The Okinawan PO Phenomenon

Here on Okinawa there is what is called the po phenomenen. Po is post­ office; the phenomenon is the strange behavior of the patrons. Since most of the Americans here are military, each newcomer becomes quickly familiar with the terrain of the po.

At our po we have approximately 25,000 boxes, 25,000 empty boxes, that is. Ours seemed the emptiest at first. By the end of the first couple of weeks, we had become very attached to our “resident spider.” His web grew more and more complicated until one evening when wisps of mail mysteriously appeared in our box.

Nervously, I worked the combination􀀍 left three times to DE, right twice to A and back to F. Yank … and nothing happened°. Calming myself, I slowly re­peated the _turns and … jerked again. Zip. (Not code either) Then I noticed the box had very slightly separated. Aha! For a screwdriver or a chisel! Prying with (and nearly breaking) my fingernails, it opened. Trembling fingers clutched the mail and pulled quickly. Our haul? A red tag (to be returned so they know someone watches the box) and an old cable T.V. bill from Georgia (They were dunning us for after we had left!).

Po dwellers have different reactions to no mail or lousy mail – including the vocal, “Urgh!”, the disgusted: look, turn on heel and scratch off with sneer on face; the slow: careful approach, peering into and carefully moving away from box; the quick: trotting, slight glance and brisk retreat; the dumb and disbelieving: 30 second view of box finally registers the reality, empty; the lunch munchers: drink and sandwich in hand; and finally the two timer: first approach, look, retreat, pause and then look again.

Meeting friends is popular with many of the singles and unaccompanied. Gossip sessions rowdily range on over the trash can. The physical gyrations of the patrons are fascinating. Some are head tilters; others, body tilters. Some stretch, bend, squat and many squint as if they needed glasses or the mail could be that very small.

Excitement, fun, communication, melodrama, bird watching (just don’t get hit! – I’m talking about the sparrows in the rafters) a place to write to my Dear Mama, oh what a hub of activity the po is. What’s that you say Mama, mail? Uum, mail, now that’s something to consider … and to wait for.

Sayonara from the land of “There’s always something to do in Okinawa!”

Okinawan Passtime April, 1978