Tuesday June 26th 2018

After clearing immigration faster than expected we headed down to the bowels of Narita Airport Terminal 1. The train station entrance was directly outside where we exited customs, which was fantastic and meant we saved some time stumbling around. Once we got downstairs we had to line up at the JR Service Center to get our Rail Passes Exchanged. Because we were ahead of schedule it meant we had more time to do what we needed to do.

Tonight’s plan was to take the Narita Express to Tokyo Station, then a Hikari on the Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya and then a ride on the Aonami line for one stop to Sasashima Raibu. Long travel time of 3 different trains to get us the 200-300 miles down to Nagoya. This would seem really complicated, but it really isn’t. Two of the trains would be covered by our rail pass and the other one would cost us 200 Yen (roughly $2). Pretty decent prices to be honest. To add onto that because we were ahead of schedule we could spend a little more time in Tokyo Station and be less rushed.

While booking our tickets they told us we should be changing in Shinagawa, but to be honest, we know Tokyo station better. Our plan was to stop by somewhere in the Station, pick up an Ekiben and eat it on the train as we cruised to Nagoya.

We were able to get on the 4:19pm NEX to Tokyo station and that put us a good hour ahead of schedule. This wasn’t the first time we had taken this train so we knew what to expect. We chilled out on the train as it cruised out of Narita and headed towards Tokyo. The free wifi onboard helped and I spent the time getting my phone up and running. It was nice to finally be out of the plane, but we were both in good moods and not feeling tired.

As we arrived into Tokyo station we knew what now had to happen. We were in the middle of the afternoon commute, in one of the busiest train stations in the world. This was not going to be fun dragging some suitcases through. But hey, might as well. It was fine, it was a bit overwhelming but we did it. We both made our way up to the Shinkansen gates and then I went back to the Ekiben place to get some food. This was probably the dumbest idea ever because it was stupidly crowded and a little bit oppressive. But I made it out and my first purchase in Japan was for ekibens!

We headed up onto our platform, found our car location (handily printed all over the platform at your feet) and lined up to await the train to come in. There was Shinkansens all over the place both Tokaido and also run by JR East. When our Shinkansen showed up they had to clean it, so that took a little while but soon enough we were onboard and had to stash our suitcases behind the last row of seats.

The train pulled out of Tokyo station on time (as you would expect) and we picked up speed as we headed for a few stops in the Tokyo area before heading out into the country proper. Once we left Yokohama that was when you could feel the speed really increase. Sadly though our train was going to make plenty of stops. Had we rushed through Tokyo station we could have made the earlier train that made less stops and saved us plenty more time, but it was fine.

This portion of the journey was when we both started to struggle. Lordy was it tough staying awake. We found it rough to try and keep our eyes open probably for a good hour or so as we both were lulling ourselves to sleep. It wasn’t even 7pm in Japan and we were ready to be in bed. The ekibens were consumed onboard (I have no idea what mine was, but it was alright) and we both just watched the scenery change outside as the train sped past the cities.

As we pulled into Nagoya we both got ourselves ready for another slog through the station to find the right spot to head to the Aonami line to our hotel. The signage was good but we had to go a roundabout way (at least it felt that way) to wind through the station to another part of the station. We dropped some cash for our IC cards and as we rolled to the platform the train started making noises that it was going to depart. We made it with seconds to spare.

One stop on the train line, dragging suitcases through a very deserted station and we were a minutes walk from our hotel for our stay in Nagoya.

Monday 25th July 2018

It’s Monday morning, my alarm goes off and I have a needy cat annoying me. Must be the weekend, well not today. Today it is vacation. I get to spend some time taking a trip that my wife and I have been waiting to take for almost 4 years. The day was finally here, but yet I was excited but not overly so. Which is strange, but not really.

A lot to get accomplished around the house today before taking my first flight of the year and the first in at least 7 months. The morning went by quickly but not without its hiccups. I forgot to take a jacket to keep warm if needed (woops… hopefully won’t be a problem) and pretty sure i forgot to arm the house alarm. The ride to the airport was easy and the lyft took mere moments to arrive.

After making our way from our drop off point to check in, the wait took a few moments and we were checked in. It was super simple and our bags were right on the money in regards to weight. We took our boarding passes and headed off to security where we had no issue thanks to clear. Well that was meant to be the thing, however this is where I started to get hassled. Clear was stating that I did not have a Pre Check boarding pass. However I had one printed and a mobile boarding pass that both stated the same. After being verified by Clear they then dragged me in front of a TSA rep to get the same done (which is not meant to be the way) just to prove I am Pre Check (which I already knew).

So once into the line for the security I get stuck behind the family that doesn’t know what they are doing but I am stripped down ready to go in moments and then… wait. More waiting, lots of waiting. Finally get through and my Camera bag gets pulled to the side. No word all I hear is “Bag Check”. Just dandy! Doesn’t help that there was like no TSA agent listening to anyone so I had to wait over 10 minutes for someone to finally get to my bag. I waited more for TSA today for a bag check than I did at check in and clear. How is that even possible.

For my bag check they wanted to check my camera lenses apparently. Which I wasn’t aware was a thing for precheck. The guy working it was not that great either and I didn’t want him damaging anything. He asked me how to open the bag and I told him “I would prefer to do that” and he finally let me do that. He went for the lenses and I told him he better be careful with that or the TSA will be footing the bill for new equipment. Soon enough I was on my way and they still couldn’t find a complaint card to make a complaint about the poor service today. So that was convienient.

Next stop was the lounge, after a breif stop by work for a little bit. The Club at SEA was the required lounge to visit today and this was my first real visit. Holy Crap is this place small. Like REALLY small. This lounge is meant to have all the people who are flying international flights, which is crazy. It was like an endless stream of people coming into the lounge and it was rough to find a seat. The offerings were limited but I did not really want that much to be honest.

I made sure to relax a little, try to get into the holiday mood. I was dissapointed that onboard the flight today I wasn’t going to be able to sit with Heidi and to add insult to injury, an aisle seat because the true windows were taken. Not exactly my favorite way to start a vacation. Soon enough we escaped the lounge and headed off to the gate to get ready for boarding.

All Nippon Airways – NH177
Seattle Tacoma to Tokyo Narita
Boeing 787-8 (JA814A)
Business Class – Seat 7K

Boarding: 1250 (Gate S12)
Push Back: 1318
Take Off Roll: 1339 (Runway 16L)
Top of Descent: 1421
Touch Down: 1505 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 1511 (Gate: 208/29B)

Boarding came soon enough after what felt like a mountain of children boarded. I swear about ⅓ of the plane was preboarded. Thank god I was not down the back of the bus today because holy crap would that suck. Heidi and I were in the first half dozen or so Business Class passengers onboard and that was when we waved good bye to each other. When I got to my seat the person in 9A was settling in and he said hello, so I said Hi back. I let him know that if he didn’t want his seat to let me know, I would be happy to swap.

Then he said something I never thought I would be happier to hear. “My wife, she is in 7K, will you swap with her”. Win win on both sides!! They get to be together, and I get my window seat. Holy crap this would be the luckiest thing the whole day. I gladly swapped and also made sure to thank them several times over. Every staff member I spoke to after that started to thank me for swapping so the couple could be together. I was very happy to let them know it was not that big of a deal.

I got situated as the rest of the plane came walking past my seat and soon enough we were pulling off the gate. As we started to get ready to taxi all the staff lined up, bowed and waved to everyone. The traditional ANA departure… always a site to behold. The long taxi line out to the North end of the runway and as we went past I noticed two fire trucks having water cannon practice. Fun times!

We took off to the South and turned towards the west and back to the northwest as we started the long haul westward toward Asia. The service took a long time to get started and they handed out the wrong menu to begin with. Which must have been awkward… but still, I wouldn’t need to keep it because it would be the same on the way back. Since the service was so slow i started to watch the first of many movies for this trip to ensure that I kept myself entertained.

Lunch finally began with the canapes and drinks. Because we were leaving the USA it would have to be the western options. I would keep the Japanese options for the departure in two weeks time. So the western menu started with a Cajun prawn thing and some corn soup. The soup was delicious and Heidi agreed because I recieved a message through in seat messaging to confirm it. The main I chose was the beef and expecting it to come out tough when it was actually deliciously tender. The sauce was pretty spicy so that wasn’t what I expected. Finished off the meal with some cheese, the japanese dessert (because I didn’t feel like cheesecake) and some coffee.

After lunch I relaxed the seat back and kept watching my movies. After finishing up the 2nd movie it was time for some more coffee and some trip report writing. Trip report, coffee and a movie, felt like the good old days! I didn’t want to eat all of the food on this flight, it just isn’t that long and with the late start, well I wasn’t that hungry. So i decided to have some of the lighter dishes for the 2nd meal. Ramen, Ice cream and some fruit maybe? I dunno… too many choices.

It had been a pretty easy comfortable flight, getting away in Business class is always fun right? This could be the last long haul flight for a while in the front as well, So I would need to enjoy it.

The rest of the flight went relatively smoothly. As I watched the third movie around two and a half hours out they switched on all the lights (rather than using moodlighting) and got everyone up. It was a tad shocking but it was ok, since I had not slept anyway and kept a good amount of light trying to come through my windows anyway.

As the movie progressed and began to finish I started to choose something for the final service. I didn’t really feel like eating much as it was only a few hours since I had just eaten so I decided to eat the Ippudo ramen (which has always been a good choice on ANA). They did not dissapoint with a nice bowl (albeit not the special ippudo bowl) of noodles and broth for …. Dinner? Or was it lunch again? I dunno… so confused.

We started our descent relatively early but as with any approach into Tokyo they warned of turbulence. Thankfully it was not as bad as that night back in 2009 when it was the roughest approach I have ever had in my life. This time thankfully there was a few lumps and bumps but nothing out of control. As we approached Narita it was the usual routes past Narita township, the AEON mall and then over the hotels like the Hilton and touching down. We were a good 30+ minutes ahead of schedule.

What I didn’t expect on arrival into Narita was a bus gate. Usually the USA flights all get gates in the 50s, as they usually turn the plane right back around. Apparently not us today as we were headed to “Gate” 208. This would be only the second time I have had a bus gate in Narita and that was back in 2013 on the way back from Hong Kong. We pulled up, the crews took a while getting the steps up to the plane and then to hand over paperwork. But finally we were let off the plane and I was the second person off. You better believe I am going to step down and take some photos!

A quick bus tour around the ramp and we were let off at Gate 29B, the bus stop that would let us up into Immigration and Customs. This would be the real battle as you try to get a spot in what is usually the really long line. Today though both Heidi and I breezed through. There was no wait and all and in fact we were both helped in seconds. Last time we came to visit the process took almost 45 minutes for customs, today, no more than 3. We waited longer for our bags to come out than for immigration and customs combined! What I had scheduled to take at least an hour took around 20 minutes!

Well our trip to Japan is coming along nicely and is now around 3 weeks away… (well 23 days to be exact). This trip has been on the books for quite some time and in reality has been planning officially since Heidi and I were first together in 2014. Because we got married back in 2014 we had to cancel our vacation to Japan that we had planned. Although different to this trip we had it planned to be able to visit both Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. It was meant to be a trip that included the Park Hyatt Tokyo, the SCMaglev Museum in Nagoya and Singapore Suites.

Well we had to cancel that trip and we got our Singapore Suites flight when we went back to Australia back in 2016. So that left the SCMaglev and the Park Hyatt to make sure we get the things we wanted back in the loop. With some work benefits available to me it meant I could try and make this whole trip something decent to make up for the last time. I wanted to make sure that whatever we did we could make up for lost time, so it meant we had to find a way to get to stay at the Park Hyatt this time around.

A number of credit card churns later we could get 3 nights at the Park Hyatt. That meant that we just had to add in Nagoya. Rather than 1 night this time we decided on two nights (so we could relax into our time in Japan) and at the very start of the trip. That way we could come off the flight mid afternoon and hop on a train (or two) all the way through to Nagoya and get a good nights sleep. That way we could spend the next day exploring Nagoya (and the SCMaglev) and have a good nights sleep again before moving on. Adjusting slowly rather than quickly.

Kyoto we could use work benefits for our hotel and pick up a free tour guide to help show us around. For Osaka it would be the midpoint of our trip so by looking for a serviced apartment (in a brand that I used to deal with back home) would mean we could catch up on reality easier (laundry etc). Osaka we haven’t got much planned but there is so much to do so we will see how it goes. From Osaka we can head back to Tokyo and spend the last part of the trip in the nations capital. Tokyo we could get 3 of our 5 nights at the Park Hyatt thanks to points and figure we could spend another two with work benefits.

All up we only have to pay for 5 nights of accommodation in cash, the rail passes and our flights. But what about flights. We only have two options for getting to Japan out of Seattle, Delta or ANA. Delta is an airline my wife doesn’t like flying (because of her family’s Alaska loyaltys and they see Delta as “the enemy”) plus they are hard to find points deals out of (paid fares are rough). ANA it was so with some transfers of points to Virgin Atlantic (goodbye all my Citibank and Amex points!) we could get round trip tickets in Business Class for just the taxes and fees.

So that is all our trip planned out now, JR Passes in hand, flights and hotels booked, tour guides arranged. All the planning is done, time to just wait….