Osaka: Adventures in transit


“We had quite the adventure today.”

The word “adventure” is code for travel mishap or disaster. Maybe it takes the sting out of being delayed, lost or otherwise overwhelmed.

For instance, my one-day trip to Baltimore/Washington on Friday started with quite the adventure at the Birmingham airport. We sat enveloped in fog, delaying all flights. Our nonstop to BWI left 75 minutes late.

(That led to other adventures, naturally.)

Going to Osaka turned into an adventure at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.


It would’ve been even more of an adventure, had my travel agent not spotted a crucial flaw in my itinerary: not just changing flights in Tokyo, but airports, too. Apparently the reservation computer has no problem with cross-town connections.

Fortunately, that was fixed weeks before the trip. All we had to do was change planes in Tokyo.


We make a quick stop for Customs, then baggage claim, then another Customs stop, and then on to our next flight. Will and I clear these hurdles easily; Will’s gift bottle of booze even survives in his suitcase intact.

We need boarding passes as we left American and headed for All Nippon Airways. We changedour money to yen and headed over to the north terminal.

Our first mistake is heading upstairs to the fourth floor. All we have to do is stay on the first floor and use the counter there.

We take an elevator, and I do not exaggerate when I say it is the quietest elevator ever invented. Dead silent. No noise from us, no noise from the other passenger, and no noise from the car transporting 500 pounds of people and baggage straight up.


In the main ticketing area, it is a vast open-air auditorium with row after row of counters in the middle. (As opposed to U.S. airports, with counters always against a long wall.) Centered at one end is the stadium-size tote board of arrivals and departures. Travelers are having their pictures made in front of this impressive display.

We find the ANA counter and get in the long line. The woman behind us has already visited three other lines and would like to get home to Hawaii in time for Thanksgiving. Like many of the passengers we see there, she’s U.S. military finishing up a short trip through Japan.

The striking thing about the ANA line is the array of agents on hand. They’re all women, all nattily dressed in the skirt and pastel kerchief ensemble, smiling nonstop through their makeup — even as they politely tell us we’re in the wrong damn line.

We return to the first floor, where we find more ANA agents and a somewhat shorter line. At least this time, we receive our boarding passes and hand over our check-in bags.

As we head to the security checkpoint (twice in one trip), I tell Will, “You know what those ANA gals need? More makeup.”

But they actually look fine, if maybe heavy on the blush. And they’re friendly, unlike the surly lot populating stateside ticket counters, security checkpoints and overpriced pastry stands.

Our departure gate is stuck in one of those pitiful corners at every airport, overrun with kids and the German men’s volleyball team heading home from a tournament. One jock has taken it upon himself to play his boom box for all of us.

The snack stand is tiny, and we’re surrounded by all-glass walls. Passing flight crews give us the fishbowl treatment.

We’re nearing the end of our long journey to Osaka, nearly 24 hours in transit. Just one more flight, one more baggage claim to go.

• • •

Osaka 2006


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