By the time my family has perfected the art of the successful move, I am sure it will be our last! One of the best ways to prepare for an overseas relocation is to reach out to your friends and their friends and ask for advice, especially for a destination like Japan.
I was curious how an overseas move differs from a stateside move, so I reached out to a long-time military spouse friend with loads of experience in locations such as Europe and Asia. Megan responded with suggestions for making a successful transition to Japan.
PCS to Japan: Tips from a Military Spouse Who's Been There!
These are nitty-gritty solutions to common problems that extend beyond the typical pre-planning move advice offered by unofficial or official military outlets. Never discount first-hand advice from a military spouse!
The airplane ride may bring anxiety to those who have small children and have yet to travel long distances. Intensive preparation before the flight bodes far better than begging flight attendants for a deck of cards and peanuts.
Check out a few of Megan’s tips:
- Use this cheap trick to protect strollers in transport: buy a twin size mattress cover and duct tape it securely around the stroller. If it survives the flight and can be used again, wash it and stow it for your trip home.
- In addition to readying the all-important electronic devices and stash of special snacks, run through the local dollar store for gifts to unwrap when the kids won’t tolerate another episode of My Little Pony. No worries if these cheap toys are broken or left behind on the plane!
- Hey, we’ve all been there, desperate on a plane! Read Air Travel with Kids: Survival Tips for Parents and Fellow Passengers to get through it all!
- If you have an infant, use the bassinet option some airlines offer. Megan and her family flew United Airlines and, thankfully, the military paid for the bassinet. It saves everyone a little sanity with baby safely in her own space.
- Kids are messy and need changes of clothes. Pack them in a convenient location on board (preferably in zipper bags for reuse later) and add a comfy outfit for yourself, just in case the kids can’t handle turbulence and their snacks make a second appearance on the front of your shirt!
For even more tips on a move to Japan, read Must-Know Tips for a Military Move to Japan.
The uncertainty and angst of traveling with a pet to Japan is one of the top reasons many people do not look forward to their PCS. But, procrastination only makes the journey worse for you and your pet. Multiple layers of preparation are needed to successfully fly a pet to Japan.
Pets require very specific arrangements to fly commercially. From shots and health records to proper crate systems and restricted seasonal travel, the list of do's and don’ts is extensive. Alexis Miller a writer for MILLIE, a MilitaryByOwner partner, documented her flight from Seattle to Japan and offered a first-hand account to learn from.
For even more specifics about PCS pet travel, read What to Know About Flying with Pets During Your PCS Move and 6 Resources for a Military Move with Pets to save time and sanity while preparing your pet to move.
Megan told me she arms herself with technology such as HyperDia, an app that calculates routes, times, distances, and fares for trains and planes throughout Japan. It also offers maps and regional information for many popular sites. She finds it invaluable because it offers English options.
She is also adamant about diving into the local scene, imploring, “Travel, travel, travel. Get out and explore, or you'll be sorry later.” Her pro tip is to utilize MWR’s minivan rentals to avoid costly tolls.
But, if you’ve ever lived abroad, you understand that sometimes you just want to enjoy the comforts of home found in the United States every now and then. Megan’s family finds refuge at The New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. It offers American-style amenities and rates based on the military member's rank. If you have familiarity with the Armed Forces Recreation Centers, The New Sanno is similar, but is operated under the U.S. Naval Joint Services Activity.
Often the most difficult part of an overseas adjustment is housing. Megan’s experience with the homes on Camp Zama sound very similar to other spouses I have heard from stationed in Japan. They are small, unattractive, and very close to one another.
She heartily suggests bringing decorating options such as rugs to make the new space homey. She also advises bringing as many Christmas decorations as possible, as they are hard to come by.
Luckily, all 120 volt appliances work in the housing there. Speaking of appliances, if you already have dehumidifiers, have them shipped early. You’ll need the assistance combating the Japanese humidity. Megan uses a couple throughout the house to keep it comfortable.
Bikes are a must for the family to travel on base easily, although families also purchase cars from the rotating “cheap, used car” operation that remains popular with military in foreign countries.
She strongly suggests to make friends quickly with your surrounding neighbors. We all know how those relationships can make or break a PCS, especially in close proximity while living on base. If you’re not happy about orders to Japan, take to heart that most military families leave with gratitude for the experience and bond with friends they both commiserate and celebrate with.
Megan’s family includes several children in a wide age range, and it never ceases to amaze me how she manages to prepare and execute so many adventures where she doesn’t know the language or geography! She is quick to note that Japanese culture is very kid-friendly and, in her experience, the local community was kind and to her family.
Feel a bit better? Just remember, plenty of families before yours have moved successfully and joyfully tell the tale later! Keep an eye on MilitaryByOwner’s blog for more travel tips not only to Japan, but wherever the military sends you!