We have found an apartment closer to base and are looking forward to moving in soon (hopefully!).
Per some previous comments, some of you wanted an idea as to why we would do something so unexpected. We've always said that we didn't want to live too near the base as we really wanted to feel like we were "living" in the country and not be too dependent on the base. While the sentiment remains true, since living here for 2 plus years now I think we've been able to reformulate just what constitutes "living" here. What follows are my attempts to break down the various reasons for why we have changed our minds about living in Yokosuka.
1) City life: In our experience, the areas close to a US base tend to cater to the baser needs of that community, resulting in some of the seedier neighborhoods we've encountered (encrustations I've called them). We assumed that was what Yokosuka would be like. However, in reality stepping off base is really like stepping into Japan, literally into the center of Yokosuka city. There is a particular street/area that is known to cater to the young sailor types, but it's actually very small and there have been some attempts to make it nicer. But beyond that, Yokosuka really has its own identity separate from the base, and it's the closest thing to a "city" that we have around here. It has the most restaurants, the closest mall with movie theaters, and the closest thing to a real "vibe". And it's pretty darn cool, no matter how you look at it, to glance over at the bay and see ships, submarines and an aircraft carrier on any given day. My personal preference has always been city life and while we have enjoyed our house in a small fishing village, the call of the city definitely pulls on me. Since moving to Yokohama or Tokyo (which some of my coworkers have done) would also mean an even longer commute, the closest thing to "city life" going on here is Yokosuka.
2) Activity vortex: We currently live about 30-45 minutes from the base (depending on mode of transport and traffic). We don't really know any of our neighbors and there are no kids nearby. We have zero social reasons to be where we are currently. Kerri and Rowan are very frequently driving in to the base or the other area where people from base live (Ikego) to meet with the homeschool group for activities. Consequently we are *always* at the base regardless of our preferences. The reality is, 90% of our weekly/daily activities really do revolve around the base, so exiling ourselves 30 minutes away for no good reason has started to make less and less sense. Also, we are never able to really stay and enjoy Yokosuka because we always have to "get home". I can count the times we've had dinner there on one hand. I'd rather live close to the base so that I can be home quickly, and then still have energy to go out and explore the city.
3) Cost savings: We currently pay about $2000 a month for our house. It's a really good price for the place, given it has 6 rooms and 2 toilets. Of course, there are only 3 of us. It just doesn't add up. And anyone who knows me knows I have an aversion to big places as we will inevitably fill them up with junk we don't need. How did we get here? Well, when we arrived, it was confusing due to the fact that I was told one thing about how I would be paid housing, and then it was changed as soon as I arrived. But we didn't really have enough time to understand the implications of the change, plus we didn't have much of a context with which to evaluate the available options when it comes to housing. Most people here are paid a set amount for housing based on their "grade" or "rank". We were going to be under that system originally and figured we would get X amount of money per month to spend on housing, or we would lose it. We budgeted between $1800 and $2000, and found a place that fit our budget. Also, Kerri really wanted a house, so we weren't looking at apartments. Again, for the price, it's a great place. But...my contract changed (I was the first one to sign it) the week we arrived, and actually we are paid our housing as a set amount that is lumped in with our paycheck, and we get to keep whatever we don't spend. Now, we didn't really think we could find a place much cheaper than what we had, but as time went by and we became more educated on what was available, we realized we could probably find an apartment that actually fit our family size for somewhere between $1000 and $1500. That's a lot of savings to be had, money we could be putting towards retirement or at least preparing for a future in which we don't make as much as we do now. If you also include my personal desire that we might eventually get rid of our car, and the savings add up that much more (closer to base/city = less need for a car). When I really got our budget under control last year (thank you YNAB), the sheer magnitude of how much we could be saving really hit me.
4) Adoption and the future: About a year ago, we started the adoption process that eventually ended in disappointment. Part of our motivation for that was to see if we had this big house for a reason. Maybe we were meant to focus on having another child and building our family life there. But as anyone who has kept up with this blog knows, that didn't happen. While we were saddened, it was also freeing in pointing us towards the direction we are now headed in of consolidating, getting smaller, saving more and getting ready for the eventual move out into Japan separate from the base. Oddly, moving closer to the base is going to help us be better prepared for that eventual separation. Meanwhile, Rowan's friends and activities are all base centric, and for the next 5 or so years he's going to need some stability in his life. We are aiming to stay put until Rowan is out of the house and embarked on his own life, and we think it will be better for him if he's closer to the locus of his activities.
There is still a chance this current apartment will fall through, but so far so good. I'll do another post on the process.