The Journey to Japan –

This poor neglected blog – I had every intention of wrapping up our European trips before I started writing about Japan, but it’s been a ridiculous 10 months since I said good-bye to Germany. Writing blogs moved lower and lower down on the list of things to do. Maybe one day I’ll finish the last 15 posts I have drafted…until then, let’s get the Japan portion started!

It’s been less than a week since I’ve landed in Japan, but the actual journey here began in February 2020 when John first accepted the position at Yokota Air Base. At that time, the only roadblock in our way was my 6.5 month military school for a new position I accepted in the Reserves. We were BLISSFULLY unaware at that time that a global pandemic was about to shift everything and we were just looking forward to continuing our adventures abroad in Asia.

This was taken on 08 Mar, when we went to an Easter Market in Germany and used this to announce our impending move to Japan. A week later, we were in lockdown.

Then, of course, came COVID, which didn’t interrupt the move but it did mean that I would have to show up to Texas for my military school three weeks early for a required Restriction of Movement (or ROM…or, the worst thing ever. Don’t confuse it with quarantine – you’re literally restricted to your room, and maybe able to workout as long as no one is around. For any extrovert, it is awful!) So, I headed off to school in mid-July instead of early August.

Me, on my way to Texas. Note the red, crying eyes – it made the flight attendants sympathetic to me, and guaranteed all the mimosas I needed/wanted. And this was when I thought John and I would only be apart for 6.5 months!!
My ROM wasn’t all bad in Texas – I got super lucky, and didn’t have to stay in a small on-base hotel room. The very nice ladies at the front desk gave me this two-bedroom temporary lodging apartment. It was brand-new and even came with laundry. I actually didn’t want to move out!

And then, the fun really began. While John was getting somewhat settled in Japan, I was in and out of ROM thanks to a massive outbreak of COVID at the schoolhouse in November, which shut class down for 25 days, and then again in January, following Christmas break travel, and then again in February, in non-COVID related weather and water issues in Texas. If people wondered why I was so crazy about the spread of COVID, it’s because ANY time I was possibly exposed, it meant a shut down of school and then a graduation date getting pushed back. As it was, it turned my separation from John from 7 months to close to 10. So, yeah, I had little patience for people who didn’t wear masks, social distance, etc.

Texas wasn’t all bad or all sitting at home. I did travel to Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and some of the smaller towns, although the experience was much different…I definitely kept my distance and avoided the crowds.

Because I took COVID guidelines very seriously, it was a bit isolating…so in October, I got the cutest puppy ever!! Which was entirely worth it, but also complicated travel to Japan. See, Japan has strict guidelines when it comes to bringing a puppy into the country – to include a 6-month quarantine to ensure the puppy doesn’t have rabies. Had I gotten Winston in August, or even early September, his quarantine would be done before we showed up to Japan. As it is, we currently have 5 weeks left on his quarantine in which he’ll have to hang out in an on-base kennel (I can’t even really talk about it). And because he is an English Bulldog, there are very few flying options – so, I had to secure a spot on the military transport plane (or the rotator). HOWEVER, it fills up fast and the earliest we could fly was on 22 Apr (I graduated on 12 Mar). That was honestly a blessing, because even though it meant another month away from my husband, I got a ton of quality time with my Michigan family.

Baby Winston!! I’m biased but English Bulldogs are literally the cutest puppies ever.
Just an additional photo because he is so darn cute!!

Adding to the fun even more…the rotator left from Seattle, and the only way to get there was to drive. Thankfully, it was more than a month after my drive from Texas to Michigan, which I still have a bit of PTSD over. (Poor Winston was diagnosed with a UTI literally the day I was starting the drive, so after stopping the first night in Dallas, we drove 22 hours straight because I just wanted to get him out of the car!!) However, when my mom said she wanted to go to help me (which was actually HUGE when it came to the airport situation in Seattle and getting checked in), we made a bit of a trip of it. And while it was a LOT of driving, we were able to make it an adventure!

My mom and me on our road trip. We made it through 10 states and three national parks in 6 days. I was so lucky to have her help along the way!

Then came the fun (sarcasm) part – the airport. Which included turning in the rental car, getting a rapid COVID test at the airport, checking in both Winston and myself, saying goodbye to my mom (sad face emoji), waiting 90 minutes before Winston had to be checked in, and then waiting another 90 minutes until we boarded the flight. After 3 hours of sleep…this was not a good time.

The rotator flight is run pretty efficiently – you have to check in no earlier than 0250 in the morning and no later than 0430 (for a flight that leaves at 0850…it’s an early morning). Thankfully, I dropped my mom, Winston and our bags at the airport and returned the rental myself then, when I got to the airport, learned I had to take a COVID test before I was allowed to check in. (One tip – get there as early as possible, seats are assigned on a first come, first served, so windows go fast). After the rental car return and the COVID test, all windows were gone but at least I got an aisle…more on that later! From that moment, I had to wait 90 minutes before the flight crew came to get Winston. And it was a LONG 90 minutes. Because, you’re trying to straddle the perfect time between getting Winston to eat and drink and also go to the bathroom so he would be okay overall on the flight. And, in the back of your mind, you’re dreading the drop-off (there were tears…it was so traumatizing!!)

Once Winston was safely dropped off, I had 90 minutes before my flight. The rotator was going to three different Japan bases, and everyone is (smartly) given seat assignments according to which base they were going to. Thankfully, Yokota was the first stop, so I was seated near the front of the plane. That was where my happiness ended, at least initially. Here’s the thing – I am admittedly a snob when it comes to flying. The last time I flew normal economy was the first time I ever went to Europe in 2011. That time, I was seated in one of the middle seats in a 2-4-2 configuration and wasn’t sure I was going to make it. On my way home from that trip, I discovered Economy Comfort and never looked back. To make it even worse, the last five international flights I made before this one were in Business class – I’ve become accustomed to that sort of comfort in my life! 🙂 So, imagine my dismay when I discovered I did indeed have an aisle, but it was in the middle section and the seats were tight. I did a few yoga breaths, grabbed my Bose headphones and my neck pillow, and reminded myself that at the end of the flight, I would get to see my husband.

THEN! Karma stepped in. I must have done something good or put something good out in the universe, because after I woke up from a quick nap (I literally fell asleep as soon as we took off..the morning emotions I think, set in) in time for the food service when the flight attendant leaned down and asked me if I was traveling with the guy in the middle seat. When I told her no, she asked me if I would like to move up to the front of the plane. See, the rotator doesn’t have business class with the lay-flat seats, but it does have a business class of sorts with wider seats and foot rests and lots of leg room (that I tried not to cry about when I walked past to my seat). Clearly, I jumped at the offer and happily found myself in a wide seat with no one next to me for the remaining 8 hours. I was so, so lucky!!

Equal parts happy because we’re about to land, and that I had 8 wonderful hours in a comfy seat and no neighbor! I’m spoiled…I can’t help it!
A closer look at the “business class” seats. All just luck of the draw, really. And I got lucky! There are only about 8 rows of these and then the rest of the plane is economy seating. I would have made it back there, but it would not have been fun!

The rotator lands right on base, and there were only two of us actually staying at Yokota (about 2/3rds of the plane were continuing on to the Air Force base in Okinawa), so while getting through customs didn’t seem long – it did because I had to wait for the vet to come and check Winston’s paperwork before I could see him or John (who was waiting just outside two sets of doors…agony!!) Thankfully, Winston handled the flight like a champ, and we only had a short car ride to the on-base lodging where I am currently sitting waiting for my ROM to be over. Thanks to being fully vaccinated, I only have to ROM strictly for seven days, then I can leave my room and explore the base for the next seven. After 14 days, I can go to our home!

About an hour after landing. I’m exhausted and jet-lagged here, but most of all, so incredibly happy!
I couldn’t have asked for a better, more patient pup. I think the trip was harder on me than him, and he just kept smiling through it all!
Home sweet home for the next two weeks. It’s actually pretty nice!
Winston is especially a fan of the big balcony to people watch!

Until then, I’m researching and reading everything and anything I can about places to see and go in Japan (because as much as I want to be optimistic, I am realistic that our travel is going to be limited to this country for awhile), enjoying quality time with John and just overall relaxing. The past 10 months have not been easy – mentally or emotionally – so getting a little extra downtime before I enter the work force again is exactly what is needed!

Now, back to adding more on to my extremely long Japan Bucket List!

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