(A preliminary word of warning: my Flight Reports are always long, and the circumstances of this flight did not help reducing the length of this one. You will need to go through the entire report to understand why it is referenced in Business class: this is no mistake.)
This was my umpteenth trip to Japan, but I had been waiting for over ten years for an opportunity for this one which required taking nearly two months of leave of absence. My destination would have ideally been TKS, a small regional airport serving the city of Tokushima 徳島, my starting point in Japan, but the fares and schedules were unattractive and I fell back on a simple round trip to KIX which is only three hours away from Tokushima by bus.
CDG – KIX: AF292 (B777-200ER) You are here KIX – CDG: AF291 (B777-200ER) it's there
I had chosen to use FB airmiles, first because I feared that the renovation of the FFP would include a devaluation of previously accrued airmiles (it did not happen for passengers traveling mostly to the Far-East as I do), and second because I wanted to be able to modify my departure date for cheap in case of a business constraint which did happen. A “Classic” award ticked is modifiable for a minimal 45 EUR fee.
But only when I postponed by departure by two days did I discover that a 1.19 EUR tax was added to this fee; it was probably well hidden in small print inside obscure fare conditions. A 1.19 EUR surcharge is of course negligible and nobody complained when I included it in my expense claim (since I was changing my flight for business reasons, which was good for my karma at work), but this unfairness of Flying Blue’s communication on top of its massively unfavorable changes this spring did not help improve its image.
On the other hand, I had no doubt that the warning “No meals served on board” ("Pas de repas servi à bord”) was a software bug. (Writing “1 authorized pieces of luggage” (1 bagages autorisés) was pure sloppiness of the coder who did not bother to include a test on the number of pieces of luggage to add an s for plural only when needed. That nobody at Air France bothered to correct that does not give an impression of quality)
Another bug was that I could not select a seat immediately after changing the flight.
The whole cabin became accessible sometime later. One of the few perks of my predictably short-lived FB-Platinum status is that the so-called Plus Seats are for free. The first rows of the Economy cabin were of little interest to me, but the twin seats were, and I took a window seat in the last row, that whose aisle seat would be less attractive due to the proximity of the galley and of the toilets.
Meals reappeared on this flight too!
I did not order a special meal: I did not travel enough on AF long haul flights enough to reach boredom with the standard meal offering, as I did on the ADG-ARN route the preceding year.
Then came April and a severe storm warning in the French transport sector. AF had difficulties handling strikes AND English grammar.
The trade unions at SNCF (= French Railways, which operate the infamous RER-B line from CDG to Paris) and at Air France carpet-bombed the calendar with multiple strike notices, and the only AF292 flight to be cancelled turned out to be mine.
I would have considered boarding this aircraft spotted the preceding Sunday which was flying low above the course of the Paris Marathon. A specialist suggested that it might be an A380M (M for Marathon).
Since this was not an option, my first priority has been to send a request to shift my hostel reservation one day. Good news the:y had a room available and wished me a good travel.
In the meantime, my file had been updated on AF’s website and good news, my window seat on the preferred side in a seat duo had been preserved.
With regards to the seat assignment, I had to trust them initially because the website did not provide the information.
The initial flight was supposed to be operated by AF (Sorry AF, “éffectué” is a misspelling) and I was rebooked on a flight operated by AF too (Sorry AF, in French, “opéré” is only used in case of surgical operations).
OLCI was not available and I did not bother calling Customer Support which was likely to be busy with passengers with more serious problems than not being able to secure their seat assignment.
D-Day (or D-Day+1, rather) came. My flight was not listed yet on the famous FIDS of the CDG-2 train station.
The e-mail received the day before the flight mentioned that check-in would be at Terminal 2F. This terminal that I know well is dedicated to Schengen Area flights and I thought that this was a bug possibly related to the strike at AF.
But Flight AF292 was not on the FIDS at terminal 2E and the staff at the information counter told me that I had indeed to check in at Terminal 2F. In order to avoid walking all the way back to the train station, I went down to the Arrivals level in order to cross the area between both terminals
… and then reach the lower level of Terminal 2F
And eventually see the familiar Nespresso landside shop and see that there was no waiting at the security checks next to it, both priority and non-priority.
But I first had to check in my luggage. Flight AF292 was not listed there either.
The staff at the entrance of the Skypriority check-in counters nevertheless confirmed that this is indeed the correct location for the flight to KIX. There was a free counter out of frame far left: the waiting time was nil.
Hardly more than nine kilos was not much for a checked luggage, but I had lots of electronics in my hand luggage,
The checked luggage was a backpack, and my back was not motivated at all by the 2 x 23kg checked luggage allowance due to my FB status.
Quasi-zero waiting time at the Skypriority security check which was next door.
I was not going to one of Terminal 2F’s jetties this time, but Gate L42 (a reference which carefully skips the fact that it is in Terminal 2E which is nowhere near where I checked in).
What future lies ahead for European Skyteam airlines: bankruptcy or rampant downgrading?
Yes, there was an Access #1 at the passport control in order to reach Terminal 2E which is dedicated to flights out of the Schengen Area. But when there are only two policemen in the booths and no automated PARAFE passport reading gate, the line goes forward very slowly, and sometimes not at all when the policeman on the right is handling a passenger whose passport creates a problem (but is eventually waved through) and the one on the left a wheel chair passenger. The policeman was nevertheless efficient and smiling when it was my turn.
It took altogether four minutes to go through the immigration: this was no disaster, and it was probably not that much longer for non-priority travelers either. The windows on the left of this corridor between Terminals 2F and 2E are excellent for plane spotting, but I seldom if ever have a chance to be there.
… then taking a long corridor which actually runs all the way along the lounge which is barely visible through the partition wall.
A counter with magazines and newspapers. Le Monde (one of the leading newspapers) headlined on the difficulties in ending smoothly the non-building of an airport (after some 50 years of debates, controversies and sometimes violent confrontations on site, the project of a new and much larger airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes to replace NTE has been cancelled by the government).
Some newspapers from the Far East: Japanese (日本経済, 朝日新聞) and … French, because travelers who can’t read it probably do not realize that 歐洲時報, a Chinese language daily, is actually published in Paris.
A general view of the main area of the lounge: the catering area is at the far end of this long rectangle.
The small tables are equipped with USB and type E/F power ports. The latter have a childproof protection which mystified me at the lounge of Terminal 2F the first time I tried to use them – you only need to press hard enough to depress the central part. Both kinds were powered where I took a seat.
A semi-partitioned area just after the newspaper stand
There are wide windows to the outside, but they reveal that the lounge spans the roads which constitute the central east-west axis of Terminal 2. Sunshades outside contribute to reducing these windows to the sole purpose of providing natural light to the lounge.
Getting closer to the catering area which is beyond this rotunda.
There were still leftovers form the breakfast offering, but not for long.
The silverware is the same as that of the lounges in Terminal 2F.
The covers have a glass center so that you don’t need to lift them to see the contents (sausages for the breakfast offering, here)
This sautéed beef with onions didn’t look great, but it tasted great.
On the other hand, the salmon was quite disappointing.
A very decent ratatouille
On the other hand, I was disappointed with these fried noodles which were tasteless and hardly fried at all.
I did not try this "quiche piperade".
Soft and low-alcohol drinks are of the standard kind.
I won’t comment on the wines, being incompetent in this matter.
It took me a long time to find a table which would be available AND close to a power port.
You could doubt from the samples in this lounge that there is a dairy industry at all in France,.
The extensive French cheese culture has always been alien to Air France: never expect anything more than these honorable but eventually boring Cantal and Jura fruité cheeses. (Hey, Air France, when will you realize that there are some 400 different kinds of cheese in France ?)
These Opera cakes were delicious
The lounge gradually filled up ; it did not become overcrowded but became slightly too noisy to my liking.
I have seen two tables reserved for PRM, including one being rightfully used .
There was actually a much quieter area if you turned left just after the welcome counter. It was nearly empty possibly because there was little signage and because turning right was visually natural. There was no catering in that section, which helped reducing its attractiveness and therefore the number of passengers there.
A model of Airbus’ future trijet in Air France livery
The above corridor led to various facilities
A central pillar with a changing light decoration
Collective rest area
And individual booths closed with simple drapes – I saw only one passenger in them because it was the middle of the day.
Clarins treatment space for superficial needs
And behind the welcome counter, emergency equipment for vital needs.
I left the lounge shortly before the boarding time. China Eastern A330
The surroundings of Gate 42L
The 777-200ER was being loaded
Boarding began on time: nearly no passengers were queuing ahead of time. (The Japanese are used to traveling light, so nobody would expect space issues in the overhead luggage bins). Few passengers used the automatic BP reading gates: they would rather all use the manual counters, which slowed down the boarding slightly (the family with a stroller had a valid excuse).
Scarce newspaper offering on the way to the aircraft
An AF A340 seen from the jetbridge
MEA A330 and Vietnam Airlines A350
The jetbridge was hiding the door
Refueling was in progress
Going through the Y+ cabin
The second Y cabin, when still empty
A FA was taking a picture of little girl on her seat there: a friendly touch of welcome.
The bulkhead seats in the second Y cabin. I have seen two babies in cribs there during the flight.
The duo seats at the rear of the cabin where I had reserved a seat initially.
It was very cold in the cabin when I arrived, for the simple reason that the rear door was still open for loading the catering. The temperature rose quickly once it had been closed.
This was my seat
The safety instruction card, both sides
A floor plastic cover had been ripped off its position.
What changed at AF since not so long ago is that there is an operational power port in Economy now, whereas they could not even power my laptop in Business class ten years ago.
The seat reclines this much (picture taken shortly after take-off)
Boarding continued and young Japanese settled at aisle seat 44J: I was not going to have the entire 3-seat set for my exclusive use. He was probably checked in after me. Oh well, the middle seat remained empty and that was still much better than being in a twin seat with a neighbor, because that empty seat provided space for my belongings (and those of PAX-44J, too)
Sometime after boarding was completed, a FA came up. A becoming young blond woman, whose communication was as pleasant as her looks. My status was not going to be ever mentioned, or even alluded to, but these were canonical Platinum greetings:
- You are Mr. Marathon, correct? Is everything all right ? - Well, there is no particular problem. I would have had rather leave yesterday, but there is nothing you can do about that. - I see… There are indeed passengers like you on this flight. I’ll see what I can do for you.
The smiling allusion had been received 5 by 5, but this was not the appropriate place or time to discuss about the strike which had cancelled my flight the day before. She came back with an Economy Premium amenity kit: an easy but nevertheless kind give-away.
- Would you want drinks from the front with your meal ? And if you wish to go to the bar in Business Class… - It is very kind of you, but I never drink alcohol. - In that case, I think that the offering in this cabin will be enough. - Indeed. Could I simply go and take a picture of the wing from the front? - Of course, there is no problem!
Isn’t this Joon Airbus too large compared to the AF 777 which hides her ?
Correct: this was one of the A340s to be operated as part of AF’s service downgrade on long haul routes, seen here during taxiing.
We were not there yet, because the captain announced a ten minute delay for pushback due to an extremely narrow take-off slot (quote). Seen here at the end of pushback, this road U-turn has been neutralized about a year and a half ago, lengthening the access to Terminal 2F from Paris (the queue at the kiss and ride of this terminal generated a traffic jam which spread to the entire road access).
I do not like this safety demonstration which I find annoyingly fussy, with the result that I try my best to not watch or listen to it – not quite what is expected from passengers.
Arrival of a LATAM A350
Air Mauritius A340
Takeoff Runway 09R, after this Easyjet A32x
Two AF 777s behind us
Next was an Aeroflot A321
It was very cloudy, which made plane spotting hopeless due to the lack of light. Just for the record, an Icelandair 757 at Terminal 1.
Terminal 2 in the background
Two aircraft taxiing in opposite directions to and from the north runways and Terminal 2
Terminals 2E et 2F, the realm of AF and its Skyteam partners
Distribution of an oshibori and of this menu, printed both sides.
Better warn you that there won’t be much of a geography lesson in this FR, because there have been very few breaks in the cloud cover.
Since there was no ground reference, let’s have a look at the airmap, displayed on a good screen (from the size, resolution, and reactivity point of view) which is a healthy change from the “Gameboy screens” that AF kept for much too long in its fleet.
Various views are available
Like on Finnair, after a short while, the airshow shifts into cyclic mode: this is a design mistake IMO, but it is not as frustrating there as on AY because the touchscreen is very reactive: recovering the "correct” display mode does not take long.
On the other hand, the plane’s model "clutters” the screen at all times, especially when you zoom in to try to localize yourself precisely. This is another design error, IMO: there should have been a mode with a simple dot on the trajectory, without the plane’s model..
The modeling of the aircraft forgot the fuel dump outlet (compare with the above screenshot).
This was not going to be the flight for air-to-air pictures: the two aircraft that I saw were much too far away.
Distribution of a drink (apple juice for me) and snacks
But see the difference with my neighbor (above): the FA discreetly gave one extra pack.
This small present suffered from rough handling, but the taste remained the same.
This is the detailed description of this small present
We were now above landscapes that I know by heart from my CDG-ARN shuttles, but there was no way I could see them again.
Another discreet Platinum attention: a FA came up to ask what was my choice for the meal and brought it to me before the meal service began for all, in order to guarantee that I would have what I wanted.
The same after unwrapping. I had chosen the Japanese option: this was not unforgettable (you can’t expect wonders from a French catering company for a Japanese meal), but nevertheless decent.
All this came with a cup of misoshiru that the FA had initially forgotten to offer, probably because she had brought me a lunch tray in advance.
The bottle of water had an unlosable cap with a mechanism with less risk of a leak than a traditional screw type.
I could not wrap again what was left (a favorite game for me) because the plastic cover of the hot meal was not reusable.
One of the few cloudless moments let me see Ventspils (Latvia)
VNT, a.k.a Ventspils Airport
The extremity of the peninsula bounding the Gulf of Riga
Estonia’s Ruhnu Island, with the clearing in the forest (top right) betraying the presence of the runway of EERU, its airport.
I used the authorization which had been granted to go discreetly through the curtain into the rear of the Business class area in order to take this wing view through the door’s small window.
In flight door shot
View from the rear of the aircraft
Nondescript and expectedly clean toilets
And baby care table with a pictogram hinting an expected but irrelevant « women use only » message
Only if I had been on the ready would I have caught this plane flying in the reverse direction
It was already late in the destination time zone and I sank into sleep, with the help of a 26.2 mile visit of Paris the previous Sunday and all the work emergencies before the flight. The seat did not recline much and I had to tighten the safety belt to not slide down.
I woke up four hours later, in a strangely still fully lit cabin despite this being in the middle of the night. The immigration and customs forms had been placed on the middle seat and I had hardly started filling them when the blond FA came up again.
- Mr. Marathon ? I wanted to see you again after the meal but I saw that you were already asleep. You haven’t been bothered by the light? We did not manage to extinguish it. There was an empty seat in Business class that I wanted to offer you, if you wish. - This is extremely kind of you; this is an offer which cannot be refused !
A Platinum upgrade! This crew was really set to pampering me. I gathered my belongings, checked three times that I was not forgetting anything because I would otherwise lose the advantage of priority deplaning. A wordless sign by the FA, and I answered the same way: no, I had placed nothing in the overhead bins.
We had a brief chat before she went back to the Economy cabin: she made no mystery that it was due to my courtesy during our initial interactions that she had upgraded me and that she would not have lifted a finger if I had been aggressive about the cancellation of my initial flight. A lesson for other travelers ?
The J cabin was in the dark, with most passengers were sleeping: these were not the best conditions to show it to my readers.
The IFE screen swivels a little to face the passenger.
We were there into the flight
I was not sleepy anymore, so I went to see the buffet prepared next to the galley just behind my row.
I returned to my seat with an ice-cream
These toilets are wider than in Economy, but there is no particular decoration.
This unusual (to me) changing table swings down onto the toilet seat which doubles as support for it, and no pictogram hints that men travelling in Business class could not use it too.
Another door shot, in the dark this time.
The galley and the Ja cabin from the rear
The seat in default position
And in lie-flat position
The so-called "in flight literature" (I doubt it will ever qualify for the Nobel prize for Literature) and the power port are somewhat hidden at the base of the seat.
The airshow was the same as in Economy, but on a wider screen
The FA went so far as to bringing me a business class amenity kit.
The most useful item them is possibly the ball point pen for filling the immigration and customs forms: who can claim he has never been forced to do it after deplaning because he did not have one with him ?
The trajectory to KIX is purely theoretical since the North Korean airspace is out of bounds.
Another raid to the buffet
I took a set of three miniature cakes which did not impress me, and a clementine.
The changing table is for female use in these toilets!
I was going to be able to take many more pictures of the right hand side reactor than I had expected.
The plane started following the zigzags of the complex air route between PEK and KIX: there is a lot of Chinese military airspace to be avoided.
This was possibly the first time I was trying an active noise reduction headset (no, I have not invested in one): its efficiency was especially impressive when removing it.
An honorable classical music offering
I owe to a reader of one of my previous reports the knowledge that this padding on the safety belt is an airbag.
The seat belt seemed to be second hand stuff from Amsafe Airlines, or something like that ;)
I traveled (not by plane only) to 15 of the 36 cities appearing on this map.
Distribution of a tepid oshibori
Sunrise on the right hand side reactor
Light control and FA calls are done on the IFE screen
I did not find how to switch on one of these lights .
An FA placed a white napkin on the table (which I find to high with regards to the seat for comfortable use of my laptop, by the way).
Flying through the narrow gully between the military airspaces of Dalian and Yantai / Qingdao
The sun had risen at cruise level altitude
Bread and pastries
The breakfast as served.
The J cabin in daylight, with a makeshift panoramic view.
My seat in the daylight
I have seen worse, most recently with Eva Air, but this “window seat” had actually only half of a window. I could not complain about it in these circumstances, but looking at the landscape was actually much less easy than in Y.
I had to look for it to find the safety information card.
The weather cleared up above Japan.
Okayama 岡山 (on the right) and the forested peninsula which protects its natural harbor.
It was not easy to localize oneself when the airshow tells you that you “somewhere over there"
There are fortunately notable civil engineering structures, such as the Seto Viaduct 瀬戸大橋 which links Shikoku to Honshū
Teshima Island 豊島 in front of the reactor, and Naoshima Island 直島 in the background. The latter has been made famous by its modern art museums.
Ogijima 男木島 and Megijima Islands 女木島, off Takamatsu 高松
Goken Mountain 五剣山, west of Takamatsu in the background
Takamatsu, on Shikoku Island which was my real destination
TAK (Takamatsu Airport), at the foot of the mountains.
Higashikagawa 東かがわ, whose urban sprawl reaches all available flat surfaces between the mountains.
The wide valley of the Yoshino 吉野 River
The 800 m long Awa Chūō Bridge 阿波中央橋 on the Yoshino.
This is a ground view
Tokushima 徳島, where I would connect between a long distance bus and a local train later that day
Alignment on KIX: Jinoshima Island 地島 in adverse lighting conditions
Full brakes and reverse after touchdown
A landing FedEx MD-11
And two other ones on the tarmac
The three major Chinese airlines are there (MU, CA and CZ).
Last turn alongside a Philippines Airlines A330
KLM came with a 787
And Singapore Airlines with an A330
Not only has the in-flight upgrade in J made me bypass all the passengers in Economy, but the Japanese immigration has improved its efficiency somewhat since the last time I landed in KIX, taking the fingerprints and pictures before the passport control itself which is therefore faster.
(Taking the fingerprints of all foreigners entering Japan generated widespread protests thirty years ago within the large Korean community, because in a country where only criminals had their fingerprints recorded, this established a “foreigner = potential criminal” innuendo. Who remembers this now, in the era of biometric passports?)
Once I had exchanged a reserve of cash, I still had time until boarding the first long distance bus to Tokushima that I had targeted. That bus makes only a few stops on the expressways. It was typical Japanese efficiency: the luggage was placed in three different holds according to the destinations so that each stop would be as short as possible. There were no more than a dozen passengers on board.
In order to reach Shikoku Island after driving through the harbor facilities of Ōsaka and Kōbe, the bus drove through Awaji Island 淡路島, using the spectacular Akashi Kaikyō Viaduct 明石海峡大橋 which has been holding the world record for the span length of a suspended bridge,
… and then the much shorter Naruto Viaduct 大鳴門橋 (right).
It is interesting precisely because it is relatively short, because Awaji Island blocks the East end of the Inner Sea, with 1,300 m wide straits south of it. At rising or falling tide, 15 km/h currents create spectacular whirlpools there, and they were happening when the bus crossed the bridge.
Once arrived in front of Tokushima’s station, I had little time to waste before boarding the local train heading towards Takamatsu 高松, a single diesel powered car on a single rack line. I was not going far: to Bandō 板東 station, close to Temple #1 and to the minshuku 民宿 (traditional family pension) where I had booked my first night.
This FR would not be complete without its epilogue: I had reached KIX one day late and AF was not going to get away with it. Two weeks after posting a purely factual claim referencing each applicable section of European Rule CE 261/2004, I received this answer (in French) from “my” AF Customer Relations staff (I did not know I had one…):
(…) In order to lessen the unfavorable impression left by this incident and in application of the applicable regulations, I have the pleasure to send you a 600 EUR compensation. (…)
This really meant: "The applicable regulations require me to send you a 600 EUR compensation, and in order to lessen the unfavorable impression left by the last incident where our bad faith was no match to your tenacity, I have rather give up immediately.”
This is the end of this trip, and the beginning of a much longer one which you can choose to discover in the ensuing bonus: the Shikoku 88 temples pilgrimage. There are people who take nearly two hours to travel 1,200 km by plane, for instance in a 738 like this one approaching KCZ….
… and others who take nearly two months to cover the same distance on foot, like this anonymous pilgrim from Tōkyō and like myself.
Bonus : Click here displayhide
The origins of the Shikoku 88 temples pilgrimage are contemporary with those of the Camino de Santiago (a.k.a. the Way of St James), but this is the only commonality. A very rare feature for a pilgrimage of this geographic size, the Shikoku pilgrimage is a loop which returns to its departure point 1,200 km after leaving it.
Another peculiarity is that although most pilgrims start at Temple #1, which has been my case because it is easy to reach from KIX, a pilgrim can start from anywhere, and there is specific date or event either. Contrary to the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrims are mostly travelling on bus tours.
Often by car, sometimes on a motorcycle,
And much fewer on bicycle,
Or on foot
You may have noticed a common feature: the pilgrims wear white. Clothes make the monk in Europe, and make a pilgrim in Japan if they are white. More accurately, the telltale is the hakui 白衣, a word which means literally “white clothing” and designates a white light cotton vest. Anybody wearing a hakui is recognized as a pilgrim, and a pilgrim may wear more or less what he wants, as long as he wears a hakui. The white color represents purity and innocence, but also reminds the pilgrim of death which may strike him on the way, because white is also the color of mourning in the Far-East. The hakui bears in the back an invocation to Kōbō Daishi, the monk whose immense contribution to Buddhism in Japan is remembered though this pilgrimage. The hakui of this pilgrim also bears in filigree the Heart Sutra, a central text in the ritual of the pilgrimage.
The priests (center, below), monks and nuns (far left) are an exception to this rule and wear their usual religious clothing.
White caps and bucket hats have partisans, but the overwhelming winner on the pilgrims’ heads is the sugegasa 菅笠, what many people would call a Chinese hat only that this one is Japanese. Apart from its traditional look, the sugegasa protects remarkably well from the rain (with the help of a removable plastic cover) and from the sun, and its wicker structure allows an efficient ventilation of the head (it is a typical warm weather hat).
A group of pilgrims on the levee of the Yoshino River, on the way between Temples #10 and #11
Last optional but overwhelmingly adopted piece of equipment: the kongōzue 金剛 杖. Made of a light wood, with a square section and a slightly padded handle, it is more than a walking stick because it symbolizes Kōbō Daishi, and because of that, pilgrims and hostel staff take special care of it. You should not let it fall on the ground and it is placed in a special honored place when not being used. For that reason too, one should never use a knife to trim the end when damaged. The kongōzue, like all the other above described items, bears an ubiquitous maxim: 同行二人 (“two persons on the same path”), meaning that Kōbō Daishi accompanies and protects the pilgrim.
The kongōzue has a small bell with the 道中安全祈願 ("Prayer for the safety on the way"), a distant reminder of the times when pilgrims had to warn bears of the approach. This bell is also meant to stop the pilgrim’s mind from wandering away from his meditation while walking.
An overwhelmingly observed tradition prohibits pilgrims from hitting the ground with his stick when he crosses a bridge, to avoid disturbing the sleep of Kōbō Daishi if he was resting underneath. Pilgrims carry their stick carefully when crossing a bridge, even when it is 800 meters long, like Awa Chūō Bridge which I saw from the plane during the descent towards KIX.
Contrary to the Way of Saint James, walkers are a tiny minority of the pilgrims: a few percent according to Wikipedia, which corresponds to my observations. But on the other hand, walking pilgrims are highly esteemed by the local population. For them, a pilgrim is someone who is doing the pilgrimage on behalf of all those who cannot because they do not have the availability, the means or the fitness. A walking pilgrim often receives heartfelt offerings (mostly food, sometimes small and lightweight hand-made items) which cannot be refused. These offerings are called settai (or o-settai お接待, with an honorific prefix).
The worker on this small road protecting this construction work had seen me coming from far away. When I reached him, he greeted me and gave me these two sweets: o-settai.
There were two crates of oranges offered to pilgrims offered at the next temple (Shikoku is an orange and grapefruit producing region): o-settai.
Some people know that they are on the pilgrims’ way and have already prepared everything: this woman on her bicycle braked hard when she saw me coming, to have me choose a homemade cloth pocket out of dozen in her basket. It contained a pack of tissues and various sweets: o-settai.
The most improbable and memorable settai I received was a full lunch offered in their workplace by the staff of a day care center alongside a street when I was with two Japanese pilgrims.
Because afterwards, the employees asked me if I would tell in English the story of a nearly wordless kindergarten book to the kids. I had time that day: why not? Within a couple minutes, over a dozen of children and staff appeared like magic and sat in front of me, and there I was on my first Japanese day care field training ever.
Settai are as many rays of sunshine which brighten the heart of the pilgrim on his long trail, much like the fact of meeting each other in these temples ignored by the tourists.
The trail is indeed long, and sometimes difficult. Some sections of the Shikoku pilgrimage are called henro korogashi へんろころがし, literally (sections of the path likely to cause) “pilgrim falls”, meaning that these are steep and sometimes slippery mountain trail sections.
All forms of encouragement are welcome there: がんばって下さい (« Cheer up ! »)
A crest trail in Japan is a narrow path with steep slopes on both sides because the mountains are basically volcanic screes whose slopes correspond to the rockslide limit.
Some sections are difficult because of the vertical climb, and others because of their flat monotony. Apart from the surroundings of the city of Kōchi 高知, there are very few temples on the South East coast, where the only road is wedged between the shore and steep terrain covered with dense forests.
Already 46 km since Temple #23, but Temple #24 is still 32 km away.
The only distraction is created by the crossing of a pilgrim in the reverse direction (it is possible to do the pilgrimage counterclockwise: it is more difficult because the markers are not designed for that)
The long section in the Kōchi prefecture is called the Path of Ascetics; I was told that this where many pilgrims on foot give up. Ascetics are also handling dozens of kilometers under an endless rain, with the added bonus of water splashed by passing vehicles (Note that this road to Cape Ashizuri is called “Sunny Road” !).
But there are beautiful picture opportunities too, like these surfers in the early morning on the way to Cape Ashizuri.
Or this couple of pilgrims that I was meeting three days in a row on the trail
Landscapes which unroll slowly in places where the drivers have no place to stop.
Or kilometers of flowers alongside a major road
There are these messages of encouragement to the pilgrims, written by the pupils of a primary school in Kōchi located next to the pilgrims’ way.
And trails going through the rice fields
And even women planting rice by hand (the Japanese pilgrim who was with me that day was amazed that it was still being done this way!)
There is much more to tell and show: see the bonus of the return flight !
Air France Lounge, 2E - Hall K
Paris - CDG
Osaka - KIX
For the sake of coherence, I’ll assume that I had a Business class ticket when grading this flight, but I obviously cannot award a grade other than the maximum to the crew.
The seat was comfortable and I can reasonably guess that one sleeps well in it, but I penalize to poor visibility through the window which matters more to me than full access from the aisle. I did not get to see the dinner in J – it was OK in Y – and the breakfast was decent but not remarkable. I penalize in the entertainment grade the airshow which reverts to loop mode as soon as you stop playing with it and, worse, which does provide not a precise localization.
I was slightly disappointed by the lounge at CDG: the main room was somewhat noisy, the windows provided a worthless outside view and there were few seats close to power ports. I was not impressed by the catering. Apart from that, there was an ample supply of newspapers and magazines and the internet access was OK.
Going through the security check was very fast (my status provided the same experience as a hypothetical passenger in J), but the passport control between Terminals 2E and 2F was understaffed even though there were few passengers. When neither Air France nor French Railways are on strike (I had to wait for one day for that !), the accessibility of CDG only suffers from the poor comfort of the RER –B and also from its limited speed due to the many stops in the suburbs. I penalize the services because no FIDS was displaying information on flights departing from other terminals (it was my fault if I went to the wrong one, but I had to go to an information counter to check the location). Worse, I had reached the airport well in advance as all airlines recommend it and my flight was not yet on the FIDS of CDG-2 station.
The fluidity upon arrival in KIX has become nearly correct thanks to extra staff and machines at the immigration. My luggage was already waiting for me and the connection to internet is fast and efficient in the terminal. Despite the distance from the city, the accessibility of KIX by public transport means is excellent, both by train and by bus.
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