Moving from Seattle, USA, to Sendai, Japan
Moving in any circumstance can be a major undertaking. Even simply moving across town or to a new neighborhood can mean upending your life as you know it. So imagine what happens when you decide to move not just across town, but across the Pacific ocean. Moving from Seattle to Sendai took a lot of planning, some stamina and muscle power, and a bit of luck! Here is how we did it, and a few things we learned along the way.
The Planning Stage
We didn’t just decide to move, book plane tickets, and fly off to new adventures! Moving from Seattle to Sendai was a carefully planned project. It all started with a conversation about a beach. That started us thinking about a few things, such as if Seattle was the best place for us, what we really wanted to do with the rest of our lives, and what we needed to do to make that happen.
After some initial brain storming and researching what moving from Seattle to Sendai would actually entail we got more serious in 2017. Since this move would be a massive undertaking we could not afford to leave things to chance. So here come the decision trees! By the time we actually hopped on that plane in late 2018 we had analyzed over 12,000 different scenarios, made over 3,000 individual decisions, and had over 5,000 alternatives planned out just in case. That involved everything from where to move, how to move, and when to move, to little things such as “Should we take this?” or “Do you think we will need this?”
Why Sendai, Japan?
We knew we wanted to hit the ultimate reset button and continue our life together in a new place. But initially we weren’t sure where that place would be. As a Canadian citizen I had the ability to take Coco there. But as much as we like “The Great White North” we decided it was too much like living in the US, but colder. And we really wanted to be somewhere different.
Next up was moving to Europe. I have dual citizenship, which enables us to live anywhere in the EU, including England. And we have friends in Europe, and I have family there. And we have not yet ruled out living in Europe again, but for now at least moving from Seattle to Sendai made more sense.
Coco is Japanese, and has family in Sendai. And as time moved on she started to really miss her family, and the ability to see them more often. We looked into what it would take to life in Sendai, and how Sendai would compare to living in Seattle. We found that Sendai was in many ways much like Seattle. About twice the size of Seattle it would provide us with similar benefits and opportunities. And it even has its own version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market! So moving from Seattle to Sendai made the most sense for us.
In early 2018 we were ready to get serious about moving from Seattle to Sendai. The death of my mother in April of that year removed the final thing keeping us in the US, and we decided there would never be a better time. So in May 2018 we decided to move from Seattle to Sendai by the end of the year. Of course, there was a ton of stuff we had to do before we would be ready to leave.
Bringing Our Cats
The first step in moving from Seattle to Sendai was to figure out everything we would need. That included the necessary permits to bring our two felines Goma and Pixel, which I will actually outline in a separate post. Next came what the two of us needed to move there. Where would we live? After all, it wasn’t like we could spend a few weekends visiting potential homes!
Finding a Place
Luckily Coco speaks and reads fluent Japanese, which enabled us to not only research options before moving from Seattle to Sendai, but actually apply for and rent our beautiful new home a few months before we left Seattle. We were ecstatic when we found out we qualified! And we love our new home; it is exactly what we hoped for. After living in a historic loft for 15 years we wanted something a lot more modern. Finding an industrial style home with exposed concrete walls and a red lacquer kitchen was a dream come true!
Having an idea what kind and size of home we would be moving into in Sendai made the next step easier as well. It gave us an exact idea what we would need, and what we could take. And that was not very much. Moving from Seattle to Sendai required us to shed about 95% of what we owned. Which is actually another reason why we decided to move.
Shipping our Stuff
Moving from Seattle to Sendai required some professional help. After all, this is not something where you rent a U-Haul truck and treat some of your buddies for beer and pizza! Instead we needed assistance not only with the actual move, but dealing with the paperwork, customs clearances, and all the things required when you move to a different country. And we greatly appreciated all the help we received from our international shipping company. From the initial consult and estimate to packing and loading our belongings Yamato Transport made moving from Seattle to Sendai that much easier. Arigatou Gozaimasu, Kuro Nekko!
Two Humans, and 400 Pounds of Gear!
The next step in moving from Seattle to Sendai involved our own trip. At first we considered bringing Goma and Pixel, as well as our required gear, all in one move. We are so glad we decided against that, even so we miss our two fur balls! Simply moving the two of us from Seattle to Sendai was challenging enough.
We were lucky to get an excellent fare from SeaTac to Narita during the holiday season, no less! We did that by comparing different airlines, flights and dates. It helps if you are not set on a specific airline or date. We would have preferred ANA, but they only had one cheap seat. And there was just no way Coco would let me sit on her lap for 12 hours! And the Delta alternative worked just as well.
The next step in moving from Seattle to Sendai was to pack for the flight, and transition from our former home to travel mode. For this reason we decided to stay in a hotel in Seattle for our last two nights. This gave us a chance to clean out our final belongings, and get our damage deposit back from our landlord in Seattle. And we said goodbye for now to Goma and Pixel, who stayed with friends and their vet until their big flight to Japan.
The Big Day!
The big day arrived. The day we were moving from Seattle to Sendai! We knew this would be a long and exhausting trip. From the moment we got up in Seattle to the moment we would go to sleep in Sendai would take over 24 hours, a 17 hour time difference, and a jump across the international dateline! Whew! (It made my as bit tired just typing this out!
We prepared by getting a good night’s rest before, eating a big breakfast, and hydrating extensively. We also wore comfortable clothes and shoes. Everything we took along was carefully packed. Over 80 pounds of valuable gear, including 4 MacBook Pros, one Chromebook, 2 iPads, Nikon DSLR and GoPro cameras, plus external hard drives, would always be with us. A large amount of cash was carefully hidden on Coco. The rest was packed in three large suitcases. Remember, we had to take everything we would need for the first 4-6 weeks in Japan before our stuff arrived.
The first step of actually moving from Seattle to Sendai was the flight from SeaTac airport to Narita airport in Tokyo. In order to have a big buffer we arrived at the airport 4 hours before our departure time. Check in and security went surprisingly fast, which gave us plenty of time to relax at the gate, and for Coco to have a final beer in the US!
The flight itself was long, almost 11 hours, and pretty bumpy over the Aleutian Islands. Just imagine what it must have been like at sea level! But we passed the time by watching 2 movies, and catching up on Simpsons episodes, eating 2 meals and snacks, napping, and reading. So the time went pretty fast. And Delta Airlines definitely took great care of us.
Upon arrival at Tokyo-Narita we passed through immigration and customs, retrieved our impressive pile of luggage and sent some of it to Sendai with Kuro Nekko. And then we were ready for the next phase of moving from Seattle to Sendai.
The Train Rides
Narita airport is actually not in or even near Tokyo, but about an hour away. So we took the express train to Tokyo Station to transfer to the Tohoku Shinkansen to our final destination in Sendai, about 2 hours north of Tokyo. The first leg went as planned. The express to Tokyo Station was on time, and we enjoyed the ride looking out at the passing countryside flashing by in the dark.
Unfortunately we picked a bad day to travel through Tokyo Station. An earlier breakdown of another Shinkansen in the station threw the entire system into chaos. When we arrived over 200,000 passengers were at the Shinkansen gates trying to reach their destinations. The fact it was the start of the New Years Holiday period didn’t help.
Lucky for us the people we asked for directions were traveling in the same direction, so we just stuck to them. For two hours not much happened other than more and more travelers arriving. It got close and personal, as you can imagine! Lucky for us we purchased the Shinkansen tickets at Narita airport. So we just settled in to wait; what else was there to do?
When the Shinkansen finally arrived for boarding things got interesting. A mad rush of thousands of passengers through the Shinkansen gates, up the stairs to the platform, and trying to find their carriage. We expected this, and made it to our carriage, and even got two seats! We only had standing tickets, but luckily the passengers who had reserved our seats did not get on until Sendai Station.
Arriving in Sendai
After a 90 minute ride on the Tohoku Shinkansen we arrived at our final destination. We had reservations at a hotel close to Sendai Station. But after a long day we decided on a short cab ride. Moving from Seattle to Sendai plain tuckered us out! We checked into our hotel, and freshened up a little bit.
The final step in moving from Seattle to Sendai was our first actual meal in Japan. Because we arrived so late many restaurants were already closed. Luckily we found a decent spot still open. Both of us were starving, and Coco definitely needed some Sake! And we really enjoyed our first meal, consisting of Sashimi, Gyutan (beef tongue, a local specialty) and a few other yummy things. The hardest part was putting our shoes back on for the short walk back to our hotel!
Our Move in Pictures
Final Thoughts on Moving from Seattle to Sendai
We definitely learned a few things along the way. Intensive planning and preparation was tedious, stressful, and time consuming. It also was essential! By anticipating almost every eventuality we could develop multiple backup plans for each. The fact we actually did not need any of them made for an even better journey.
And a huge undertaking such as moving from Seattle to Sendai can take a toll on relationships. We knew this ahead of time. We also had been together long enough that we completely trusted each other to get this done. For us it actually came as a surprise that so many of our friends commented: “WOW! You are actually doing this!” For us there was never any doubt about doing this. And we never doubted each other or ourselves that we could get this done.
Now we are here, and ready to start our new life. Stay tuned, and we will share our next experiences with you. And we hope this post will serve as an inspiration to all of you to follow your dreams! Maybe your are not planning on moving from Seattle to Sendai. But we encourage you to not only chase your dreams, but to grab them and make them a reality. Because ultimately nobody will care about or even remember the time you spent at work.