(From January 2019)
We were walking through More’s, a local nine story mall, and we walked by a “dress shop” but it was kimonos they were selling. Kimonos are an obvious part of the culture, but it was neat to see people in this little shop trying them on & being fitted. You don’t see that often if you aren’t from Japan! I read that it’s the traditional garb for multiple milestone moments, so it was interesting to see a teenage girl wearing a blue one, who was clearly getting ready for a big event in her life.
Working in a bank that sells foreign currency, I knew a tiny bit about Japanese Yen. Typically, I encourage people to check their credit card benefits because a lot of cards offer traveling benefits, often including waived foreign conversion fees. We are fortunate to have a card that offers travel benefits! However, we did decide to take a little Yen with us, which turned out to be a good move. The majority of major merchants take cards, including the stores in malls, grocery stores and convenient stores but when you get to the smaller merchants in the markets or some restaurants, they only take cash. A rare few will even take US currency but I think that is only becaus we’re right next to the American naval base. We’ve learned that it’s a good idea to have a little Yen on each of us at all times because we’re never sure when we’re going to come across a cash only establishment. It’s also interesting because they’re very much a coin based society. They have 1 Yen coins, 5 yen coins, up to 500 Yen coins so generally any change you’ll receive that’s under 1000 Yen will be in coins and not notes. We have figured out that 1000 Yen is a little under $10.00. If we pull 10,000 Yen out of the ATM, it’s usually something like $94.81USD, give or take. This is definitely not exact but it’s been a good measure to go by when figuring out what we’re spending. I’m really glad we opened accounts at Navy Federal! We figured if there was ever an emergency, it would be smart to have a bank with a local location in Yokosuka, and though I actually hate them as a credit union, it’s proven to be financially beneficial and convenient to use them for the time being.
Our third week in Japan was exceptionally uneventful. Rob worked the weekend of MLK Day, but he had that Monday off and we were going to go into Yokohama. I didn’t feel great on Sunday and felt even worse on Monday, when Rob also woke up feeling poorly. Instead of going to Yokohama, we spent the day in bed. Fortunately, I don’t think we were suffering from the same thing and Rob’s illness was pretty short lived, although he had to power through work with some pretty bad congestion. His only lasted a couple of days. I spent the week with the worst cough I think I’ve ever had. I never took my temperature but there were moments where I’m pretty sure I was fighting a fever, but the cough was causing me to have a sore throat and headaches, and was accompanied by wheezing. I reached the point where I was considering seeing a doctor because I was starting to get concerned that I had bronchitis or pneumonia, and no medicine was helping at first. Looking through medicine was kind’ve of a nightmare until I came across an English speaking pharmacist who could help me pick out the best medicine for my symptoms. The room had to be just the perfect temperature because if it was too warm, it would trigger a never ending cough. I tried to still go out and about during the week so I didn’t waste my time here but going out into the cold also triggered severe coughing, plus, I didn’t want to be spreading my germs. As I walk through the city, I regularly see people wearing the white hospital masks so I’m sure they don’t appreciate my wandering around while sick. So I spent the latter half of the week, through the weekend, and the beginning of this week just sitting in the hotel room watching the Godfather and a bunch of documentaries about wildlife, Humboldt County, Ted Bundy and the LA riots in 1992. I had a lot of time on my hands this week. We had made plans again on Sunday to go to Yokohama, but once again, we canceled them due to my sickness. All I can say is that I’m glad this wasn’t a vacation and that I still have plenty of time to explore once I’m feeling 100%. So, now we’re shooting for visiting Yokohama next weekend. Since I’m finally starting to feel decent again, I think it’ll work out this time. I’m still coughing but we’re getting there.
Calamari is so well liked here that they sell bags of it as snacks in the candy store. That was interesting.
During the weekdays, Yokosuka is a nice little city. There’s tons of shops and restaurants, the malls, parks, shrines to check out and more. Late at night, especially on the weekends, it gets a little seedy near the base. There’s a local prostitution ring, and the girls are on the streets when they know they sailors are out partying. They’re known as “Massagi Girls” because they’re usually offering “massages” for $20.00 or so. You can identify them by a specific jacket they wear, that seems to come in black or white, and has fur trim. Beyond that, they’re dressed pretty casually, also wearing jeans and boots. I can see one of the corners they work from the balcony of my hotel. I don’t spend a great deal of time watching them, but when I first found out they can be identified by their jackets, I took a gander. Somebody is obviously paying them because they’re working regularly, just a couple on weeknights but up to six or seven on weekends, but for the most part, I don’t see that many people giving them the time of day. I think I might have seen one girl go with someone down an alley but I can’t say for sure what was happening. I mentioned this to Rob and he said he’s heard going down the alleyway seems to be the move they go for. Anyway, most of what I’ve seen is men walking by and ignoring their advances. Rob and Bryce have each been approached several times when coming home from work at night and I’m not even offended or angry, but sad. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries and read things about human trafficking and it’s possible these girls are victims. No one wants to do that for a living, and apparently it’s common for girls from other Asian countries to be trafficked into Japan and forced into these situations. Obviously, I don’t know these girls or anything so these are my own assumptions, but I’ve read Japan has a major hub for trafficking. Countries fall into Tiers ranked by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and Japan falls into Tier 2, basically meaning they know they have a problem but they’re working to make the necessary changes to improve the situation as much as possible. It makes me sad and I wish I could help them. I haven’t gotten a good look at the girls, but Rob says he thinks a lot of them are Filipino, which makes sense because I’ve heard it’s common for these girls to be taken from the Philippines. Rob’s coworkers warned us that we would see a lot of this.
Even though this is scary stuff, there are always a lot of people around, and the restaurants are open very late. There’s an Indian food truck that parks on the corner, Alibaba’s Egyptian food has a window with a guy who sits facing the street for to go orders, and the girls are always working right in front of the 7-11, which is staffed well and has lots of windows. The streets are always full of Americas, lots of guys and their wives come here for these trips and you never hear any stories about people missing from this area or anything along those lines. I don’t want my mom worrying after reading all of this.
If you look at the picture below, taken from our balcony, you can see two of these girls, one on each end of the screen.
Watching these girls from our bacony motivated me to look up humann trafficking. It’s heartbreaking and eye opening to learn about but it’s also good to know what a serious problem it is and that no matter where you are, to be careful and pay attention to your surroundings.