wandering amphibia

Another Japan trip

It occurred to me that if I buffer my posts until I’m done posting the Burma stuff, I’ll be so swamped with subsequent travel that I’ll never get the posts done. So I’m going to intersperse the Burma trip with more “current” news.

So I had to make an unscheduled work trip to Japan. It was set basically on Wednesday, and I’ve just landed. So here are a few notes from the trip so far (though to be fair, I’m not likely to have as many “touristy” notes since I’m here for work – but food blogging shall happen!). I’d make some kind of a quip about “feeling like I’ve not been here for a while”, but that would probably be ill-received.

My flight routing was through Vancouver on to Tokyo. Sadly, the Air Canada 787/Dreamliner does not fly yet, so I couldn’t fly to the much more convenient Haneda airport. I also couldn’t fly the direct Toronto-Narita route because there were 3 seats left in business, and my upgrade chances were so low I was willing to route differently. To be fair, it’s also a bit more pleasant to break the journey into slightly shorter flights (YVR-NRT is a shade under 10 hours, unlike YYZ-NRT, which is almost 12).

About the flight. In frequent flyer circles, if I commended Air Canada, their service, their business class, or anything remotely to do with a North American airline, I’d get panned and ridiculed. The mantra is that it’s a North American airline and by definition, it can’t be good.

The really weird thing is, despite me trying to avoid it as much as I possibly can on most of my holiday trips, AC business literally leaves nothing but good memories for me, every time I fly. Maybe it’s because I have zero expectations so I don’t have to deal with the clusterf. that SQ First was (that report is yet to come, as part of my Burma trip). Maybe it’s the … actually, I don’t know what else. I guess I’ll go with the “diminished expectations”. But seriously. With few exceptions, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with AC business. They are certainly not pretentious. They are hardly ever stunning looking. Yet maybe… with age comes skill and experience. Small example: on my flight today, my glass got refilled without me asking. Normal on an Asian airline; not so normal on a North American one. But wait! More than that, it got refilled without the guy *looking*. he passed by and I tried to catch his eye, but didn’t succeed … and then a refill came. I’m VERY impressed. The flight also had *three* varieties of red and two varieties of white, of which one a pretty decent Californian. You’d be lucky to find two of each on most flights.

In a way, AC service is very Canadian. Often quite informal and highly “personal”, but pleasant. I asked for Japanese newspapers on the flight. the stewardess’s reaction: “Wow! I’m impressed! Ok I’ll give you ALL the ones we have onboard, but I expect results.” And she brought me *three* papers (Yomiuri, Asahi and an all-sports paper of some kind, which was sorta weird). Not sure what sort of results she was expecting, but that … friendliness is what sets AC apart, I think. UA is probably the closest thing but something is off – and somehow it just isn’t quite like this. And obviously the Asian airlines are far too stuck up to be anywhere near like this.

First flight of the day – breakfast (on the domestic segment):


I went to check out the Maple Leaf Lounge in Vancouver, since I haven’t been to the international side of it in quite some time. Summary: about the same as the other MLLs; in fact, worse in some ways, as it only has Molson Canadian beer (which wasn’t working anyway, since it was before 11. Who woulda thunk).

photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5

I realised I had some  time remaining, so I went over to the Plaza Premium lounge, since it was also closer to my departure gate. Turns out it’s a very impressive lounge, and I should have gone here in the first place. Doh. Even has hot sandwiches they can grill for you, and local beer on tap (it was just past 11am :p ).

photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

Anyway, on to the flight. The food wasn’t anything particularly special, but it was decent. Of course, the funny thing about AC is that it feels kind of rickety at times. On neither of my two flights today was the satellite map working:

photo 2

(and yet, unlike on SQ, where I expect nothing but perfection, here, I just closed the screen and resigned to not knowing where I am).

Another thing that I must commend AC on, though, are the landings. I have consistently experienced excellent landings with AC pilots. Again, it may be only my experience, but the moment the wheels touch the ground has virtually always been impressive.

Arriving to Narita reminded me why I sort of don’t like this airport, though. The walk from the plane to the exit is so long that you basically become hungry by the time you’re at the exit. That said, there was zero wait at immigration, my “priority” bag actually came out first (unlike in Montreal, where, I feel, all luggage with priority tags comes <em>last</em>), and I made it to the ticket machine and got on the Narita Express that departed at 14:44 (and the plane opened doors at about 14:25). So within 19 minutes I was not only out, but in a train and moving towards the city. I suppose, in a way, I shouldn’t complain too much. What I was reminded of is that I am in Japan: the “express” train map is in English, since that’s what foreigners take, but the local train map is only in Japanese, because why would a foreigner go to a local station… right?

The Narita Express represents a variety of airport express trains in Japan that are extremely convenient, and therefore prohibitively expensive. There are a number of ways to get from Narita to downtown, but if one wants to get there <em>soon</em>, then there are rather few. Taxi will easily break the $200 mark, and local trains will take hours. The Express is a compromise at about 45 minutes and $35, which I find excessive for a train, but considering how far the damn airport is, a necessary evil. I can’t wait for Haneda flights to start.

Since the difference between a green car (“first class”) and a “regular” one was only $10, I figured, I’m blowing money on the train already, why the hell not try the difference. Realistically though, neither the Shinkansen nor this express are really worth spending money on for the deluxe seat, since the regular ones have so much legroom that you can exit without bothering the neighbour. This one is freshly renovated and smells of leather, though. And has an overpriced menu for food.

photo 3 photo 4 photo 5

photo 1 photo 2

The upside is there are almost no people in this car, and unlikely to be. So maybe it *is* worth it (considering it’s 4,700 yen instead of 3,400). The seat recline is excellent, too. Shockingly, though, WiFi wasn’t working on the train. Something not working in Japan? I am actually surprised.