Part 1: The Prince Sakura Tower and Shinagawa
Last night, when our tired selves and heavy bags arrived at the hotel the tiny, Japanese female porter insisted on taking our bags to the room.
"I will help you," she insisted.
We would have preferred to help her.
The Sakura Tower is one of three Prince branded hotels which are adjacent to a grand Victorian style building still owned by the Japanese Imperial Family. Prince Takamatsu lived in this house until his death in 1987. The three Prince hotels (hence the name) surround a 20,000m2 garden complete with koi pond, reflection pool, tea house and over 17 varieties of cherry tree. In spring the garden would be spectacular.
Despite the hotel being part of the Prince chain, the Sakura Tower is affiliated with Marriott Hotels in the same way as Hotel Telegraaf in Tallinn. We redeemed Marriott Rewards points for our stay and our 45m2 corner room has a view of the residence and part of the garden. The very beginnings of autumn colour enhance our view of the nearby Tokyo Tower and more distant SkyTree. Hopefully Godzilla is nowhere nearby.
The hotel has an Executive Lounge which is nice but not a patch on the lounge in Osaka. In the basement is also a gym, spa, male and female whirlpool (no bathing costumes allowed) and a relaxation room with mechanical massage chairs. Last night we spent an hour being kneaded and prodded and squeezed - we did the same again this morning.
In the morning we did some shopping in Oshaki. After returning to the hotel we walked through the beautiful garden, which is a tranquil oasis.
The garden also houses a small temple, statues and a temple bell which dated back to the 1500's and would have been relocated here from elsewhere in Japan.
Then we crammed ourselves and our luggage onto the shuttle bus. We felt so guilty we gave the porter and the bus driver some koala keychains, which made their faces lighten up but may not have eased their sore backs. While unloading at Shinagawa Station, The Navigator heard some waiting guests whispering to each other.
"That's four... five... six bags," they muttered. "Oh my - there's more!"
We made it onto the platform with plenty of time to catch the Narita Express for the 80km journey to Narita Airport. It took just over an hour to traverse the Tokyo metropolis and into nearby rural Chiba prefecture. A perfect example of a well organised major airport set outside the city, with fast affordable public transport connections straight to the terminal. Here's hoping Sydney can do as well with the second airport.
Part 2: JL771 NRT - SYD
JAL Sakura Lounge
After checking in, we breezed through security and passport without any waiting. It must have taken less than 10 minutes for both processes. Why are the Japanese so efficient at this compared to in the USA?
The Sakura Lounge is directly opposite the southern immigration zone and adjacent to gate 61, which by pure co-incidence was where our plane would depart. The lounge is spread over two levels as well as a separate area exclusively for First Class passengers. The upper level is for dining and guests are escorted to a table. Food is an extensive buffet of Japanese beef curry, chicken karaage, dim sims, steamed buns and salads and so much more. Soft drinks, spirits, wine and beer are also available.
The downstairs level has wide lounges, leather chairs, tables and plenty of power points for that last minute charge of devices. Both levels have an excellent view of the busy tarmac. When we arrived just after 4pm, both levels of the lounge were busy with people due to take one of the many flights to the West Coast of the USA. Once they departed around 5:30pm the lounge became quieter.
There is also a children's room, enclosed telephone areas and a relaxation room with more massage chairs similar to the hotel. The Navigatrix hurried off to have 30 minutes of kneading before we departed.
Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Oneworld. This is the final leg of our oneworld Classic Flight reward.
Business - seat 8H (aisle) and 8K (window)
Flight time of 9 hours and 20 minutes. We depart and arrive on time.
Japan Airlines flies once a day from Narita to Sydney.
The Dreamliner has an older seating configuration in a 2+2+2 layout. The window seat is slightly staggered from its neighbour to provide direct aisle access, so there is no awkward climb over your companion to go to the bathroom. With 77 inches of pitch and 25 inches of width there is plenty of room and the footwell is more open which reduces the chance of tangled feet or knees.
There are plenty of nooks and crannies to stow phones and cables, although they are more conveniently located in the aisle seat than the window seat. There is a universal power plug and also a USB charging port.
The seat is infinitely adjustable and one can easily find a suitable angle to sleep. The Navigator managed five hours of deep sleep, despite the bumpy weather as we flew around the typhoon in the Western Pacific.
The now familiar lumbar massage feature is also present but nothing like the massage chairs in the JAL lounge.
There is a large table which folds out from the centre partition. There is also a retractable privacy screen which rises or descends at the touch of a button. This makes it much easier to converse with your travel companion compared to the herringbone layout where one is more physically separated.
We had to stifle our laughter as an Australian woman muttered to her companion as they boarded: "It just kills me to see these business class seats on the way down to economy."
There is a fixed 23cm screen mounted into the back of the partition of the seat in front. Given this is where our feet are it is too far away to touch. There is an LCD controller at one's fingertips to control the screen and select entertainment.
There are approximately 70 movies in a variety of languages, some with closed caption subtitles and a similar number of videos ranging across television, documentary and animation. For those who want to listen to music or talk there are 125 audio channels. There are also 30 manga titles in Japanese, English and Chinese which are only available on the 787. Finally, there are 12 interactive games.
So there is plenty of entertainment. The screen is one of the largest we have seen on any airplane and the vision is sharp and clear. Noise cancelling headphones complete the package. Wi-Fi is available and access can be purchased in flight at USD$10 for an hour to just over $18 for the full flight.
The Navigatrix watched 'Oceans 8' while having dinner - The Navigator watched her screen through the open privacy screen.
JALs baggage allowance for business class is 3 bags per passenger at 32kgs each. This is more generous than the Finnair allowance which governed the rest of the itinerary.
We have juggled luggage out of our carry on bags but otherwise are still in a total of 4 bags and well under the weight limit.
The staff are all wonderful and speak perfect English for the mostly Australian passengers on this flight. Our cabin steward made sure to check everything we requested to ensure she understood it correctly. She was also careful to serve The Navigator in the window seat from the aisle entry and not hand food or drinks over The Navigatrix who had the aisle seat.
When we said thank you for the service in Japanese ("arigatou gosarimashita") it sparked a series of giggles from our cabin steward. Hopefully we said it correctly.
A blanket, pillow and slippers were waiting for us at the seat. There was also an amenity kit with eye mask, moisturising mask, earplugs, lip balm, tissues and a toothbrush. The Navigatrix was disappointed there was no hand cream.
The cabin steward handed out a jersey cotton yakuta for sleeping in. A thick duvet was also available on request however the cabin was warm enough.
We were completely comfortable for the entire flight. Cabin lights were dimmed after dinner so getting to sleep was easy. The 787 Dreamliner is amazingly quiet - we were seated right next to the engine but were not disturbed by noise.
Our flight departed at 7:30pm and dinner was served about an hour later.
Entrée was sesame flavoured tofu with wasabi as well as a sweet corn mousse with raw ham. Main course was a choice of the Japanese menu with pork loin and deep fried cutlassfish, or the Western menu of either Wagyu sirloin steak or paella with clam and scallops.
Neither of the seafood options were going to work so we both opted for the steak. Despite our reservations, the beef was cooked perfectly. We both chose the Medoc red wine which was ideal for the steak. The Navigator was disappointed to have glossed over the sake on the menu - apparently this is served in a souvenir bottle.
Dessert was Haagden Dazs ice cream.
A curry meal, vegetable salad, Japanese noodles or a selection of cheeses were available at any time. We both managed to sleep for the remainder of the flight so did not sample any.
The Navigator skipped breakfast because he was still asleep and The Navigatrix had fruit.
We could not fault this flight, starting from the over-the-top politeness of the staff to the excellent food and the perfect seat. Flying the Dreamliner is a step up to start with and JAL business class was another step up from there. We highly recommend this flight and JAL in general - we are yet to have a negative experience with them.
10 out of 10.