Note: This is about stuff I did before the trip, but I’m actually writing it about 10 days into the trip, but I’m going to put this chronologically before it anyway, so that it makes sense.
Because It’s There.
Before this 3-month trip to Japan, I decided to do what I did before I came to Japan four years ago– go to Mt. Mitchell. Mt. Mitchell is about 6,700 feet high, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River in the Continental U.S.
I don’t know why I feel this compulsion to go there, but it’s probably because I went there four years ago at just about the same time and the resulting trip was just amazing.
So before I go to Japan I went there to sort of psych myself up and put my brain into Travel 7,000 Miles Mode.
I went there sometime in mid-August.
I loved the scenery, and the mosquitoes loved me.
Have a look:
This time I didn’t fall or hurt myself, so I took that as a good omen.
Getting ready for the trip was a bit hectic, since I’m going to be in Japan for around 87 days. The longest a U.S. Citizen can stay on a landing permit is 90 days, so I’m going to be cutting it kind of close. I’m writing part of this from Okazaki now, so looking back, I’d say that some things I did were smart, and others were just boneheaded.
Flying is Annoying, and Other Obvious Things
The most frustrating bit of travel preparation was getting my flight squared away. I was once again forced to deal with American Airlines.
I had agreed to finally pay the ransom for my kidnapped frequent flier miles, only to find out that I had to wait until I had been “ticketed” before I could upgrade. Then, by the time I was “ticketed,” (because apparently them charging me $2,000 isn’t enough, they had to make me wait a week) it was too late to upgrade, because all of the upgradable business seats had already been given away.
So now I have to wait until the day of my flight to go and beg and whimper for the upgrade I already have the miles for… which they already took from me once.
If You Take Medicine, You May Need This. It’s Annoying, Too.
Another thing I had to get before going to Japan was a yakkan shoumei, which is a piece of paper to show the folks at customs if you have more than 30 days’ worth of medicines to bring into Japan.
It’s a real pain in the butt to prepare this, but if you contact your local Japanese embassy, they’ll e-mail you the forms to fill out. I wound up sending about 20-30 pages worth of stuff in the end. It takes a solid 2 weeks to get one, and that’s if you FedEx your paperwork to them, and fax your application. I’ve gone over this before in my 2007 Japan trip posts.
Shipping Ahead Only Works If You’re Smart
I spent a few days getting supplies together and shipping them ahead to Yamasa. I’m grateful that they’ll let me send stuff ahead, because it’s less junk to carry. The downside is that I wound up shipping future me way too much crap.
I’m planning on taking the N1 or N2, depending on my grade on the summer N2, so I sent a bunch of JLPT prep books ahead. I also sent a bunch of general grammar books ahead, too.
I wish I hadn’t sent so many books to future me. They’re heavy and expensive, and I probably won’t use them all.
And I wound up shipping things I just don’t need, like coffee. I like coffee. I drink it. But they have perfectly good coffee here. Why did I pack 2 bricks of coffee? And cocoa? Why did I pack it? I forgot why. But I did.
Oatmeal. Okay, I love steel-cut oatmeal. When I’m in the US, I eat it every morning. I cook it in my rice cooker using the porridge setting overnight, and it comes out great. I figured that there’s no way in hell that I would find steel-cut oats in Japan, so I sent 4 pounds of it over.
Turns out that there’s a grocery store in Nagoya that stocks Odlum’s steel-cut oats. It’s in Sakae, right next to Maruzen. Actually, it’s cheaper than shipping from the US.
Experience Is Sometimes a Good Teacher, and Sometimes Isn’t.
I thought I would need an inflatable doughnut to sit on, based on my prior experience.
Nope. Didn’t need it.
The jury is still out on the protein bars. I sent a few ahead, just in case. I’ll probably go through them, just to avoid sending them home. They were really handy last time, so I sent some ahead this time.
But generally, I shipped too much stuff ahead, and most of it was stuff I did not need, or could have easily done without. Priority Mail to Japan is cheaper than Royal Mail (what isn’t?), but it’s still expensive, and Priority Mail is the only option you have for shipping from the US to Japan. There isn’t a significantly cheaper option, unless you grab an extra suitcase.
Upsell or Really Good Advice?
Speaking of suitcases, I went on a bit of shopping trip before I left. I bought a monstrously large Samsonite suitcase, a 29-inch model that’s light as a feather, and big enough to stuff Jimmy Hoffa in (allegedly). The sales lady tried to upsell me on a model that was $80 more.
I thought she was just trying to get a good commission, but my skepticism was my downfall, because I really should have listened to her.
The more expensive model was 4 lbs. heavier, though, and I was being slightly nuts about weight and cost, so I went cheap on the suitcase.
The cloth handle just couldn’t take the weight of the filled suitcase very well, and the wheels had a hard time keeping up with me.
Get a suitcase with double wheels and sturdy handles. This suitcase didn’t have double wheels, it only had single wheels, and crappy ones at that.
I went big and light because I tried to go one suitcase with it– more on that in another post.
Do I Win at Umbrella Yet?
I found a collapsible umbrella that’s big enough for me– it doesn’t suck, but it’s slightly annoying, in that you have to “reload” it to “fire” it open again. Annoying, but it’s around 55″ big (sort of golf-lite), so I stay dry enough. If you search long enough on Amazon, you can find anything.
I also picked up a tiny external Western Digital 1TB 2.5″ HDD for storing photos, movies, etc. on.
As usual, I tore through The Container Store, and bought lots of little stuff, none of which I can remember off the top of my head. I’m sure I’m using some of it, I’m just unable to remember any of it.
I bought a $6 strap handle from Staples for carrying boxes around. I’m going to have to lug boxes around at some point, so I’m going to see if it’s a solution. Not like I can fit a cart in the suitcase.
I swapped out my EOS Rebel XSi for an EOS 60D body. All-in-all it’s a nice upgrade. I really like the 60D.
But there’s one problem with any SLR, and that is that it’s an SLR, and about as unobtrusive as a tank at a 3-year-old’s birthday party. I use it for the tourist spots, and places where I’m okay with dragging it around, but it’s a bit of a dilemma for daily use.
Denser Than a Neutron Star!
Space Bags. I bought a lot of the Travel Size. The size that’s one size smaller is really useless. Space Bags are somewhat useful, but they pose a problem– if you reduce the density of all of your clothes down to that of a neutron star, then your bags become ultra-heavy. Also, you lose all of the cushioning you get from air-filled clothes.
Other Stuff I Love to Take on the Road
Motorola Xoom Android Tablet: I loaded this up with my eBooks to the extent that I could, as well as games and other stuff. I’m so glad I have this. The battery life is still around 8-9 hours, too, so it’s generally good to have around.
Motorola Razr V3X GSM phone, unlocked. This is my workhorse travel phone for “Oh crap!” moments. This is what I use for communication when I want to make sure that I don’t accidentally get dinged for data charges, because it’s a dumb phone.
Downside: it doesn’t do Japanese texting. Just pop in the SIM and go. No software to get in the way of calling.
Nexus One: my aging smartphone buddy. Unlocked, of course. (Am I the only person who still insists on buying unlocked phones?) I packed it full of music, because the app memory is crippled at only 1 GB.
There aren’t many apps that I can port to the SD card, and I hate that. But it’s GSM and unlocked, which makes it mighty. Mainly it’s mighty for 4 apps: Google Maps (most important), GMail, Chrome, and Music.
Aging Sony VAIO laptop: 3 pounds, but still felt heavy. It’s probably the extra battery.
Adapters: I’m still looking for the ideal power adapter solution for travel. The fewer I need to carry, the better. Motorola sucks in this department. The Xoom and the V3X still have 12V plugs. I’m using my old 2007-vintage iGo laptop power adapter for my laptop, so it would work with the 2-prong power outlets in Japan. For some reason it won’t work as a USB charger anymore, though. Bummer.
Traveling is an ongoing experiment for me. I’m always tweaking some variables to see how it improves my experience.
I just wish I could get away with less crap.