Friday, July 02, 2010

Japan Day 1 20/06

Preface. This post is quite wordy with few photos. I think the rest will be the opposite. More photos, less words. Hey, the first day was very long. Prices will be converted to dollars, mostly.

What on earth possessed us to book a flight at 6.00 am to Japan? Musta been cheap. It was not that cheap really, but R's holidays are fixed so we can't choose a cheap fare and then fix time off work dates later. It meant we cleared immigration and customs in Cairns, not Melbourne. A few days before we travelled, we worked out that we were only a domestic flight from Melbourne to Cairns, then international from there to Tokyo. Pity Jetstar never told us this. Well, if we booked over the phone or through an agent, we may well have learnt that, but such are the joys of the online booking system. Anyway, domestic is only an hour or so before flight time, rather than the the two for international.

We booked our air tickets and selected our seats at the end of last year. Twice Jetstar changed our outbound flight. Instead of travelling via Gold Coast, we went via Cairns and this added some good time to our total travel time.

We had worked out that a taxi was the best way to go for us for this trip. We stepped out of our building just after 4am Sunday and of course there were a gazillion taxis plying their Saturday night trade. The driver was good and the cost $70. I did not have to ask where he came from to know he was Mauritian. I love a French accent. At 5.00am we were not interested in taxi driver chat and he picked that well enough. I can't recall the airport at all, but R assures me that the kind of shed we arrived home in today was the one that we left from. Given the flight number, the time and the destination had changed, it was not a surprise that our reserved seats had not been respected. We were with ANOTHER person, the plane was an old Airbus (321?) and the space, especially for R who is tall, was lousy. The actual plane seats had been bought from leftover 1958 VW Beetle stock. Our refreshments were so ordinary, I can't remember what they were. Maybe it was a muffin and an orange juice. By the time we arrived at Cairns, R was ready to go home rather than face another Jetstar flight. But at all times the staff were pleasant and polite.

Cairns airport is under reconstruction. We can take four bottles of 1.25 litres of spirits to Japan. Hey, we have two carry it. Two will do. We seemed to drag our cases miles through a reconstruction site. As we were to learn during this holiday, signage is so important when you are travelling. Gee, we had only travelled for a few hours and we must have been looking frazzled. The booking person must have taken pity on us and blocked out the seat next to us. She could not promise it would hold, but it did. We were in the middle of the plane though and I think the sides were for the codeshare Qantas passengers. We had prepaid meals and entertainment. The entertainment came in kind of dvd players that sat on your table or lap. Both were defective and one headset was defective. We asked for replacements, but one replacement was also faulty. I gave up and listened to my own podcasts on my mp3 player. Lesson 1, don't bother with prepaid entertainment at this time on Jetstar International. (Psst, they are using Ipads for domestic). In spite of me critical of Jetstar, the staff were very good.

The prepaid meals were lousy. We paid $60 each or $30 each for the privilege. First meal was either Thai chicken or curry chicken. There was nothing Thai nor Indian about it. Bland and a very small meal. It did come with a Kit Kat bar though. We bought wine for both meals. It came in a bottle with the screw top doubling as your glass. Quite clever and good wine and a generous serve for $6.50. They got that right. Our next meal was a pie, yes, you heard, a pie. An Aussie looking pie and not a bad one at that, but still, a pie. My arrival to Japan is to be heralded by an Aussie pie. The Jetstar Aussie pie became rather a running joke for the duration. We did get a Kit Kat bar with that too. In spite of me being critical of Jetstar, the staff were very good.

Oh, it has only taken me to the first post to have to backtrack. The international plane was an Airbus 330? Good plane, comfortable seats and good legroom. My usual communist thoughts abated as I realised that those up the front were not THAT much better off than us, except for perhaps the food. The plane seating configuration was two two two (confirm). While R's and my close romantic period has long past, we do like to be alone. It is so much easier to say, 'get out of my way you fat old queen' than 'excuse me'.

Touch down Narita airport Tokyo at about 8pm local time, one hour behind Australia. After a brief trip on some train like vehicle, (more on that at the end of the trip) we collected our luggage. Um, do you know how far Narita is from Tokyo? Can we get a cab? 60km plus? Maybe not a cab.

I already knew the airport was a long way from Tokyo and our Friend in Japan had given us the dirt. We could have caught the NEX, the extremely fast express train which we caught on our last day, but we would have had to catch another train to get to where we were staying. Another train company offered a service to where we needed to be, our hotel in Ueno, pronounced as best I can do for you, Yeno. Trouble was the Keisei train company has their own railway station in Ueno. I knew that but instead of catching the Skyliner Express for about $26 each, we caught the Limited Express for $12, and I thought this one used the normal Ueno station. It did not. I had a map from our hotel but it was very stylised and nothing made sense. By now it was 10pm, we were tired, we were lugging heavy cases, it was dark and we had no idea where we were, not even which side of the station we came out. All we knew was that we were near our hotel. I knew it was close, otherwise we would have got into a taxi, only to be taken 100 metres. Ah, a police box. R bravely asked a policeman and he directed us, but his halting English and not great local knowledge did not make it much clearer. He directed us down into a subway and we just followed our noses. I was now thinking we were on the right track and we walked along looking for our hotel, but without too much confidence. R spotted the sign for the Sutton Place Hotel first. I think we both mentally collapsed with relief.

The small lobby was on the third floor and only a lift on the ground. We checked in easily and went to our room. The clerk at the desk had forgotten to tell us to insert the plastic thing on the key into a slot for electricity. R had to go back to the desk to ask why the lights would not work. We could have worked it out ourselves if the room was not pitch black. We showered, poured ourselves a large glass each of the duty free product and collapsed into bed.

Travel lesson. If you can, find your hotel with Googlies Street View and back track to the station before you go and note carefully which station you are alighting at and which exit you should use, and take a compass.

Dep Melb, 6.00. Arr Cairns, 9.30. Dep Cairns, 13.15. Arr Narita, 20.00. (Melb 21.00)

The interior of the Keisei Limited Express. The train was spotless, the windows polished and the proverbial dinner could have been eaten off the floor. Our travel companions were mostly local people. The train travelled at a good pace the 70 something kilometres to Tokyo and the trip took about 70 minutes. The airport had felt rather warm and the train did too. It was air conditioned, but was obviously set to quite a high temperature. I was feeling anger at Australia for its poor public transport.

Two shots of our sitting room at the Sutton Place Hotel, Ueno.

A corrupted photo of our bedroom, with two double beds and its own tv.


  1. I'm pretty tall too and am always super early at the airport to try to secure exit row seats.

    I found the trains super efficient in Japan but the english signage was very poor which made the experience a little daunting.

  2. Anonymous10:21 pm

    Wow - you did well. Its been a few years since I traveled OS, back in the days when QANTAS was REALLY FUSSY about aircraft maintenance, cabin service was always crap, but you knew the plane wouldn't fall out of the sky, (ie, before "privatisation" and "worlds best practice" - excuse me, but QANTAS engineering WAS the worlds best practice...KSA (Sydney) had the best facilities outside of Seattle, they were an engineering organisation that reluctantly carried passengers who got their airplanes messy...)and I, having a remote connection with the techo side of the industry, would not go anywhere near them (or jetstar) - both long overdue for their first major crash, a few miraculous near misses so far, but it will happen. People are running books on it. Anyway, a minor RANT. Admire your ability to navigate through a strange landscape.

  3. I like hearing about your Jetstar flight. We were lucky in that our little entertainment systems worked. But I thought they were so heavy, and a pain to store. I think we've agreed that next time we'll just get one and share it between the three of us.

    Traveling is exhausting. Someone really needs to go ahead and invent teleportation.

  4. Anonymous5:00 am

    Wow, I am exhausted having read how exhausted you both got! Also, being so frazzled and trying to find the hotel... blah.. I'd be the same :(
    Amazing the cleanliness of the train! Pride and respect come forth loudly.wish it were the same here.
    I am looking forward to more of the trip :)

  5. Anonymous5:04 am

    Noted in a screen on my laptop here that a trip with Jetstar from Cairns to Osaka is $219. One way of course.

  6. That's some trip so far! I've never trusted Jetstar.

  7. Nice! Love hearing these tales, I eagerly await the next installation!

  8. Excellent travalogue - and thats just to the room - wonder what the next part will be about

  9. You have it in one AR. Daunting because of the lack of English.

    Thanks Michael. Was it you who suggested, or perhaps the media, that when the SEC was privatised, the companies realised they could get away with minimum maintenance for a decade. Hope it is not the same for Qantas.

    Correct Dina, heavy and hard to store. Maybe by the time you travel, they will all be using Ipads. Much better. I really dislike the whole airport thing. Boring and tedious.

    Frazzled is a good word Cazzie. More on cleanliness later.

    I don't want to go to Osaka Anon. But yes, there are cheap flights. Ours was not so cheap, but R had fixed holidays and so we can't hang out for cheap fares.

    Scott, the staff were great. No complaints there. But even at Melbourne, we had to clamber down stairs and do the tarmac walk to get off. I like proper facilities.

    Thanks Fen. Pleased to see you are surviving 'without' the net.

    Read on dear MC, read on.

  10. Unfortunately I had no alternative but to use Jetstar for my recent return trips from the Gold Coast and Ballina, thankfully both short flights and both times I was in the emergency exit row so had good legroom.

    How did you ever find an empty train carriage in Japan? Did you gatecrash the depot?

  11. Good to hear that the international leg of your journey was better than the domestic. Would have been really disapointing for you if it worked out the other way. I certainly would rather take 3 hours of hell over 8 hours of hell any day.

    On your A330 premium ecomomy at the front would have been 2-2-2 and plebian economy down the back would have been 2-4-2.

    The aircraft type is usually listed on your itinerary. A couple of handy sites for checking seating arrangements before you fly are

    qflyer which lists almost anything you could possibly want to know about the Qantas and Jetstar aircraft fleets.


    Seat Guru, which has seat maps for most airlines in the world.

  12. Victor, didn't you find the seats very uncomfortable, even though you had leg room?

    As usual Ben, a font of useful information. It was my first Airbus flight. Even back in December when we booked, the seats available were very limited. We did our best. Of course, yes, 2,4,2.