Hokkaido, Japan - April, 2002

In April, 2002, Walt and I took a short trip with a small tour group to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The flight seemed to take forever - 9 hours to Kansai airport in Osaka then just short of 2 hours to Hakodate. We left on a Friday morning, and arrived Saturday evening due to a 19 hour time difference and crossing the dateline. The flight itself was reasonably pleasant. The alcohol and movies were free and hot wet washcloths and trays of individually wrapped food products were periodically and efficiently delivered by a crew of ever-smiling flight attendants. At the end of the 9 hour flight, a video of stretch-in-your-seat exercises was shown, and most of the passengers, motivated perhaps by extreme boredom, enthusiastically participated.

We changed planes at Kansai Airport, which is built on an artifical island in the middle of Osaka Bay. As we approached the runway, the plane seemed to tilt at an extreme angle and the wing appeared to be much too close to the water. I feared that my first trip abroad was about to end before it had even begun, but we arrived safely at the gate.

Our tour information described the change of planes as "unaccompanied", but a better description would be "frantic". The airport was large, and the time between planes was very short. Many of the other people in the tour group were senior citizens who preferred to move at a leisurely pace, and most of us had no idea where we were supposed to go. Fortunately, there were a couple of people who could read a little Japanese, and they took the lead. Walt was longing for a cigarette, but there was no time. Somehow, we all managed to make it onto the plane to Hokkaido.