Traveling to Japan in 2019 was a real adventure. It was the second time that I traveled to a country where I was assumed to be at risk of getting lost due to me not speaking the local language. The first journey of that kind was my visit to Dubai in 2013. Normally, I preferred to travel to countries where I can use English as a common language to get along. But traveling to Japan was different. In many ways.
I joined my partner for a ten days hike following the Shikoku pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku. She hiked the full pilgrimage which is about 1.200km long. And she speaks Japanese.
Arriving in Japan
My flight from Frankfurt to Tokyo took me not only into a foreign country but into a completely different culture, a different culture in so many ways. After passing immigration I had to transfer to another terminal for my connecting flight to Matsuyama. The experience at Tokyo Airport was unique. On my way to the shuttle bus departure gate, I had a gut feeling that I was part of a movie scene. I followed the signs but was the only one on those long airport corridors. When I finally reached the transfer desk I was greeted by name. This was not my last surprise regarding the service-orientated culture in Japan.
Another first impression at Tokyo Airport was that the Japanese like Baumkuchen. What a strange world it is that we are living in.
Another surprise awaited me at the gate for my connecting flight from Tokyo to Matsuyama. I cannot recall seeing so many ground staff personnel handling a national flight even though that the aircraft used was a Boing 787. The boarding process went smoothly and every passenger queued as requested per the announcement given. I saw that each automated passing gate was accompanied by a member of the ground staff, but I could not figure out why that was the case, yet. When I scanned my boarding pass, it became clear. For each passenger passing scanning the boarding pass, the automated gate produced a paper slip containing passenger and seat details. The staff member fetched the paper slip and handed it over thanking me for choosing the airline today. I was simply speechless.
Servicing guests and customers is an important part of Japanese culture. It was to take a few more days before I fully understood this.
During the push-back I saw one of the Star Wars painted ANA aircraft for the very first time. What a view and what an impressive painting of an aircraft body.
The 90-minute flight itself was quiet and without any special incidents, I enjoyed the view of the Japanese islands and the beautiful approach to the airport. Finally, I arrived at Matsuyama Airport ready to start my personal adventure arriving in a foreign city, not capable of speaking Japanese at all.
But it started other than expected.
To be continued in upcoming part 2.