6 months ago I thought of going to Japan for my third holiday there. Fourth if you count a two-day stopover I had in Tokyo. Yes, I'm a real Japanophile! In North Asia I've never been to Korea or China thus far. Been to Hong Kong briefly but hate it with a vengeance. Japan gets all my love!
So there I was in February looking up fares to Japan. I looked up SQ SIN-NRT for August and S$630 (approximately US$560) fares showed up. It must be an error. Afterall SQ's new website has been pretty wonky. So I clicked the elusive NEXT button that appeared in the bottom right. But it was for real! on my previous trip to NRT I paid S$1200 on SQ. I briefly looked up the LCC options like Air Asia which quoted me S$650 and United was at S$700. NH and JL were above S$800 So I settled for SQ. I'm not familiar with NH and JL but compared to UA and DL, SQ has a better soft product on this route.
The tickets I got were the rare "Super Deals" ultra promo fares, SQ's most competitive fares. Not sure what fare code this corresponds to but only once before did I see this fare category available. The catch here though is these tickets are strictly non-refundable, no cancellation or changes are allowed and you only earn 10% of the frequent flier miles. That was all fine for me since this was for a trip for leisure.
To Tokyo, SQ flies to both HND and NRT but being the sucker for big planes I am, I chose the later since SQ uses the A380 here. This was also why I didn't opt for JL or NH, they use 767s on this route. While your seat in Y is likely to be the same, the cabin on the 380 is bigger. And you don't hear the engines at all. Additionally, SQ's A380s have a 2-4-2 configuration in the upper deck, which I chose. Their newer 380s are all Business Class on the upper deck though.
With my tickets settled, I got down to the guidebooks. Yes, being the Singaporean I am I just had to plan every last minute! I had already explored the Kansai region in my previous visit. That's Osaka, Kyoto and the areas around it. So after some reading up I decied to settle for the West- the Shikoku and Chugoku regions. Shikoku is the 4th bigggest Japanese island. Chugoku is a long stretch from Hagi to Yamaguchi with Hiroshima roughly in between. Had I had more time I would have gone up to Shimane prefecture. Heard of its historic sites, temples, some small towns and villages. That's the sort of thing that appeals to me
Only a month later did I realise that SQ also flies directly to Fukuoka. Had I known this earlier, I would have flown in to NRT and out from FUK since I was heading down South-West and myy promo tickets didn't allow for an itinerary change.
At the Airport
My flight would leave Changi at 9.50am but I arrived at the airport at 6.30. With Changi, I always want to go by the airport early and visit it seemingly infinite attractions and ammenities.
A slight queue of about 10 had formed at SQ's Y Check-in row but the agents at the Business Class row called us over to clear it all in an instant.
Immediately after check-in I went over to Terminal 1 to check out the new Kinetic Rain sculpture. As the name implies, it was continuously in flux and I understand that it doesn't use conventional energy sources. How cool is that! Was too engrossed to take a picture.
Thereafter I went back to T3 for its gardens. The geek in me wanted to go to T2 for the free PS3/Xbox360/Wii stations but since I dídn't have that much time so I passed.
Passing through Changi is not complete for me without the usual pilgrimage to my favorite garden there. Why, the Butterfly Garden of course!
Lounge- Skyview (Terminal 1)
A credit card I use came with complimentary Priority Pass membership. I had never used it before as most of my flights the past year were hectic regional flights for work. There was no need or time to go to the lounges. I still had over an hour so I thought of checking one of them out. There are a few Priority Pass lounges in Changi- Ambassador Transit (T2 and T3) and the Rainforest Lounge (T2 I think) but Skyview seems to have the best reviews. It is also the dedicated Business and First Class lounge for Delta, Cathay and several other airlines.
The airside area is fairly large but it seemed like most people didn't know about the bigger area upstairs. Half of that part of the lounge was boxed up for renovation so it'll be even bigger soon.
The food selection was not bad. There were sandwitches, porridge, pastries, dimsum (China-stlye dumplings) and a decent selection of drinks. Great coffee too- that was all that mattered to me!
It was fairly empty at 7.30 in the morning, only a few Air China passengers. Had a brief chat with a Chinese chap seating next to me. He was about to head home on CA in a bit
The Main Event
The whalejet I was on in the background
Date: 8. August 2012
Airline: Singapore Air SQ 12
Since the A380 is larger, boarding takes longer.While waiting I used the free PC terminals in the boarding lounge. Good on Changi for having free PC terminals there!
81K is an exit row seat but it's windowless. I didn't mind it for the legroom and the seat beside me was vacant so I had two to myself!
Serving the part of the cabin I was in was a Leading Stewardess/LSS (clad in the the green Kebaya). She sat on the crew seat right in front of me and was real friendly. We chatted during take off and landing.. And this brings me to exactly why I like SQ- the cabin crew as we call them here... My Krisworld IFE stopped responding a few minutes after I turned it on. The LSS noticed me fiddling with it as she walked past. When I reported the issue she restarted the system. Worked fine then.. But she and a steward apologised a total of 5 time throughout the flight! The cabin crew is really what makes SQ what it is for me. Although their support staff aren't much and their website is a nightmare.
Krisworld had a good selection of movies and music. The USB port was also pretty handy. But it would be a whole lot better if it was a touchscreen instead, especially now that all the magazines are only available electronically.
And then came the meal service
I went with the International Selection. Was good. The LSS recommended a wine to go with the salmon.
Right when I started with the appetiser though, there was a sudden bout of really bad terbulance. Meal service was suspended and the crew took their seats. It was so bad that I stopped eating and held onto my tray or it might have ended up on my laps! And this is where the crew impressed me again.. Ten minutes later when the terbulance seemed to have gone by, the LSS noticed I hadn't eaten. She came by and went "Mr. Infinit, I think your food would have gotten cold by now. May I warm it up for you?".. I declined the offer, I didn't mind it that way but that really impressed me. I never expected such attention to detail in Economy.
I spent the rest of the flight watching a Japanese movie on Krisworld, a brief chat with the crew in the galley and a short nap.
Landed in Narita in late noon, all excited for a holiday months in the making.
Japan was simply amazing as always. As planned, I went to the Shikoku and Chugoku regions. Saw many different sites and met some amazing people. The cultures (both old and new) and traditions are so rich but the biggest draw for me is the Japanese people. They're incredibly hospitable, always friendly and helpful. I'm learning Japanese as a second langauge now but my comamnd of the language is base. Even then it was no problem getting around in Japan with how helpful the Japanese are. In Osaka for example I was trying to find a bar. I asked a local if he knew where it was. He didn't but spent half an hour with me trying to find it! I spoke with many locals in the various areas I visited too.
The only thing I didn't like there was that many areas are named by district, without street names! In Singapore every road, big or small has a name! Made it a little difficult to navigate around the smaller towns but maybe that was the very intention. To keep wandering tourists like me out.
And I found it peculiar that when I said I was from Singapore there, almost always, the first response I get is "ah, Merlion!" I think the Merlion is more famous in Japan than anywhere else, even Singapore!
Here are some picture I snapped in the areas I visited
Temple in Shikoku. I stayed in one of them for a night. There are 88 Buddhist temples in Shikoku. Some people visit all of them as part of a pilgrimage
Miyajima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea. Looking as mystical as Shinto mythology would have painted it with the low clouds! If you're in this area, do visit the islands in this sea. They're awe-inspiring.
Hiroshima. One of the few buildings virtually in the epicentre to survive the atomic bomb
Gardens in Hiroshima. One of the many pretty Japanese gardens
Okayama Castle during a summer light-up
One of the older shopping regions in Osaka. I like how the light makes this shot look so surreal
The Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) in Kamakura. Kamakura is a 1.5hour train ride from Tokyo. The nearest place from Tokyo for temples and historic sites
Downtown tokyo from the Tokyo Metropolitan Govt Office Observatory. Tokyo is Tokyo. Almost every little street has something interesting. Still Asia's leading city if you ask me
So once again I had to part with Japan which is always sad. I really should consider moving there once I get my Japanese up to par (hopefully that would be in this lifetime!)
My flight would be leaving Narita at 8.50pm. Had the option of taking a train to the airport or a limousine bus. The former is very slightly cheaper but the later is a more comfortable journey. Went with the limo bus. Reached Narita at at 6.20.
Check in was quick and efficient by the friendly ground staff in Narita.
Bought some Yokan (a traditional Japanese jelly made from an agar paste) and some other traditional Japanese snacks before going past immigration.
With some time on my hands, I thought I'd visit the Priority Pass lounges in Narita. Both the Korean and United lounges accepted Priority Pass somehow. Nice of these airlines to open their lounges to the PP program. SQ on the other hand guards their SilverKris lounges zealously even when many of their overseas ones aren't much at all!
The KAL Lounge was pretty near my gate. Seoul is only a 1.5hour flight away from Japan so I didn't expect much from the lounge. It did not disappoint. It was a small cozy lounge. Decent seating area. Food served was onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and pastries. Some alcholic beveraes available. My only complain though is the food was served in plastic wrappers. While that keeps it fresh, it's poor presentation. At least put it out on a tray or something!
Seating area in the KAL Lounge
Food- Singapore Air would never serve food in plastic wrappers like this! Terrible presentation
After a few minutes in the KAL lounge, I thought I'd visit the United one a stonethrow away. It was colossal. How many flights does United have our of Narita everyday?! Massive amounts of seats. Nice Japanese inspired decor and artwork. The refreshments served included sushi, soup, and some pastries. I think beer was available too. At least here they didn't pre-pack the food into sterile ghastly plastic wrappers!
The Main Event
Date: 20. August 2012
Airline: Singapore Air SQ 11
witty sign at a sushi restaurant near the gate.
Chose the same seat again
Serving my area was a Leading Steward this time. He had been flying with SQ for 15 years. We chatted briefly, mainly about SQ- the days of Mega Top, Leadership, Raffles Class... things SQ's current management had rendered passé.
Meal service begun promptly. Went for the Japanese option. As always, the food out of Narita was excellent.
Dessert was Haagen Dazs- which I am not a fan of. I'd rather Ben and Jerry's anytime! Had some wine to go with my ice cream.
An amenity kit was provided on this night flight. Socks and a toothbrush in a Givenchy bag. The lavatories had shaving kits and combs though. I'm not too sure what SQ uses for the cologne and handcream provided in the lavatories but I've always liked that scent.
I was drained from this very packed trip. I slept throughout most of the flight. Woke up an hour before landing.
So here's how I'd quantify this
Immigration, Customs and Check in: 8/10 (very good)
Amenities: 9/10 (excellent- the free Pcs in the boarding lounge was a good idea)
Skyview Lounge: 7/10 (good- but it would have been even better if they added a few more food options but all else is fine)
Immigration, Customs and Check in: 8/10 (very good)
Amenities: 6/10 (fair- Narita is pretty dated, they could spruce it up a little)
KAL Lounge: 6/10 (fair)
UA Lounge: 8/10 (very good)
Seat: 8/10 (Very good but I prefer the older Economy seats on SQ. They were more cushy)
Food: 9/10 (Excellent on both legs)
Service: 10/10 (Exceptional. I wrote in to thank the crew!)
IFE: 7/10 (would be better with a touchscreen interface)
Overall: 8/10 (SQ still wins it for me!)