Researching Japan – My busiest trip

I have been visiting Japan since 1989, going there at least once in all but two years since my first visit. To date (May 2020), there have been 45 trips and the majority of these have been for research. As well as keeping notes from the observations and interviews and taking photos during these trips, there are many memories. But over time, it gets harder to remember which year I did certain trips and what I did on each days. But, out of all of these trips, there is one that stands out and I can remember in some detail. In particular, I remember it for being my busiest trip.

The trip was 13 days and took place in August/September 2013. I had already been in Japan during July and August, but had to return to the UK to deal with university admissions. I then travelled back out to Japan to continue my research about aviation and high speed railways, shinkansen, in Japan – looking a variety of aspects, such as symbolism, tourism, marketing and the impact of the transportation system on depopulation. Although many of my trips to Japan are only 6 ot 7 days long, and will have meetings throughout the day, and often lead to me having a lot less sleep than I would normally have back in the UK, what stands out from the trip in 2013 was the amount of travelling involved.

Planning the trip was a lot harder than expected, as I found that it was only possible to fly on certain domestic routes on particular days or there may only be one flight in the day. As a consequence the whole trip became based around my travel schedule. I then contacted organisations I wanted to visit asking if it was possible to meet on a particular day and time. While being happy to go along with the requests, some were surprised that I was trying to set these up four or five months in advance. However, they better understood the reason when I met them and explained my research and my schedule in detail. Luckily I was able to set up all of but of the meetings (the last one did not want to talk to a researcher, regardless of timing, despite several attempts over the years)

The main aim for the trip was to use as many of the domestic airlines as possible, visit many of the headquarters of the airlines or railway companies (some I had visited on the previous trip), visit airports, prefectural governments and other organisations. During flights I made notes about all details – such how the announcements were done, how the cabin crew were dressed, what languages were used, and so on. I had done something similar previously for my book on the shinkansen, although that time I had focussed on the activities of the passengers themselves.

The best example of how my needs for the trip impacted the travel itinerary is when I started day 10 in Kitakyushu and ended Day 11 in Miyazaki. Rather than take the relatively short direct train journey, I flew from Kitakyushu to Haneda (Tokyo) on Day 10, and then on to Miyazaki on Day 11. Doing so allowed me to experience flying on Star Flyer and then Solaseed – having interviews with both companies also.

This map shows my schedule for each day

For the duration of the trip, I used two suitcases, which were only together at Narita Airport at the start and end of the trip. The rest of the time, part of my daily schedule was to send a suitcase to the following day’s destination by the cheap and efficient courier service, so that I used each suitcase on alternate days. This made packing interesting when it came to ensuring I had the right gifts for people, for example, in a particular suitcase.

A lot could have gone wrong. Had there been a large typhoon or a major earthquake, the schedule could have collapsed. Having had the nickname of taifu-otoko (typhoon man) and jishin-otoko (earthquake man) in the past due to there often being one (or both) of these things striking when I visited, the omens were not good. In the end, however, I got lucky. There were typhoons, but, unusually, they largely weakened as I approached the relevant area of Japan. That’s not to say there was no impact – many of the flights had turbulence, but seeing how the crew (and passengers – it was a long time since I last hear people cheer a landing) responded to this – became part of my in-flight observations.

One of the most memorable experiences was my second domestic flight. Upon boarding, after the first cabin assistant checked my ticket, I was aware that there was another nearby who asked if I was Dr Hood. I was a bit surprised that she could see my boarding pass from her position. When I looked up I realised that she was one of my former exchange students. I had no idea that she was now a cabin assistant, and, as she was originally from Shikoku, had studied at a university in Kyushu, I certainly wasn’t expecting her to be on my flight operated by an airline based in Hokkaido! She very kindly brought me a cup filled with extra sweets during the flight, which helped boost my energy levels over the following 10 days.

Another strong memory from this trip was going to Kagoshima. When I had first visited in 1992 I was wearing a white T-shirt and contact lenses. Thanks to my experiences with the ash from the ever active Sakurajima that day, I did not have happy memories of Kagoshima. This time was much better. The visit to the Japanese airline based in Kagoshima Airport gave me the chance to use a proper flight simulator (and I can report that I landed safely). My hotel that evening had its own izakaya, and having not tried shochu in over 20 years, I decided it was time to try one of the around 300 brands they had on offer. I discovered that I now like shochu – another sure-fire sign that I had reached middle age. On the next day I drove around Satsuma Peninsula and finally got to visit the village of Akime, as I discussed in another post.

By the end of the trip, I had done 12 flights (10 domestic), done 5 long distance train journeys, stayed in 13 different hotels, and travelled about 18,000km (6,000km domestically). I suspect that I will write about other aspects of this trip in other posts in the future. In terms of research, some was used in my book Japan: The Basics and also helped for my chapter on Contents Tourism in Plane Sight. But there is much more that I have to use fully yet. I hope to still include this in future research. Other observations and experiences are also being used in my novels.

Details about some of the places I visited and the photography spots used during the trip appear in other posts – see below. I can’t ever imagine doing another trip as busy as this one – but it was a successful trip on many levels and was all done for less than £2,000.

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