Last day in Japan

Today we slept in a bit. I had some salad for breakfast and then we walked over to Blue Bottle to get coffee and granola for my wife. We came back and did final packing before checking out of the hotel and leaving our luggage to be picked up later.

Then we braved the heat and humidity once again for a short walk south to Kitashinagawa, as recommended by my colleague’s wife the other night at the Ramen Museum. Although it’s only ten minutes from the bustle around Shinagawa Station, there is an old time neighbourhood in Kitashinagawa that is relatively quiet and has small local shops and cafes along an attractively old-feeling street. We walked slowly in a light rain, passing several interesting places, nice looking bakeries, cafes, and also a couple of shrines and a Buddhist temple.

We stopped in a place called KAIDO books&coffee, which had an invitingly cozy decor with many shelves full of books. Besides coffee, they did some interesting looking meals, with home-made sausages for various hot dogs, as well as some pizzas and soups. The hot dogs actually looked really good. We ordered cool drinks – I got an iced tea soda made with ginger and lemon tea. We enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere as we sat and refreshed a bit.

Eventually we had to leave and walk back. We grabbed some lunch at the French bakery just outside the hotel. I had a slice of quiche and a pain au chocolat, while my wife had some slices of a rye style bread and some small scones. We brought them into the hotel to eat, but were stymied by large notices in the lounge area prohibiting eating. So we went down to the food court and ate them there, flouting the numerous signs saying that bringing in external for was prohibited. Apparently there’s nowhere you can eat take-away food in the hotel unless you’re in your room. After eating we returned upstairs and collected our luggage and sat in the lounge area for a while to relax.

Our flight was scheduled for 22:00, which meant we wanted to leave for the airport pretty much in the middle of rush hour on the trains. That didn’t seem like fun, so we decided to go early, leaving before 17:00. We carted our luggage out and across the road to Shinagawa Station’s Keikyu Line entrance, which fortunately was on street level on our side, so very easy to get to. We queued for the train to Haneda and caught one which wasn’t too crowded.

At Haneda we checked the departures board, but our flight wasn’t yet listed. We were too early for our flight to appear at the end of the board, so we looked at some of the shops before going through the security and immigration checks. There was no queue at either, so that process was very quick. Once inside the security area I looked at a departures board again and noticed that the very first flight listed was a Qantas flight to Sydney, departing at 22:00, listed as delayed to 20:00 – presumably the next day. I checked my boarding pass and it was the same flight number. We had a brief moment of panic, thinking our flight home was delayed by a day, but realised that this must be last night’s flight, delayed until 20:00 tonight. Phew! After our experience with our last international trip (being stuck in Singapore Airport for over 24 hours), the last thing we wanted was a day’s delay getting home this time.

We slowly wandered the main terminal area, seeing where everything was. Then we found a comfortable place to sit for a bit and wandered around individually to get drinks and look at anything we were interested in. After a bit we got some sushi from the food court area for dinner and then moved to near our departure gate.

The plane was a bit late arriving from its previous destination, and the flight crew were sitting waiting with the passengers in the gate until it arrived and they could go on board. The first to board were the pilots, but the cabin crew stayed behind and continued waiting. I asked my wife why they wouldn’t also go on, and she said the pilots had a lot of work to do, flipping all the switches in the cockpit. Eventually all the crew boarded, and then passenger boarding began almost half an hour late.

As we boarded and I took my passport wallet from my wife and removed the passport, I noticed that two things that we’d put into that wallet for safe keeping weren’t there: the Magic: the Gathering card I’d bought in Nakatsugawa, and the receipt for the duty-free liquor I’d bought at Sydney for pick-up on our return. I asked her where they were, and she was dumbfounded and said she had no idea, they should have been in there with the passport. I suspect they must have fallen out when I pulled out my passport to go through customs and I just didn’t notice. With the plane boarding and no real hope of going back to find them, we had to be philosophical and just shrug and carry on.

Next day: 1 July

Once underway, the flight was uneventful and fairly short, coming in a bit under eight hours, compared to the nine and a half outbound. We arrived at Sydney a bit after 08:00. As we were taxiing to the terminal, the pilot announced that we would be disembarking by stairs to the tarmac and catching buses to the terminal! The cabin crew lady sitting facing us rolled her wyes. I wasn’t even aware that they still did this at Sydney Airport at all. I’ve never been on a flight that did this here, other than for small propellor planes for domestic flights that aren’t capable of hooking up to a jet tube.

So we managed to get into the arrival terminal by this unusual method, which took a bit longer. I also managed to pick up my duty-free bottles of booze at the counter, after confessing I’d lost my receipt. They just checked my passport to confirm my name and handed over the goods. So that was good.

But worse was to come. Although we had no checked luggage to wait for and could proceed immediately through to customs, we hit a brick wall there. Some other busy flights must have landed before us, and hundreds of passengers were queued up waiting to go through customs. We had to walk a long way to join the back of the queue. Annoyingly, some other people approached the exit, saw the size if the queue snaking across the baggage claim area, and decided to simply push their way in ahead of everyone further back. So the combination of factors meant we spent almost an hour waiting in the queue to get into the customs area.

And that wasn’t the end of it. Once we reached the front and handed our customs forms to an inspector, he instructed us to join some other randomly selected people for a sniffer dog test to search for illegal drugs or other banned items. So that took another few minutes. Ater getting the all-clear, we finally exited the arrivals process, well over an hour after having begun it.

We caught a train home, showered, changed, went out to do some grocery shopping to restock the kitchen with perishables, and then drove over to our dog-sitter friends’ place to collect Scully. She was very happy to see us again!

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