Prior to actually securing on- or off-base housing, chances are that you will end up in the TLF, located on base. Previously I had a link that showed actual pictures of the room, but since beginning my site, those in-room pictures are no longer available. So, suffice it to say, I hope the rooms have been updated and cleaned up, because chances are you may end up spending some time in the TLF before you actually secure your housing. Perhaps there has been a long-overdue facelift since my last experience.
Regardless, while awaiting permanent housing, you can end up in the TLF for a very short time or up to several months, like some others that were unlucky when they arrived during a heavy renovation period in 2009-10. Since that time, many Civilians have been forced to move off-base, thus freeing up on-base housing for military families.
However, there are still instances of families living in TLF for extended time-periods, so be prepared in case you are one of those families. The rooms are small. One set of TLFs has a bathroom and small kitchenette adjoining the living area and bedroom. The other TLF is set up like a hotel with only one big room which has the bedroom, living area and kitchen combined in one room.
Generally speaking, if you live on base, you will have the option of a mid-rise unit or townhouse. From personal experience and others in Iwakuni, the actual size and accomodations of base housing here is considered pretty good compared to many other Marine bases. However, there are a couple exceptions.
First, in the past few years, there have been mold concerns in some units. Although many updates and renovations have been done and are currently ongoing, Iwakuni is a high humidity location. So, as with any housing issue, residents take up their concerns with the Iwakuni Housing Office. Before actually 'accepting' the unit offered, it wouldn't hurt to ask about your particular unit and any previous concerns.
Second, there have been issues of insufficient base-housing for all active duty members and their families. And, with renovations coming and going and changes to the Base due to the impending base expansion, Iwakuni base-housing is in the process of mixing ranks in housing areas. Although this may not be a big concern to you, if it is, please check with your housing representative about current and future plans for your housing location and its residents.
With those issues exposed and in your mind for consideration, depending on your rank and dependents, you will be offered a two-, three- or four-bedroom place. Mid-rise living offers two small balconies while townhouses have a small front and backyard. Check out the "Floor Plans" link to the right for actual floor plans of on-base housing.
When moving to Iwakuni and unsure of what your new home will be, you will have many questions about what to bring and what to leave in storage Stateside. There are differing opinions on items that should be left behind because each person has their own opinions about what they can live with and without for a 2 to 3 year tour. After reviewing the floor plans and asking your sponsor, you might decide that some of your belongings will be better left Stateside.
A note of interest for those of you who like to shop or simply want to take home some Asian decorations. While living in Japan, many people purchase unique pieces of furniture or decorative items. Currently, there is a Bazaar twice a year and an Auction once a year, all of which offer Asian furninture, rugs, collectibles and other uniquely Asian items. So, of course, you will want to have space in your home should you decide to add some Asian decor during your tour in the Far East.
- Outdoor furniture - Balconies do not have much room, so if you have more than a small table and a couple of chairs, you may want to leave larger sets/pieces in storage Stateside, unless you are assured of a townhouse on base.
- Lawnmowers - If you land a townhome and did not bring a lawnmower with you to Iwakuni, you can check out one from self-help or buy one at the Exchange. However, storage is limited, so if you end up in a midrise yet brought a lawnmower with you, you might have wished you left it Stateside. Some people use weedeaters for their townhome lawns since they are very small. Again, you can check these out and other lawn items at Self Help. Click on the links below for loaner items that are available for you to borrow (loaner list) and other items that can be obtained permanently.
- Yard-care items - Water hoses and sprinklers are limited on base, but you can always order then via Amazon.com or make a trip to Nafco in town. (Nafco is Japan's version of Home Depot, only much smaller.) The Exchange does carry a few items. But, I have found that for selection and sometimes a better price, if I am willing to wait about a week, I can get it on amazon.com.
- Camping equipment - If you have a large tent, you may want to leave it behind. Many Japanese campsites are wooded platforms or dirt areas built up, which may not accomodate large American tents. Check out MCCS' Outdoor Rec rental list for other camping items, in case you decide to leave your gear behind. Just a sidenote, the only time I have had a problem renting (free) gear here was over a long weekend in ski season. Otherwise, camping gear, etc. is readily available.
On-base houses offer some sort of storage room. Townhomes have a small storage shed and sometimes a small outdoor storage room while occupants in mid-rises each have a storage cage in their building. The largest storage room I have seen appeared to be about 8' x 8' cage, but many others are much smaller. Make sure and ask about your storage room if offered a mid-rise. Otherwise, there are rental storage units on base. There are 10' X 10' and 10' X 20' units for $90 and $120, respectively. See the link on the right side of the page for rental storage unit details.
As in the US, you can get a landline. On-base, you do this through the Base Telephone office. They offer great calling rates to the US and you can call anywhere on base for the flat phone service rate. Cell phone calls and calls to off-base will be charged, but are relatively inexpensive.
Cell phones are offered on-base from Softbank. It's been my experience that almost everyone has a cell phone. It is so much so, that I no longer have a landline. For calls to the US, I have Magic Jack, which is sold at the Exchange and hooked up through my internet. I make my on-base calls via my cell-phone. And, although calls to non-Softbank customers (on my cell phone) can add up, compared to the Base Telephone Office's basic telephone rate of $36.58, using my cell-phone for Iwakuni and Japan calls and Magic Jack for calls to/from the US is more cost efficient.
MCAS Iwakuni finally has Cable TV. Seriously.... just in April/May 2011 time-frame, Iwakuni finally made cable tv available. I don't have it, but I am pretty sure it's not as good as what you are getting in the US and the rates seem a little high. Add to that MCCS's cut (basically, a franchise fee that is passed on to the consumer) and well, you can decide if it's worth getting once you get to Iwakuni. On the flip-side though, cable tv does offer many more viewing options than are available via standard AFN tv.
You have two options for internet on base in Iwakuni. The Base Telephone office and Americable both offer 'high-speed' internet. Previously, I had internet offered by the Base Telephone office, but for the same price, I was able to get a higher guaranteed speed from Americable. So far, Americable's internet is much faster than what I was getting from the Base ADSL.
If you are interested in what others are saying about Americable, I just found an "I hate Americable" page on Facebook. You can check it for any recent complaints. Looks like this page was started from another base in Japan, but there are some recent posts from Iwakuni residents.
If you chose to live off-base, you might experience more of a culture shock than living on-base. Quite literally, you are living the Japanese way. Rental houses, although larger today than for Americans living in Iwakuni even 10 years ago, can still be quite limited with regard to room size/height, or ability to get items to appropriate rooms due to stairwell sizes. If you have particularly large pieces of furniture or bedding, it may be difficult or impossible to get items into your Japanese house.
So, if you are planning to delve into the culture via living in town, you may want to leave washers/dryers, king-size beds, large airmoires and other American sized pieces of furniture in storage Stateside.
Another aspect to living in town will be recycling. Many places in the States require your trash to be separated and living on base in Japan, you will be required to separate your trash into 4 types. However, living off-base, you will have up to 7 ways to separate your trash. This can take some practice (and patience), but don't worry, you will have to attend a 'class' so you will know what goes where (and when), since different trash types have different pick-up days in town.
Recently, I was asked if there is a potential to 'make money' if living in town (with regard to housing allowance versus actual costs). Although I do not have first-hand experience here, I have had a few friends live in town and due to the old-style housing and lack of insulation in Japanese houses, most Americans experience high bills due to running air conditioners constantly throughout the summer. Japanese homes do not have central heat and air, so your a/c units will likely be running non-stop in the summer.
As for saving money in the winter months, well, it's not likely since again, the Japanese homes are not insulated like homes in the US. Most likely, you will run your heaters frequently. Also, again, no central heat, so hallways and unused rooms will frequently take on the temperature of outdoors. Just something to consider when living in town.
Japanese kitchens are usually somewhat smaller than those in the US. And, typically, the oven is extremely small, so small that many I have seen may (or may not) hold a 9 X13 casserole pan. I am sure there are many newer rental homes that do, but make sure to check out the kitchen before you decide on your off-base house. Dishwashers and washers/dryers are also smaller. Just get a good look at the appliances before you decide on your house and ask the housing representative if there are any substitutes available if you don't like what you see.