive $50 of free merchandise during the first 90 days after your arrival. Make sure to bring your ID and a copy of your orders if you’d like to sign up for this. You will also receive $25 for free to spend each month in the thrift store at these ranks. I buy ALL my kids’ clothes and toys here, then donate them back when I’m done with them! This was a total lifesaver too while we were waiting on our home goods shipment to arrive.

Join and use the Misawa Free Stuff page

Seriously, people give so much stuff away here. This is also an awesome way to get rid of anything you need rid of quickly! When people PCS out, they often leave boxes of cleaning supplies, toiletries, spices, and canned food outside of their houses and will post about it on this page. If you are just coming in, and are still in TLF, this is an awesome way to get some basic items like shampoo, spices, cleaning supplies, or soups for the waiting period until you get assigned to your house and purchase a vehicle.
If you are getting rid of something decent or still functional, post it on the page! Even if you just drop it on your curb- somebody may want it, and I hate seeing how often things go straight to the dump. Almost everything I have placed on my curb and posted about on this page was rehomed to another family vs going to the landfill. Win-win.

Research the Japan Explorer Pass

I will leave this very up in the air with that term “research,” because there is a lot of controversy on whether or not service members are allowed to use this. Basically, this is a discount flight booking website for traveling to lots of places in Japan, including Tokyo. Offered through Japan airlines, it is used to encourage the exploration of Japan, and to encourage the spending of money along the way, of course. To my understanding, JAL has initiated it in order to encourage tourism and commerce within the country.
Flights can be as little as $99 for round-trip, which is often less than half of the price of same flight if purchased from a regular commercial site. Lots of my friends have successfully used it, and state that their orders serve as their “return ticket.” I won’t tell you to do it or not, but I will say to read up on it! Either way, family that visit from the states are DEFINITELY 100% allowed to use this, and it saves a TON on the flight from Tokyo to Misawa, and the flight back.

Take advantage of the rotator
(Also called: the hop / the Patriot Express)

I have yet to do this, so I really don’t have a ton of information on the exact process here at Misawa, but realize that you are often able to travel Space A on the rotator when it returns to Seattle. The regular price for that international flight can be crazy expensive, especially if you have several in your family, making it hard to afford a return trip to the states. If you are willing to gamble on whether or not you will get a seat for all your family members, or if you have super flexible dates on travel, you can save thousands by “hopping” on this flight. Do be aware that there are different categories of who gets preference on seats, and that there are no “lap children” when it comes to this flight. If you have 6 infants traveling with you, you’ll need 6 seats. (I hope you don’t have 6 infants traveling with you. If you do, God bless.)

Take advantage of the exchange rate

Especially on larger purchases, you can very easily save/make money using the exchange rate. Pay attention to the rate each day.
The exchange rate for USD to yen is the best at Sky Plaza, directly outside of base. There is a small little machine that you insert your money into, and it converts it for you. The exchange rate will always be better off base.

Become a club member

Especially if you are enlisted, and especially if you are a lower rank, club membership is CHEAP. The club puts on a free dinner once every month, always on a Wednesday. As a family of four, we probably save a total of $30-40 each month on that dinner alone.  Eating out as a family is expensive, and if you have kids it’s totally worth it to be a club member. Membership also gets you various discounts on other meals. We only pay around $4 a month for our membership, and just make sure to go to the dinner every single month! The membership fee will be based on your rank, so it may differ slightly based on that. Download the Member Planet app, and you always have your membership card on you!

img_2156

Shopping Tips

There are soooo many ways to save money or shop better while overseas. Not having a Target in your back yard is pretty heartbreaking, yes. But I will also desperately miss Daiso when I return to the states. Here are a few shopping tips that I’ve found helpful:

Sign up for Amazon Japan-

Having Prime for Amazon Japan is WAY cheaper than in the states, and it will deliver to your front door on base. We choose to pay for both our American Amazon Prime as well as our Amazon Japan Prime. Prime for Japan only costs around $3.50/month (400 yen) and you will get a discount on top of that if you choose to buy a year in full.
Make sure you use Google Chrome and choose to translate it automatically while shopping. If you do this AND set your settings to English, it’s pretty easy to shop. Some items tend to be outrageously priced, but most are just like you would find on the American Amazon. I have ordered shelf hardware, earpros for the kids, and even a computer charger from there. Overnight or next day shipping to my door, even on base. Totally worth it for me to not have to go pick it up at the Post Office!
ALSO, most Japanese sites that you shop from will allow you to pay cash on delivery if you choose to. I always try to have exact change if possible, but the post office delivery people do carry change. I have done this a couple times, as Amazon Japan can be kind of weird on accepting credit cards at times. Only ever use Visa, and if you are not using USAA or Navy Federal, you should probably place your order in USD and not in Yen to avoid foreign transaction fees.
Here’s how to enter your address on Amazon Japan: (it’s a little different than how to enter your address for any other Japanese site for shipping it straight to your door. Search Misawa Asks if you have any questions on other sites.)

First and Last Name
Misawa Air Base
Misawa-Shi
Building #, Apartment #
Aomori-Ken
033-0012
Japan

Click on the banner below to take you to the page for signing up for Amazon Prime in Japan. This is my affiliate link, but also the direct link to the Japanese Amazon site. You can shop easily through their site anytime by typing amazon.jp instead of amazon.com.

Also remember that if you are a student (high school or college) you can get a full 6 months of Prime for free. I searched FOREVER for the page to signup for that, and finally found it. It’s linked below as well!

Check out Daiso and Seria & the “Bunny Store” if you have kids-

Check out both of these stores during the first week you are here. Not only do they have super cute home decor (tons of Farmhouse style stuff, y’all) but they have TONS of household items that are only 100 yen, which equates to around 88-89 cents. I can’t even tell you how many things you can get here for 88 cents that somewhere on base would charge $8-$9 for. And they are almost always amazing quality- the only crummy quality I’ve found is mostly on the small toys, but my toddler is also brutal on his toys.
This is a great place to shop for cheap souvenirs for family or kiddos back home as well. Lots of traditional Japanese things without having to pay a pretty penny.
The biggest and closest Daiso is in the Shimoda Mall on the bottom floor, but there is another decently sized Daiso about 7 minutes from base.
Also, Japanese diapers are AWESOME quality, and usually cheaper than on base. You can find those at the “Bunny Store” along with some super cute baby/kid stuff! Just google a conversion chart to find the correct size for your kiddo. There is a Bunny Store close to base, and also one in the Shimoda Mall as well.

Just copy and paste the bold parts into your GPS search bar, coordinates/pins look weird sometimes but these should take you to the correct places.
Coordinates to Shimoda Mall:

40-1 Nakanotai, Oirase-chō, Kamikita-gun, Aomori-ken 039-2112, Japan

Coordinates to small Daiso by base:

1 Chome-50-2 Midorigaoka, Oirase-chō, Kamikita-gun, Aomori-ken 039-2187, Japan

Coordinates to Seria (Bunny Store is across the street):

(40.6728102, 141.3661819)