No, that isn’t a typo.  “Days 0″ is what I meant.  With a 10-hour flight into the future, it will feel like one of the longest days of your life (but still shorter than the return trip).

While I’ve travelled internationally before, the last time I did so was when I was 13 – young enough to still have an adult chaperone to take care of all the paperwork.  This was the first time doing everything ourselves, and it was quite the whirlwind!

© 2015 LotsaSmiles Photography
Poor, lonely Holee…

We got up at our normal time (of 5am), and after many kisses to our soon-to-be-lonely Holee, we headed out to the airport, all clothing, toiletries, and camera gear in-tow.  Our first leg was uneventful and quick – only an hour hop north to the real ‘Couve.  We were on an itty bitty plane that made a lot of noise and was easily jostled by turbulence, but we arrived safely.

I was fascinated by the propellers through my phone’s camera, as they appeared disconnected and twisted.  Appropriately timed, I saw another blog post that clearly explains this phenomenon.  Sometimes, the camera really does matter!

© 2015 LotsaSmiles Photography

Vancouver was interesting, though grey with clouds.  It’s a beautiful airport, with food right at the gates.  We got a taste of being in Japan when we couldn’t find our gate; a Japanese man had to interpret what we were saying to assist us.  I was a bit surprised to see such a large Asian population in that airport, but I suppose it shouldn’t be too shocking given its proximity.

© 2015 LotsaSmiles PhotographyYVR’s Fish Tank

Our main and final leg was comfortable.  Air Canada treats you well, with two meals and a library of movie entertainment to watch on demand at your leisure.  We sat next to a friendly Vancouverite who has apparently travelled the world and was on his way to Japan (for the first time) for a conference.  We exchanged blog information, chatted about photography and traveling and a host of other things.  We otherwise passed the time watching movies, reading, and napping.  I also dedicated a fair chunk to photo organization (why not, right?).

© 2015 LotsaSmiles Photography

Landing (now about 4pm the following day), we got through immigration and redeemed our JR pass vouchers.  Our first order of business was to get some cash for our day-to-day activities.  The ATM wouldn’t work.  Frustrated, we ran to catch our train (JR passes are very handy and highly recommended), resolving to call our bank (at 20 cents per minute).  They’re really good with the fraud protection, and while we alerted them beforehand of our trip (always a good move), I feared they had still put a hold on the account (we’ve had this happen before).  Turns out nothing was wrong with the account, and we were instructed to try another ATM.  Fortunately, the next worked!  The way their ATMs open (which is a spectacle in itself), combined with our previous struggles, Aaron was feeling like he won the lottery.

© 2015 LotsaSmiles Photography

Too exhausted to do much else (despite being quite hungry), we checked into our (tiny) room and crashed, nearly 24 hours after our last alarm had gone off.  We had woken on a Saturday and tomorrow was Monday.  Add in there the end of daylight savings.  It was a LONG day… and yet, where did the weekend go?

© 2015 LotsaSmiles PhotographyPhoto courtesy of Aaron Shade

Lessons learned (disclaimer: all lessons are as of the day learned; some were relearned at a later date):

  1. Most airports have wifi, but they often require you to accept some terms in a browser before you can use it.  Fire up Chrome or Safari before you try to check your Facebook updates.
  2. Try to bring as much water onto the 10-hour flight as possible.  The air is horribly dry in that cabin, and they don’t hand out nearly enough water.

© 2015 LotsaSmiles Photography

  1. Your phone will automatically update itself with the correct time zone.  However, anything you might need to have synced to reflect this change (such as a Fitbit) will need an internet connection first.
  2. Coming through immigration, they will take fingerprints and a photo – of your groggy, sleep-deprived, thirsty, sort-of-slept-up-against-the-window-cowlicked-haired, bloodshot-eyed face.  Be prepared.

© 2015 LotsaSmiles Photography

  1. You can only use your debit cards a certain ATMs.  English instructions are a good sign that they’ll work there, and 7-11s are your best bet for US-compatibility.  Even then, they’re a bit finicky.  If you get the dreaded “invalid card,” try another ATM.  You may also have to check with your bank that no holds have been placed and that they are aware you’re legitimately in another country.
  2. Stand on the left; walk on the right.  Remember this on escalators (really a brilliant system we should adopt in the US).
  3. Outlets in Japan are nearly identical to those in the US.  The only difference is a lack of a grounding or specified hot/neutral port on the former.  In other words: you can use your American plug if it has only two prongs and both are the same size (one isn’t larger than the other).
  4. Don’t expect to charge all of your electronics at night.  At least in our hotel, all lights and power were activated by placing the keycard into a slot near the door.  Once you pull that out, the lights go out, and the outlets shut off.  Read: you cannot have lights out AND power electronics at the same time.

© 2015 LotsaSmiles Photography

Baka gaijin moment of the day: Don’t try to just walk right out of the ticket gates.  Since you can’t feed your JR pass through the wicket, you must show it to the attendant to go through.  Activating red lights can be a tad embarrassing.

© 2015 LotsaSmiles Photography

Next (Akihabara)

Entire Japan Adventure

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