Dreamliner to Japan

787 over the Tweed River

I’m off to Japan. Again after only a couple of months and this time without the rest of the family. This time flying Jetstar’s new Boeing 787. I’m only going away for four days, doing the kind of things that bore the others. Riding quiet rural trains to nowhere places before they crumble into the demographic dust of an ageing population.

This was going to be a great trip! This trip would be like old times, no better than old times. I would not be afraid of turbulence, I wouldn’t spend the hours wishing that we would arrive already. I will gaze out of the window and admire the view until we are over the sameness of the sea, then I will enjoy watching some entertainment, read a book, do some maths, write or take a nap. I will enjoy the meals and purchase extras if I am hungry. It’s going to be like the old times when flying was a fun adventure. I will have fun!

Those were my feelings a week before the flight, when the skies were clear and blue and I could watch other aircraft drifting across outside my window on their own adventures.

Then my week turns crazy. I am bombarded by work from all sides and my boss is critical. It’s my fault for not communicating the issues. I’m tired, I’m depressed and the weather outside is miserable and grey.

Suddenly I’m no longer in a positive mood. What’s more, as the departure date approaches I’m feeling sad about leaving Alex and B behind, even if it’s just for four days. And I’m scared of turbulence again.

No! This is not right. This will be a great trip. Think positive!

By Monday I’ve worked out what went wrong. I organise myself, complete what I can and come up with a positive plan for the boss. The skies clear and I walk out from work feeling a lot better now.

The full Moon is yet to set but I have already awoken. The clear air is chilly, yet all but my hands are surprisingly warm despite the thinness of my top. Japan Tech the label claims, bought at newly opened shop in an area known for its resistance to foreigners.

In less than a day, three since its purchase, I shall be back at the home of this shirt. Probably, it shall be of no use there, for as we have just entered Winter, they are at the converse of a beginning Summer.

Cars are already passing noisily as I stand here at the bus stop under the humming street lights, having stealthily walked out from the house. B and Alex, wife and son, are still in the dark bed.

At the bus stop

He woke up crying last night, claiming a nightmare, obviously reluctant to let me go, clinging tightly as I attempted to resettle him. Eventually I brought him back to our bed.

Yet as I gently close the door behind me he still sleeps. I am spared the trauma of a farewell.

This bus should be heated, a refuge from the cold morning outside. It is not. Many others join me on the first bus of the day. The city begins early and most of my fellow passengers look like manual labourers or tradesmen with high visibility vests or hoodies obscuring still tired eyes.

The train too is full and I have to be content with an aisle seat.

Padstow station

Early morning departures once thrilled me. My parents would shake me awake, before we set out along the dark streets of Melbourne for the barely two hour drive to the beach side towns of the Bellarine Peninsula. How much excitement derived as a young child from what would be a now inconsequential drive.

Older now, too used to waking on a dark winter morning needing to prepare for work, I would prefer to sleep in. Instead it is in the late afternoon that I feel the calling to go. I still dream of those flights to Singapore or Malaysia, flying off into the golden light across the red Australian desert, landing in the exotic night still with enough time to chase a meal.

In a way I am about to do much the same, flying throughout the day to reach my destination for a late meal. Tokyo is at least ten hours away but only an hour behind us. I am looking forward to flying through the day rather than my previous late night Qantas flights. I can see the world outside and arrive in time to rest rather than spending the day half asleep until the hotel check in finally opens.

Time is different when you are on holiday, away from working hours and appointments. For me when travelling the main reason to check my clock is to ensure I can catch the right train. But I do remember on another trip a decade ago, standing in bright sunlight in the middle of the day in Germany with my brain struggling to reconcile this with an urge from the other side of the world to be fast asleep.

Light is fundamentally in controlling our body clocks. Our eyes don’t just contain cells for forming vision, but photosensitive cells that link, via the optic nerve, to that part of our brain that controls our circadian rhythm, the cycle of sleep and wakefulness.

But jet lag won’t be problem on this trip, with only an hour’s difference.

It is still dark as we enter the Airport Line tunnel and arrive at the underground Domestic Airport stop. As I have already checked in for this leg online and have no luggage I can ignore the not too long queues at the Jetstar desks in Terminal 2 and make my way straight to security.

Check in, Terminal 2

Naturally they want to have a second look at my daypack, which contains all my goods for the trip. I’m flying up with carry on luggage only, a seven kilogram limit, though this is never checked during the trip. I have a couple of days’ worth of clothes, a camera, a small electric shaver, an ultralight laptop and accompanying chargers and cables. Despite the laptop’s removal they still cause confusion.

I’m neither particularly early or late. My flight will open for boarding soon, but I still have time for a few photos around the right hand side, the Jetstar side, of Terminal 2, as the first glimmerings of dawn arrive outside.


A morning walk

Jetstar doesn’t fly directly to Japan from Sydney. Qantas and Japan Airlines do, but with Jetstar you need to first fly to Melbourne, Cairns or the Gold Coast. Whilst that takes away some of the excitement and sense of adventure that comes with a departure from the International Terminal it does mean that there’s no need to arrive particularly early, a great advantage considering the limitations of early morning public transport in Sydney.

There’s no Qantas presence in Terminal 2 and no lounge. No time really. I decide to wait for breakfast and just nibble on a big chocolate biscuit I bought the night before from our excellent local patisserie.

Towards the gate

The call finally comes to board the aircraft, with rows further back than mine given preference. A group of Chinese tourists are baled up at the gate for trying to carry roller bags beyond the allowed dimensions and weight on board. It’s initially a visual check before being directing to the frame and scales. A warning had gone out prior to boarding requesting that passengers with large luggage approach the desk, presumably to pay a fee.

I am feeling excited and forcing myself to think positive thoughts as I walk down the jetbridge to board the silver and orange Jetstar Airbus A320 under pale dawn skies.

Morning view back to the terminal


I settle down in the black leather seat, to be later joined by another person in the aisle seat. As I wait for the remaining passengers to board and preparations to be completed I watch other aircraft landing on the main runway, their flanks reflecting the rising sun. Land of the Rising Sun, that’s where I’m headed. Except it will be the Setting Sun by the time I reach there!

Adequate legroom

Preparations in the cabin
All in a row

What I flew last time to Japan. No, not the Dash 8!

The safety demonstration is performed manually – no screens here – and we push back with a long taxi towards the third runway. Actually, not so long today, as we will be starting from the northern end. Then we are away and up into the morning skies and out across the shimmering sea.


Everyone’s seated

And we are up!

Well off the coast we finally turn northwards. Out of my window I can see the airport and Botany Bay. But Captain Cook’s recommended location for a European settlement lacked potable water so the fleet moved slightly northward to the next inlet, Port Jackson, and thus today we see the famous skyline in the distance.


Botany Bay

Port Jackson and the Sydney CBD

Further along the fractal Broken Bay and mouth of the Hawkesbury River which gives its name to the pales sandstone of valley ridges and many older buildings in the city. Then Tuggerah Lake and Lake Macquarie. Rows of black as we pass over the Port of Newcastle. More about this on the flight home, but fortunately there was no mistaking it for a runway, as a Regional Express pilot did back in 2012.

Tuggerah Lake


Jetstar provides a buy on board food service, but I am travelling on a Starter Plus fare with a five dollar credit for food and beverage. I make the quick and familiar choice of a banana bread muffin and hot chocolate. Neither are remarkable, but do serve to stave off any breakfast hunger pangs.


Fortunately, most Australian airlines have now dispensed with restrictions on small electronic devices (in flight mode, of course) at any stage of the flight, so I listen to music on my phone the whole way. Just a random selection of mostly movie soundtracks for now.

I don’t like these seat pockets – useless for storing anything else inside.

Everyone is busy (picking their nose?)

We are flying inland now, over dark green hills and paler farmlands. The skies are clear and the air smooth. It’s only a little over an hour’s flight, so before long we are swinging back out across the long beaches of the coastal border between New South Wales to the south and Queensland to the north.

Fog in the valleys

Mountains and farmland


Morning scenery

It is a very beautiful approach as we head out to sea, then loop back to approach Gold Coast Airport at Coolangatta from the north. Down, over the houses and past the beach scape before touching down on the tarmac.

Brunswick Heads

Bogangar (what kind of people go there?), Cudgen Lake and Cabarita Beach
Looking back along Cabarita Beach

Looking south towards Coolangatta and Tweed Heads

Descending over the water


Sitting there already, along with the usual collection of other narrowbodies and general aviation aircraft, is an AirAsiaX Airbus A330-300 and a Jetstar Boeing 787-8. I know which I prefer in economy. It’s today’s option.

AirAsiaX A330-300

There are no jetbridges at single storey Gold Coast Airport. All boarding is done with stairs. We are warned to leave electronics off, including cameras, as we disembark. It has been a lovely little prelude flight and I am in a good mood.

Jetstar A321 VH-VWY

I have to go landside in order to check in for my international flight as this cannot be done online to Japan. Then I’ve got two and a half hours and rather than spend additional time in the airport I’m going to do what an ex-colleague suggested and hit the beach.

Landside at Gold Coast Airport

I make the initial mistake of walking through the carpark, but eventually find my way and, after crossing the main road, am soon at the Bilinga beachside.

Entrance to the beach

Taking off my shoes and rolling up my trousers I feel the soft sand massage my feet, the cool waters of the sea wash refresh them. The faint scent of seaweed brings back childhood memories of other beaches far away. Others are jogging or strolling along the sand, enjoying the morning sunshine.

The Sun shimmers off the water and further north is the tall skyline of Surfers Paradise. I’m not much of a fan of the Gold Coast, finding it overdeveloped and exuding a superficial glamour. It probably goes back to spending childhood holidays in quiet beachside towns. But I have to admit that this is a perfect way to enjoy a short transit, far better than any airport lounge.



Looking north towards the towers of Surfers Paradise

The smell of seaweed evokes many happy memories

That AirAsiaX A330 roars off the runway and makes a long arc out to sea, so quickly shrinking away. I think of their long flight, passengers trapped on narrow seats with no entertainment other than what they bring themselves. I already know the choice of foods they have to eat. It never seems to change, of the long walk at that giant terminal that they face. But perhaps they will have smooth skies and beautiful scenery and it will all be worthwhile, especially when they arrive at such wonderful local cuisine.

AirAsiaX takes off

Alas, I cannot stay out here forever. I begrudgingly head back towards the airport and wait at the queue at security, behind a New Zealand family hurriedly quaffing their drinks. I tell them not to worry yet, this is domestic security and drinks are still allowed. It’s only once they reach international that they will need to worry.

What the sign says

Domestic arrivals

After security I turn left to go to the Qantas Lounge, feeling that I might as well make use of my Qantas Club membership. It’s unremarkable, seating areas and tables, a small buffet with warm croissants, hash browns, toast, boiled eggs, a pancake machine, cereals, yoghurt and fruits and some cold cuts and cheese. I have a selection for breakfast. No need for a shower this time, as I had last year after returning from Japan via the Gold Coast.

The bathrooms at the Qantas Lounge

Seating area

Bar and buffet

I leave the lounge before my flight is called, have a brief look at the bookshop/newsagent before passing through immigration and international security. The seats are crowded with passengers heading off on Air New Zealand or on Jetstar to Japan. Shopping and eating facilities are limited here. I had entertained the notion of reading a book during downtime on this flight or of sitting, reading, in my hotel room in Tokyo. Sometimes the mind needs a break.

But nothing in the small selection took my fancy and I was glad when we were finally called to board the flight.

It’s a pity that photographs on the tarmac were forbidden because the Jetstar 787 is a fine looking beast indeed. Boarding is via forward stairs and I quickly settle myself down in my black leather seat by the window, where the forward edge of the wing meets the fuselage.

I have picked this spot to be close to the aircraft’s centre of gravity and hopefully minimise the vertical displacement during turbulence.

Boarding the 787

I am soon joined by a young bloke in the aisle seat, with the middle seat of the 3-3-3 configuration left free. That’s good, because the seats are a bit narrow. Again, the legroom is fine for me, perhaps not so for the long legged.

Leg shot

There are 9 inch screens in the backs of the seats using the Panasonic eX2 system. The screens have a widescreen aspect and by peering in closely I suspect they are running a 1280 by 800 pixel resolution capacitive touchscreen, same as my 2011 model Sony Tablet S. Okay, so it’s not the full high definition of your modern device, but I think that’s it’s quite sufficient for this environment. Plus the screens are highly responsive, meaning that delicate touches suffice without the need for heavy thumps to the back of the seat, although this doesn’t stop some. Thankfully, not on my head.

Business class passengers get a handset as well with a qwerty keyboard on the back.

At the bottom of the screen is a USB port, useful for charging devices and apparently it can be used to load media into the screen, though not via the MTP protocol that my phone uses.

Safety demo

Built in screens might not be popular in many low cost carriers and even quite a few full service carriers these days, but I really like them. Even if all I do is show the moving map. You get a sense of how much of the flight is completed and left to come with a map, tell you where you are in the world. And with built in IFE the map sits at eye level, ready to be referenced at any time with a glance away from my precious window view.

All seated now

A bit of a blue mood

The cabin crew are mainly from overseas, mainly Thailand and South East Asia. The pilots are Australian.

All up I’m comfortable, the sky outside is clear and I’m feeling nice and relaxed after my beach stroll. Let’s get outta here!

There’s but a single runway at the airport. Take-off might be a solo performance on the piano keys, but we have to wait for others to finish their part. A Star Alliance liveried Air New Zealand A320 goes before us, followed by the landing of Virgin and Jetstar narrowbodies (a skinny virgin and star, what is this, the pages of a trashy magazine?). Another Virgin 737-800 takes off and then it is our turn.

Taxiing out

Our route

Jetstar A320 landing

Virgin 737-800 readying for takeoff

We race southwards and up into the sky, the 787’s flexible carbon fibre wings wobbling with each bounce then arcing upwards as we take to the skies. On my previous 787 flights I had failed to notice the distinctive curvature, so obvious from the ground, but now it is clearly visible.

Almost ready to play the piano

Racing down the runway

Going up!

The wing now dips towards the shimmering waters of the Tweed River as we turn eastwards and out over the ocean until we curve north off the coast.

Turning over the Tweed

Looking north

Sun shimmer

Flying parallel to the coast

The seatbelt light is switched off and we are not even up to Brisbane, whose airport soon appears in the distance to our left.

And they are up!
Sand mining on North Stradbroke Island

Port of Brisbane and Moreton Bay

Another shot of Moreton Bay

The captain welcomes us on board but doesn’t say anything about it being a smooth flight. I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

It’s quite smooth right now. We cross over the Sunshine Coast and the blue seas turn to bright green cane farms and darker tree clad hills and creeks, before re-emerging off Bundaberg.

More Moreton Bay


Coastal crossings

Back over the water

We are now served lunch. I have pre-ordered mine online, though have forgotten what it is. I’m looking forward to the surprise!

I’m handed a tray with a small tub of water, cold roll, hot main and salted caramel mousse dessert. Peeling off the foil top I discover panko and sesame coated chicken with a wasabi cheese sauce on rice and greens. It’s good, very good. Even the vegetables taste good with the sauce. I mop it all up.


The mousse is very smooth too. Cruising along in the smooth air with good food and I’m still happy.

Below us are the first islands of the southern extent of the Great Barrier Reef while the bauxite stockpiles of Gladstone are in the distance, a red marker to farewell the land.

Looking towards Eurimbula and Gladstone

Mast Head Island and Polmaise Reef (I think)
Curtis Island and the mouth of the Fitzroy River

The Tropic of Capricorn marks the transition from smooth skies to the bumps of the Coral Sea. Wisps of cloud touch us as coral reefs disappear below, the Coral Sea transforming into the cloud sea. Meals finished, the crew activate the electronic windows, a layer of gel darkening as it is fed higher current. The world outside goes blue while inside the mood lighting goes from blue to yellow.

Cloud approaches

Looking towards the Shoalwater Bay area

Coral reefs

Progress so far

Red up front, blue down back. We are now in underwater mode

Looking through the blue tint


Sunset already???

Sadly for the rabid windows shut crowd the darkness setting is neither locked nor at maximum. Fortunate for me, as I loathe closing the blinds, thankfully non-existent in the 787. The world outside is too interesting and the thought of being stuck in a dark flying can is somewhat claustrophobic. Besides which, I like to see the source of turbulent bumps, find it reassuring.

But I leave the slow changing shade at mid range, content to view the sea and cloudscape with a blue tinge. The bumps are getting worse and my eyes are glued to the windows, yet I can’t see any source for the disturbance in the air. We aren’t passing through high cloud, it must be winds.

I’m feeling the blues

It was like this on our April flight back down from Japan, though memory says it is usually one of the smoother stretches. In fact I am more fearful of overflying Papua New Guinea, with its high cloud and mountains.

Indeed Australia’s closest neighbour is first apparent by the clouds above it than by the transition to land from sea. It is mostly low cloud and at one point I can see dark mountains poking through it,they feel close despite our altitude of 40,000 feet. The turbulence dies down and I relax a little.

Crossing into PNG

Da Ba De

Mountains into heaven

The clouds break and I think I can see the Markham River below, running into the coastal town of Lae and the scene of battles between Australian and Japanese forces during the later stages of World War Two. A point where my origin and destination meet. Enemies now allies.

Markham River

Then it is time to farewell PNG. With just sea below I decide to distract myself with a movie on the seatback screen. I’m a bit disappointed with the selection this month. I was all excited by May’s guide, which had a bit of a Christopher Nolan marathon going on. Sure I watched Interstellar on my last flight and own copies of Inception and the Dark Knight Rises (one day I’ll actually watch it), but I think they are pretty good plane movies.

Bye land

June is one of those off months. There are new release movies I’m not interested in (Cinderella) or just not in the mood to see but I should one day (Fight Club), movies that failed at the box office (Mortdecai) and others I’ve just never heard about (Black Sea). American sit-coms in the television section, no Australian or British comedies. There are a couple of things I might want to watch, but I save them for the return through the night. Eventually I settle on The Goonies. Jetstar had a few 80’s movies on their system.

Jetstar are a pirate airline outfit

As a young child I knew a Japanese girl in our neighbourhood from play group. As a teenager we somehow got back in contact and became pen pals. She was a classical musician and in one letter wrote to tell me she was playing Dave Grusin’s Fratelli Chase from the movie, a piece I rather liked.

In the rigours of senior high school we lost contact, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet I found her once more. We Facebook friends now and thus very rarely communicate.

It’s difficult to stay focussed on the movie. Now we are over water again and approaching the equator we are again afflicted by turbulent skies. Initially it is clear skies over low cloud, but as we head further north there are patches of cumulonimbus with tops that stream out for kilometres like an evil miasma reaching out to pluck us from the skies.


Coming closer now…

Up and down, the 787’s wings flap constantly. I’m glad I am flying through it on this aircraft and none other, bar perhaps the newly flying Airbus A350. The flexible wings absorb some of the energy of the vertical motion, converting it to heat rather than movement. Accelerometers at the front of the aircraft detect changes in the direction of motion and the flight computers use the rudders, spoilers and other flight control surfaces to mitigate the resultant effects on the aircraft.

However, despite these advancements, the aircraft does feel turbulence. As we approach Guam we start rising and dropping and the captain switches on the seatbelt lights, orders passengers and crew back to their seats, and eases back on the throttle. And suddenly, now the light is on, it’s smooth.

Seatbelt light on!

Reaching up to pluck at planes

Maybe ten minutes later the light is off again and we are bumping away again, though not so badly.

There are always storms around Guam, or so I was told by one Jetstar pilot years ago. I gaze at the island on my screen, willing us pass it.

Leaning towards us

Past it!


We do. The shakes continue for a while and I stare out of the window. I’m developing a headache and I order a Coke to wash down some tablets of paracetamol. The extra humid air and being on the Sun facing side has me perspiring.

The transition to smoother skies is almost imperceptible and it’s a while before I realise that the bumps are gone and I can relax. Relax, but not completely, as I have lost trust in the clear air.

Below us the Sun shimmers off flat waters mottled by the afternoon shadows of low cloud. There are still streamers of high cloud merging into the tops of isolated cumulonimbus, a frisson of fear in each. I try to watch more of The Goonies, but my heart isn’t in it and I revert to the map and music from my phone.


Some windows seemed stuck, noticed this on a previous flight

Notice the isolated rain beneath the cloud.

A wrapped chocolate TimTam biscuit and tub of cold water is placed on the trays of those of us with Starter Plus fares or preordered meals and shortly afterwards a box containing two “Pulled Beef Sliders”, mini hamburgers with shredded beef and a tomato relish. Not the most inspiring of mini-dinners, but reasonably filling.


Hipster burgers

The skies are bumpier again, though it’s more of a niggle than anything particularly rough.

The nine hour flight feels long as a consequence of being able to do little but stare out of the window. It’s not Jetstar’s fault and I wonder how I managed to cope with fourteen hour legs to Europe from Asia. Perhaps there was more to see out of the window as we crossed desert lands. Oh, I do remember tiring of them in the last few hours after entering Western Europe, so perhaps they were not so very different.

With half an hour remaining, it is with a sense of relief that we begin our descent towards Tokyo Narita, though naturally there are a few little wiggles to delay us first, due to airport congestion.

Time to make the windows clear again. It’s nice to have some colour back.

The skies are gold and grey as we turn and then penetrate the cloud layers. Through the formless grey haze I spot a dark pyramid, no a cone. It is Mount Fuji! Unexpected, but certainly appreciated. Nearby, a glowing orange crack has rent the sky. I watch as it flashes into the eye of the setting Sun, bright fire in the sky.

Descending towards the cloud

Mount Fuji, 2/3rds of the way to the right


Our wiggly path

I am used to a straight descent across the broad beaches and farmlands into Narita, but this time we are curving around the Boso Peninsula in which the airport sits. As the light turns blue I see river mouths, industry and city lights below. The full Moon appears as a beacon in the sky above us, sliding along as we turn South East and align ourself with the runway.

The coast

Crossing the coast

Tone River and Kashima


The full Moon keeps us company


We touch down firmly, but not with the slam of my previous 787 flights. Then begins the long taxi to the terminal, past my Qantas QF22 flight back to Sydney. In another couple of months the 747 will be gone from here, changing to Haneda.

QF22 back to Sydney

Jetstar has also moved from my last flights, though only to new Terminal 3. The terminal lacks jet bridges, so we have to walk down stairs and cross into the terminal building, walking up another set.

Disembarking, it’s red again

Looking back. Thanks VH-VKI

The Terminal looks unfinished and unfurnished, with open ceilings showing airconditioning pipes and wires. The queues at immigration are quite long with several passengers sent back to fill in their place of residence for the trip. It’s warm and humid inside here too and I can’t wait to get to my destination tonight, no matter how excited I am to return here again.

Inside Terminal 3


Fingerprints and photos checked, I bypass the luggage belts but still have to hand my card and passport to customs. Then I begin the long walk to the trains at Terminal 2 through an outdoor passageway with a floor like a sprint track, roof, but only partially covered walls. At 650 metres long it feels like quite a hike, especially as I am eager to call B and Alex over wifi, sadly not available here outside the terminal.

Food court

On your marks, get set…


I reach familiar Terminal 2 and descend into the basement. Free wifi here, so I text messages to B over Google Hangouts while waiting in the long line at the Japan Railways travel centre to purchase a Kanto Pass. The pass gives me three days worth of travel around the greater Tokyo area for 8,300 Yen, roughly A$90. Great value for what I plan. Unfortunately for me, foreign tourism has really taken off in Japan and the queues at railway stations are a lot longer these days, especially as many tourists travel in larger groups.

I had planned to take the ever-so-familiar Narita Express, one of my favourite trains, straight to Shinjuku and my hotel. But the departure time is another hour away. Free wifi means that I can check my Hyperdia app and I discover that the private Keisei Skyliner and a change of trains will see me back in the hotel much earlier, so I rush across and purchase a ticket for that instead.

The Skyliner has bad memories for me. The only other time I took it was shortly after an incident when I overloaded with luggage that suddenly collapsed on an escalator down to the platform at Ueno Station and knocked over an old lady.

No such issues tonight. Just one small bag with me.

The Skyliner arrives, sleek, shiny, but somewhat utilitarian.


On board

Once on board I try to get a wifi connection working, but it costs and, with a short journey time, is not worth it.

It’s so dark outside that I can’t see much, except when we race pass petrol stations and diners. I feel like eating in one of those family diner chains. Most of them have disappeared from Australia, apart from McDonalds and KFC, and you never feel like you are having a real meal there. I have happy memories of dinners with B in various chain restaurants in Albury, back when we were dating and knew little of finer dining.

How I felt

At Nippori I quickly change to the JR Chuo Line for Shinjuku, arriving almost an hour earlier than if I had caught the NEX.

Next train!

I’m very tired and sticky after a long and somewhat stressful day, still have a slight headache and really just feel like a shower in the hotel, but I feel like I should make the most of my limited time here. Instead of taking the direct path to the hotel, I go out the Central West exit of this busy station and emerge into the crowds, many of them foreigners.


I know exactly where I am going under the neon lights. Omoide Yokocho, or Memory Lane, is a warren of tiny bars with skewers of chicken, pork and organs, yakiniku, on smoky grills. I’m not in the mood for that. Instead I seek out Kameya, a very popular corner soba bar that we first ate at twelve years ago.

Omoide Yokocho

White skinned gaijin are no longer oddities there, to be photographed and celebrated, but the bowl of steaming soba and kakiage is still one of the best. There is a queue, but this is fast food, slurped quickly, then it is the next patron’s turn.


Narrow laneways of Omoide Yokocho

Near the hotel

A late supper over, I stumble on tired feet to the hotel. As always, it is the Shinjuku Prince, tall, thin and brown, overlooking the railway and central Shinjuku. I have never checked in this late and I am alone apart from the desk staff. I hand over my passport and credit card, collect the preordered rental wifi router that I had sent here, and make my way up to my room.

This is the first time I’ve stayed here by myself, but I feel like I’m home, only without my loved ones. My panoramic window overlooks the giant Godzilla of the Gracery Hotel and the bright lights of Shinjuku, its streets thrumming late into the night.

Chewie, we’re home


As I lay back and listen to dreamy music I think back on the day. It didn’t work out as I imagined, not that it ever does. It was long, exhausting and much rougher than I would have liked. But the transit at the beach on the Gold Coast, the good food, comfortable seats and some beautiful views still made it special. This was still going to be a great trip.

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