I started peeking around at flight reservations to Japan. My thinking was that the easiest, most pain-free trip would be non-stop from Chicago (ORD) to 成田国際空港 (Narita Int'l Airport, NRT). It seems I will need to find $650-1000 dollars for a one way ticket, or play around with a round-trip (and rescheduling the return).
I'm not sure which is better, a one-way or round trip. Considering that i'm leaving nearly a year after I get there, a round-trip ticket shouldn't be any cheaper than two one-way tickets. Invariably there are fees to move around the return date, which will probably be similar to the higher cost from inflation/devalued currency. Either way, I'm going to be out a lot of money.
Right now i'm considering 3 options: JTB (Japan Traveler's Bureau) is a gigantic Japanese travel agency which mainly does business in Japan (http://www.jtbusa.com/enhome/s-chi1.asp). They have some good deals, but I'm unsure about their level of flexibility. I'm pretty sure I'm not eligible for a rail pass, either :(
Second option is Orbitz, Travelocity, or something like that. Prices are generally more expensive than a travel agent. Third choice is STA Travel, which I've heard has reasonable rates and easy rescheduling.