Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Camp Zama

In case you missed my guest posts over on Julie's blog last week, here is my full post on Camp Zama in all of it's glory!  My hope is that someone who is PCS'ing here will stumble upon this and find it useful.

Camp Zama is a teeny, tiny Army base located about 25 miles SW of Tokyo, Japan.  Most people have never heard of it, I hadn't until we got orders {I actually had a soldier with 25 years service under his belt tell me that I was making it up because he didn't think we had soldiers on mainland Japan, lol}.  It is home to about 10 units, including U.S. Army Japan(USAR-J)/I CORPS FWD.  I don't know exact numbers but if I had to guess I'd say there are less than 800 soldiers, maybe about 1500 civilians and probably close to 2000 local national employees on base.  Unless you get permission from the General {yes, the, we only have one}, soldiers and civilians are required to live on post so it's kind of like living in a fish bowl in the middle of Japan.  Most of the time, this is great, I love living in a community where  everybody knows your name but it’s also a breeding ground for massive amounts of “Zama Drama”. {If you were wondering how Zama is pronounced, well, it rhymes with drama!}

we have been blessed with some of the most amazing neighbors ever here!

Our community includes the main base {Zama}, Sagamihara Housing Area {SHA} and the Sagami Depot.  Most of the families live on Zama or SHA with a few {less than a dozen} residing at the Depot.  I have never actually been to the Depot so I know very little about it.  On SHA you will find family housing, the elementary school that serves SHA + Zama, and our state of the art, just installed, digital movie theater {it’s the 1st one of it’s caliber in on a military installation in Japan and it’s been a big deal for us.  It means we get movies IMMEDIATELY once they’re released in the US instead of having to wait for the film to be delivered weeks or months after it premiers in America}.  Zama, which is where almost all of the units are located, contains family and single soldier housing, the small PX, the mail room and post office, the community club, a GREAT travel office, a bowling alley, a golf course {apparently one of the best on any base instillation around the world…but I wouldn’t know!}, a vet, a high school that serves not only Zama + SHA but also Naval Air Facility Atsugi which is located about 30 minutes from here and the clinic {we don't have a hospital here}.  Both areas have very small commissaries {the one on Zama only has 4 aisles...it's tiny!}, a gym, a food court, day care, and a chapel.
flags flying in front of my husbands office

One of the things that I think separates us from other bases I’ve been to is our community club.  Our base cannot support both an enlisted and officers club so we just have the one and, believe it or not, PEOPLE USE IT!  ALL THE TIME!  The place is always busy.  I’ve never seen a community club that has as much consistent business as ours does.  It’s a great facility run by a couple of great guys.  I also think it may have to do with the fact that it’s one of the few places to eat American food outside of your home.  If you want American food here and you don't want to cook, your options are the food court {Popeye's, BK, Subway and Anthony's pizza}, the golf course, bowling alley, DFAC, or the community club.  The options get old REALLY fast!

We have a wonderful spouses club {again, only one, not enough people to support separate enlisted and officer clubs…that’s a recurring theme around here.  It’s not encouraged but it’s not uncommon for the two to mix freely around here}.  ZaCSA {http://zacsa.org/}, the Zama Community Spouses Association, has a plethora of volunteer opportunities and hosts numerous events throughout the year. Some of these events are held with groups of local Japanese women {their groups are exclusively female}, including cooking classes {1, 2, 3} and new years parties {2011, 2012}.  If you get stationed here and are looking for a way to get involved, this is the place to start! {we were still in lodging, had been in Japan less than 2 weeks, when I took my 1st cooking class...these women have since become my English students}
my 1st Japanese cooking class just days after arriving in Japan

Ok, enough about stuff on base, let's see if I can begin to describe what life off base can be like when you're stationed here.  1st, I'll state the obvious, living in a country where you don't speak the language is difficult!  It is very easy to be intimidated by the language barrier and never leave base. Those people are the ones who tend to HATE living here and I don't blame them.  If I never left the base, I would be MISERABLE here too!  If you've ever read my blog before today, you probably know that I am NOT one of those people.  From day one I was determined to make the best of my time here and I am confident that I will leave here feeling like I accomplished that goal.
embracing my inner Japanese at a temple in Tokyo

The food is...different, but, IMO, good!  My favorite, okonomoyaki, I haven't blogged about but it's now on my blogging to-do list!  Yakitori, or grilled chicken on a stick, is a close second and there's a great joint between Zama and SHA.  There is also a great gyoza {dumpling} restaurant close to SHA.  Sushi here is a tad different that what we're used to in the US.  Not so many rolls with fancy sauces and toppings, more fish, rice and wasabi.  My mom was a trooper when she came to visit and tried everything I put in front of her which was basically every Japanese food I know!  If you'd like to see more about the food here, I recommend checking out that post.
my mom's 1st experience with sushi

There are lots of festivals and celebrations that happen throughout the year, especially in the summer months.  Some are family friendly, and others are not so PG.  Some you plan to attend {the one US radio station, broadcast from a near by AF base tells you about lots of events going on outside the gate}, some you randomly find by following the noise you hear while out in town for other reasons.

My friend, Melissa, and me playing a taiko drum.  These are often a part of festivals and celebrations in Japan

Working here can be a bit challenging as there are only a few job opportunities available.  I chose to go the route of teaching English.  There are companies here who match Americans with Japanese students who want to study English.  They make it very easy for you to get started.  I also teach a group of WONDERFUL Japanese ladies at a local community club.  These women have made my time here in Japan so much more enriching.
the ladies that I teach at the community center

Shopping in Japan can be difficult, especially if you aren't super thin.  Even as a size 4-6 US, I have trouble finding clothes that fit sometimes.  And shoes?  I don't even bother, my size 9 is non existent here!  The style here is a bit different than it is in America.  I embrace it, others don't, but I've always been a tad on the funky side of fashion.  I've shared my shopping experiences here and here.   Most of us rely on online shopping though!
a sampling of some of the more extreme fashion seen in Tokyo

  Driving and parking can also be challenging for some.  The roads are small, the cars are small and the parking spots are even smaller and slightly complicated to figure out! {I highly recommend NOT bringing your car here.  It's very costly and large American cars don't fit on the road here very easily} Your best bet, stick to the trains!  They go just about every where, they're efficient, very easy to navigate and way less stressful than driving!
watching a train driver on a local train

It took me a while, but I did find a few places to volunteer out in the community where at least some people speak English!  Through a local photographer, I found a food bank in Tokyo and through that food bank, I found an organization to volunteer with after the Tsunami.
volunteering at the food bank in Tokyo with my dear friend, Melissa

Everyday here is an adventure.  You never know when you'll turn a corner and learn/discover something new.  I think the most important thing is to keep an open mind.  I wasn't thrilled the 1st time we were out and I had to use the bathroom and could not find a Western style toilet but hey it's all about gaining life experiences right?
a Japanese style toilet AKA squatty potty

There are tons of sights to see here.  I'm quite sure it's impossible to see everything here in just 3 years but I'm sure going to try my best to knock as many off the list as I can!  I hope you'll follow along as my journey here continues and if you ever get the opportunity to be stationed here, I hope you jump on it!  Overall, it's a wonderful place to live!
Daibutsu located about an hour away in Kamakura, Japan

I could go on and on about life here but I think that is more than enough for now.  If you have any questions about life in Japan, please don't hesitate to send me an email.

PS, I asked some friends and we came up with these tips if you happen to be PCS'ing to Camp Zama:
1.  Our PX is small, very small.  It has most of the necessities but if you are particular about a certain product, especially make-up or hair color or shampoo/conditioner, etc.  I suggest you bring those things with you.
2.  We have a clinic on site for regular check-ups and day to day health issues but we do NOT have a hospital/ER. If you find your self in a situation like this one, or are/become pregnant here, you will be seen at either Yokota AFB or Yokosuka Naval Base {both are any where from 1-3 hours away by car depending on traffic}.  Time sensitive emergency cases can be taken to a much closer Japanese ER and the base will provide you with a translator.  As far as pregnancies go, you will travel to one of those bases for all of your appointments through out your pregnancy and then about 2 weeks before your due date, they set you and your spouse up in a hotel there so you are close by when the time comes to deliver.  I have no personal experience with this but from what I hear, it's a pretty nice set up.
3.  Most people like to take advantage of the numerous mountains near by, especially Mt Fuji.  If you intend to do any hiking here, I recommend purchase quality boots before you come.  You can find some boots off base but they are usually 2-3 times what you would pay for the same shoe in the US.
4.  Also footwear related.  RAIN BOOTS!  Public transportation is huge here and the rainy season gives us up to 3 months of pretty steady rain.  The last thing you want is to be walking around without proper protection.  You may want to invest in some rain gear before you arrive.  Rain boots & a rain jacket at minimum are pretty essential items here!


Chantal said...

It must be so interesting living there! I didn't know that about the pregnancy stuff, how funny. And those toilets? Wow! Gotta love other cultures.

AlanaMarie said...

Oh I miss Gyoza!
New follower, found you through the Giveaway. (I can't recall if I have commented yet or not, so if I already said hello, just ignore that last part)