By Mary Kawai
When I was just ten years old in elementary school I had a crush on a girl but I didn't know how to tell her that I liked her. I finally worked up both a plan and the courage after a few weeks. I walked home with her after school and when I felt safe that there were no other classmates around I gave her some chocolate eggs for Easter holidays. I was happy for weeks!
Many years later the JAL flight from Osaka, the flight attendant gave me a small plastic pocket with small candies when I got off the plane. For some reason I was more surprised than happy, having totally forgot the power a thoughtful gift of sweets has to engender connection and happiness. I am embarrassed to say now but I was more excited when I realized that the flight arrived three minutes early. Being so busy and impatient I am the kind of person who would prepay for the Keikyu airport train ticket before I boarded the flight to Haneda and would sit in the front row aisle seat so I can arrive at the business meeting earlier! But once I opened the sweet pocket I found a handwritten card of thanks and support from the crew. What a pleasant surprise to get a handwritten card, in these days where you are more likely to get an electronic one-sentence greeting on Facebook or Mixi. I then remembered my childhood encounter and the joy of genuine connection. So maybe this is her way of reminding me that in this busy and often robotic world that there is more to life than arriving on time.
While people may remember the wonderful cuisine or the super comfortable leather seats flying First Class, it is these acts of hospitality that had me bowled over. I know many of you would measure comfort by seat width or legroom (51.0" pitch, 21.0" width), or the quality of the wine served (and I can assure you that they were both fantastic), it is joys like this that I remember fondly.
One other bonus with flying in Japan is that it is one of the select countries that have a First Class on domestic routes. JAL has first class cabins on half of their services from Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa (Naha), for a 8,000-yen upgrade on their basic fare. As you can imagine, these seats go quickly, so instead of paying for the upgrade at the airport, you can book it beforehand with your travel agent or online.
As the Tokyo-to-Osaka flight is just a little over one hour, it is amazing how efficient the crew is taking your order and serving a 3-course meal in that time. The meal is usually a set Kaiseki style or Japanese meal with a choice of dessert and beverage. Their meals change each month, usually to highlight seasonal produce from regional areas. On my flight a French-Japanese restaurant from Akita was highlighted, and whether you are on the 1pm or 3pm flight, you will definitely receive a substantial lunch. JAL employs the wide body Boeing 777-200 aircraft on all their first-class flights, with plenty of room whether you are in aisle or window in a 2-2-2 configuration. The service to and from Osaka were equally impressive, and though the Osaka lounge is pretty good, the Tokyo Haneda lounge has a newer and more elegant feel to it.
You also get all the other first class benefits, such as priority check in and a separate security lane within the lounge entry area. The security team is so pleasant and well mannered, you almost want to volunteer to be security checked. You can also check in up to 20 minutes before the flight, though with such agreeable surroundings, you would want to check in earlier to relax. The lounge in Tokyo Haneda Airport is particularly swish, with a peaceful club-like atmosphere, unlike the cafeteria ruckus that you might find in some airport lounges in peak hour, plus lockers to store your cabin luggage and a change room for infants. What a way to bring back the romance in traveling.
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I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric lane ways of Kyoto last century. From the skies above Sapporo to the old charm of Naha's alleyways, I have been enchanted by the beauty and variety on every island. I am humbled to have met many distinguished people in my role as Regional Partner, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperial Family. From sushi cooking classes to Ninja training grounds I welcome your ideas on what you like from JapanTravel.com. Please visit us in Kyoto or Osaka and have some green tea or sake with us.