Archive for May 23rd, 2008

SFO via NRT to KMQ

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

ANA Flight 008 somewhere over the North Pacific Ocean

We are en route from San Francisco to Komatsu via Tokyo's Narita airport. Service on-board is good: free beers with the first meal followed by a cup of Dryers ice cream for dessert made it easy to sleep for an hour and a half; and courtesy copies of the Daily Yomiuri and Asahi Shimbun (Japan-based newspapers in English) provided a pre-immersion touch of Japan-mode. A selection of nearly twenty on-demand feature length movies—shown on tiny screens embedded into the seat-back in front of each of us—is keeping me entertained between meals. The space between seats is almost comfortable, with enough legroom to actually allow me to sit in a variety of positions without cramming my kneecaps into the seat up front.

The time zone difference of 16 hours (from Pacific Daylight Time to Japan Standard Time) means that “yesterday” was only 8 hours long. Since we left San Francisco just after Noon local time on May 22nd, it means that we left on May 23rd just after 4 A.M. Japan time. In other words May 22nd didn't exist!

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Flight time to Narita, including flight and runway taxi on both ends, is about eleven hours.
Uneventful flight. On time arrival. 5135 miles.

Komatsu (KMQ) 小松市

The other half of this very long first day (really, a very short double day) has been the flight from Tokyo's Narita airport to Komatsu on the western shore of Honshu Island in Ishikawa Prefecture.

The layover in Tokyo gave us the chance to re-acquaint ourselves with the new Narita which we saw last spring (March 2007) for the first time. All those years since my first flight through here in 1982 had strongly imprinted my mind with the old Narita: crowded spaces, low ceilings, too noisy, almost approaching rude (if such a thing ever existed in courtesy conscious Japan); and of farmers besieging the airport's entrance in a decade's-long running battle against expansion. In particular I remember the “restaurant row” which contained no more than a handful of places to eat, with only one of any size that could safely allow bulky baggage—the same restaurant where I first felt some minor triumph at being able to order and pickup my selection without help from Hiro, but also the same one that I came to loath because its over-run, unsophisticated cafeteria style was so uncharacteristic for the ultra clean and sanitary Japan I had come to appreciate.

The new Narita—like the old Narita—is an anxiety-infused mixture of confident, worldly Japanese and nervous, first time foreigners. But the new Narita is built for large crowds of tired and disoriented passengers: plenty of English signage, lots of knickknack shops for those awaiting departure looking for one last chance to buy presents for themselves and their loved ones, and many, many restaurants featuring every type of traditional cuisine and many types exotic cooking: enough to appease everyone's pangs.

We used one of the domestic luggage forwarding services to relieve ourselves of the extra suitcase carried to Japan for the purpose of bringing goodies back to California. Our check-in for Komatsu was well ahead of the crowd, but we were immediately faced with a request to have our two remaining pieces of luggage sent by delayed craft; apparently the small plane was going to be too full and a weight limitation meant that someone's stuff would need to be bumped. We didn't volunteer for that because we were going to be on the go for the next week and needed every little bit we had packed.

With more than four hours on layover before reembarking for Komatsu, I took the time to sit outside on the new viewing platform: a long, wide plaza running the length of the central building, with benches facing towards the runway. The air was pleasingly warm, a bit humid at first, reminiscent of muggy summer evenings in Ohio, but cooling as evening approached and feeling even more pleasant as the dew point dropped and precipitated some cooling dew on my bare arms.

Aging tri-engine jets of McDonnell Douglas vintage, and wide-body Boeing 747s took-off and landed between the newer Airbus A330s and Boeing 767s and 777s. The roar of jets was staccato every 90 seconds or so, with the more experienced pilots landing short and quiet while the less experienced pilots—after overly long touchdowns—burned too much fuel while reversing their thrust to bring their airship to a short stop. The Asian carriers dominated the mix: Asiana, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and of course All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL).

Inside the terminal, Singapore Airlines was hosting a promotion of its newest top-of-the-line Airbus A380 service to Tokyo which started just three days before our own arrival at Narita—the floor model shows two full stories for the entire length of the plane, and the promotional material states that the airplane can carry 471 souls, many in business or first class seating. Impressive.

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The departure lounge for Komatsu was the same six gate waiting area that I sat in last year with Tamae and Hiroyuki while awaiting our flight to Hakata. Departing passengers have their boarding passes collected at the gate, before shuffling into an awaiting bus which drives three or four minutes across the tarmac to the plane. Our plane was a 33 passenger Canadair Regional Jet with 2 by 1 seating across the isle. Headroom was typical for that type of plane with exit signs dropping down from the 5′ 10″ ceilings creating headroom bump hazards that were so low I couldn't possibly miss them.

Overall tiredness from the journey and the fading remnants of twilight put me in a sleepy mood for the flight. I was fully nodding off while the taxi to the runway occurred: one of those overly long taxis that makes you feel like the plane just might be driving to your destination instead of flying there. Still, there was time enough once we were airborne for the single stewardess to serve and cleanup a drink and a snack before our touchdown about fifty minutes later.

The tiny airport arrivals lobby at Komatsu reminded me of Dayton Ohio; perhaps the walk across the tarmac (no jetways here), the muggy air, the cheap tiled floors and low ceiling were similar enough for me to make that connection between two very remote and time-separated places. While waiting at the carousel for our checked luggage, another flight came in from Tokyo Haneda and this one was dramatically different from ours. Although I didn't catch a glimpse of the craft, it must have been a full sized jet because the stream of disembarking passengers was continuous for five minutes. Remarkably none of them stopped at the baggage claim; all of them were clearly commuters: business attire, briefcases, long strides as they raced out to the taxi stand, and all looking like they had finished a long workday.

Night drive through the outskirts of town from the airport; mostly silence in the back seat of the taxi, with a few moments of chatty exchange about the weather and the city; arrival at the hotel situated amid freshly flooded rice fields.

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NRT to KMQ once airborne: 50 minutes.
Fifteen minute taxi to the hotel.
Komatsu Green Hotel 小松グリーンホテル ¥9450 for two, with breakfast.
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