Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Packing for your move to Iwakuni

PCS (for those of you non-military types who are reading this, this is a Permanent Change of Station… basically, our 2, 3 or 4 years are up at our current base and it’s time to move again) season is gearing up and more people are moving to Iwakuni this summer than ever in recent history, due to the base expansion. I have been getting a lot of questions about what to pack in what shipment, carry-on, etc., which I understand. That was one of my top priorities once the shock of “Oh, $#!+, I’m moving to Japan!” wore off.

Unfortunately, we happened to be stationed in Pensacola when we got orders, aboard a Naval base, and the information folder they gave to us about MCAS Iwakuni was about three years out of date. Which was pretty standard for any information about the Marine Corps, if there was even any information specifically for Marines available. After all, sailors were the priority on a Navy base. So, I headed online to find out what I could about moving to Iwakuni… which was pretty darn close to nothing. The MCAS Iwakuni base website didn’t even have my husband’s squadron listed on it… because it happens to be the smallest one on the base (Thanks to someone with a loud mouth, it is now listed. Think of me when you see MACS4 on the list of squadrons). The lack of information was appalling, which is part of the reason I blog about my life here: I hope to help out other families moving here.

Fortunately, we happened to be stationed in Pensacola with another, more experienced Marine Corps family who was moving to Okinawa about the same time we were moving to Iwakuni, and had already served a tour in Iwakuni more than a decade earlier. Seasoned spouse Cheri Schultz was a fabulous resource for me during this crazy time and she shared her personal “PCS with Success” information with me. With her permission, I share the information about what to pack, for when and where, with you below.

These suggestions are based off of Cheri’s family’s needs (or mine). We each have four members in our family, so adjust the quantities as necessary. The list items in red are where I deviated from Cheri’s list.


I do not pack light. I never have. And this trip was definitely no exception. Each member of our family had the max of what we were allowed to travel with: two large suitcases, a backpack and a carry-on suitcase. That’s eight full-sized suitcases, four small suitcases and four backpacks. If you follow the Jessica Guthrie-be-prepared-for-anything-including-a-zombie-invasion method of moving, make sure every suitcase has wheels. My purse was in my carry-on suitcase, but my wallet was in my backpack. Here is what I packed (with some help from some of Cheri’s suggestions):


Boys’ Carry-on: My sons were 10 and 6 when we arrived in Iwakuni, old enough to wear a backpack and pull a small carry-on suitcase, so they did. Toys, all of their handheld electronics, games and power cords, and snacks were in their backpacks, which also had an index card with all of the contact information I could think of on it, in case we somehow got separated. In their carry-on suitcases were more toys, two complete changes of clothes (Cheri recommends five), and their toiletry bags (toothpaste, toothbrush, contact solution, contact case, extra contacts, hair gel, hair brush, etc.). I also included a sweatshirt, even though it was July, and their night-time woobies (i.e., security blankets, favorite stuffed animal, etc. … don’t tell them I told you!).

My Carry-on: In my suitcase: My purse, external hard drives, iPad, power cords, camera, lenses, important documents (see list below), two complete changes of clothing and the bare necessities of toiletry items, in a plastic Ziploc baggie as required by the airline. I also had a small bottle of mild dish soap... you never know what you might need to clean in a hotel sink. Make sure it is in the plastic Ziploc baggie required by the airlines.

My backpack: My wallet with regular documentation, like drivers license and military ID… you will NEED your military ID for nearly EVERYTHING – including grocery shopping on base - while in Iwakuni, so make sure it is up to date before you leave the States! I also had $100 cash and 10,000 yen per person in my family (so $400 and 40,000 yen), all passports (both the free government one and tourist), a copy of Rodney’s orders, air travel itinerary, laptop with power cord (I did not have an iPad yet), first aid kit, cell phone chargers (I couldn’t call, but when I found WiFi at the airports I could Skype, Facebook message or iMessage), battery-powered device charger, and prescriptions/medications for the family, including Tylenol, Tums and motion sickness meds.

Rodney’s Carry-on: I have no idea. I let him worry about himself but I suggested that he have two sets of clothes and a toothbrush. I think he listened, but I am not sure.

Checked Baggage

Boys’ Checked Baggage: More toys (kids get bored easily and these may be the only toys you have for weeks or months) and all of their summer clothes and items, such as swim trunks. I packed some fall items, as well, since I was not sure when our advance and main shipments would actually arrive. Their suitcases also housed some of my stuff I needed for my job as an online college instructor (class started about three weeks after I was scheduled to arrive in Iwakuni), like books and files.

My Checked Baggage: Most of my summer clothes and matching shoes/sandals, going mostly for comfort, rather than style, although I packed a dress or two “just in case.” I did have some jeans and long-sleeved shirts, as well. All of my make-up and hair stuff, any liquid toiletries and candles the movers wouldn’t move and I wasn’t willing to give up, two power strips, desk items (pens, pencils, notepads, stapler, scissors, tape, etc.), flashlight, batteries of different sizes, and anything else I felt I needed and couldn’t live without for a month or more.

Rodney’s Checked Baggage: I have no idea. I had enough to worry about and I have made it a point NOT to learn all the parts to a uniform so I am consistently less than helpful and can concentrate on my much-longer to-do lists of life.

Advance Shipment (up to 500 pounds)
This supposedly gets picked up at your old house before your main shipment and arrives at your new house before your main shipment. But with the lovely shipping shenanigans, especially at peak PSC season (summer and around Dec./Jan) I have heard many tales of how the advance shipment arrives with or after your main shipment. And, to throw a wrench in to "what should happen," our advance and main shipments were packed a day apart. Our advance shipment did arrive about two weeks ahead of our main shipment, so it was nice to have these items. You are given loaner furniture by housing (called a lending locker, which has other household items, as well) if you get a home prior to your main shipment arriving. It is free to use and arrives in various conditions, depending on who you ask and which family had the good/bad experience.

Here is what to pack in your Advance Shipment:

4 sets of dishes (plates and bowls)
4 sets of silverware
2 sets of sheets for each bed (Iwakuni temporary furniture are twin and queen-sized beds)
A set of bath towels, had towels a washcloths for each person in your family
Clothing (including all of the kids’ clothes that we did not pack to fly with us)
Some Tupperware
Bicycles/air pump
Alarm clock
Clock for living area
Extension cord(s)
Power strips
A few tools
A phone
Measuring cups and spoons
Can opener
Cutting board
Mixing bowl
Baking stones
Timer (iPads/iPhones also work)
Crock pot
Dish towels
Hot pads
Coffee cups
Plastic drinking cups
Trash can (not needed in Iwakuni)
DVD player

Things I wished I had packed once I got to Iwakuni:
Microwave (there aren’t any built-in microwaves in the midrises I have seen)
Lamps (some midrises have NO overhead living room light… it gets very dark.)

I am not sure what more would be needed if you happen to be assigned a townhouse. Perhaps someone could comment below if there are other things to bring.

As mentioned, here is Cheri's list of important documents:

Important Documents:

birth certs
marriage cert
divorce decree (if applicable)
social security cards
insurance docs
mortgage and rental docs
copies of orders
immunization records
dental records
Any medical records you can get your hands on (bases losing records has been a continuous problem for our family)
last LES statement
powers of attorney
bank books with checks
home inventory of household goods (video or photos)
professional licenses or certifications
address book
packer’s list
new duty station information folder
last month’s bills
PCS with Success folder
resume (the dependent spouse's)
school records, including any IEPs
pet health records
tax returns
computer passwords

Things I bought once I was in Iwakuni:

Pillows (We needed new ones and then we had more space in our advanced shipment
Phone (ours was apparently the wrong frequency... ?)
Queen mattress cover
Twin mattress covers (because the temporary mattresses we got were DISGUSTING, and even though they had a plastic cover to put on them, I wanted one more layer of protection. Ugh.)
Shower organizer
Toilet bowl brushes (who wants those to be packed?! Yuck!)
Light bulbs (for the lamps that came in our main shipment, but that I had wished were packed in my advanced shipment.)

Sure, you could buy all this stuff, but the $2,000 or however many dollars of "inconvenience pay" you get wouldn't cover half of it, so I encourage you to pack as much as you can. Also, selections at the Exchange here are VERY limited, and the next closest Exchange is about 6 hours away (Sasebo) and even smaller, so shop while you are still in the States.

I hope this helps... and a big thanks to Cheri for allowing me to share. If you recently moved to Iwakuni and had something else to add to this list, please feel free to share in a comment below!

Want more? Posts are listed chronologically in the right-hand margin. If you are viewing this from a computer, there is a search box in the top left corner... type in a couple of search words you are interested in... like commissary. Or town hall. Or love hotel. ;)


Crystal said...

The candles you had in your checked bags, where they like scentay? And they allowed them to go?

Jessica Guthrie said...

Yep, I had no problems.

Jessica Guthrie said...

I have some other suggestions from people on Facebook:

From Julie: I tried to post a comment on there, but don't have an account for any of the options. I just wanted to add that for the advance shipment I also like to pack my broom, vacuum cleaner, desk top computer and printer. (vacuum and broom are important for me because of my 2 black labs that shed enough in a day to make another dog).

From Brenda: I will add those traveling with kids, we let them each pack whatever toys/ stuff they wanted in one of the USPS boxes and my folks mailed the day we left so they had mail and toys a couple days after we arrived.

From Bryce: I also recommend a power strip for your carry on/ backpack. Sounds strange but your electronics will die on the way and all the other passengers will vie with you to recharge in the few places you can. Everyone's happy when you bust out your power strip.

From Elizabeth: For those of you with babies, they say no furniture in the express shipment. However, you're allowed to pack your child's crib. I did this for my little guy and I think it made a big difference in helping him get settled in the new house.

From Lidia: Bring a Magic Jack from the states. We had to wait for awhile to buy one cause the PX was sold out. Also the PX does not sell cordless phones.

From Tiffany: If u have a iPhone u can ry magic jack on your phone for free :) u don't gotta buy a jack

Kimberly H said...

PCSing is no time to travel light! Take all the luggage you are allowed (it nearly equals the weight of your advance shipment for a family). I packed sheets, towels and pillows in my luggage because I didn't want to wait for the advance shipment. I used "Space Saver" bags that you suck the air out with a vacuum. Also, I did not pack enough snacks for the flight. My 4 yo daughter didn't eat any airline food and quickly gobbled up my supply of crackers and cookies. We didn't get to purchase food at Yokota, either.

We shipped our mattress and bed, but I wish I had also shipped my daughter's mattress. The military twin bed is truly awful - I will be buying her a new mattress during our stay.

Jessica Vorakoummane said...

Hi. Thank you for all this information! It is really helpful. My husband and I arePCSing to Iwakuni in mid May of 2015. By that time we'll have a new born with us as well. Any advice on what baby supplies is available there or what to bring? Are any there large franchise baby stores in the area? Also would you know where I can obtain various measurements of the different on base housing potentiallyrics available?
We have bought pretty much nothing yet for the baby since we weren't sure what to pack but this was the best insight I've received yet. Thank you so much.

Jessica Guthrie said...

Anyone have any baby suggestions? I don't have babies anymore...

Jessica Guthrie said...

I have been told to buy as many large baby items in the States as possible, and have them shipped with your household goods. Some people even ship their cribs with the advance shipment. Furniture, like cribs, is very limited here and if you order something it takes months to arrive.

Stacy Kay said...

Any suggestions about what needs to be done when bringing dogs with you?

David Daggett said...

Thanks, again, Jessica. I may be going back to Iwakuni or maybe Oki. Not sure yet, but your blogs sure helped me begin to get ready now instead of waiting until the last minute.
Your blogs are much appreciated.
I had a great laugh about your "1st Visit to an onsen"!!! LOL

Dave Daggett