Getting Used

Joel M. Schofer

OKINAWA IS A JAPANESE island that is southeast of mainland Japan and about two hours and 40 minutes from Tokyo by plane. It is famous for fierce Second World War battles and currently houses about 26,000 U.S. military personnel. From 2006 to 2008, I was one of these military personnel, working as an emergency physician in the naval hospital.

Okinawa, my new dream come true. Going to Okinawa was not my first choice. In fact, I don’t think it was anywhere on my wish list. I completed my medical training in San Diego and that’s where I wanted to stay. The physician in charge told me I was going to Okinawa. I said I wanted to stay in San Diego. He told me that Okinawa was my new dream, and he was making it come true.

Our cars before Okinawa. It was 2006 when I was given my new dream of Okinawa. My wife and I were driving two cars we had purchased new. One was a 1999 Honda CRV and the other was a 2001 Volkswagen Jetta. There was nothing wrong with either car, but we could only store one car at government expense while we were in Japan, so we sold the CRV to our neighbor and stored the Jetta.

Johnny’s. Buying a car on Okinawa usually occurs in one of three ways. You buy a car from the person you are replacing, you buy from a used car “lemon lot” on one of the military bases or you go to Johnny’s.

Johnny’s specialized in selling 10- to 15-year-old cars to Americans. If you ever wondered where your 2004 Honda Fit is, it is probably in Okinawa being driven by someone who is defending your freedom. In fact, if you want to see it, you can go to It is for sale for $4,500 right now.

Our cars in Okinawa. At Johnny’s, we purchased a black 1997 Nissan March with 111,000 kilometers on it. We also got a 1998 Nissan Cube with about 60,000 kilometers from the doctor I was replacing. Both were small hatchbacks that were “of extremely poor quality” and “in poor physical condition.” According to my dictionary app, these two phrases are the very definition of the word “crappy.”

Two crappy cars in Okinawa. We were in Okinawa for two years, and we drove both of these crappy cars the entire time. What was the impact on our happiness? Not much. There were certainly bumps in the road during our time in Okinawa, but never was it because of the cars. The crappy cars were just fine.

HumbleDollar’s weekly financial tip in early March was “buy a used car.” That’s what made me think of this story. Any time I think about buying a new car, which happens occasionally, I just remember we were happy driving two crappy cars in Okinawa. And then I buy a used vehicle.

Joel M. Schofer, MD, MBA, is a Commander with the U.S. Navy’s Medical Corps. His previous article was The $121,500 Guestroom. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or the United States Government.

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