For those of you that have been tracking, you know I went to Okinawa last weekend for the annual Okinawa Comic-Con event. I needed to stay on my toes, because the Green Weenie is a trickster. How glorious it would be to finally be the one to best Terminal Lance with promises of Japanese food and free hotels.
Luckily, I made it out of Camp Foster still a civilian and am back in California. In fact, it was even a really fun time. I’m happy I got to go and am really grateful to MCCS for flying me out.
I flew out of LA on Wednesday morning of last week, arriving in Japan on Thursday evening (some form of time travel???).
The flight was mostly uneventful, I had a layover from LA to San Francisco, and then straight to Tokyo and, then, Okinawa. For whatever reason, my booking allotted for only about an hour between arriving in Tokyo to flying out to Okinawa. These people clearly have never had to arrive in Tokyo, go through a COVID quarantine/vaccine verification, customs, and then navigate Haneda International Airport.
Having never been to Tokyo, it took me a bit to get my bearings, but the friendly Japanese staff managed to get me through the COVID vaccine verification well enough. However, this required me to traverse the entire length of the airport (and back), which took some time.
By the time I arrived at the counter to get my next flight, I was already late. She didn’t speak much English, but I could tell by the panicked look on the Japanese airport staff’s face that this was an issue. Luckily, she realized I was a dumbass and helped me out, getting me a new (later) flight to Okinawa with no problem and sending me on my way to find a bus to the next terminal.
I managed to get to Okinawa on Thursday evening, a bit tired, a bit late, but MCCS was there in clutch to pick me up in a classic air-conditioned white Marine Corps charter bus. (Flashbacks to me riding home from the field in Hawaii, embracing the wonderful cool air of those air-conditioned busses).
It was already pretty late, so we got some food to-go from the Terra restaurant and shown our rooms at the Westpac Inn aboard Camp Foster.
Friday was a “free” day according to my schedule. MCCS had nothing planned for me until Saturday, so I figured this would be a good day to check out the base and maybe even go out into town.
My first thought was “I’ll walk to the PX to get a nice little tour of the base, get some stuff for my room, etc.”
No one told me everything at Camp Foster is A) very far, and B) up many hills. I walked from the Westpac Inn to the main PX (after some difficult land-nav and asking for directions) and found that the PX didn’t really have a great selection of food and drinks.
The commissary, I thought to myself.
So I walk outside and look at the map on my phone. The commissary is… a long way away. I stop a random Sergeant of Marines walking by and ask him how to get there. He is very friendly, and offers to give me a ride (he wasn’t doing anything important at the time). Sure why not! So I got into his car and not only did he drive me to the Commissary, he drove me off-base and showed me around the whole place. Really nice guy.
Why I love Marines: I asked this random Sgt for directions to the commissary and he offered to drive me there, then gave me a driving tour of Camp Foster. pic.twitter.com/s6s1x4wlXv
— Maximilian Uriarte (@TLCplMax) December 2, 2022
Later that evening, I caught a “honcho” (taxi) out to American Village so I could explore off-base a bit. I wandered around, went to Starbucks, and eventually found myself at a bar.
As soon as it got dark, a bunch of Marines poured in. They recognized me, and I spent the rest of the evening drinking with some great Lance Corporals from Motor-T. Eventually I caught another cab back to base (I’m jet-lagged and not staying out too late).
Saturday was the first day of the Comic-Con event, and we had a “Gold Pass” meet and greet and a panel lined up for that night. I don’t remember much other than doing the panel, which was kind of awkward since everything was being translated into Japanese (which made for a stunted conversation).
Afterward, we wandered around the event space and mingled with folks. I met tons of Marines, signed a bunch of books and stuff and had a lot of fun.
I think some of the “talent” (other artists etc that were invited out to the event) went out that evening, but we had an early morning so I opted to just grab dinner and hang back.
Sunday was kind of the main event, so we spent all day at the convention at the Ocean Breeze on-base. I did a panel in the morning and then did a meet and greet in the afternoon. It was really great getting to see all of the Marines, and many came to see me! Even some guys from 3/3 came down from up north to say hi, which was awesome.
After my scheduled meet & greet, I went to the show floor to walk around and mingle with anyone that might have missed it. (I was easy to spot in my Terminal Lance official shirt).
That evening, the main reps from MCCS wanted to take everyone out into town for dinner and drinks to celebrate the event, etc. This was a terrible idea, because this particular restaurant does “bottomless drinks” for 2000 yen, which was like $15.
Needless to say, I drank a lot and ate a bunch of weird Japanese food I probably wouldn’t have if I were sober.
Monday was mostly a free day, except I was flying out in the evening. I had planned on going out into town and exploring the island, and possibly going up to one of the other bases.
However, I woke up barely able to move. I had a fever and felt like total dog shit, absolutely sick as fuck. I had planned on meeting up with my old Battalion Gunner, Gunner Law, who was on the island working as a contractor now. He calls me and I tell him I’m definitely out sick, so he came by my hotel room to drop off a gift and gave me some sage advice to get ALL OF THE DRUGS so I don’t pop off the fever sensors at the airport and get stuck on the island.
I chug a Red Bull some random Marine gave me yesterday and managed to work up enough strength to walk over to the PX and buy a cocktail of Dayquil, Motrin and Emergen-C.
Like a feeble, sickly Solid Snake, I managed to get through airport security and catch my return flight to Tokyo. I had an intentionally planned 24 hour layover in Tokyo since I had never been.
Upon arriving in Tokyo, I needed to find my hotel, which was somewhere near Shibuya. Everyone told me not to take a cab, despite the fact that I had a massive checked bag to lug around, and for some reason I felt obligated to listen to them. Utilizing Google Maps, I managed to find the right train to take me where I was supposed to go. Then, Google Maps gets me off the train and onto the streets, where I’m supposed to walk the rest of the way (about half a mile).
Fair enough, except it’s raining and it’s dark and I’ve never been to Tokyo in my life. Either way, I kick my Chevrolegs into gear and start hoofing it through the wet streets of Tokyo, dragging my suitcase behind me like a dumbass. By the time I made it to my hotel, I was soaking wet and it was almost midnight.
I had the entire day Tuesday before my flight (around 9pm), so I really wanted to just spend the day walking around Tokyo and checking things out. I was still sick, so my goal was just to drug up and have as much fun as I could.
For the most part everything went great, I managed to walk all over Shibuya, navigate the Tokyo subway system, and even walked through Meiji Shrine. All in all I did about 10 miles of walking on my own.
That evening, I needed to start making my way back to the airport to get my flight home. I pull up Google Maps and fumble my way through figuring out which train to catch (my year of college Japanese failed me greatly on this trip). I caught the right line, but not the right train. I realize the train I’m on doesn’t branch off to the airport like I need it to, so I get off the train and catch the next one that had a little airplane icon on it.
This was a mistake. This train also did not go to the airport. About 4 stops in the opposite direction, I realize my mistake, and de-board the train. Realizing I already look like a dumbass tall white guy with luggage, I start just asking random Japanese people which train will take me to the airport.
A very friendly woman helped me out, she spoke a bit of English and could tell my Nihongo was not up to snuff. She got me on the right train and bid me a farewell into the night.
I flew home back to LA at 9pm on Tuesday, and arrived at LAX at 2pm on… Tuesday. I spent the entire day walking around Tokyo, speaking bad Japanese to people, navigating Tokyo subways at night, and then picking up my toddler from daycare in the afternoon. It was the ultimate mindfuck.
Overall I had a really fun time! I wish I wouldn’t have gotten so sick on Monday, because I was really looking forward to seeing the other bases (I’ve heard great things about “gate 2” as well). Either way, I’m happy I went and I know the Marines appreciated some love out there on the island.
I had heard many mixed messages about Okinawa from Marines over the years. Some really loved it, others really didn’t. Count me in the former, because I would absolutely go back.