Cairns to KIX

Hello Kitty.

It’s all over this train. The Haruka from Kansai International Airport.

We’ve arrived and we’re on the way to Shin-Osaka. It’s way past dinner and I’m rather hungry.

It wasn’t quite the sleep in this morning that I was looking forward to. Nonetheless, it was nice not to be in a hurry. Breakfast was flavoured milk, a little orange juice and part of a banana that we bought at the adjacent Woolworths last night.

We take a walk out into Cairns’ tropical heat and humidity, down to the artificial lagoon. It looks so inviting. The remnants of last night’s rains, a heavy shower after we had returned, drift languidly overhead.

The atmosphere invites us to stay longer, to relax in the tropics instead of seeking out sophisticated and busy Japan.

As we walk past the Orchid Plaza, the scent of southeast Asian cooking recalls our holidays in that region.

Instead we return to collect our luggage and catch a taxi van to the airport, where the Jetstar check in line is already very long.

Normally we are amongst the first in the line after arriving from the early morning flight from Sydney. Today, we only have an hour airside, not enough to fuss about the lack of food and amusement.

I buy Alex a Caesar salad wrap from the newsagent because we can’t be bothered queuing at the sole cafe.

Boarding is from gate 2, at the opposite end of the terminal to usual. A New Zealand airforce Boeing 757 is parked next to us. I wonder what it is doing here.

I know that it’s been only six months since I last flew the route. Despite everything, I still feel anxious as I settle into the Jetstar Boeing 787-8. The puffy clouds above the city, will a take-off through them be very bumpy? Will there be rough skies as we descend into Osaka again?

I’ve paid for the entertainment system. I’m impressed by the film music selections (under Classical). Three John Williams albums, a James Horner collection, superhero collection, A Giacchino Spider-Man and one from Mark Mancina, plus a few extras here and there. I set the Ann-Sophie Mutter/John Williams collaboration (I saw her in concert with his music last November) playing and switch to the flight map on the screen.

We begin backing away from the gates and the crew perform their safety demonstration. I watch other aircraft taking off, avoiding, then entering the cloud. I can do this.

Sooner than expected, we reach the runway facing south and full power is applied to the engines. We are off!

We curve around Cairns city, rising up through the clouds. Through one, okay, another, still good, others, a few small bumps, but nothing bad. Breathe. Consciously relax. I can do this.

Then we are above the clouds.

Normally we head out over the Coral Sea, but today we hug the coast. Though mostly hidden by clouds, I see brown rivers flecked with white from their cascading flow. Rainforest clad hills eventually give way to tropical savannah. Dirt tracks criss-cross the landscape, swollen creeks from recent rains.

I see the tiny white wake of a boat cruising near the mouth of the North Kennedy river, a small sign of humanity in the wilderness of the Cape Yorke Peninsula below.

The great wall of white, the high cloud, seems to have moved south from Papua New Guinea and crossed into Australia. It is actually quite calm over the south of the country, with its wide brown rivers and jungle. The cloud returns on the other side of the range. There is a lot of high cloud today, though I do catch a glimpse of the northern coastline as we cross it.

We have the usual $15 food credit. B orders a lasagne, which is surprisingly good, but the vegetarian quiche and feta and spinach roll was disappointing the third time round.

There is a gap in the high cloud towards the equator and fleets of smaller clouds cast shadows on the water far below. The tropical armada’s, fleets of corvettes and frigates, but fortunately few of the dreadnoughts of towering cumulus with their anvil tops unleashing their violence across sky, land and sea.

I listen to the score from Spider-Man: Far From Home. With the sun in my eyes I drift into microsleeps.

After the success of the Kiwi-American What We Do In The Shadows last trip, I give Our Flag Means Death a go. It’s not as entertaining.

Christopher Nolan makes perfect flight movies and the entertainment system has a wide range of them onboard. I choose Interstellar, which I have seen up in the air before. It is perfect, familiarity meaning I can look out of the window and just listen to Hans Zimmer’s score when I need to.

The skies are calm, scattered clouds below, a golden sun glade shimmering off the ocean. This is perfect flying, though the seven hour flight feels long.

Interstellar finishes just before we begin our descent into hazy skies approaching dusk. I switch to the James Horner collection. There is a cloud layer below us. Will it be a rapid bumpy descent again. I am nervous.

The shake of the spoilers, yes, I know this now. But it is a smooth descent, only briefly through cloud. Turning, the golden sun, the streaks of contrails as other aircraft fly above us, the dark shadow of Shikoku ahead. Japan has been sighted!

Our route is further south than usual. Under the grey and orange sky rice paddies are a mosaic of mirrors below. We turn again by Awashima, the broad mouths of rivers, the lights of towns and stadiums.

The Nishi-Akashi bridge which connects Awashima to Honshu. Turn again. The skyscrapers of Kobe, the reclaimed land of ports and industry, an aircraft is taking off from its artificial island airport.

Turn. Align with our artificial airport destination. Descending. The causeway that links it with the mainland, the green Ferris wheel of Rinkutown in the background. Down. Down.

We touch the ground.

Now I can say it. It was a fantastic flight. One of the best.

But I am very tired. We are hungry.

We hustle through immigration, delayed by missing information in the entrance app. Collect our luggage from the belt. Obtain the JR Pass.

The Hello Kitty Haruka pulls up at the platform. Now I can relax.

Night life flickering past. Supermarkets and pachinko parlours with bright lights, but it is the tiny izakaya and little shops, the vignettes of street life that I love.

Almost an hour later we are at Shin-Osaka. B wants sushi, but we wander around unable to see it, too tired to focus. Go to the hotel, drop off the luggage, return on the long walk.

The sushi train is at the far end of the station, requiring us to enter the trackside area with our rail passes. It is not the best sushi I have eaten, nor is it cheap, but it does the trick.

I would just collapse into bed, but there is a shared big bath at the hotel. I’m the only one of us who uses it, first scrubbing my body of the remnants of tropical Cairns, the invisible grime of a long flight. The soak in the bath, that is not just for the flight, but the weeks of exercise, the long, slow release of tension and the beginning of a time of rest.

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