Moving a Dog to Japan

James and I were back on the East Coast during the past month while he went to a school for his upcoming job. While there we were visiting some friends when someone asked us whether it was very difficult for us to move. We thought about it and realized that no, it actually was not too hard. The military provides you with a checklist of things to do and they move all your stuff. So as long as you are on top of things then you are fine. Getting a pet to Japan though… that was quite the obstacle.

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Awww, I would do anything for our little dog to be with us!

Pets, especially small dog breeds, are extremely popular in Japan. In fact, there are actually more registered family pets (dogs and cats) than children under the age of 16 in this country (a shrinking Japanese population is very interesting to read about, but that is a topic for another time). So, the difficulty in bringing a dog to this country is not due to a general dislike for small, cute wiener dogs. Rather, it is due to preventing rabies. Japan, has been rabies free since 1957 largely due to compulsory vaccination of family pets as well as elimination of stray dogs. There is a multi step process that must be followed exactly or else you risk a 180 day quarantine upon trying to enter the country.

We had to prepare for our trip starting last winter while we were still living in Newport. Our dog, Lily, loved living in Newport. She liked that we were home so much, I was working from home, and she loved sitting in front of the fireplace when it was cold out and soaking up the warmth. She also had a nice backyard with lots of little places to stick her nose into and lots of good smells.

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Monitoring the neighborhood in Newport. Little old ladies and children are (in Lily’s opinion) the most suspect people.
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Lily was also a member of the anti-seagull enforcement team and enjoyed walking on the beach Saturday mornings doing her job.

The first step to get her ready to move was to get an international microchip put in. Dogs in the US usually have a nine digit chip, but to enter Japan you need a fifteen digit chip. After getting the microchip we had to get a series of two rabies shots, thirty days apart. After the second shot dogs have to get a blood sample that is sent to a lab that then reports the results to the Japanese government. All of this must be done at least 180 days before attempting to bring the pet in, so we had to get this all done by the end of February.

Once you have the results of the blood test you must contact the Japanese quarantine service for import permission. This must be done at least 40 days prior to entering the country. I went back and forth with them a few times sending all of our paperwork and ensuring that we had, so far, done things correctly. We were just about ready to go!

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Traveling makes Lily a little anxious. She just sat in her dog carrier for about three days as we packed up in Newport, nervous she would be left behind. And yes, she is obsessed with blankets and gets upset when she doesn’t have one. Good thing we don’t spoil her too much…

While we were in Japan during June and July Lily stayed with both sets of her grandparents (our parents). At the end of August I stopped in California to pick her up and take her to our new house! The final thing you have to do before you travel is to get a health certificate. This must be done within ten days of travel. If you are a civilian you must also get the health certificate endorsed by the USDA, but since we are military we were allowed to skip this step and just use a military veterinarian to get the final health exam. We were ready to go!

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My second time in one summer flying to Japan with too much stuff!

Although Lily has criss crossed the US numerous times on airplanes, she had always been able to travel in the cabin with us. This would be her first time traveling as checked baggage, and her first time on an eleven hour flight. We were all a little nervous about the upcoming trip.

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Lily thought if she just didn’t look directly at her carrier then it would just disappear.

Time to say goodbye!

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Ahh my heart is breaking!
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Get on the plane, Lily. NO, not without you!

I swear I heard a dog barking right before takeoff (might have been my imagination), but upon landing Lily was still alive, albeit pretty mad and doing her angry barks. Dogs must still pass through customs after landing and there was a quarantine office at Narita Airport that gave her an exam. This took about half an hour to do, and even though there was a minor mistake on her health exam, she passed and we were allowed to leave the airport! Hooray!

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Checking out the sunrise over Tokyo Bay. We both had jet lag the first few days so we had some early morning walks!

Lily is still getting used to her new home and isn’t too crazy about our house right now. We just got out furniture delivered so everything is all over the place, and our backyard is kind of small and doesn’t have many interesting smells for her. But she will adjust and be fine soon. We still have to get final confirmation from the Yokosuka base veterinarian that we have completed all of the requirements, but once we have that we will be allowed to leave the base and go for walks out in town. Just like us, Lily is eager to explore her new hometown more and experience Japan!

The Big Move

A lot of our friends and family were very curious about the details of how exactly we were going to be moving to Japan. It is, after all, pretty far away from Rhode Island. We also could not find too much information ourselves about the experience online, except for a few other blog posts. So hopefully, if you are military PCSing to Japan you will find this helpful as well!

Our move from Newport, Rhode Island to Yokosuka, Japan (pronounced you-koo-ska) took about a week and a half and involved a couple of pit stops along the way. We started off by driving from Newport down to Washington, DC (thanks goes out to our awesome friends Paul and Tessa for their hospitality!) where we caught a flight to San Diego. We got to spend about a week in San Diego and had a chance to visit with a lot of our family, so nice to see everyone. All of the military flights going to Japan and Korea leave out of Seattle, so that was our third and final stop in the US.

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Gorgeous weather for our long layover!

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We just had one day to spend in the city, but we loved going to Pike’s Place Market and Bainbridge Island.

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So much delicious seafood. We went back later in the afternoon and this stand let me try some things for free!
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Not such a bad way to spend a long layover!

The military flights work a little differently than your regular commercial flight. To start with you do not get a seat assignment until you check in for the flight. Although the flight was not scheduled to leave until 8:50 am, check in was from 2:50 to 5:50 am. We read that it was a good idea to get there earlier in order to get a better seat assignment. People actually start lining up the night before and just sleep in the terminal. We aren’t that dedicated though, so we got there at 2:15 and waited in line.

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The line in front of the ticket counter at 2:15 am, these are the hard core people who lined up the afternoon or night before.
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But wait, there’s more…
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The line actually stretched all the way down the international terminal. There were probably about 200 people in front of us. At least no other airlines operate on this crazy schedule so we had the place to ourselves.

Although there were a lot of people in front of us, one of the reasons the line was so incredibly long was because everyone was traveling with a lot of crap stuff, including us.

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OMG too much… The airline weighed all of our luggage and our checked bags came to 194 pounds and carry ons came to 72 pounds.

It took us close to two and a half hours to get through the check in line, and in retrospect I do not think it was worth it to get there so early. Even with all those people in front of us we were still seated in row 17 (of 40) right next to each other. Quite a few other people showed up around the time we were checking in and they did not have to wait in a super long line, and they got a couple more hours sleep than us… but oh well. After finally checking in we went through security and headed over to the Centurion Lounge to spend a couple hours before our flight took off.

The DOD charters flights using a company called Atlas Air. So if you ever see one of their planes at an airport you can probably guess they have a plane full of military people being moved someplace far away. They also claim that their flight experience is similar to a business class one on other airlines.. not so sure about that, but okay, whatever.

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Our plane to Japan.

We boarded the plane but then sat on the tarmac for about half an hour. They announced that we were overweight (ouch!) and that everyone needed to de-board while they got rid of some fuel… I’m no expert but getting rid of fuel before flying halfway around the world did not seem like the best idea. Fortunately, the people operating our aircraft know more than I do about these things and we got back on the plane a couple of hours later and took off.

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Finally taking off, so sleepy!
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Bye USA!

The flight to Yokota, Japan (the US Air Force base nearest to Yokosuka) was about ten hours. Besides being long, it was fine and uneventful. As usual, sleeping was not easy and we both spent most of the flight reading, listening to podcasts, or playing games on our phones.

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Breakfast… we didn’t eat the dinner offered.
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Our first glimpse of Japan, so pretty!

After we landed everyone going to the Japan bases got off the plane while those going on to Korea stayed on (they were allowed to get off a little later to stretch their legs). We got to watch a fun video to introduce us to living in Japan. It included helpful advice like not trying to enter the country with porn or drugs, probably a good idea for any country! After the video we got our passports stamped and orders checked and boarded a bus for Yokosuka. At this point we had been awake for well over 24 hours, but we finally made it!