Friday, 11 April 2008

Arrival and preparation

One minor drawback of choosing Sapporo is that there are no direct flights from London. So that means changing, most likely at either Osaka or Tokyo. For Tokyo connections, it's important to remember that Tokyo has two airports: Haneda, which actually is in Tokyo, and which handles most domestic flights, and Narita, which actually is quite a long way from Tokyo (unsurprisingly, it's at Narita, which is in Chiba prefecture), and which handles most international flights. So if you're flying into Narita, and you want to avoid a long trip across town (well, into and across town), it's best to make sure your domestic flight is from Narita also, not from Haneda. For Sapporo, that seems to limit it to ANA domestic flights: JAL's seem all to go from Narita (but best to check for yourself, depending on your destination, and in case any of that changes).

When I was looking into flights, there seemed to be a very promising Virgin Atlantic connecting with an ANA flight to Sapporo from Narita. But as I'm by nature a bit of a pessimist, I didn't want to book my flights until I had my final confirmation of acceptance on the course in my hand, and by the time I'd got that, that Virgin-ANA-via-Narita option had disappeared (and in fact the flights which were available were considerably more expensive!). On closer examination, it seemed that it was the ANA flight which was now full. My guess is that in the time between my original investigations and my booking, the internal flight had become available for domestic booking (this happens two months in advance), and so it had become full with domestic passengers. So here's my first tip from this: if you can book your flight more than two months in advance, I suspect you'll get better options on connecting flights.

I didn't want to do the Narita-Haneda change, so that left me really with Osaka (Kansai International). Actually, some flights also connect at Nagoya, but either the flight times or the prices or both didn't suit me for those. So I flew JAL to Kansai, and JAL domestic from Kansai to Sapporo, New Chitose (but on the return, we'll be flying ANA domestic into Narita, and then JAL again from there). My connection at Kansai was 1 hr 15 minutes. My inbound was about on time, but even so, this is cutting it a bit fine, particularly as recent immigration procedure changes mean you are fingerprinted and photographed on your way into the country (same as you are entering the US). I joined the line (an unusual bout of optimism made me think Japanese immigration might be so efficient that the queue would move quickly) and waited patiently (and nervously) for some 20 minutes before deciding there was little chance of me getting through in the next 15 minutes or so, and I didn't feel comfortable cutting it any finer than that. So I got the attention of an immigration official, and got myself hurried through. And so my next tip from this is: either make sure your connection has a good couple of hours, or else get yourself hurried through straight away (if you don't speak any Japanese, I'm sure pointing at your boarding card and looking flustered will do the trick!).

Anyway, it was all pretty much plain sailing (or flying and taxi-ing) from there, and so I found myself delivered at the Dormitory Maruyama. The rooms are basic, but fine, with modern LAN phones in them, so you can make international calls direct (I haven't asked what the charges are, though: I'll wait until I get a bill!). The one minor disappointment when I arrived was that I had to apply for an internet connection: there isn't just a network you can plug into. They give you a form to complete, and theoretically you'll get an e-mail account with it, but until it's been processed, you won't be able to use the internet, and that will take a day or two. Unfortunately, I was so tired when I arrived that I couldn't understand the process, and why they were asking me to apply for an e-mail account when all I wanted to do was use the web, so I didn't fill it in straight away. And then there was confusion over where my LAN cable would plug in, as the only LAN socket on the wall is used by the phone (the answer is that there's a LAN socket labelled “PC” on the back of the phone itself – my thanks to Spank for suggesting I look there!). It took me a few days (including the weekend) and a bit of chasing by the nice people working at the dorm to get mine sorted. But if you fill the application in straight away, you should get it the next working day. Just don't expect to be able to Skype or e-mail someone the minute you get in to let them know you've arrived. But, as I said, there is international dialling direct from the rooms, and also there are two PCs at the JLI which students can use for free (obviously, only in school hours). And there's always internet cafes such as i-cafe. Anyway, that's why my first post from Japan has taken this long to do (and I didn't write anything else after my first post before I left because I had to spend my time getting ready to come here!).

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