December 30th, 2008 - William Matheson's Journal
Dec. 30th, 2008
11:57 am - Leaving Japan, Never Easy (Part 2)
Written late Christmas Eve at a Super 8 in Queens; finished later at home
One thing I will miss about Japan is the great service. Honestly, seeing the brash and sometimes rude airline / airport / hotel shuttle staff at their worst along this journey has been a huge shock. Most people are OK, but you still kind of have to approach them knowing that they may tell you to eff-off at any second. In Japan you never, and I mean never have to worry about that.
I heard no less than two employees – one at customs control and the other at a luggage storage place – basically tell people in line to go away (either to another line or just to come back later) because they were going on their breaks.
When I was going out to wait for my shuttle, there was this one severely disgruntled man who popped out of a sketchy van marked “JFK INN” (there wasn’t even a logo) and start saying, “Man, what the fuck is this? There’s supposed to be a man and a woman. They’re still in there!” The van had just pulled in. Moments later, he sees them. It’s a young Asian couple. “Ramada?! C’MON, LET’S GO!”
I picked my way by him to get to my shuttle, which was then pulling into the lineup.
“Where are you goin’?”
“Super 8.” He waved me off. I was grateful to escape his further attention.
I mean, I needed help finding the shuttle platform – it’s not immediately obvious when you exit Federal Circle. These people might be on this continent for the first time. Don’t you think they might be a little bit “slower” getting around? Hmm?
Like… holy frig. Even on the airplane this one flight attendant went up to an older Japanese woman who was stretched out and sleeping across a few empty seats. I’d noticed earlier, based on her failure to comprehend an earlier curt request (from a marginally friendlier attendant) to close her overhead bin, that she didn’t understand (much) English. I saw all this from her perspective but couldn’t bear to:
“MA’AM, PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON PLEASE.”
“MA’AM? MA’AM? MA’AM, PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON.”
“YOU HAVE TO HAVE YOUR SEATBELT ON. WE NEED TO SEE YOUR SEATBELT.”
And so on it went. The idiot of a flight attendant could have just gotten one of the Japanese-speaking attendants (there were at least three, including one Caucasian who was pretty good on the PA with it and who I overheard answering questions from travellers in Japanese) to put it to her a bit more politely and gently, but noooo. I had to cover my face; I was ashamed to share a continent with the unfriendly moron.
Where was I? Oh, service! Well, the JAL check-in lady at Itami had asked me if I wanted a window or an aisle seat. Not only that – she specified that it would be behind the wing and that I might not see very much, but would that still be OK?
As it was, it was several rows behind and easy enough to over or underlook. My point, though, is that such kindness and consideration made me feel welcome and appreciated!
Also on that plane I noticed that the overhead bins had mirrors inside them so that you could see if anything was in them. For folks like me who are nearly 190cm tall they are a curiosity, but for shorter Asian folks (especially the flight attendants making their rounds) they’d be a necessity.
The plane was a 777-200, and we’d be in the air for about 45 minutes. The baggage handlers and other ground crew waved goodbye to us – yes, it was most likely mandated ceremony, but I appreciated it! And on the aircraft itself, the monitors showed a view from a forward camera so that we could see where we were going on the runway and the planes that were lined up to take off ahead of us. That was pretty neat; more airlines should do that.
The flight was very comfortable, and I’m glad I got the window seat – the skies were clear, and I got to see lots of things, including Mt. Fuji! Even though I’d never seen it in person before, it was utterly unmistakable. Also majestic, impressive, awe-inspiring, etc.. – even from an airplane! From a viewpoint where average mountains looked like carpet wrinkles and one could spy the curvature of the Earth itself, Mt. Fuji was yet breathtaking.
It’s so amazing that I’m going to spend another paragraph on it – it dwarfs everything, it stands above clouds – it’s like a giant in a playground. A few other “mountains” closer to our position were like anthills beside a traffic cone. Just: wow. You can see in a second that climbing it is a major undertaking.
I got no flak for my heavy carry-ons, but I noticed later that I was really only allowed to have one. I think some European airlines are like that, too (Lufthansa for instance) – maybe it’s the norm outside North America. If everyone travelled as heavily as I do, the whole “system” would collapse!
I learned this and other things from the safety and etiquette cartoons that were playing while we were on the descent into Haneda. One cartoon featured a cartoon businessman getting whacked in the face with a loosely-slung backpack: “Attention to other customers appreciated while walking aisle with baggage.” [sic] Other charmingly-illustrated gems included “Consideration appreciated when putting back table,” and “Be reminded that alcohol will affect air passengers more quickly.” (For this they should have shown a businessman with his tie off dancing on top of a baggage carousel.)
At Haneda I had a ten-minute wait for my “baggage” (an empty, beat-up knapsack that I’d wind up disposing of two hours later – I was surprised that they checked it without complaint), and I started to get a little bit impatient, but as it turned out I had lots of time because everything I needed after that was RIGHT THERE – as I stepped into the arrivals hall, there was the ticket machine, and there was the bus stop. It couldn’t have been any easier.
The airport limo operation was a well-oiled machine – some workers even tagged the bags we’d be putting under the bus, and the tags were color-coded by our destination (Narita Terminal 2 versus Narita Terminal 1, for instance).
We got going and got into rush-hour Greater Tokyo Area traffic, but at least we were moving. I saw an aborescent overhead sign that had colored LEDs in the arrows to indicate the traffic conditions on various routes. I even saw Disneyland – unfortunately, it was on the other side of the bus, so I have no pictures. =)
Narita, by the way, is a very long way from Haneda. Narita cannot really be said to be an airport of Tokyo – it would be like saying… it’d be almost like saying that Moncton’s airport was Charlottetown’s. You can take a cab from Narita to downtown Tokyo, though – it’ll just cost you ¥20,000 (over $200). I know this because one of my co-workers did just that on his first visit to Japan, when he regrettably didn’t know any better.
As I reflected that our old friend Masae would be getting to the airport in fifteen minutes while we were still 40km away, I flipped through the Airport Limo’s Onboard Magazine:
“Portable telephones should not be used on the bus and may annoy the neighbours.” (Sadly, the driver did not allude to dumping us out on the side of the Interstate or turning the bus around and going back to the terminal.)
“And last year, the Limousine Bus started routes from Akihabara to Haneda Airport. Now, Akihabara is a truly base from which one can step out and see the world.” (This is doubly hilarious since Akihabara is the gaming Mecca of Japan.)
As we approached the airport, there was a string of love hotels, including a “Hotel First Wood.”
After getting off (the expressway), we had to pass through a security checkpoint. Uh-oh! They asked for passports, but my passport was in my bag under the bus! I didn’t know about this – the idea of getting screened while still in the bus was alien to me. Fortunately, I had my alien card, and that sufficed.
Okay, I’m going to stop it here and give you the third part later today.
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