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