Hello to all! I just got back from Japan a couple of days ago, and after sorting out all my photos (and making my family sit through all of them) I have finally written down the first day of my trip to share with you.
I’m going to jump right into it because I have so much to say.
Arriving at Barcelona Airport three hours before my 11:05am flight, the airport not quite yet buzzing with people, I arrived to the gate area without having to do hardly any lines. The flight would be a long one and the seats, as always, would be small, but having done the online check-in myself I was able to choose an isle seat so I could get up and stretch my legs whenever needed.
I would like to say that my flight went just as smoothly, but unfortunately that is not the case. It all started at the airport in Spain, the plan was to first fly to Amsterdam and then to Osaka from there. They cancelled all flights going to London and, as I was thinking ‘well, lucky I chose Amsterdam this time instead’ (last year I did Barcelona —> Heathrow, Heathrow —> Tokyo), all flights to Amsterdam were delayed 45min. I initially had 1h10min for my connection to Osaka, but now time had been reduced to only 25min. So cue the panic.
45min soon turned into an hour and we still hadn’t started the boarding, and we weren’t up in the air until at least 20min later.
They gave me a middle seat for the short flight but nobody sat next to me. I took the isle so I could make a run for it when the plane landed. The speaker said they had been late because of tensions in Paris; they had to change their route to avoid flying over it and the weather on the west of Spain apparently wasn’t good. The crew gave us extra biscuits as a sorry for the delay. They were so nice and sorry that it was hard to be annoyed with them, even for myself who is expert at being mad at people.
Fifteen minutes before landing they announce: “passengers going to Delhi, Tokyo and Osaka (+ somewhere else) will not be able to make their connections.”
The way I slumped down in my chair was noticeable to everyone around.
I get off the plane, ask the information desk what to do with my missed connection, get lost in the airport — not purposely — and finally find gate T6 which is where us strays had to go to book a different flight.
The line was huge. Not BIG, we’re talking at least two hours wait. Many people had missed connections since many planes going to Amsterdam were delayed, and it was packed full of people flying to Asia. All I could do was wait, but at least I was thankful that I hadn’t checked in any luggage because I don’t know if a suitcase would’ve been able to reach Osaka with everything I went through. At least there was wi-fi. There’s only one direct flight to Osaka from Amsterdam each day, so I was already thinking that I would have to sleep at the airport for a night and catch the next day’s flight, so I was re-arranging my itinerary now that I had one day less. I made friends with a guy in line doing the same flight as me, as well as two Japanese ladies and their kids who live in Zaragoza and were going home for the holidays.
Half an hour into the wait I receive a message from KLM saying they’d reserved me another flight, so I said farewell and good luck to my line buddies and went to a machine nearby to print out my new boarding pass. More difficult than it should’ve been but a lady was there to help and disappeared to use a different printer, coming back with my new boarding pass a while later. The machine did manage to print out a voucher of 5euros though, so I went to a café and got an apple and a banana + grape slushie for free.
I was now going to Shanghai from where I’d take another plane to Osaka. We started the boarding soon after I arrived to the gate and I had a middle seat right at the front of the plane next to where they prepare the food.
And if you think all is well, you’d be wrong. They say through the speakers as we’re about to take off that there are some ‘technical difficulties’ and that the technician is working on it. Ten minutes tops, they say. Ten minutes soon turn into two whole hours and by this point I’m already sure I’ve missed, once again, my connection to Osaka.
Can I advise against using the phrase ‘technical difficulties’ when that so obviously means the plane isn’t working, especially when said plane is supposed to be in the sky for the next 10h and flying me to China? It doesn’t really impose the confidence that we’re not all going to die.
The seat-choosing process I had done with the online check-in was useless now that it was a different flight, but I managed to get another isle seat all the same since the one next to me was once again empty, as well as two blankets and two cushions (and 2 TVs!). I started watching Deadpool the movie, but I didn’t like it, so I watched an episode of ‘The Flash’ instead. I was finished just as we took off, so then I listened to music instead and played some puzzles. I soon got bored so I went for a walk around the plane and they brought us the food.
The options were chicken or beef. Last time I had beef by that name it was in Tokyo on my last trip, it was ‘beef curry’ because I was trying to be adventurous and taste new things. But it was horrible, so I decided to play safe this time and go with the chicken instead. And guess what the chicken option was? Chicken curry. And the beef people had nice looking meatballs.
The flight wasn’t too horrid, and I managed to sleep max 3h. The guy next to me was studying Spanish in Spain and was going back to his home in Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku Island, Japan, he was surprised I knew where that was). We landed at 11:30am (China time) in Shanghai and our flight to Osaka was at 12:15 so we, and many other people going to Delhi and Tokyo and Osaka, ran as fast as we could to catch our flights.
If you thought Amsterdam was bad, China was worse. No proper signs anywhere, I was running around in circles and they were all pointing me in different directions. I had to stand in line and then they asked for my Chinese visa (which I don’t have since I’m going to Japan) and then I had to go through a passport control and finally, somehow, made it to the gate area even though that was mostly just pure luck. There were only two gates and all of the people waiting to fly out were there. There was a sign saying ‘Osaka last call’ so I pushed to the front of the line of people going to Tokyo and said “Osaka!” to the lady at the counter. She pushed me into a dark corner with a pile of people waiting for Osaka. The only other white person in the whole swarm of bodies of the room was near tears. After shouting in Chinese at everyone in the room in a disorderly manner the desk lady shoved the Osaka group through some doors where someone checked our boarding passes and pushed us towards a bus. I was following a lady with long grey hair who, or at least I thought, was also going to Osaka, but I had no idea what was happening. Next I know I’m on a plane and two hours later I finally reach Japan, 8h after my initial plan.
Just before reaching Tokyo on my first trip I was listening to some Ayumi Hamasaki music (I thought it would be appropriate having in mind that I was going to Japan) and, just having opened the window blind after failing to fall asleep for the last few hours, all I could see outside was white. The singer then said ‘mite’ (look) at the moment the plane left the clouds, and a land full of rice fields and bundles of houses stretched out below me, creating the image that is engrained in my mind as my first impression of Japan. The colour of the sky matched that of the water in the distance, and the ships that were passing by on the horizon seemed to be floating in the air instead.
My first sighting of the country wasn’t quite so dramatic this time around, but there was definitely a moment of relief knowing that soon — finally — I would be reaching my destination.
In Kansai I was in familiar territory, so buying tickets for the ferry to Kobe was easy and I was sailing through Osaka Bay on the next ferry. I was lucky to find out about this discounted ferry for foreigners (Bay Shuttle) between Kansai and Kobe airports just a few days before my trip, saving me almost 800yen of transportation on my first day, cheaper than if I had taken the train passing through Osaka. Here for information about the ferry in case you are interested.
It was drizzling and everything was grey, but from the water I managed to see the outline of Akashi-Kaikyo, the longest suspension bridge in the world, in the distance. I’m sure that on a sunny day it would be seen clearly. I couldn’t see the start or the end of the bridge, and the steel structure seemed to dissapear into the clouds. Staring at Akashi-Kaikyo, imagining stories of cars passing by to the mysterious land beyond the grey, the ferry ride seemed much quicker than the half an hour it lasted.
After getting off the Bay Shuttle at Kobe Airport Port there was a bus waiting for those of us who were heading into the city, dropping us off (free of charge) at the airport’s train station. 330yen to Sannomiya Station, my — although very limited — kanji skills helped me recognise the ‘三’ of ‘Sannomiya’, avoiding that I get lost once again.
The confusing fifteen minutes I spent my first time in Tokyo staring at the train map trying to figure out how in the world I would get to Asakusabashi from Narita were replaced this time by excitement as I saw the ticket machine once again after so long. It finally felt like I was in Japan again!
The people behind me didn’t have to wait long for me to buy a ticket before I was already going through the gate and making my way to the Port Liner. I once read that this was the first train to use no driver, instead being automated. I don’t really know how true that is, but regardless, I was still on a no-maned train zooming over the sea, so that’s pretty good as far as first train rides go.
Kobe, however, was big and full of people. The express train to Himeji was spent squashed up against the door’s window, although that did allow me to have a great view of the Akashi Castle turrets lit up in the night. The first Japanese castle I ever saw!
I would be sleeping the night in Himeji, a hostel close to the castle. It was 8:15pm when I reached the city and the Himeji Yukata Matsuri was going on. I had planned to visit the festival and try out all the street food, but having arrived 8h later than expected I was much too tired to do so and decided instead to go straight to sleep once I reached my room.
That is, if I could. I arrived to the hostel and there was a note saying ‘guest, make yourself at home!’ but there was nobody there. After going inside through the unlocked door and uncomfortably sitting in the common room alone for fifteen minutes, a man arrives to the house and checks me in, shows me around, and announces he’s leaving for the night.
I asked for the dorm but there was nobody else there so I had the room all to myself! In Tokyo I stayed for a week in a capsule hostel, and another week in a dorm bunk, so this was the first traditional room I had slept in.
The place is called ‘Engakudou Himeji Guesthouse’ and is a 101 year old house. I was very excited to see a tokonoma and use sliding doors, although the house wasn’t as clean as I hoped it would be. But for only 2500yen a night I had a pleasant enough stay and decided to sleep there again at the end of my trip.
Unfortunately no sightseeing happened on my first day, but I have news for my first full day in the country for the next post, heading off to Mt.Shosha early morning!