Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Home sweet home. Daisuke and Riemi recently built a new house on the property owned by Daisuke’s parents, Ayao-san and Hisae-chan — the Noharas — my hänai family here in Okinawa. Like all over Hawai‘i, land is very expensive in Naha, so what Daisuke and Riemi saved on not having to buy land for their home was put into their new house.

Their house is beautiful! The ground level is for parking — there is space for a minimum of four cars, but, actually, several more cars can easily fit into the space.

The second floor is Ayao-san’s and Hisae-chan’s new home. It has a living room, dining area, kitchen, bedroom, tatami room, bathroom (remember that the toilet is separate from the bathing area), and a washing machine and dryer.

Daisuke, Riemi and their two little boys, Yuta and Sota, live on the third floor. Besides the big master bedroom, which can be converted into two bedrooms, there is a den and a bathroom — with a separate toilet — and a washer and dryer. Two-bathroom homes are very rare here in Okinawa — even rarer is to have two clothes dryers, let alone one.

There are länais on the south and east sides of the house, where laundry can be hung out to dry. The entire house, both floors, has central air conditioning in the living room, dining area and kitchen. The other rooms are air conditioned with individual units.

Bomb Pit
Bomb Pit

Most American-made clothes dryers sit on the floor and have filters at the front of the dryer; however, dryers here are built into the wall above the washing machine. Hisae-chan cannot reach the filter, which is at the rear of the drying compartment, so she stands on a stepping stool to clean the filter.

One interesting practice here is for new homes to be opened for viewing before the owner moves in. The contractor discounts his price if the owner allows him to hold an “open house” so that he can show off his work. I’ve been to a few of these open houses — the contractors makes the visitors wear house slippers and white gloves so that the house retains its untouched look. The Noharas did not want an “open house” of their home, however.

It looks like construction costs are about the same here as they are in Hawai‘i. Among the major differences between American lots and Okinawan lots is size. They’re much smaller here and there seems to be no rules regarding building setbacks. As a result, houses are built up against each other and fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

The vast majority of homes here are made from concrete because of the many typhoons that strike Okinawa between June and November. There are a few homes and other structures made of wood, but they’re rare. Most of the walls are formed, although some people also use hollow tile. Unlike Hawai‘i homes, which have interior double drywall construction, the interior walls of most Okinawan homes are concrete or natural wood.

Most of the roofs here are flat and made of concrete. Water tanks and antennas are often installed on rooftops.

Home-less. And then there are those who have no home. Homelessness does not appear to be as big a problem as it is in Hawai‘i, at least from what I’ve observed. The homeless encampments that I’ve seen are located away from the main streets, although I did see a man sleeping on a sidewalk on the rough concrete — no blanket, not even a piece of cardboard to cushion his body. I’ve seen this before, but I think this guy in particular had too much to drink, as it was about 11 in the morning.

Living on a bomb?! We sometimes use the phrase “a walking time bomb.” Here’s a real bomb story.

I recently learned that there was a bomb buried near my apartment. This isn’t all that unusual — unexploded bombs and shells are unearthed quite frequently in Okinawa. Most of them are from the Battle of Okinawa, which ended 70 years ago next year.

This particular bomb was unearthed in a house lot located between my apartment and the Noharas’ new home. The unexploded ordnance was found deep underground while construction workers were excavating the lot in preparation for construction of a new home. It was in the middle of the property, so it had obviously sat under the previous house since the Battle of Okinawa.

The Noharas were told to vacate their new home on March 5 so that it could be checked and dug up. I was probably in a safe area, so I wasn’t asked to leave my home. I’m happy to report that the ordnance was safely removed. Phew!

Okinawan word of the week: yaa, which means a home, a family, a household.

Louis Wai was born and raised in Hawai‘i. He practiced law in Honolulu for many years before earning a master’s degree in English as a Second Language in 2008. In 2010, he decided to move to Okinawa, where he now teaches English.


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