Friday, August 25, 2006

Sapporo Bound, Part I

Like two masochists in Hokkaido, we're Sapporo bound! [1]

Haneda control towerLyani and I woke up at around 07:45 this morning (actually, I got up by instinct at 06:30, but whatever), packed two backpacks, and set out for Haneda Airport. We stopped by Becker's Coffee Shop at our station to pick up a bacon, egg, and cheese croissant sandwich apiece, then hopped on a Keiyo Line rapid heading for Tokyo. We got off at the next stop, Shin-Kiba, transferred to the Rinkai Line, and rode it for a few stops to Tenouzo Isle Station, where we walked around the block to the Tenouzu Tokyo Monorail station. Once on the monorail, it took about 25 minutes to reach Haneda Terminal 1.

Japan AirlinesHaneda is an old airport, built in 1931, rebuilt--I assume--soon after the war and turned into a US Army Air Base. Haneda was turned back over to the Japanese in 1952, and served as Tokyo's international airport until 1978, when Narita International Airport (AKA New "Tokyo" International Airport, though it is a 60 minute express train ride from Tokyo) was built. However, you would not know that Haneda was not constructed five years ago from the terminal, which is conveniently connected to Tokyo's world-class public rail system, clean and up-to-date, with widescreen TVs and computerised displays everywhere. We had purchased our tickets through H.I.S., Japan's most popular travel agency (I just made that statistic up, but it may well be true), so we had a voucher sheet. Had we bothered to read it, getting our tickets would have been as easy as marching up to one of the many available automatic ticket machines, inputting a confirmation number, and selecting our seats from a touchscreen. Since we did not know this, we just asked a handy JAL attendant, who proceeded to walk us over to another JAL attendant who was standing in front of the automatic ticket machines, who then proceeded to enter our information in the machine and ask us about our preferred seats. We chose two in the back (the plane had three columns of three-abreast seating, except in the back, where the last two rows were two-abreast), one by the window and one on the aisle--I prefer the view from the window seat, but Lyani likes to be able to get in and out more easily. I should have paid attention to see what kind of equipment we would be flying on, but I will see soon enough. I guess it will be a Boeing 727, but it could also be one of the smaller Airbus models--I forget which model numbers are smaller at the moment.

After we had gotten our tickets, I confirmed with the attendant that our backpacks were both small enough to carry on, and Lyani inquired about liquids, then we approached security. I am happy to say that the Japanese extend their courteous brand of service even to airport security. I took the stuff out of my pockets and placed it in a small plastic tray that was helpfully provided ahead of the main security line, then walked up to the metal detector and x-ray machine. There was a table in front of the x-ray machine, and a security person, who I asked if I needed to take my laptop (on which I am currently typing this blog entry, at gate 16) out of my backback. She confirmed that I did, and pulled out a tray for it. I then waited to be called through the metal detector, as per standard operating procedures, which seemed to puzzle the security personnel a bit--I guess they expected me to walk on through right after depositing my bag. I went through the metal detector without incident--and there was no mention of removing my shoes--but when I got to the table on the other side of the x-ray machine, the security guy told me that the x-ray machine found something, and asked if it was OK to look through my bag. I said sure, and then he asked me if I had a knife or anything. I told him that I did not think so, at which point Lyani walked up, and said that she thought that it might have been my keychain that set it off--the key to our apartment is this big metal wafer. She pulled it out, then discovered that right under it was my Swiss Army knife! I had simply transferred it from the bag I carry to work to the stack of stuff to pack this morning, and Lyani had packed it without a thought. To me, it is more a tool than a knife, since I use the screwdrivers and so on all the time at work, but almost never the knife blade. And to Lyani, it did not seem like a "weapon" at all, probably because the blade is about five centimetres long.

Most of you probably have a story like this, where you inadvertently packed some verboten item in your carry-on luggage, only to have it discovered and subsequently confiscated by security. The story always ends something like, "and that is how I lost my heirloom Buck knife, passed down through my family for five generations." Of course, this being Japan, the security guy apologised profusely for inconveniencing me--the idiot who had accidentally packed a prohibited item--and whipped out an envelope with attached paperwork, which he started filling out. He asked me if it was OK for him to take the knife (he used the polite Japanese "o-azukattemo yoroshii deshouka?", which means something like, "is it acceptable for me to take temporary possession of this item for processing?"), put it in the envelope, and have it returned to me in Sapporo. I could not believe my fortune--I thought my 800 yen bought-from-Don Quixote knife was a goner for sure. I just had to write my name (actually, Lyani wrote it for me, as my handwriting is barely decipherable by fellow Americans, never mind Japanese people who don't even use the Latin alphabet to render their written language), and we were on our merry way, but not before the entire security staff apologised again for delaying us, ever so slightly.

And that is my big Japanese airport security horror story. Not so harrowing, is it? Granted, we did get to Haneda at 10:00 on a Friday morning, when it was almost devoid of other travellers, but I was very impressed with the polite and professional treatment we received at the hands of the security staff.

And by the way, while I was waiting at the table on the other side of the x-ray machine, I noticed a strange scanning machine. No sooner could I wonder what it was used for then did a security guy walk up to it, carrying two litre bottles of green tea. He placed the bottles on the machine, which started a progress meter moving on its small display screen. The progress meter took less than four seconds to complete, then it flashed a green light and displayed the Japanese equivalent of "all clear" on the screen. So this is Japan's response to the foiled UK terror plot involving liquid explosives: rather than ban all liquids from carry-ons, they simply ask each passenger if they have any PET bottles (in Japanese, this is literally "petto bottoru"), which they take over to the screening machine, then promptly return. So no need to sacrifice your liquid refreshment in the name of security, just come to Japan! :)

Our plane just rolled up to the gate, and it does indeed look like a 727. I will do my best to find out, then report back. So fear not, dear readers, you shall soon know what kind of plane I will be riding!

Just back from the JAL desk: it is a Boeing 777-300 (in Japanese, that is "Bo-ingu nana-hyaku nana-ju nana dashu sam-byaku", in case you were wondering). Surprisingly, the girl had to look it up--I just figured she would have known. Of course, I should have known just from looking at it if I was a real airliner geek. Planes and trains fascinate me, and I like to find out as much as possible about them, but I don't have the hardcore geekitude to memorise the different models by sight. That reminds me, though, of a story from my childhood. I grew up in a remote valley in Virginia, which was great for Air Force and Navy test flights by virtue of its remoteness. The planes would roar down the valley, often in speeds at the excess of the sound barrier (how do I know? from the sonic booms!), flying low enough to evade detection by "enemy" radar. Some citizens group distributed literature on how to spot the planes and call in to some complaint line. You had to tell the complaint line what model of plane it was, so they knew which military base to complain to, so the literature contained profiles and outlines of the planes as seen from the ground. I loved looking up, a sheaf of papers in hand, and determining what model of plane was buzzing our peaceful little farm. Of course, I never called the complaint line, because I did not want the planes to stop conducting their training runs in our valley.

M1A1 AbramsLater, when I was in Junior High in Staunton, my friend Ian had an awesome military hardware encyclopedia, which we used to flip through for hours, dreaming of how we would equip our armies if we had an unlimited budget. Sad to say, when the (first) Gulf War lit up CNN in 1991--I was 11--it was like pornography to Ian and I. We could not get enough of Bradley and M1A1 Abrams tanks, A-10 "Warthog" anti-tank planes, TOW and Tomahawk cruise missiles, and bunkers in the sand. There was a Gulf War video game released around that time for Super Nintendo, where you would cruise around in an Abrams, looking for Iraqis to blow up. Of course, the final boss was none other than Saddam himself. Ian and I would play that for hours on the small black-and-white television out in his playhouse. It was a perfect simulation for us.

Anyway, back to the present... it is almost time to board the plane, and "cat /proc/acpi/battery/BAT0/state" tells me that my battery has only 13060 mWh left, so I'd better end this entry here. Join me next time for info on the actual flight.

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