Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sixth Trip... 2009 here we go again

1st April, 2009 - Well... the last trip sort of ended abruptly (post-wise)... I had left Japan previously on the 25th May, 2008 (with T-chan and L-kun departing in July... lucky %$#@). In the intervening months of 2008 - 2009, well, lots of stuff happened... but this blog isn't about what happens in our "normal" life. To be honest, our lives more or less get focussed around our trips back to Japan. For me it's usually 2-4 weeks a year, but for T-chan (and now L-kun) it's typically 2+ months a year. We're either in Japan, preparing to go to Japan, dreaming of Japan, or getting over a trip from Japan. The last part is particularly important for my wife who always suffers long periods of home-sickness coming back from Sapporo to Adelaide. Unfortunately there's no easy solutions for homesickness... it's a malady that can really affect your life...

So here we are... or should I say... were. April 2009. Actually this was sort of at the point where things were looking a little grim globally...and sometimes you need to look on the bright side of life. For us, that's going to our second home. We're very lucky that we can afford to do it... and for that I'm eternally thankful. Another thing I'm very, VERY happy with is the fact that we have Qantas Club membership which entitles us to use the Qantas lounge all over the world (and an extra 10kg of luggage capacity). This really does help out a little when you're stuck in an airport - free food... free drinks (how can anyone pass up a serve-yourself bar?)... and comfortable chairs, toilets and showers - plus lots of computers hooked up to that wonderful thing called the inter-web. Ah.... enough of the free plug for Qantas and their heaven-sent lounges. PS... can also use the Sakura Club with JAL... which whilst very small in Narita at least has massage chairs!

No matter how much you rest up in a Qantas Club, there's few ways of travelling in economy class comfortably... and one of the attractions about flying when a child is less than 2 is that they fly at about 25% of the cost of a full ticket. Seems like a great idea?... Well... there's a catch. They don't get a seat. Instead they sit/lay on your lap.  Hmmm... L-kun's getting quite big now (and heavy). It's about a 9.5 hour flight from Sydney to Tokyo as well... not sounding so good now. Yet - this is our last chance to get a slightly cheaper seat and was one of the reasons for the trip's timing.

Nine and half hours later... Narita airport. Now - if I have already whinged about Narita, please ignore the following. Narita airport is one of the worst airports in the world. Without a doubt. Not necessarily the airport itself (which is just getting a little old now)... but everything else about it. Firstly - it's in the middle of nowhere (and a long train ride/bus ride to the city). Secondly, even though it's in the middle of nowhere it has a curfew which means you get a string of flights queuing mid-air to land at 6am. Then, when you do finally land it's a long, looooong taxi back to the terminal. Seriously it can take 20+ minutes to drive (the scenic route) to the terminal. Once you get into the airport however - things change for the better. If you're lucky to get in at the beginning of that long line of planes, then it's a very quick airport to get through immigration and customs. If you're unlucky with the queue... then things are still ok if you are lucky enough to be married to a Japanese citizen. Thank you T-chan. The other downside is that the main domestic airport is Haneda airport... which is PAINFUL to get to from Narita.... basically it's through Tokyo (80km / 1+ hours by Limousine Bus).
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About 3-4 years ago we discovered that there was a domestic flight from Tokyo to Sapporo that departed from Narita airport itself (about 4 hours after we arrived). This was a god-send, and we've used it ever since. Still - as I've said. NINE AND A HALF HOURS in economy class will leave anyone (except perhaps a two year old) looking like they've just slept on the street. Also to be fair... the very worst airport in the world (IMO) is Sydney International Airport - for one very good reason. Getting through customs can take over an hour when it's very congested (almost always when we return through there). It's like the only planning is the "Law of the Jungle"... and people just make it up as they go along. Also, we're more worried these days about making reality shows about border security than we are about improving access into the country and making it a pleasant experience for everyone. This is why when we can we catch an international flight (e.g. QF81 from the US which flies only on tuesdays as of early 2010) from Sydney to Adelaide which allows us to clear customs in Adelaide where it takes all of 2 mins. Rant completed.

The flight to Sapporo from Narita takes only 1.5 hours, and is relatively pain-free. Actually, you get great views of the Japanese alps on the way, and it's worth getting a window seat. The good thing also is that we've got a great welcoming committee to greet us at Chitose airport when we touch down. Hmmm... L-kun doesn't look too sure in this photo (it's been 9 months since he's seen ojiichan and obaachan).

To continue the theme of strange airport locations... Chitose Airport is (as I've posted before) also in the middle of nowhere (see below). It takes about 40 mins by express train to get into Sapporo. Thankfully, having a car makes life a lot easier. (Hmmm... this almost sounded like a rant...)
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One of our family traditions is having a lunch of home-made onigiri (rice balls) on our way home from New Chitose Airport at one of the convenience stops along the highway. Ok... these onigiri are for L-kun... but all of them are made with the same love-spice inside.

This trip coincided (sort of) with T-chan's birthday as well. Ok we were a day or two or three late, but of course there was a birthday cake waiting when we got home. To be fair, T-chan's parents also made it a co-birthday cake (even though my birthday wasn't until another 3-4 weeks).

The one thing you have to say about Japan, is they know how to do decoration. I know that for some, the cakes are very light flavoured, but both T-chan and I agree that this is a bonus. It means that the flavours are not over-bearing or too mixed up - but rather clean and refreshing. Cakes in Australia really do tend to be too sweet (and it's hard to finish a whole slice of anything without finding it too rich). Or have my taste-buds been converted to Japanese tastes?

Well - it's a long time ago now (but looking at the date, it's rapidly approaching birthday time again)...

Happy Birthday T-chan!  ?:-) 

PS - we've just bought our tickets for our eigth trip to Japan... getting excited already, but I know that there's no way I'm going to catch up to the present day the way things are going. Doushiyou? What to do?


  1. Agree that Narita is one of the worst located airports, luckily Haneda has been expanded, international flights have been added and operation hours extended, seems that Japan has been loosing domestic customers to Korean Incheon airport, that provides International flights as well as flights to many cities in Japan. the changes are aimed to reverse that trend.

  2. Interesting - I knew that they'd been trying to build up Haneda airport (and rightly so, it's infinitely better than traveling through Narita)... but I was unaware that it was competing against Incheon airport. Omoshiroi.

  3. When I fly in, family in tow, our latest routine or ritual is to disembark at Narita and head straight for (relatively) close-by Tokyo Disney Resort. Disneyland on day 1 followed by DisneySea on day 2. Then it is off to Tokyo proper to commence the real purpose of the trip.

  4. Actually reesan, that sounds like a pretty interesting plan there... coz it's good to get in early at Disneyland (and arriving at around 6am is about as early as you'd want to get in) - and the exercise would certainly mean a good nights sleep on the first night in country.

    Unfortunately this coming trip we're getting ready for a wedding shortly after arriving, so no time to put that plan to the test. I'll keep it in the top drawer (actually any excuse to go back to Disneyland would do).

  5. yes, you are right. you arrive just before gates open and are knackered after an intense, full day in the theme park. both contributing to a great nights sleep on the first night.