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The pointy end: Japan alone on Jetstar

The magic of flying. At it’s best it’s about sailing high above the clouds through smooth skies listening to beautiful music. At it’s worst it’s squashed, exhausted, bored and unable to sleep, into a cramped aluminium can bouncing through turbulent night skies.

From the comments of many you would think that Jetstar is all about the latter. I have to agree that I have had some ordinary flights with them, cooped up with nothing to do. But when I saw a couple of their A330s fly overhead today I couldn’t help but remember some of the more amazing adventures I’ve had and how I’d like to be up there on those aircraft.

I’ve taken a Jetstar flight at least once a year since I first flew with them in 2005. Melbourne to Sydney, Sydney to the Gold Coast, Cairns, Kuala Lumpur, Narita and Osaka, Darwin and Singapore. It’s thanks to their cheap fares that I can afford to keep travelling. I don’t mind if this means sacrificing a little luxury now and then. The view out of the window is still the same.

But sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself to a little luxury, a little privilege. This trip came about through a quest for Qantas frequent flyer status points. Thanks to a combination of work and leisure flights in 2010 I had managed to earn enough points to attain silver status. In order to maintain said status I needed to attain a certain number of status points by the end of 2011. I doubted that I’d earn them in the normal course of the year, so I did some research.

It turned out that the cheapest way to earn the points would be to catch a Jetstar long-haul flight in their StarClass (now just called business) cabin. It so happened that they had a Japan StarClass sale on so I went and booked a return flight.

Now, I had flown StarClass once the year before, back from Narita to Sydney. That was the return leg of a holiday that had seen us fly Qantas business to Shanghai. StarClass couldn’t compare too that amazing experience. Furthermore, I hadn’t been able to enjoy the StarClass ride as Alex had been sleeping on my lap the whole way and preventing me from doing anything other than just sitting upright. I absolutely love flying and holidaying with him (so much so that I’ve booked flights simply to fly with him), but sometimes it can be awkward.

This time the journey would be for me and me alone. A little selfish I know, but my days and nights are arranged around the timetables and needs of others and I wanted just a little time to myself and my own thoughts. In 2009 I had to fly to London for a training course and those long overnight flights were some of the most enjoyable I’ve had.

In the interval between the booking and the flights Japan suffered the huge earthquake, tsunami and reactor meltdown and we visited anyway as a family. It was nice being able to go there and not be stuck in shops with the others, knowing that I had a second chance to pick something up later. I changed my bookings to replace Narita with Kansai International Airport as I didn’t want to put up with power cuts and the threat of radiation.

This trip would mark my tenth visit to Japan. Naturally I caught a cold before departure. I always do. I had packed my belongings into a backpack that just fit into the cabin baggage dimensions, despite having additional luggage allowances in StarClass.

I didn’t get much sleep on the night before departure, with Alex restless in bed. I woke at 4.30am and shaved and dressed without disturbing the other two, but when it came time to leave Alex cried on my shoulder. It was so difficult to leave him and I knew he would miss me a lot, as would I miss him and B.

I wanted this to be an adventure, the kind of trip I dream about and I tried to set my mind into the right mood as I walked out in the dark towards the bus stop for my 5.31am ride to Padstow station. Just before I walked out the door I had heard a heavy shower of rain, but thankfully it had passed. A quiet bus ride in the dark often features in my imaginings of an ideal journey.

Dark and wet

The bus and the train were full of weary looking passengers, resigned to a weary day at work. Not me! At the Domestic Airport stop I got out and hurried enthusiastically to Terminal 2 for my flight up to the Gold Coast where I would meet my ride to Japan. Thanks to all the changes to my booking I couldn’t check in via the kiosk and had to join the queue, which thankfully moved fairly fast.

CARRIER: Jetstar Airways
FLIGHT: JQ402
SECTOR: SYD-OOL
CLASS: Economy
ETD: 07:05 (local)
ETA: 0825 (local)
AIRCRAFT: Airbus Industries A320
REGISTRATION: VH-VQG

I received my boarding passes all the way through to KIX, then had to hurry through security. I made it to the gate just as boarding started, going straight through to my allocated seat at 3A in the A320.

Hurrying to the gate

It was still dark, grey and wet outside. I watched the arrival of the big jets on the main runway, their lights bright against the sky.

Who cares about photographic aircraft when you can capture water droplets?

Inside the cabin Gary the customer service manager greeted us over the PA. With his slightly greasy ringlet hair he looked like a Gary, more a mechanic than flight attendant. We taxied out towards the second north-south runway, past some newly painted Virgin Australia aircraft. Not impressed!

Glad we had an airbridge

E-190 jet waiting for some red paint?

Virgin Australia A330

Take-off was to the south, past the reclamation work being done around the container port, then a turn northward along the coast. Sydney Harbour was visible through the scattered clouds, then there were a few bumps as we punctured the higher grey cloud layer and into the blue sky.

Reclamation

Not a great day to visit the beach

Sunrise

Sydney Harbour

Above the clouds

Legroom was sufficient, I was comfortable

The crew did a food run, but with the knowledge that I would shortly be at the airport I was not tempted to purchase anything. Really, I was still waking up. But it was a pleasant and comfortable flight, your normal domestic run.

The cloud stayed with us until close to the Queensland border, whereupon it became more scattered, mountains poking through. Our descent path into Coolangatta Airport saw us turn out across the coast and then back inland across long beaches, rich green and brown farmland and waterways. It’s a very scenic landscape.

Brunswick Heads

South of Pottsville
Turning in towards the coast

Crossing the coast at Casuarina
Farmland

The mouth of the Tweed River marks the bounday between NSW and Qld
Mount Warning – the first point on the mainland to receive get sunlight
Landing at Coolangatta

Waiting for us on the tarmac were two Jetstar A330s surrounding a lone AirAsiaX A330.

A330s

None of the A330s were the one that I would eventually catch. We parked at the opposite end of the rather uninspiring terminal, long and low and flat, disembarking down stairs from the forward door.

Disembarking
Outside the terminal

Inside the terminal were a variety of fast food outlets such as Eagle Boys Pizza, Sumo Salad and Hungry Jacks. Having skipped breakfast, I was quite hungry. But a StarClass ticket includes lounge access and the Jetstar lounge awaited with the offer of free food. First though, I bought Alex a pop-up book about airports. Upon entry I was disappointed to discover that the Compass Group, who are responsible for catering at our dreadful work canteen, provided the lounge’s food services.

Domestic departures

In reality the options weren’t bad, though neither were they particularly inspiring. Some hot food, some cold and some Japanese options. I selected a breakfast of poached eggs and hash brown, along with trialling the pancake machine, which produced decent results. The lounge was dark and fairly bland, with no natural light or views, but my expectations were not high.

Gold Coast lounge

Unfortunately, I took heed of the announcement that JQ19 passengers should now pass through immigration. There was virtually no queue at immigration and security and I then had to wait at the small international departures area. This had a Duty Free shop with the usual luxury goods and souvenirs, a small cafe and newsagent.

International departures

I bummed around for a little while, bought small kangaroo and koala plush toys as gifts in case I felt the need to give some in Japan.

When the announcement came for StarClass passengers to board I was mobile enough to be the first through the gate and up to the aircraft.

As I strode along the sheltered walkway I could see two Jetstar A330s parked on the tarmac. With a slight sinking feeling I realised that I would be boarding the nearer of the two, VH-EBC, the distinctive white A330. This was my fourth time on the aircraft and my second flight on it this year. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, but I do find the silver background more fetching.

White and silver

Boarding was again via stairs. This, plus the fact that I was well ahead of the rest of the pack, gave me a chance to admire the aircraft from a different perspective.

VH-EBC

CARRIER: Jetstar Airways
FLIGHT: JQ19
SECTOR: OOL-KIX
CLASS: Business
ETD: 10:05 (local)
ETA: 18:20 (local)
AIRCRAFT: Airbus Industries A330-200
REGISTRATION: VH-EBC

I was directed left towards the small business cabin, where a folded grey blanket, amenity pack and water bottle awaited. For a little while I entertained the thought that I might be in a rather empty part of the aircraft, but the seats rapidly filled out, primarily with older Japanese.

Goodies on the seat

The amenities pack was a lot nicer than the older versions, which were orange and made out of the same plastic fabric as reusable shopping bags. The new packs contained an inflatable neck pillow, eyeshades, earplugs, toothbrush and paste, socks, and now “B” (UK) branded lip balm and moisturiser. I used none of these items but the toothbrush.

A pair of Jetstar branded noise cancelling headphones was stuffed into the seat pocket.

We were offered a glass of champagne or orange juice (my choice).

Well here I was. Sitting in business class (even if only a domestic style business class), with no kid on my lap and nothing I needed to do but to relax for the next nine hours. And that was what I was determined to do.

Full cabin

The cabin manager introduced himself, the safety demonstration was performed, with the old Qantas demo on the cabin screens (“Subtly, every aircraft is different…”), then we began our taxi out to the runway.

Army Blackhawk helicopters

Takeoff was towards the north and we quickly banked right out towards the sea.

Mothballed desalination plant next to the airport

I’m really not a fan of the Gold Coast, Australia’s Crime Capital according to recent statistics. But the view outside was simply stunning. Looking across the flat blue sea to towards skyscrapers behind a line of white sand. I imagined our locations reversed and watching a silver Jetstar A330 soaring into the air and imagined that it must be an amazing sight.

Surfer’s Paradise closeup
Back towards Southport and Sea World
South Stradbroke Island

We then swung back to parallel the coast, flying over North Stradbroke Island, Moreton Bay and past the Port of Brisbane.

Peel Island in Moreton Bay

Port of Brisbane and airport

Deception Bay

I plugged the noise cancelling earphones into my mp3 player, reclined my seat and sat back to enjoy the scenery outside. This was no lie flat business class seat, but it was certainly more comfortable than economy. Not certain that I liked the footrests as when it was up I felt a little uncomfortable in the legs. But really, I wasn’t complaining.

Sunshine Beach and Noosa Heads at the top of the Sunshine Coast

Maryborough

Elliot Heads and Bundaberg

We said goodbye to the Queensland coast at Gladstone. I could tell it was Gladstone from a distance thanks to the vivid red of the bauxite piles beside the Boyne Island aluminium smelter. The bauxite is shipped down from Weipa on the western side of Cape Yorke peninsula far to the north.

Bauxite near Gladstone

At this point our route was taking us over the southernmost extent of the Great Barrier Reef, over the group of coral cays around Heron Island. The islands and reefs are absolutely gorgeous from the air, brown and green against the clear blue ocean.

Reef closeup

North West Island

The scenery was now replaced with a lunch service. I chose the Asian option, which was chicken in a sweet chilli sauce, rice and vegetables. The meals were served in china bowls on a white cloth covered trays with metal knives and forks. The chicken was sweet and tender, but the vegetables and salad were a bit insipid. A multigrain roll was warm and soft (not the usual stale roll I usually get on Jetstar) and the meal was rounded out by chocolate coated macadamias. Nothing, and not expected to be, like the restaurant quality meals of Qantas business class, but at least there was effort with presentation. The salt and pepper dispensers were cute too.

More reef views, then the clouds arrived. Entertainment units were handed out and we were encouraged to close our blinds (encouraged, not forced to!).

Reef closeup

End of the scenery

I’m not a big fan of the AirVOD units. They are heavy and their supports are too narrow. I fear what damage they might do in turbulence.

Before I could get playing with it however, there was the small matter of dessert. Namely a choice of fruit, lemon cheesecake or cheese and crackers. Like the passenger beside me I opted for a slice of rather delicious cheesecake and fruit.

Our Malaysian flight attendant was very proud of her decorating skills!

Back to the AirVOD, the range of programming was very limited. Some Hollywood movies that had barely featured in the cinema, along with a few Japanese and Australian films. I wasn’t pleased with the kids selection (thankfully unneeded this time), and only a couple of television shows I felt like watching. No music either, just music videos. It’s a pity that TRON: Legacy and Battleship Yamato weren’t on, like during our last flight, when I didn’t hire a unit.

In the end I only watched an episode of Rake, which I read a lot about without ever seeing an episode, while outside the cloudscape drifted past. There were large patches of high cloud all the way until past Papua New Guinea and it was a little bumpy, though not particularly unpleasant. I would quickly open the shade to check the source of the bumps anyway.

Cloud

The crew came though the cabins at intervals supplying us with drinks, and snack choices of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, chips or biscuits.

Darkened cabin and the too rare flight map

Away from land you might think that there was nothing to look at, but the ocean below was glassy smooth.

Clouds reflected in the ocean

Like rivers on the ocean surface

For the remainder of the journey I amused myself with music, rest and the beautiful cloudscapes outside of the window. I loved the definition of the clouds, the way the afternoon light shadows them, the reflections of the ocean, the drama of the developing storm in the tropical cumulonimbus as we skirt around it. This was long-haul flying – serene, beautiful, comfortable!

Shadows in the sea

Snacks

North of the equator

Jetstar only shows the latest in entertainment with an episode of the Dukes of Hazzard on the cabin screens!

Not so exciting StarClass toilet

Between Guam and southern Japan the shadows lengthened and the sun reflected of the sea with a golden light that reminded me of a flight to Korea seven years ago. I have flown this route so many times since, but it still holds beauty for me.

A light meal was offered which was anything but. I selected the cheesy meatballs on pasta, which I thoroughly enjoyed, along with the rich chocolate serendipity ice cream. I remember when the light meal used to be a meat pie.

Not large, but filling

As a cloud layer fully covered the sea I took out my netbook and plugged it into the seat power system, replacing my mobile phone/mp3 player which had previously been charging there. The crew had to restart the seat power circuit a couple of times early in the flight before current flowed, but since then it had been fine.

Sony P – it may be slow but it’s light and has a good keyboard

We arrived over Shikoku as dusk fell outside. The sky was a hazy grey with an orange edge, the Japanese islands barely visible in the murk below, but that gave it an exotic appeal.

Shikoku

Awaji Island

A few contortions on descent as we aligned ourselves for a south-easterly approach to the artificial island that is Kansai International, then a smooth landing. We taxied

KIX!

We parked next to this ANA 737

And that was it! What a pleasant flight and with the entirety of my luggage strapped to my back as I stepped out of the aircraft I was in no great hurry to reach immigration, but still eager to step into Japan proper.

Bye byeVH-EBC, thanks for the ride!

Automated shuttle to the main terminal

Japanese immigration didn’t even ask me about my short visit, though maybe they were used to people spending as little time as possible in the country due to the radiation. Or just glad that anybody was visiting. Whatever the reason I was soon out into the arrivals hall and looking around for pamphlets and maps.

I dithered for a while, trying to make my mind up. Do I go for my San-in a day dream, which would see me travelling the length of the San-in railway line from Kyoto to Shimonoseki (or maybe interrupt it by taking a branchline down to Fukushima instead) or just stick to the region instead of sitting on trains from morn to 11pm?

Eventually I chose the relatively cheap option of purchasing a 3 day Kansai Thru Pass, which for 5000 Yen let me ride on almost any private railway line in the area. Then I hopped on board the retro-futuristic looking Nankai Rapi:t train (500Y more for the seat reservation) for a ride into Osaka’s Namba station.

Nankai Rapi:t

Leopard print interior

I had prebooked a room at the Super Hotel Shijo Kawaramachi in downtown Kyoto, but to reach there on the private line from KIX required a couple of changes of train. I caught the Midosuji subway up to Umeda, then jumped onboard a Hankyu Express to its terminus at Kawaramachi. The train was quite full, but I enjoyed seeing the close up views of Japanese life that the private lines give. Kawaramachi station, on the other hand, had just about closed up for the night. From there it was only a short walk to the hotel.

Hankyu Umeda station

We had spotted the hotel on an earlier trip to Kyoto and been intrigued. The price was lower than a Toyoko Inn, but the hotel had a spa, pillow bar and offered what looked to be a more substantial breakfast. Unfortunately, at that late hour, they were out of all additional pillows so I had to make do with a traditional style bean-filled roll. The room itself was pretty basic and small but well equipped and comfortable. No view out of the frosted window.

The onsen facilities were timeshared between men and women and I had to wait until after 11pm for a turn. Eventually I gave up waiting and just had a shower and went to sleep.

Super Hotel room

I awoke early to the same indecision that had plagued me earlier. I still felt like catching a diesel railcar in Chugoku, maybe staying a night in Matsue. I continued to ruminate on it as I bathed in the hot and apparently mildly radioactive waters of the onsen bath. The waters are trucked in from a spring elsewhere in Kyoto and then heated. It seemed to make a bit of a mockery of the hotel’s supposedly and heavily promoted green credentials.

The breakfast was more western than Toyoko Inn’s Japanese rice cakes and miso soup. Instead a selection of bun, croissants and pastries, onion or corn soup, salads and chipolatas. Very satisfying.

Nothing much was open outside, so I caught the subway down to Kyoto station. More dithering. Oh, what the heck, let’s go local and see a place I’ve long wanted to visit: Hikone. So I bought a ticket on the JR line and caught the express past rice farms out to Hikone, an hour from Kyoto. It’s only a commuter train and not particularly comfortable or glamorous, though it is busy.

Kyoto Tower, seen from the station

Hikone sits on the edge of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. The city’s most famous attraction is its castle, an original structure overlooking the lake. After obtaining a map from the friendly tourist office I set off towards the castle.

Castle moat

The castle is still surrounded by its moat and stone walls. After first ducking into the stables I then bought a combination ticket to the castle, museum and Genkyu-en gardens. The museum contains displays of calligraphy, traditional musical instruments, scary samurai armour and other items from a Daimyo’s (Lord’s) household. There is also a Noh stage and beautiful old tatami rooms looking out across a pretty little garden.

Old household section of the museum

After the museum and walk up rough stone steps and around the maze up towards the base of the castle. Along the way was a teahouse. I was feeling a little tired and headachey, so I had to go in, unable to resist the thought of sipping tea on a tatami mat.

Tea and sweet

The two older ladies charged with preparing the tea chatted away inside. I was directed to a tatami area at the rear of the small building. A simple, yet elegant, ikebana flower arrangement’s precision contrasted with the rough hewn benches in the middle of the hut. Hiroko-san served me a big bowl of green matcha tea, along with a sweet whose outside was crystallised sugar with flecks of gold leaf covering red beans in a jelly, almost too sweet to eat. I chatted to the ladies for a while in my limited Japanese and their limited English, showing them photos of Alex on my phone. I eventually gave them a cuddly kangaroo and koala in thanks for such a pleasant chat, then bid them farewell.

Up though the gate and then I arrived at the main castle tower. As Japanese castles go the structure was rather underwhelming in size, though the signs claimed that its design had strong artistic merits. I have been in Japanese castles big and small and size is definitely not the only determinant for the worth of the visit. The last castle that I visited, Kumamoto-jo, was externally impressive, but the ferroconcrete reconstruction lacked much atmosphere inside. Hikone-jo may have been sparsely decorated inside, but the genuine wooden supports, the geometrically shaped windows and the steep ladders between levels were interesting enough in themselves. There were also great views out around Hikone and across Lake Biwa.

Unprepossessing Hikone Castle’s tower
Lake Biwa and mountains

Outside of the castle was a constant buzz of insects and birdlife, while overhead hawks swooped through the air. The castle surrounds must be very beautiful during cherry blossom season I thought as I walked along the path to the Sanju-yagura west-wing fort. One of the male staff members engaged me in conversation as we walked along; they are very friendly at this castle! There were more great views out of the windows of this wooden building.

Moat and Lake Biwa

Then I walked down towards the Kuromon gate, along a stone and gravel path underneath a dense canopy of trees. It felt like we were a million miles away from civilisation. As I crossed over the moat a white swan splashed in the water.

Looking up towards the main tower
Moss covered walls along the path

Like Hikone-jo, the Genkyu-en garden is not large, but it is very attractive, looked over by the castle. I love Japanese gardens and had been especially attracted to this one by the mention of an open teahouse overlooking the grounds. One of my most beautiful memories is of sipping green tea at a teahouse in Ritsurin-en in Takamatsu, feeling the gentle breeze flow over us while a waterfall quietly chattered away in the background. But as I tinkled the bell near the entrance to Hoshodai, as this teahouse was called, a lady in a kimono crossed her arms as if to say that it was closed. Then she broke out in a big smile. It was Hiroko-san from the previous teahouse!

Genkyu-en, looking back towards the castle
Tea house

Again we chatted, including a young Japanese lady also partaking of tea. Though the not-so-bitter matcha tea was the same, this time I was served an accompaniment of a sweet matcha coated sticky rice sweet, which I much preferred. I would have been happy even if nobody wanted to talk, for again a warm and gentle breeze flowed through the teahouse, lulling me into a state of serenity.

Looking out across the garden

Unfortunately, I could not stay forever. From Genkyu-en I walked around and away from the castle and out along the Yume Kyobashi castle road, a historic street lined with souvenir shops and eateries. I was hungry, but struggled to find anything to eat or to buy. Eventually I stopped by a shop selling preserved lake fish, for a meal of grilled fish and a fish and rice soup. I did not really enjoy the flavours, but at least I tried something local.

Moat
Yume Kyobashi

The walk back to the station took me past some ponds and fountains that made me think of Alex, he would have wanted to play in them. I managed to lose myself (I wasn’t really lost as knew where the station was) in some narrow streets lined with wooden houses and pretty little gardens. I felt like an odd foreign interlocutor in the lives of the locals.

I needed something to get rid of the lunch’s flavour out of my mouth. How about an apple sorbet from the kiosk freezer at the station? As the schoolboys on the platform acted like schoolboys anywhere else in the world I watched the operations of the private Ohmi line adjacent to the station. Each boxy electric railcar was decorated with the colours of a different advertiser. Eventually, the express for Kyoto arrived.

Ohmi does a line of Coke

Rather than return to Kyoto station I exited from the train at Yamashina and transferred on to the private Tozai subway line, getting off at Keage station. After visiting Lake Biwa I had decided to spend the rest of the day following the Lake Biwa Canal through Kyoto. The canal was an amazing engineering achievement and gave Kyoto one of the world’s first hydroelectric services. At Keage the canal emerges out of its mountain tunnel. I had first visited the Keage Incline on our last trip. Due to the incline it was necessary to remove the transport boats from the canal and transport them on carriages down very wide gauge railway tracks laid along the slope. A cable system dragged the wagons up the incline on the reverse trip.

Top of the Keage Incline

A few months ago the tracks had a canopy of pink cherry blossoms. Now the cherry trees were back to their rich green selves and weeds poked through the ballast under the tracks. A boy was using a big net to catch butterflies. I walked carefully down the big stepping stones which had been laid into the gravel. At the base of the incline is a lake and to the right the Lake Biwa Canal Museum. Despite the limited English explanations the displays still manage to convey the scope and amazing results of the canal construction. There is also an English brochure available from the top entrance the museum (I came in via the bottom floor).

Now greener than ever!
Lake Biwa Canal Museum

During my last visit to Kyoto I had wanted to walk the Tetsugaku-no-michi, or Path of Philosophy, but ended up going along the Keage Incline instead. Now I had a chance to again stroll along one of my favourite walks. From the museum I walked around the Nanzen-ji temple complex, then up past some small shops before reaching the walk itself. I was going the opposite way to our two previous traverses of the path. This time I looked forward to a leisurely stroll, stopping by a cafe along the way and ducking into Japanese craft shops in the streets beside the stone lined canal. Only, I think it must have been out of season for them, as most were shuttered and the only stores open seemed to sell fairly generic Japanese souvenirs. Furthermore long stretches of the path were fenced off, for safety reasons perhaps?

Sanmon gate at the Nanzen-ji Temple complex

It was still a pretty walk under the cherry trees, listening to the gurgling water and the splash of the giant carp in the stream. From a signpost along the way I discovered that the 1.8 kilometre walk is a relatively young feature of this old country, a favourite stroll of a local professor of philosophy in the first half of the 1900’s and so named after another Philosopher’s Walk in Germany. The walk ends at the Nyakuouji bridge, near the beautiful Ginkaku-ji temple. I was not visiting temples on this trip. Instead I bought a mitarishi-dango, skewered rice balls coated with sweet soy sauce.

Tetsugaku-no-michi

The canal makes a left hand turn at this point, but it is still possible to walk on stone steps and under the trees alongside it as it follows busy Imadegawa street, until it eventually veers away to the north. Then it was time to say goodbye to this engineering wonder for the day and make my way back to the hotel. I had promised to talk to B and Alex on Skype that evening when they would be home from work and preschool.

Imadegawa street follows a route past Kyoto University. While I was still following the canal I had passed a number of cafes, with both local and international cuisine. By the time I rejoined it the options were more limited, but I really didn’t care as I free to chose whatever I wanted. So I stopped by a cafe that would have been silent and empty but for the big television screen at the back and the proprietors sitting out at the tables watching it. The decor was terribly out of date, but the tonkatsu (crumbed pork) was cheap and I felt like eating it. Indeed the meal was good and I enjoyed the strange ambience of the place.

I continued my walk on to Demachiyanagi Station, where I caught a subway train down to Gion Shijo station. As I crossed the bridge westwards I admired the painting-like beauty of the evening mountains, the lights of the Ponto-cho restaurants over the river. I still had time before my family arrived home, so I stopped by the Takashimaya department store to search for an anniversary ring for Beatrice. I couldn’t find the right size for her in the designs I liked best. Eventually, I had to return to the hotel, though I would loved to have searched nearby Tower Records for some music.

Restaurants lining the river

After talking to B and Alex, making him smile by kissing the screen, I returned out to find a convenience store, to buy a noodle in a bun and green apple flavoured Gokuri juice. No grapefruit Gokuri this trip. Unfortunately, most of the stores were shut, the arcades shuttered but for some late night bars and pachinko parlours. I tried to stay up to 11.30 pm to use the onsen facilities, but after walking so far during the day I gave up and just showered instead. I should have slept, but got sucked into reading a novel, despite my exhaustion, until I could no longer open my eyes. But it was already the early hours of the morning!

I was awoken by the fire siren. I quickly put on my shoes, grabbed my passport, left my room and used the fire stairs to go down to the lobby. It seemed like a false alarm, but everything was shuttered. Other westerners seemed more clueless. When it became obvious that there was no fire I returned to the room, grabbed my towel and went back down to use the onsen. It was a bit too busy for my liking, but at least my sore back got a good hot soak and high pressure massage. As I was leaving a suited fireman entered the change room. Obviously the steam or heat had tripped the detector there.

After eating breakfast I packed my bags and began my final day in Japan. Rather than catch the subway to the train station I decided to walk the distance, recalling our first trip to Kyoto back in 2003. It started to spit with rain, but I used shop awnings as much as possible. On that first trip it had also rained and each time on our way to the ryokan we had passed the Higashi Hongan-ji Buddhist temple. The massive wooden halls are surrounded by a wall and moat, making it seem more like a castle than a temple complex. Now, like then, one of the large halls had been under renovation.

Higashi Hongan-ji

Something different to 2003 was the Kyoto-Yodobashi shopping centre near Kyoto Tower. Yodobashi was my electronics retailer of choice in Shinjuku and I couldn’t resist wandering past the computers and cameras. Somehow I resisted purchasing any.

A little damp now, I finally made it to Kyoto station’s Isetan department store. Unfortunately, they too lacked rings of the right size. It seemed like B’s ring finger was the size of a Japanese pinky. It looked like I would have to give the Osakan department stores a go.

With my private railways pass I decided to take a different railway line from Kyoto station to Osaka’s Namba station. The Karasuma subway line continues on to Takeda, whereupon you can catch the train to Osaka. I wasn’t really looking too hard, so when I changed platforms the train I caught was actually going on a different route to the one I planned. It took me past the rice growing area of Uji. At Yamato-Saidaiji station, where I had to change trains, an elderly retired radio operator asked if he could assist me. He kept me company the whole way to Namba, which was nice, but also troublesome as I wanted to stare out the window at the scenery. I was actually, going the long way around to Osaka, but the route took us over the mountains with a fantastic view of the city.

View over Osaka

There is a Takashimaya Department Store inside Namba station and there I quickly found the ring I wanted in the size I wanted. One shopping task completed!

After a delicious, cheap lunch of yakiniku grilled chicken and leek on rice I emerged into Tower Records, where I found a few limited edition CD’s to buy. Also in the complex is the wonderful Muji store where I purchased a tatami mat and some gumboots for Alex. More shopping tasks completed. Finally a walk to Den-Den town for model railway goods. By this time it was raining quite heavily so I succumbed and purchased yet another compact umbrella.

The dioramas at the model railway shops were so amazing. I wished I could make or purchase one for myself. At least I was in no rush to keep B or Alex happy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any more KiHA 120 railmotors, or any other types for that matter, in liveries that recalled my favourite journeys.

There was so much that I could have bought, but I restrained myself.

It was time to finish my shopping and set off for the airport. Namba station is the terminus of the Nankai Rapi:t, so I purchased my seat reservation and caught the odd looking train out towards Kansai International Airport. As I watched the unfolding urban scenery I reflected that two days was definitely not enough time in the wonderful country.

Nankai Rapi:t again

At the airport I checked in the tatami mat and was surprised to be offered the choice of two lounges, when I had thought that we would get none at Kansai International as there is no Qantas lounge there. Then I wandered through the shopping level, tempted by toys and the Muji souvenirs. Again I was subject to the constraint of a Skype conversation with B and Alex, so I went through security and the shuttle train, making my way to the Asuka lounge, shared strangely with United and Delta passengers, among others.

Outside of KIX’s terminal
ANA Domestic check-in
Air side shopping

Asuka Lounge sign
Lounge interior

The food choice was almost non-existent, but there was free internet access and comfortable lounges, though views out on to the tarmac were limited. Most of the other passengers were also flying Jetstar.I did some work, talked to B with a sleeping Alex beside her. I felt sweaty and wished that there was a shower, but there were only toilet facilities. Once B was asleep I left the Asuka lounge and made my way out to the very familiar departure lounge.

CARRIER: Jetstar Airways
FLIGHT: JQ16
SECTOR: KIX-CNS
CLASS: Business
ETD: 20:25 (local)
ETA: 05:10 (local)
AIRCRAFT: Airbus Industries A330-200
REGISTRATION: VH-EBJ

Eventually it was time to board and again I was the first on the aircraft. The amenity pack, blanket and a bottle of water were lying on the seat when I arrived. Again the business cabin was full.

Arriving Jetstar aircraft, VH-EBJ
Thai A330
Waiting in the dark
Packed business cabin

I was tired and I really wanted to sleep, but I forced myself to stay awake to enjoy what was on offer, beginning with a very welcome orange juice.

The customer service manager introduced himself as Kirk. He must always get someone asking him why he isn’t piloting the flight. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the grizzly Australian next to me had joked about it. Instead he only asked me a single question the entire flight.

Outside was raining, giving the black tarmac a shine and reflecting the colourful airport lights. There was an initial view of white, amber and multicoloured neon as we roared off the runway, but it soon disappeared as we entered the clouds with a shake and a bump. Knowing that we would be fed onboard and always with a churning stomach before a flight I hadn’t eaten dinner. Almost an hour later I selected ginger pork from the cart. While the ginger pork was inferior to my own version, the accompanying rice was simply delicious, sort of cheesy on top.

Tarmac lights
Ginger pork

The flight attendant looked in askance when I took a photo of the meal. When she came back later when with the slices of mango cheesecake she told me with a smile that she’d hoped that there would still be some left for us, as it must have proven more popular than the fruit and cheese options. We were the last to be served. I do like the Jetstar cheesecakes!

Man go eat cheesecake. Man say “Yum!”

Once the AirVOD entertainment units had been handed out and I had confirmed that there was nothing new on them, it was finally time to try and catch some sleep. As we bumped through the high clouds I put some music on, reclined the seat, leaned on the memory foam cushion I had purchased from Muji and closed my eyes.

I actually slept!

When I woke up a few hours later I felt rather refreshed. I looked out of my window to see that we were smoothly sailing high above the cloud layer under a bright Moon. It was beautiful, the cabin was quiet, I was comfortable, this is how I love to fly at night.

The crew did water, juice and snack runs during the night. I snagged some Ferrero Rocher chocolates and chilli chips, though I wasn’t particularly hungry.

All too soon it is lights on and time for breakfast. It was a choice of cereal or scrambled eggs, bacon, potato and … mushrooms. I hate fungus, but fortunately I was able to scrape most of it to one side and the rest was nice without being spectacular. I gave the yoghurt back, Alex wasn’t there to eat it.

Breakfast

I thought I might try watching my very first episode of the legendary (at my workplace) Bear Grylls on the AirVOD, but only got halfway before we had to hand the devices back. Enough to see him squeeze a shirt full of his own urine on to his face.

Wakey, wakey!

It was still black outside as we descended into Cairns. There weren’t many cars on the road at this early hour, the amber lamps had the streets to themselves. Cairns airport seemed much busier than the city, with a number of aircraft parked at both the international and domestic gates. The big HeavyLift Shorts appeared to be stuck on the tarmac outside of the international terminal.

Though we quickly exited the aircraft, there was a fair wait for our luggage. It’s a pity that the baggage carousel areas of airports have to be such dreary places. Then there is the quarantine and customs check. They were satisfied with my detailed answers and there was no x-raying of my goods.

There was nothing much at arrivals, so I walked off past the adjacent check in desks and off towards the domestic terminal. I’m not sure what other transferring travellers did and whether there is a shuttle, but I just walked the distance through the cool air under dark skies. It’s a moderate hike along a concrete footpath, but easy and sheltered. It would not be so pleasant on a hot day.

At the domestic terminal I had to wait over half an hour to check in at the Jetstar desk, while they waited for the last passengers to Brisbane to arrive. There were no dramas at check in and I was soon through the security gate, there being nothing landside. From the signage and announcements it appeared that the airport welcomed non-travellers past security.

I really did the flights the wrong way round. Cairn’s domestic terminal is far too enclosed for my liking, but the international terminal has a kind of faded character about it that speaks of adventures in the tropics. Now I was stuck for four hours in the former.

There are a number of eateries and retail shops in the domestic terminal, but I wasn’t hungry or in the mood to shop. All I wanted to do was wash up and sleep. I made what use I could of the toilets and washbasin facilities, then fell asleep on the couch.

When I woke up I had to make use of the powered work desks (but no free internet, though I could just use my phone) to recharge my phone.

Airside, Cairns domestic terminal

CARRIER: Jetstar Airways
FLIGHT: JQ955
SECTOR: CNS-SYD
CLASS: Business
ETD: 10:25 (local)
ETA: 13:20 (local)
AIRCRAFT: Airbus Industries A321
REGISTRATION: VH-VWY

It was a relief when my flight to Sydney was called. Boarding was done by row number via the forward door, with the higher row numbers entering first. I was in the second group.

We were flying on one of the ex-German A321’s with their lower backed and less comfortable Recaro seats and more grubby interiors. Tired though I was I forced myself to stay awake for the magnificently scenic climb out of Cairns airport and south past the coral reefs.

Seating

Legroom
Not a fan of these Recaro seats
Another Jetstar A321 at the terminal
Reversing
Australian Air Express 737 at the Qantas Freight Terminal
QantasLink 717 racing down the runway
Another 717
Our turn next
Runway
HeavyLift Shorts Belfast
Big complement of international services
Cairns Airport
Airport and coastline
Line of clouds
Reefs under the clouds
Reef closeup

I may have drifted off a couple of times, but at others I was staring out at the fascinating landscapes below. Farms, mines, shadowed hill ranges. These domestic legs are rarely unpleasant and this was no exception.

The land looks dry here
Flying inland from the coast
Ridges and rivers
Mines

Town in a diamond
Squiggles
Geometrical shapes like a little kid’s puzzle

Our descent into Sydney took us over the Hawkesbury river, North Shore and Inner West suburbs before swinging out across the Eastern Suburbs and turning in towards Botany Bay. As we came up from the south I spotted a big splash of water below. My first whale sighting! I was so excited. The across the Kurnell desalination plant and down on to the runway. I had returned!

Over the Hawkesbury
Northern Sydney
Manly
Heads
Thar she blows – a whale!
Looking towards the Royal National Park and Cronulla
Sandmining on the Kurnell Peninsula
Groyens at Kurnell
Botany Bay
As we taxi an Air Pacific 747-400 takes off
Journey’s end

After a series of rather indifferent flights previously with Jetstar I have to say that I really enjoyed this trip. The larger seat meant that I was comfortable during the flights and the added service and food was just a bonus.

Jetstar’s Business Class can’t compare with the Qantas’ Skybed offerings, their fine dining and greater range of entertainment options. And who wouldn’t want that (unless you fly First Class 🙂 )? But in all honesty I can say that Jetstar’s Business Class satisfied my needs between Australia and Japan. As I said before it should be labelled as Premium Economy rather than Business, but whatever the term I would be delighted to fly Business with Jetstar again.

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