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Posted by on Sep 7, 2009 in Asia, TripJournals |

PRIDE Travel’s Japan Journey: Day 1&2 – Los Angeles to Tokyo on Heavenly Airlines (aka Singapore Airlines)

Our first day’s itinerary involves getting ready for our afternoon flight, which for us entails packing and getting ready for the flight (the easy part) and taking care of last minute business details, the unending forgotten chores that pop up (the hard part), all with the sole end purpose of boarding our flight smoothly. We are able to achieve that smooth embarkation, but not as expected.

As we are traveling on special tickets arranged for us by the Japan National Tourism Organization and Super Value Tours, we do not have seat assignments; something we would never normally tolerate for ourselves or our clients winds up being a boon in disguise as we learned a few days ago that the flight is really about 70%-80% full. At check-in, however, we are not able to find our preferred seating, but have to settle for aisles across from each other. While some travelers may prefer aisles, both Nathan and I actually abhor them as inescapable bumping zones where one misstep and you can wind up with your knees bruised and arms battered. Nonetheless, we graciously accept our offered seats and plan to check the gate for changes. Perseverance pays off: while my first attempt to obtain seating does not bear fruit, I am instructed to check back shortly after commencement of general boarding. Lo and behold, we are now assigned a window and an aisle with no one in between us. Moreover, the manner and professionalism in which the seating assignment was handled would be an indicator of the great service to come. Service on Singapore Airlines is Legendary, even in coach class. So having our expectations already quite high, it is hard to believe that they were exceeded.

Without a doubt, this journey on Singapore Airlines is by far our best coach experience in our lives… which accounts for over 2.5 million miles combined between all our frequent flyer accounts. What this airline provides that no other does in coach is superlative attention to detail. From the first moment you board your craft, the silk clad attendants are pleasant, smiling, and direct you to your seat with genuine hospitality found rarely on an airplane even in the upper classes of service; the level of service of a 5 star resort come to mind. Sure, the seats are crummy as on any airline’s coach seats, and we are after all human cattle being transported across the great pacific pond. The difference with this airline, however, is that the people serving you on board treat you not like cattle, not even like a human being, but rather like an honored guest. Take, for example, when the first drink service is rolled out: you don’t need to wait for round two to get your refill; you don’t even need to ask… on our first cocktail, we were refilled twice before the first round was completed. But let’s not forget the beginning, when you are handed a printed menu that most airlines reserve for their business or first class passengers. Our scheduled meals (yes, plural) would entail a main course lunch, snacks in between (which also included full wrap-style sandwiches, and a ‘light meal’ best describes as another lunch several hours into the flight and about two hours before arrival in Tokyo. And the quality of the cuisine? Superb, again at least the level of business class with other airlines. We both partook of the Japanese options at both meals, but I was also able to sample the seafood salad off the international selection. Consider too that your meals, while served in sturdy plastic square or rectangular containers, is accompanied with large metal silverware. Lastly, prior to each meal service, we are handed hot towels to freshen up; not hot paper towels or moist towelettes, but actual, hot, towels. Ordering coffee or tea after the meal or off cycle as I did? You will receive your (again, sturdy plastic) tea cub handed to you on a service tray, with a side tray just large enough to accompany your spoon and sugar. Suffice it to say that should you be fortunate enough to fly on Singapore Airlines to Asia transcontinental, you would arrive fully satiated, well lubricated and hydrated, and with a renewed sense of hope that all is not lost in today’s hectic world. For surely, if there is one pearl that shines brightly such as Singapore Airlines, perhaps there are more.

In preparation for our arrival into Tokyo, Nathan and I had slept only about an hour or two each early into the flight. Our thinking being that, since we will arrive early evening in Narita Airport, we didn’t want to sleep too deeply or risk our internal clock being out of synch. This way, we will arrive moderately fatigued, with just enough energy to enjoy our first night’s hot “Comfort Food” bowl and gingerly roll into bed early which should force an early wake-up. Upon exiting from customs and immigration, a seamless and swiftly efficient process exhibitive of Japanese efficiency, we are greeted by our Super Value Tours guide. Maiko presented each of us with a three-foot-long rose as a symbol of welcome to Japan, and directed us to our coaches. During the ten minute ride from our terminal to the Hilton Narita Hotel, she also gave us a brief run-down of tonight’s brief activities and what to expect for tomorrow. Check-in was accomplished onboard our bus, with each of us being handed our room keys and meal vouchers. This eliminated the necessity to stop by the front desk, as no credit card or deposit was needed since our rooms were taken care of by the company; a nice bonus service that you only begin to appreciate after you’ve received it.

After our brief walk through the lobby, we head up to our room to freshen up, quickly shower, change into fresh clothes and head down for our dinner. Dinner on our first night is described as “light” although Nathan and I both believe this to be and understatement as our rice porridge dish which we chose was very much a filling dish with nice sides of sashimi, pickles, and a small piece of fish. The main course of the meal, the rice porridge, was a special clay pot that was cooked tableside on mini burners at your table. Once the bowl started to boil, you add a raw scrambled egg to cook, stirring until the rice and soup congealed on low heat. This produces a nicely consistent porridge that is a food very much accurately described as “comfort”.

As we make our way back to our rooms from a fulfilling and pleasant meal, we are all distracted quite pleasantly by the Mayan-looking pyramidal fountain in the centrum of the Narita Hilton. The hotel is akin to a large pie wedge with an inner circular wedge reserved for this massive mult-tiered wonder of water and earth. Nathan’s many photos cannot do justice to it as it modestly hides behind towering sheets of glass in the internal courtyard. This minimalistic element is but one of many architectural and style that this heavily influenced by Buddhism and Shintoism belief structures, mores, and sense of beauty. In our rooms, we drift gingerly in to bed and rest for a most exciting few days awaiting us in the Land of the Rising Sun.

A special note mathematicians and accountants reading this post, wondering what happened to Day 2 (or Day 1). As we crossed the International Date Line, we arrived one day later than we departed. This will, of course, reverse itself on our last day, when through the magic of time zone travel, we depart at 6pm and arrive at 1pm the SAME DAY! More details of the mechanics of man’s artificial notion of time around the globe would require a post in and of itself… something we may tackle at a later post, perhaps after a few more personal time zone travel experiences that breach the International Date Line.

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