Off to Japan! (Wait, Didn’t I Use This One Before?)

 Japan, Travel  Comments Off on Off to Japan! (Wait, Didn’t I Use This One Before?)
Sep 262011

It’s 3:30 a.m. Saturday, September 24th Sunday, September 25th. The driver is going to be here in an hour and fifteen minutes, and I’m trying to close my humongous Samsonite 29″ suitcase.

My plan was to have a giant suitcase big enough to stuff Jimmy Hoffa into, but slim enough to fit nicely behind the last row of seats on the shinkansen.

I have rolled my clothes into Space Bags, and everything looks like it should fit.

But it doesn’t.

One Bag Is the Rule, Except When Money Is Involved.

Well, everything does sort of fit, but the scale says that this bag is off the charts, and that’s bad for my wallet. (Weigh your stuff before you leave home!)

The stuff in the suitcase has the density of a neutron star. But while the suitcase itself is light, it doesn’t really handle very well. The saleslady warned me. I should have listened, but I wanted to save $80.

Cheaper is cheaper, but it’s not necessarily better.

So, change of plans.

I had to dig out my Old Reliable 26″ Samsonite, which I took to Japan the last time, tossed some Space Bags into it, and evened out the loads… and before going out the door, I have already violated my Prime Directive of Traveling: One Bag.


It can’t be helped. I’m going to be gone for almost 3 months, and I pared the clothes down to the bare minimum.

Fall is a troublesome season. You need short- and long-sleeve shirts, and one or two really warm things, for when it finally decides to get cold.

Also, going with two bags will help avoid the overage fees for heavy luggage.

With the Dollar-Yen exchange rate at a crazy high rate of 75 yen to the dollar, I need to save every penny on this trip.

Getting Out of Town

At 4:45 a.m., my driver showed up. A nice guy from Elite Coach came by in a Town Car to whisk me away to RDU International Airport. It’s not my usual way to travel, but in this case, I think it was a good call. It put me in the right mood for the trip for the most part.

I got to RDU, and sure enough, the Jimmy Hoffa bag was over by 2 pounds, so I shifted some stuff to the other bag. Overage fixed. Hooray!

So in this case, two bags wasn’t too terrible.

The TSA check was a lot smoother than this summer. It only took about 10-15 minutes, and there was nobody swabbing my backpack to check for explosive residues this time. (Did I mention that about the London trip? They really did swab out my carry-on bag for explosive residues. Ah, Security Theater.)

I got patted down, but that was because I left a lens-cleaning cloth in one of my pockets. They were professional about it, and I was out of there quickly. There were also no hysterics about the amount of electronic equipment I was carrying, which was nice to see.

We live in the information age, so some of us carry a lot of electronics. I’m a nerd, so you can double the amount I carry compared to others. The hum of a computer is soothing to me.

Off to the lounge to wait for the American Airlines staff to show up so I could start begging. Lots of waiting. And waiting.

Finally, the guy showed up about 45 minutes before the flight, and I just about jumped him, the poor guy. But he was great about it. He got me into business class for the flight from DFW to Narita, which is all I cared about. I just wanted to be spared that 13 hours and 30 minutes of coach pain.

Right about here I started doing the “Upgrade Dance.”

Whatever You Do, Stay In Group 5.

It was time to cram into the S-80 to Dallas/Ft. Worth. The flight was full, in every meaning of the word.

Here’s an important note for folks wishing to fly American: whatever you do, don’t check in online, because then you’ll get to be in group 2.

I would hate to have more people in group 2 competing with me for space in the overhead bins, so please don’t check in online. Check in at the airport so you wind up in group 5 or 6. That’s much better.

In group 5 or 6, you’ll get on last, and have nowhere to put your luggage, while I’ll still be in group 2, and have my pick of anywhere I want to put my giant bags.

That was a public service announcement for all potential American Airlines passengers.

Joking aside, check in online before you go out the door. You’ll save yourself a headache.

I had been worried about what I was going to do on the flight from RDU to DFW, but it turns out the lady next to me had a lot to talk about, so we talked for most of the flight over. I don’t mind on a short flight like that, because I didn’t have anything I needed to do, and it took my mind off of things to just chat with someone.

Good luck to you, ma’am.

Back In Dallas, Briefly.

I got in to DFW a little early, so I had plenty of time to head to Terminal D and relax in the Admiral’s Club. (Huzzah! Free Admiral’s Club passes with every business class upgrade!) I called the folks back home, and then got myself mentally ready for the flight to Japan.

It’s a long flight.

I know that there are longer flights, but it’s still a long amount of time to be stuck in a metal tube, no matter how cozy the seats are. I lucked out– nobody sat next to me, and I had an aisle seat. So I could pretty much do whatever I wanted to. The guy on the other side of the center row was a Navy guy who had flown business before, and he showed me what I needed to know.

In a Metal Tube, Over the Water, at 540MPH

I’m in the club now!

Business class on American is nice. It’s very comfortable. I’m not just spoiled, I’m ruined.

I chose to sleep for most of the flight. I wound up listening to a marathon of “Says You!” episodes that I had bought from their website and stuffed onto my phone. It helped to pass the time.

But thirteen and a half hours is still a long time.

Business class made a HUGE difference in how I felt when I got off of the plane. Had I been in coach, I probably would have been a mess. I was in much better shape thanks to business class. Ah, if every seat in every plane was like that, I think everyone would enjoy flying again. Maybe they would even look forward to it.

Ralph Welcomes You to Japan. Over. And Over.

I arrived at Narita right around 4:30 p.m. Japan Time, and made my way to the bathroom. (Because you should go when you can.)

What music awaited me, but the sound of some poor guy in the stall next to me calling Ralph on the porcelain phone. Ralph wasn’t picking up, so he kept calling.

And calling.



The great thing about Japanese public bathrooms is that the stall walls go all the way to the floor, so there’s no danger of “the hand” coming up from the stall next to you, or worse, “spillage” from the next stall over.

But still, “Ralph” next door made me uneasy. I just hoped I didn’t catch anything that would give me the urge to call Ralph as well. So I boiled my hands on the way out.

I noticed that my eyes were itchy, too. (Foreshadowing?)

Dealing With Paperwork

Here’s a tip for arriving passengers to Japan: fill out your arrival form in INK. They will make you do it over if you do it in pencil.

I learned this lesson The Hard Way.

I also learned that speaking Japanese at this point makes everything go more smoothly.

Seriously. Even my sorry Japanese helped me.

I headed to baggage claim, and I waited for about 30 minutes, while I stared at other people’s luggage. Not mine. So I went to the desk to ask where my bags were, and there they were. Well, I’ll take whatever I can get. So I loaded them up on the shopping cart thing and took them to customs. It was time to do the yakkan shoumei dance. Last time was such a pain.

I asked the customs guy what do I do with my yakkan shoumei, and he got all excited, because apparently nobody ever bothers to get one. He led me to a counter, and showed it to four or five other customs inspectors, who had probably never seen one, too, and they consulted a few binders, then said I was good to go.

I guess I’m the sort of endangered species that bothers to get the paperwork taken care of.

SIM City

I needed to go to the Softbank booth, to get a rental SIM card. The Softbank rental SIM is one of those, “It’s great so long as you never actually use it” sort of things.

It’s great for other people to call you, because incoming calls are free, but outgoing calls get expensive fast. And don’t even think about data. (Just thinking about using the data incurs a separate charge!)

This is the perfect SIM card for an old GSM dumb-phone that can’t do data, like my Motorola Razr V3X. It works like a charm, and doesn’t use data. (Rather, it can’t.)

Off to Shinjuku!

After that, I went to the station to catch the Narita Express (N’EX) to Shinjuku. I thought about taking the Keisei Skyliner, but I didn’t want to carry the bags all over Ueno Station and change trains.

A lot of people talk about taking the airport buses, and yes, they are cheaper, but they’re buses. You won’t get the amenities you get on a train (well, you may, but you may not), and more importantly, there’s traffic to reckon with.

Trains just go. If they’re not running, you have bigger problems to worry about than getting to Tokyo from Narita. Every now and then they’ll run a little late. By a little, I mean 10-20 seconds. More rarely, there will be an accident, and the train won’t come for a while. In that case, grab another train line.

But trains aren’t perfect. They come with drawbacks, especially for someone traveling with a large number of bulky bags.

There are few things more awkward than carrying huge American bags on a local train in Japan. You will get ugly looks from everyone around you.

The ugly stares will double if you commit the unpardonable sin of carrying a backpack on your back, instead of down on the floor, which is impossible with 2 suitcases, because you need both hands to hold on to them.

The N’EX goes straight to Shinjuku, and is designed for me and my American bags.

I had to wait until 6:52 for my train, so I had time to refill my Suica card, which STILL WORKED AFTER FOUR YEARS. It even had a balance of 653 yen on it.

That’s awesome.

Green Green Green

This time, I splurged and went Green Car. The difference is around 1,900 yen or so, but the seats are bigger, and I was bushed.

A woman brought a cart through the car, selling food and drinks, and I bought an onigiri and a bottle of water. I was hungry, but I only wanted to knock the edge off of my hunger. I was going to eat better when I got to Shinjuku. That was the plan, anyway.

What I did not grasp is where the trash bins are located. Call it jet-lag-induced stupidity or whatever, but they’re shown right there on the info card in the seat back. Even so, I still managed to get it wrong.

One nice bit about the N’EX is that there’s ample room for luggage storage in the front of the cars. There’s WiFi too, but I couldn’t get it to work in time… and I wasn’t that desperate.


I got to JR Shinjuku, and checked in at my hotel, the Sunroute Shinjuku, which is a really good hotel for the price. The rates run around 9,000 yen or so for a basic room, but the basic room is good enough. You get a good bed, fridge, and a decent TV channel selection. It’s not as good as some top-tier hotels, but everything is solid.

Well it usually is.

The bathroom in my room had some funky stink in it. As in bad funky.

I stopped long enough to change clothes and freshen up, then ran to the Shinjuku Yodobashi Camera, right before it closed.

Second SIM

I bought a B-Mobile Fair SIM card at Yodobashi Camera, because this one gets me 1GB of data on my Nexus One for up to 4 months for ~9,000 yen or so.

The other option is a 1GB for 1 month option for 3,000 yen, but once I’m set up with WiFi, I don’t think I’ll use that much data. And if I don’t, I’ll lose whatever is left over at the end of the month, and that’s no good, either.

Both options use DoCoMo’s network, and give you fast speeds, so long as you don’t break a 300MB soft cap. Then you’ll get throttled. Or so I hear.

No matter how much data I use, when the first GB runs out, I can buy an extra 1GB for 3,000 yen, which will last for 1 month, or I can do the Fair for 4 months again for 9,000 yen. The pricing isn’t great, but I don’t need to have a visa to get it, and it’s a lot better than the rates I’d get charged if I use the Softbank rental SIM for data.

Dinner was conbini yakisoba and whatever I could find in the conbini. No time to find a restaurant tonight.

Oyasumi nasai.

I’m beat.


 Japan, Travel  Comments Off on FEEL NEWS
Oct 122007

This waking up before 6 a.m. thing is something it’s going to take time to get used to. Since my classes don’t start until 12:30 p.m., I have a lot of time to kill in the mornings.

So this morning I decided to head to the local supermarket, named FEEL NEWS… I’m not sure how one “feels” the news, or what it has to do with groceries, and I probably never will. Then again, I shop at a grocery store called Harris-Teeter, and sometimes I shop at Whole Foods. (But I don’t usually eat my foods whole.) So odd naming isn’t just a Japanese thing.

Anyway, it was around 9:30 or so, and I was thinking, “It should be open by now. It’s a supermarket, right?” I mean come on, the local Harris-Teeter is open 24/7. I can’t think of any respectable American grocery store that hasn’t gotten out of bed by 8 a.m.

So I walked in. The doors opened, I went up some stairs, and started walking around. Nobody said a word to me. Then after about 5 minutes, someone finally came and explained to me that the store was still closed.


I guess that explains all the weird looks I was getting from the employees. It was just weird that nobody said anything to me for a while. Maybe it has something to do with being averse to telling a customer that he has made a rather large mistake? (A rather large mistake like not realizing that the store was still closed?)

I just have one question: if your store is closed, why do the doors open?

So I decided to go to the bookstore down the road. It was 9:45 a.m. by now. The sign on the door said that it opened at 9:30… but all of the windows were shuttered, and the staff was doing inventory on the floor. I didn’t even bother trying to find out if it’s open, because more than likely, it wasn’t.

I gave up and started to head back towards my dorm. On the way to the closed supermarket, I passed what looked like a small office supplies store that I thought was open. But when I came back to it on the way back, it was closed too, with a note scrawled on the door.

I’m sensing a trend.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and by the time classes are over at 3:30, I’ll make it just in time for everything to close.

Or at least for that memo about me to get around to everyone else.

Phone Stuff

I have the Internet, and my Estonian cell phone works.

I’m using the Softbank SIM card more often, because it’s cheaper for US people to call me in Japan than in Estonia… by about 2 orders of magnitude. In a pinch I can call out on the Estonian phone, because I read the fine manual and figured out how to use it. It’s online on the travelsimshop website. It’s a bit pricey to call out, but I can do it if I need to.

Another odd thing I saw during my morning walk– American-style houses sprouting up in new construction. Most of the houses I’ve seen here are very Japanese, very traditional. Not these. They look like something out of a Charlotte suburb.

Oh, I think I’ve almost figured out how to sort my trash. I’ll save that for later.

Jet Lag.

 Japan, Photos  Comments Off on Jet Lag.
Oct 112007

I’ve been sleeping pretty much all day, and after a long nap, I’m going to bed to sleep for another 8 hours or so.

Here are a couple of photos of my room in the Student Village at Yamasa, in case you didn’t see the one in the previous post.

My dorm room at Yamasa in Okazaki


My dorm room at Yamasa in Okazaki 2

The school has a nice bar called “ZigZag” that serves cheap Guinness. I went there for dinner, but decided to pass on the beer tonight. I don’t want to get any more dehydrated than I already am. I just kept to ginger ale and a cheese sandwich with a salad.

I walked around a little, but I have been mostly sleeping. I’ll be sociable later, when I can be awake for it.

The only thing I’m not used to yet are the hard beds here. At the hotel in Ueno it wasn’t so bad, but here, instead of a mattress, there’s a table-like thing that you pile futons on top of. Now I’ve got this pain in the center of my back. This time next week I’ll be having my little weekend getaway in Kyoto, so I only have to deal with it for a few days.

The other thing that has really irritated me is that the Estonian SIM card that I bought gets a signal, but I can’t figure out how to call the US on it yet.

I ended up renting one from Softbank for 105 yen a day when I got to Narita.

Oh, the final thing that’s driving me nuts– 10 yen coins. They’re huge, and while not worthless, they seem to reproduce in your pockets while you’re not looking.

Time for more sleep now. Jet lag is kicking my butt.

My Japan Trip Preparation

 Japan, Travel  Comments Off on My Japan Trip Preparation
Sep 302007

So first off, why this blog? Well, it’s for my relatives, who want to make sure I’m still breathing, and not lying in a ditch somewhere when I travel, but it’s also for the same reason everyone else blogs– because I like to talk about the things that interest me. I have a lot of things I’m interested in, so I have a lot of things to say about a lot of random topics.

I can’t guarantee any sort of regularity on posting. I’ll probably post more when I’m traveling than when I’m not, or post when I have something to say.

I tend to be wordy, so posts tend to be long.

I also tend to edit the stuff I write over time. A lot of my training is in reporting and editing. I believe in getting it down, then getting it right, then going back and fixing it some more. So don’t be surprised if the content of a post changes a bit over time as I look back in horror at my writing.

Off to Japan– Wait, Gotta Prep First.

Now that that’s out of the way, on with the first story:

I decided to go to Japan, and I needed to prepare.

How did I prepare? Well, I’ll tell you.

I started in late August, by going to Mt. Mitchell, the tallest mountain in North Carolina, and also the tallest mountain East of the Mississippi River. I wanted a moment on a place that’s really high up, with nice scenery to help me get psyched up for the trip.

I slipped on a wet rock and fell and bruised the heck out of my hand and tweaked my ankle.

So, I was successful… ish.

Travel Guides

Next came the books. If was going to Japan, I needed to learn about Japan, right?

Well, yes, but, the first thing I needed to learn was how to travel, since I haven’t done any international travel in a while.

The first book I bought was Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door.

Wait, a book on Europe for a trip to Japan? Yup. Because Rick Steves is a font of travel tips and advice. Granted, it’s not all applicable, but some general concepts really do carry over.

I also picked up a bunch of different travel guides for Japan, but to be honest, most didn’t do much for me, with a couple of exceptions. I liked Lonely Planet: Japan and Time Out: Tokyo. But even these two books had problems.

The problem with Lonely Planet: Japan was it was a little over two years out of date. (It was also too big and heavy.) The link leads you to the new version of it.

Time Out: Tokyo is good, but it doesn’t go into detail about Akihabara, and Akihabara is a huge draw for a lot of people who go to Tokyo these days.

I read the other guides, but I didn’t consider taking them with me. Frommer’s Japan was okay if you’re just going to hit the highlights in a large group. Japan by Rail was okay, but both books are more library check-outs than purchases.

The problem with any guidebook is weight. What I would probably do now is scan the relevant pages and store them electronically, or follow Rick Steves’ advice to just rip out pages you need, and leave the rest behind, and throw them away as you travel, because weight kills you.

I’m going to say this again, because it’s really important. Weight kills you when you travel. The more crap you carry, the less you can do. Why? Because you have to waste energy carrying the extra weight, or spend money to  get help carrying it, and then there’s the added worry about someone taking your crap. Weight adds all kinds of weight when you travel. So don’t bring so much crap.

Better Sources for Travel Info

The other big problem with all of the guidebooks was incomplete lodging information. I’m not exactly sure how they chose places to put in their books, but the few hotels they list for Kyoto don’t even begin to scratch the surface, and you can bet that every single one of them will be jammed full if you decide to divert over to Kyoto for a few nights.

That “charming guest house” they mention in the book will always be jam-packed when you try to book it on a busy weekend, because every other tourist with a copy of your travel guide will try to stay there.

I found the best advice for Japan travel came from JNTO, the Japan National Tourist Organization. It was usually the most up-to-date.  You need the best current info you can get your hands on, because situations change daily.

Another site I really like is They have a bunch of information on travel there, and the message board is full of good tips. I plowed through a lot of posts to get information on things like Japan Rail passes, places to go, places to avoid, etc. And by looking at other peoples’ proposed itineraries, I could get ideas for stuff I had no idea I might want to do.

Travel writers have a very difficult job, but I found some great info from talking to Japanese people and looking for Japan-specific travel agencies. I used Japan Travel Advisor in Raleigh, NC for help getting my Japan Rail pass and for advice on places to go and things to see.

Sorting It Out

There’s a monstrous amount of information out there. The next difficult task is sorting/sifting through all of it to come to meaningful decisions about what you want to see/do in Japan in the limited time you have. I skimmed through a lot of stuff to get a sort of general idea of what I might want to see.  I went to websites with photos, because I wanted to see if it was going to be one of those “wow” sights or one of those “meh” sights, because sometimes the book/brochure spins a better tale than the actual place yields.

Check the photos that your fellow tourists have taken, not ad agencies! It amazing what you can remove from a promotional photo with Photoshop!

You have to figure out how much time you have to visit Japan, and then you have to figure out what you have to see. You know, the stuff you’ve always wanted to see. Stuff that if you don’t see on this trip, and if the plane back home nosedives into the Pacific, you won’t die with some lingering regret and end up haunting your travel agent over it. So make a list. All the other stuff becomes negotiable. The list of must-sees will help you plan the rest.

Take It Easy

I am building some rest days into my trip. Rest days are very, very important if you’re going on a long trip to Japan. You’re going to need a few days off here and there to just noodle around and take care of administrative tasks, and sometimes just to rest.

I don’t just build in rest days into my trip, I also plan days so that I’m not trying to do more than three big things in a day.

That means if I’m going to Kyoto, I might plan on going to Kinkakuji, Ryoanji, and the Heian Shrine. That’s it. Anything else is gravy.

If I finish at Heian Shrine and it’s still 3 p.m., that’s great– I’ll go to my list of other places I want to see, and find the closest one if I have the energy. If not, then I don’t sweat it. And if I don’t make it to Heian Shrine, well, that’s just something to either see tomorrow or leave on the plate for next time.

Learning to leave places “on the plate” is important. Odds are that if you really want to go to Japan, you’re going to want to go back again when you can. So be mentally prepared to leave stuff “on the plate” and just accept that you won’t see everything.

Wait. Didn’t I just say before not to have any regrets, and now I’m saying don’t do everything? Yeah, I am. It’s a balancing act. You have to strike a balance between seeing as much as you can and not crashing and burning because you used up all of your energy trying to meet some unrealistic goal. Also, if you leave a couple of places here and there to see again, odds are that you’ll go back. If you feel like you’ve seen all of it, then you probably won’t.

There are a lot of places I want to see in Japan. Since I’m staying in Okazaki for two weeks, and it’s near Nagoya, I’m planning on making a few day trips to Nagoya. Kyoto is an obvious choice. I also want to visit Nara, since it’s close to Kyoto, home to the big Buddha, as well as a center for making excellent calligraphy brushes. I have to see Osaka, too, and maybe Kobe. I want to see Hiroshima. I want to see the A-bomb Dome and the Peace Museum, and I want to visit Miyajima. I’d also like to see Kyushu, but I’m not sure what I want to see there yet. Maybe Beppu? Of course, there’s also Nagano and Sendai, too. I want to see Sapporo– I’d love to see Hokkaido.

Getting Medications Sorted Out Before You Go

So now that I’ve done my research, and I have some ideas for places I’d like to visit while I’m over there, it’s time to take care of more mundane issues, like taking my meds into Japan for 30+ days.

If you’re on prescription meds of any kind, and you’re going to be in Japan for more than 30 days, you need to get a yakkan shoumei. What is it? It’s a kind of import license to bring in large quantities of prescription meds for personal use. How do you get one? Call the Japanese Embassy or Consulate nearest you.

Give yourself a full month to get it done, in case there are snags. I sent my forms off 3 weeks before I left, and got my yakkan shoumei about a week before I left. But there are still issues I had to work out. Namely, you can’t take more than a certain amount of certain meds without a doctor’s certificate.

I brought my doctor’s certificate with me to Japan, and it was fine after some explaining in a broken mix of Japanese and English. But you should go ahead and send a doctor’s certificate with your yakkan shoumei application, stating that the medicines are medically necessary, so you don’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to explain what’s what to the customs officials there. And if you don’t speak any Japanese… well… the difficulty level just went up a notch or two.

So get it taken care of ahead of time. If you’re going for less than 30 days, you’re okay without it… probably. Check ahead just to make sure, because laws and regulations are subject to change without notice.

Japanese Cell Phones: Rent or Bring Your Own?

Getting a cheap cell phone that would work in Japan was very annoying, but worth the trouble. Japan’s cell phone system is even more annoying than the U.S. cellular system, in that it uses an oddball frequency nobody else uses (except for one GSM carrier… sort of…), and because you can’t buy a cell phone there unless you have some sort of proof of residency in Japan.

Anyway, there are a few ways around it. I hit the howardforums website for information. It’s full of all kinds of useful info on cell phones, and I even found threads that discuss using them in Japan. The problem I ran into was that buying an unlocked phone that works in Japan isn’t cheap. But after some digging, I found that the Motorola V3X does work in Japan, and can be had on eBay for pretty cheap. I got mine for $120 with shipping, because I picked an ugly color. Not bad.

You have to get a SIM card for the phone. I bought one from, and while it’s a good SIM card, it isn’t without faults.

  • Fault 1: the phone number I got is in Estonia. That’s a biggie, because if anyone wants to call me, it’s going to be very expensive for them. I think it worked out to almost $1/minute for my family. Yikes.
  • Fault 2: minutes are based on Euros, so U.S. people get hit hard by the weak dollar.

Other than that, it works fine. All of the “global” SIM cards are going to be a collection of trade-offs. The main reason I picked this one was its free incoming calls policy. There are cheaper SIM cards out there, but they tend to have hidden fees, and sometimes they have fees for receiving calls. No thanks.

The other thing I did was plan to rent a SIM card from Softbank. Softbank is one of the major cell carriers in Japan, and they have a deal where you can rent a SIM card from them while you’re in Japan for 105 yen a day, which is about $1. Renting an actual phone is much more expensive, and really not feasible unless you’re only going to be there a short time. Incoming calls are free (yay!), and outgoing calls run 100-200 yen a minute. (Ouch.)

If you’re going to rent a SIM card, you can reserve one in case they run out when you arrive, but you need to do it a few weeks in advance.

I just showed up and took my chances. It worked out fine.

The trick I used to avoid getting gouged on calling out was to have an arranged time/number of rings for the people I wanted to call. I’d call, let the phone ring twice, and hang up. That was the signal to call me. It was always cheaper for them to call me than for me to call them, no matter which SIM card I used. Usually I had them call me on the Softbank SIM, because it was much cheaper, and on those few occasions when I had to conduct business, I would call out on the TravelSim SIM, because it was much cheaper than the Softbank SIM.

The other alternative: find a friend or relative who is a resident who can help you get a real SIM card there.

Other Travel Stuff

So with the cell phone bought, I went about securing other travel-related things. The best things I bought are:

1. The Sony PRS-500 eBook reader. Hands down, the best thing I bought. Why? I can store tons of books on it, so I don’t have to carry them with me as I go.

2. The carrying cases from Waterfield Designs. I love their iPod case because it’s not only good for carrying an iPod, it’s also good for carrying a digital camera kit. Their PSP case is also awesome, as is their Nintendo DS case. They also make pouches that are cheaper and handy for holding cables, chargers, and such.

3. Nikon Coolpix 5100. This is a very nice little 12MP digital camera. It cost me ~$400, but so far has been worth every penny. I would have loved to take my film cameras with me to Japan, but they just weigh too much.

4. Motorola V3X. Perfect for what I needed as a cell phone. Doubles as an alarm clock. I cannot emphasize how important it is to find things that multitask. Unitasking items should remain at home. (Well, except for maybe underwear.)

5. Bose noise-canceling headphones, because I want to keep ambient sounds low when I travel. Great not only for the airplane, but also for trains, screeching subways, screeching children, hotels, ending unwanted conversations, you name it. Only downside: it eats batteries.

6. My Eagle Creek monstrously huge backpack. It’s a camping-style backpack that meets carry-on regulations. Very nice. And it has a smaller backpack that detaches from the “main body” for day trips. It’s very light. I tested it out at the store with 30lbs. in it, and it felt fine. Main downside: if you fill it up, you will suffer, as will the people you carelessly clobber with it.

The only other really useful thing I can think of off-hand that I got was the iGo charger system, and I’m still on the fence about that one. It’s very useful to have all of your chargers in one bag, but it’s unwieldy.

Anyway, that’s most of my travel prep. Here’s a condensed list of links:

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