I found my allocated seat and settled in for the two hour flight. Beside me was a young Japanese woman. We had plenty of space, both being of slight build; I often wonder how uncomfortable it must be for taller and larger travellers. As soon as we were airborne I could feel my attention wilting but managed to stay awake for the safety message, conveyed in both Japanese and English. After that, my eyelids were no match for the drone of the engines.
A Wintry Patchwork
I did wake up at one point over the stretch of ocean that separates Honshu from Hokkaido. I saw steel blue water water, flecked with white caps. Before dozing off again and now over land, I saw tiny snow-coated fields in subtle shades of soft greys and whites, interrupted by the dull bleakness of hills. A flash of sunlight reflected iridescent threads of water and accentuated the jagged charcoal lines of roads. I stretched my weary legs and wiggled my toes, enjoying the sensation of peacefulness, high above the clouds. My nose twitched at the enticing smell of hot coffee.
A smooth landing at Sapporo and there I was with luggage in tow. My only task that of locating the bus stop for my trip to Asahikawa.
With time in hand, I homed in on a pair of vending machines and picked up a hot coffee. Then visited another konbini to collect my next snack. Ah… onigiri and a chocopan! About NZ$5.00 in total.
(If you’re curious about Japanese breads, check this site out! For those of you who learnt French all those years ago at school, you’ll recognise the word ‘pan’ for bread. (French = pain, pronunciation is the same).
The flight from Auckland to Narita takes about 10 hours. I’m not particularly fond of flying. But perhaps nobody is. It’s not so much the thought of being up in the air in a huge metal machine, it’s more about the claustrophobic aspect of being crammed into such a small space for several hours, sharing the stale air with a few hundred people you’ve never met.
The new aeroplanes, while comparatively roomy and equipped with all the mod cons, are not designed for short people, (just as they aren’t designed for tall people, or large people). The position of the head rest isn’t quite right, the flow of fresh air completely misses my face, that kind of thing. To distract us we’re provided with movies or TV programmes, music and refreshments, and these just about do the trick, especially if you’re traveling alone and don’t have to entertain a child or comfort a baby.
We were served ‘lunch’ a couple of hours after departure. I chose the salmon, which was accompanied by a small egg roll, some green beans and rice. The other option was scrambled eggs and chicken sausage – definitely unappealing, even mentioning it here makes me a little squeamish. Then a couple of hours out from Narita we were served dinner. The choices were either a chicken dish, or a beef casserole with peas and roasted potatoes. I chose the latter and polished it off at a speed that surprised me.
My seat was situated on the left-hand aisle, adjacent to a guy aged around late-40s and his son (about 10). They didn’t bother me on the trip, but nor did we communicate, except for when they needed to squeeze past me for some reason. At one point I became aware that several babies were crying inconsolably. It was a somewhat bizarre situation – playing out on the screen in front of me was a sex scene in the movie ‘The Shape of Water’. A very wet scene with water dripping and flowing everywhere, and then there was the sound of babies howling from several sides. I felt sorry for them, and for their caregivers. A long trip is difficult when you have little ones in tow. I was also glad they weren’t my babies.
Thanks to a tail wind, we landed a little early at Narita, just before 5 pm, with a reported outside temperature of 28 C. Looking out the plane windows it appeared overcast and smoggy. I’d packed some of our own honey as gifts and was half expecting the contents of my luggage to be queried, but I passed through Customs and the security check speedily. My first task was to purchase a ticket for the Limousine Bus that would take me from Narita to Haneda airport, a trip of about an hour, across the city.
The bus was only about half full, but every window seat was taken so I couldn’t see much of Tokyo or the surrounding area. I did, however, catch glimpses of rice fields and greenery, along with grey industrial buildings and motorways.
Nearer to Haneda we drew close to the ocean, which looked dark and choppy in the late afternoon light – visibility restricted by the smoggy atmosphere. By the time our bus reached its destination, the sun had dipped to a position only a little above the horizon. The sky was a dirty gold changing to smoky apricot with the buildings standing out starkly and I was feeling very tired.
I’d booked a first class capsule at First Cabin hotel, situated in Haneda Airport’s Terminal 1. I located the hotel without too much difficulty and checked in at around 6.40 pm. I had to wait twenty minutes for the room to become available and then curiously walked through the narrow corridors to find my ‘home away from home’ for the night.
The room was adequate and I wish that I’d taken a photo when I first slid the curtain open and hadn’t disturbed anything. For about NZ $60 I was provided with a clean room with a bed, a TV (which I didn’t use), a small side table, a lockable drawer, a towel, wash-cloth, pair of disposable slippers, and a set of cabin wear consisting of a simple top and trousers, made of a thick, brown fabric.
By this time I was so exhausted I was almost dead on my feet. But I was also terribly thirsty, so once I’d undertaken a very basic ‘unpack’, I left my gear in the capsule (trusting that it would be secure) and roamed the airport in search of something to drink and eat. I walked back and forth a few times unable to make a decision then settled on a bottle of Mirin brand Sparkling Lemon (which I guzzled as quickly as the coldness of the liquid would allow) and a Convenience Store-style Onigiri of some kind. It was time to retire for the night.
Next stage of the trip: My night as a guest of First Cabin.