March 02, 2004, 17:30: Tokyo, Japan - Narita Airport
I left home at 5:45 this morning to head out to Chicago, first stop on my way to the other side of the world. After waiting a good hour in a "security" line up, where a good hundred or so people waited in line to have their belongings scanned by one x-ray machine, and get questioned by US entry personnel, I managed to make it to the small plane that was bound for Chicago. I was surprised how small the jet was - so small, they didn't even hook up the boarding passageway, they directed us outside to the stairs that swung down from the plane. The capacity was less than a bus, maybe a dozen rows back that held 4 people each. At least I got a window seat, and I believe I saw my house from the air, but didn't manage to snap a picture in time. On the way, the businessman sitting beside me from Arnprior managed to spill a bit of coffee on me. He apologized, and went back to studying his file. He didn't offer a napkin to help clean up. In contrast to people that can be that rude - the staff at O'Hare airport were all very friendly, including a US Customs officer that even helped me out make a "lunch" decision. It was 9am, but I'd been up since 5pm the previous day. Security clearance took less than a couple of minutes, and they were all very pleasant. I waited around for a couple of hours and watched my jet pull in – it was much larger than any other jets that I saw at the airport. It was a 747.
Now this is pretty crazy. It's 3:30 am, March 2nd in Canadian time, but yet, all the signs say 5:30pm here in Tokyo. Flight from Chicago to Tokyo was quite long - that was expected, and had its ups and downs. The food was actually quite edible, there was very attentive service, free Sapporo beer, and a TV console which even had video games and a camera showing live action of the takeoff and landing as seen from the cockpit. The downsides mostly consisted of somewhat uncomfortable seating - granted, that's expected in economy. The biggest problem was the family with about 5 kids sitting directly behind me. Babies don’t like jumbo jets that make loud noise and shake around in the air... Kids seem to enjoy making loud clacking noises with the seatbelts and jumping around on the seat behind you, occasionally bumping into your seat. Also taking into account I got a total of maybe 2 hours off and on sleep throughout the entire 12.5 hour flight, just coming off being up 18 hours, I wasn't especially pleased about that. I'll not miss those kids in the least.
All in all, I can't blame Japan Air for any of that, they were excellent for a long international flight, and I wouldn't hesitate to book with them again. My flight headed towards Winnipeg from Chicago, making it the first time I've crossed the Ontario border west to Manitoba. Flight continued through Anchorage, and finally over the pacific all the way until we hit Japan, very close to Narita airport. There were well over a dozen large fishing boats all fairly close together, and next thing I knew, we'd crossed over to land. I was quite surprised at how rural it initially looked - lots of fields of agriculture, with man made rivers feeding them, watching the cars drive on the other side of the road. I didn't see any skyscrapers or any especially built up areas. I suspect that's because Narita is not right in Tokyo, and I'm just not seeing the city yet. It was still light out - after a 12.5 hour flight. We had just followed the sun, making it the longest daylight I've ever been in. Man, I'm tired.
The airport doesn't seem as large and intimidating as the O'Hare Airport in Chicago. I still had to take a train to get from one terminal to another, and it was somewhat confusing at first - probably because most of the signs are in Japanese, and I have had very little sleep, but I managed to make it ok to the right gate, with hours to spare. I haven't seen any real Japanese restaurants in here, just a few gift shop/convenience store/take out places. Magazines are bound on the right hand side of the page - weird. Some of the items in the shop seemed very bizarre to someone not accustomed to such tastes. I don't even know if all this was meant for consumption or not. Dried 18" long salmon sticks, with scales still present on the outside - dried prawns, little fish, in a box, all presented nicely. I suppose this is meant to eat, but I don't know how people can do that, I'd lose my lunch!
Fortunately, I've found a power outlet that offers 110 volts, with the regular North American connector here in the airport, and I'm able to charge up my computer and external battery for the last 9 hour leg to down under. I have to sit very carefully, and not move around very much, because the 3rd replacement power adapter that I just received for it is already acting up. I just hope I manage to sleep most of this next flight.