Japan/USA diary, day 1

Monday, 1 June, 2015. 20:46 Japan time

I am sitting on the rapid airport train from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo, just waiting for it to leave the airport and carry me into the city. The airport is a long way out and the trip apparently takes 45 minutes or so.

I got up at 05:00 back in Sydney this morning, dressed and called a taxi to take me straight to the airport. The driver was chatty and kept saying how mechanically terrible his taxi was, and how in particular the brakes needed fixing. Traffic is light that early in the morning.

I checked in and managed to get the last exit row seat on the flight to Tokyo. I had no large bag to check in, packing light enough to keep everything in carry on. After getting boarding passes through to Sapporo, I went through customs and into the departure terminal, which is being renovated, again. The huge duty free shop at the entrance has been moved into what was the large elliptical open area in the middle of the terminal, crowding out several other shops and food places.

Being so early, many of the food places weren’t open yet. I found one place that served muesli, with yoghurt and a poached pear, which was interesting and very nice. Though it cost a whopping $17. After eating, the sun rose spectacularly through a panoramic window looking north-east to the city, and I grabbed a few photos.

Leaving Sydney
Sunrise at Sydney Airport.

The flight was pretty full. My exit row seat was great, with all the legroom I could want and more. Sitting next to me were a young Japanese couple, who didn’t speak to me at all. The pilot warned there would be a bit of turbulence on the flight, and there was a tiny bit, but nothing to write home about.

The first meal was a choice of chicken or fish. I chose the fish, which came with semi-glutinous rice, broccoli, mushrooms, and diced carrot, in a Japanese style sauce. It was not bad. They had both red and white wine, and I chose white, which turned out to be a French Chardonnay. We got a second meal just before landing, but there was no choice this time. Everyone just got a tortellini dish with pumpkin sauce. I think they were filled with cheese, no meat.

Although it was a full daylight flight, they turned the lights off and had everyone keep the window shades down. So although it was daytime in both Sydney and Japan, I got drowsy and closed my eyes for a few hours. I occupied myself in the second half of the flight with reading and playing games on my iPad.

Arriving Tokyo
Sunset at Tokyo Narita Airport.

We landed in Tokyo at Narita Airport a few minutes after 17:00. I had to find where to go to get the flight to Sapporo, and asked a lady near the baggage claim. She pointed me the right way, down the far end of the terminal to the JAL domestic departures area. I passed in through security and was relieved to see a departure board with my flight. The gate was just a waiting room on the ground floor with doors to buses, and there was nothing to see or do there. I checked WiFi and found Narita’s amazingly good and fast free service, which I used to message M. at home while I waited.

I only had to wait about 20 minutes before the Sapporo flight boarded, for departure at 18:45.

Leaving Tokyo
Leaving Tokyo Narita Airport for Sapporo.

We took off away from the sunset and towards the rising full moon, before turning north towards Hokkaido. It was a short flight, and the only service was a drink. We landed at Chitose a bit after 20:00. By the time we taxied and disembarked and I walked out to find the railway station, it was almost 20:30. I bought a ticket on the rapid airport train for Sapporo and walked down onto the platform where the train was waiting.

The train filled up to standing room before departing, and we’re now on our way through the night towards Sapporo.

(written later)

I arrived at Sapporo station and made my way on foot to the Hotel Okura Sapporo, which was just a few of blocks away. Night had fallen, but walk was fairly pleasant and the streets were clean and safe looking, with a moderate amount of people around heading home from work or out shopping or whatever. On the way I walked through Odori Park, which is a long thin park, a single block wide, running east-west across the centre of the city. At the east end I could see a huge TV transmission tower, with a giant digital clock announcing the time. I figured this must be the famous Sapporo clock tower. (I would later discover that I was very wrong.)

After checking into the hotel and being given a room on the 8th floor, I dumped my stuff and then went out in search of a quick dinner. My walk there had passed a series of small restaurants just on the adjacent block, so I went back to those, picking a place at random. It turned out to be a place called Yamauchi Nojo, with several private booths towards the back and some open tables at the front, where the waitress seated me. Everyone else in the place was in the booths, so I had the front area to myself. I perused the glossy magazine-like menu and selected a dish that looked good – something relatively simple in the “soup with bits in” category. I also ordered a local beer.

Swirly top beer
Appetiser and swirly beer at Yamauchi Nojo restaurant in Sapporo.

The beer came with a strange swirly head on it, coiffed like a soft-serve ice cream into a spiral peak which defied all laws of beer gravity. A sip showed that the head was icy, with fine crystals. The waitress also brought a complimentary appetiser of cucumber and raw cabbage leaves, with thick brown miso paste for flavour. It was delicious and worked well with the crunchy vegetables.

No idea what this meal was
Soup for dinner.

The soup was thick and brothy, and had a strong coating effect on the mouth and tongue as I ate it and the chunks of vegetables and meat within. It was a simple meal after a long day of flying, and I was grateful to have something warm in my stomach as I returned to the hotel to sleep.

Leave a Reply