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Making the most of the long flight to Japan
by Evan Miller on Tue Mar 18, 2008 1:45 am
There are those of us out there who get to take the trip to Japan on one of the nicer airlines. We get to spend the time gazing at our own personal entertainment systems, playing old Super Nintendo games and consuming free booze. Those are the flights that make being awake for 13 hours straight worth it. I flew ANA once and had a blast, even though my broken game controller kept sending Mario to an early grave every time I tried to play Super Mario All-Stars.

Unfortunately, there are those of us who can’t afford the higher prices of airlines like JAL or ANA. We’re the people who end up flying the cheaper American carriers, crammed into a small space that gets even smaller when the person in front of us insists that they recline their seat into our laps. If you’re like me, the concept of being crammed into a tiny space for 12 hours straight doesn’t sound all that appealing.

So, for those of us stuck in economy class on the way to Japan, allow me to offer you a few handy survival tips.

Before leaving, stay up late: If you’re like me, the only way you’re going to get any sleep in those uncomfortable seats is if you are so tired that you could sleep anywhere. Come on, you’re leaving for Japan! Go see friends the night before. Watch a few movies. Hit the bar if you want (just don’t get on the plane drunk…). In any case, that should be enough to help you drift off to sleep after the first in-flight meal.

Catch up on anime that is popular with regular Japanese people, not just the otaku types: Doraemon, Sazae-san, Case Closed… pop one of these in your media player and you just might end up starting a conversation with that guy from Tokyo sitting next to you. You’ll get a whole lot more out of the trip, and you won’t get the awkward stares that you would get if you were watching, say, Love Hina.

Chat with people: This one’s obvious. Sometimes it’s fun to have a little 5-minute conversation with the person sitting next to you. I had a fantastic conversation with the chap pictured here as I was waiting to board my flight. The conversation wasn’t all that engaging (“so, what is international quarantine like?” and “yeah, I like steak too” were the hot topics of conversation), but it did kill the monotony. Just make sure that the other person is in a chatty mood, or they might simply ignore you (or, in my case, bite your hand).

Practice your Japanese: If that flight attendant has been passing up and down the aisle for the last hour, stop them and say hi! It’s a great way to brush up on your language skills. For your reference, here are a few phrases that you can use for practice:

Shusshinchi wa doko desu ka?: “Where are you from?” – Always a good conversation starter, since many Tokyo-ites have roots outside the capital. Plus you get to brush up on your Japanese geography skills. There's a lot more to Japan than just the Tokyo area, and this is a great way to learn more about what lies beyond the big city.

Osusume no washoku wa nan desu ka?: “What Japanese food do you recommend?” – Japan has a lot more than sushi and beef bowls. Japan takes special pride in its local and specialty cuisines, and you won’t get bored trying all of them. Buyer beware: some of the suggestions may be a little too much for those with less adventurous tastes.

Sumimasen ga, mae no zaseki ga taoshi sugite, ashi no kankaku ga naku nachatta. “Excuse me, but the seat in front of me is reclined too far and I can’t feel my feet.” – A particularly useful phrase if overexposure to Economy Class seating has become too much to take, and you need medical attention as a result.

Just enjoy yourself: Honestly speaking, there are good parts to even the most daunting international travel experience. On the whole, the food is better than the meat-flavored dust you used to get on these flights, (as you can see, I got a Shrimp Cocktail - it was actually pretty good) and it feels nice to step beyond your borders every once in a while. While you’re probably going to enjoy yourself more when you get to Japan, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try to enjoy the journey as well.
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