We are already somewhat on the way back after a fascinating week based in Hachijōjima.
We have been lucky with the weather which did not disrupt our unforgettable 24 hour trip to Aogashima, but already in that morning, this picture that I did not enhance illustrates the day’s weather: rotten, even if it generates a beautiful light on the black shore made of former lava flows.
It is raining cats and dogs when our Japanese friend drives us to the airport, going one last time through this tunnel under the runway.
Not only it is raining hard, but the wind is blowing in strong gusts : see the palm trees in two pictures a few seconds apart from each other when driving into the airport’s free parking lot.
The control tower
And the terminal
The local airline’s counter airside is empty, which is not surprising: TAL’s helicopter leaves at 9:20 to Aogashima and finishes its daily routine at 16:00, flying back from Mikurajima.
Since we have arrived very early like for our flight to Aogashima, the waiting time for checking-in is minimal
There is seat map on the counter, but it is of little help, since it is that of a 737-800 and therefore not relevant for a flight in an A320. There is also a reminder on the right that you can use a smartphone BP if you already checked in (which I did, but paper BPs are great souvenirs ;)
Like in HND, I showed my printed reservation, and received our BPs in no time.
Checked luggage foes through this machine left of the counter, similar to that used by the security check.
Our checked suitcase has already started to gain weight
There it is among the other departing pieces of luggage. There is little risk of not seeing at destination: ANA has flights to HND only from this airport and it is the last one in the day, so everything must go.
But will everything go tonight ? The flight is listed “Weather check" on the FIDS, a word for word translation from Japanese which means that it is pending weather conditions
To drive the message home, the checking agent shows me this page of his bilingual manual of messages to foreign passengers.
Since we have a lot of time, let’s have a second look at the local delicacies proposed in the landside shop at the far end of the terminal:
ashitaba 明日葉 ("tomorrow’s leaf", because a young leaf appears the next day one has been cut), alone or with tea
Dried flying fish sliced lengthwise
Sake, but I haven’t seen rice fields on the island. (And again under the bottle, a wealth of food products containing ashitaba, often written あしたば in syllabic script)
And various trinkets using locally tinted and woven silk.
I’ll go back on all this too in the bonus in the end of this report.
No need to rush to go through the security check hidden by these moveable panels.
NH communicates also in Hachijōjima about its A380s which will serve the route to Hawaii, which is quite ironical because the economic decline of Hachijōjima as a tourist destination started when the Japanese were at last allowed to go abroad in the 1960s, and in particular to Hawaii.
This is the access to the observation deck. My wife and my Japanese friend carefully remained downstairs sheltered from the wind and the rain.
In case you have a doubt, this is a confirmation that we are at Hachijōjima Airport.
Do not climb!
The tarmac is evidently empty on both sides : there is only one movement left today, that of our plane coming in from HND.
The A320 took off from HND half an hour ago and is expected in HAC at 16:53
Where is the plane?
It is 16:30 and Flight NH1896 to HND is posted as departing at 17:20
But when I return to the observation platform at 17:09, there is still no aircraft on the tarmac
Still nothing at 17:21. Where is then this aircraft which was expected to land at 16:53? It does not even appear on Flightradar24.
I’m not alone on the observation platform : there are some other passengers on the lookout despite the rain, with increasing worries about the future – especially the Japanese lady with a beige bag
Reactors rumbling overhead : an A320 appears briefly high up before vanishing again in the clouds. She has actually been circling around HAC for over half an hour.
Last attempt at landing in Hachijōjima
I shuttle between the platform and the landside hall downstairs, which is where I hear this announcement in Japanese only, which says something like : - The plane from Haneda will make a third and last attempt at landing. If this is not possible, she will return to Haneda and the flight will be cancelled.
Better be on the safe side : the firemen drove their trucks out of their shelters.
The Japanese passengers peer at the clouds just at intently as I, and we are all becoming very wet.
We spot at last the silhouette of the plane aligned in the distance on Runway 08
The Japanese lady who is so anxious of leaving this evening takes a picture of the final descent
She is now really low : there seems to be a good chance this time
The glide path is such that we can see her continuously without her being hidden by the terrain
Severely crabbed landing due to the strength of the crosswind
With commendable talent, the pilot straightens the aircraft at the very last moment and lands her softly on the drenched runway, deploying the thrust reversers immediately
The A320 runs past the terminal, spraying a trail of splashed water
… down a runway which would be one hundred meters too short with zero wind and maximum landing weight
She of course stops well before the end of the runway and taxies back to the terminal. It is time to go back inside
Farewell to my Japanese friends who has been a perfect guide during this week together, and going through the security check, receiving again a certificate (on yellow paper).
Ten minutes for boarding
The boarding room has of course not changed since our trip to Aogashima : enough seats for a full plane, nearly all oriented towards the windows
There is small shop selling standard items behind ; I did not check them.
HAC’s only boarding gate
The flight is listed delayed to 18:00
And the boarding time is displayed on the screen on the left: 17:50, i.e. ETD - 10’!
We took earphones, but forgot to test them once on board
The staff announces the boarding, again by zones, which is not really relevant in this flight whose load factor is as low as on the way in. But like on the way in, I board in Zone 3 (window seat) whereas my wife boards in Zone 4 (aisle seat).
Going down the airbridge
Attempt at a fuselage shot
PlayStation and door shot
A sweet is offered by a FA at the door.
The cabin has again old-style seats
The windows are poorly aligned at Row 6 (unlike on an AF A320, because the seat pitch is not the same), which is no big issue on what is going to be mostly a night flight
… and a very rainy flight before that.
Of the seat width in an A320
Looking towards the front of the cabin
We gambled again on neutralizing the middle seat
It was an easy bet : the load factor is like on the way in around 40%. This empty middle seat provided me a chance to discover an unexpected seat layout detail.
An Economy seat in a European A320 (AF, LH,…) is always 46 cm wide between armrests, but it is more complex with ANA. The window and aisle seats are 44 cm wide, and the armrest on the window side is closer to the cabin wall than in Europe:
The 4 cm in width gained on both sides make it possible to widen the middle seat to 50 cm between armrests, thereby offsetting the fact that it is usually the least desirable seat.
The carpeting is clean
The safety card both sides
The plane taxies the short distance to the runway
Then taxies up the runway ; the terminal appears faintly
The air sock is horizontal
It’s Runway 08 of course ; I have no illusions about the chances of taking good landscape pictures during the take-off.
Bye-bye, Hachijōjima ! We look forward coming back some day !
My chances of seeing the top of the southern volcano is of course nil : it is in the cloud cover.
Flight attendants - the ANA experience
A FA passes to offer the second sweet of ANA’s standard offering, once we are at cruising altitude
All this picture taking did not go unnoticed by the FAs, and two of them came later propose by sign language (because I could not be presumed to speak any Japanese, and their English was maybe limited to the essential minimum) to take a souvenir shot of us. We are not selfie-inclined, but it would have been impolite to decline. (I see no point in posting the picture with our faces blurred.)
They came back some time later to offer us two sets of ANA postcards, doing every inch of the extra mile for these two somewhat elderly foreigners who obviously want to keep so many mementos of this flight out of the beaten path: maybe their third trip to Japan as the passengers with whom I chatted on the observation platform guessed , when we were on the lookout for the incoming plane ? :)
It is still daytime at cruising altitude
… but the sun sets
Descent to the clouds.
view towards the rear of the cabin
HND by night
The east coast of the bay of Tokyo, in Chiba prefecture
The bright line is the bridge section of the Aqualine, the bridge-tunnel which crosses the bay
Nondescript landing, taxiing and arrival at the gate
The passengers raise only when the seat belt sign is extinguished
The (seriously blurred) plane door
Solaseed Air 737
Il won’t see more of the A320 which brought to HND
Air Do 737
Another 510 meters to go
These corridors are so long in HND ! (They feel long partly because they are in a straight line. We’ll realize in the luggage room that we have not walked during that much time.)
The windows are plane spotter-friendly, but the reflections are challenging at night, like on this ANA 787
Reaching the checked luggage delivery room
The list of cities from where the planes came this evening
In the mean-time, we go to the toilets which are by default PRM-compatible.
Only two minutes waiting time for our checked luggage, and, even more significant, only ten minutes since deplaning : how many major airports do as well?
As you most probably know, HND is served by a monorail, a technological curiosity which is nearly always by Hitachi, each directly or under license, like for instance in Chongqing or in Kuala Lumpur.
This train has been designed inside for passengers with luggage
Connection at Hamamatsuchō (the last station of the monorail line) with the Yamanote line, and arrival in our hotel belonging to a Japanese chain that we like for its onsen at the disposal of its customers at the top floor.
This is the end of this FR; I know propose an optional bonus on Hachijōjima , complementing that of the report of the flight to HAC
Bonus : Hachijōjima’s tourism potential
Apart from visiting friends and family like us, why do people visit Hachijōjima for private reasons? These are some answers.
Bonus : Click here display hide
Unlike Aogashima, Hachijōjima is easy to get to, because it is served by three daily flights from HND, plus occasional charter flights from other cities, and the fares are affordable. The A320s may have problems landing, even outside the typhoon season, but this is not a major issue. There is also a night ferry which is not much cheaper than flying. Going to Hachijōjima for tourist reason is therefore a realistic reason : the attractions are not first class, but I did see rental cars here and there (they can be identified by their specific registration number), like on the road going up the side of the southern volcano.
It avoids this cape
And provides a beautiful panorama with Hachijō-kojima (Little Hachijō Island) on the horizon.
Lots of rain all year round on a mountainous terrain is a guarantee for waterfalls, like this one where the trail goes behind it under a rocky overhang
You can find local newts downstream, on the ground
… or in the water
We had of course planned to climb Hachijōjima’s Mt Fuji, much lower than its world famous cousin, all the more that a road goes up most of its height, providing a view of Hachijō-kojima from above
The cloud cover was unfortunately much too low that day : even the ranch which is a local attraction (can you believe it : cows in semi-freedom in pastures!) was buried in fog.
The local cultural center proposes a daily one hour show of dance …
…and of taiko太鼓 – the traditional big Japanese drum : the level was nowhere near that of the professionals of Sado Island, but it was nevertheless pleasant.
Hachijōjima has an interesting botanical garden located within walking distance of the airport’s terminal, a noteworthy attraction in case of a day trip out of HND (I would recommend renting a car to make the best out of the time there, though)
This is also where the island’s tourist office is located, and it is worth visiting too.
The abundant tourism literature is in Japanese only, but you should not miss these apparently nondescript small mushrooms displayed in a small cabin closed by a heavy black velvet curtain which makes sense when you close it after entering
… because these mushrooms endemic in Hachijōjima are unusual in being bioluminescent in darkness. They are not edible, which defeats any creative use of these curiosities.
Hachijōjima’s craft include weaving silk after dying with local natural means including in particular specific tree barks.
Four workers are working in this workshop open to visitors, using weaving looms similar to those which can be seen in other countries…
… in the continuous clatter of their shuttles.
Natural resources are limited to geothermal power : this station provides in one year only 3 days of the island’s electricity consumption, i.e. less than 1%. The rest is provided by undersea cables from the mainland.
This one, on the other hand, is a real onsen, with the peculiarity that it is not strictly symmetrical, because men and women can use the most attractive pool (with the best view on the ocean) on alternating days (my wife got it when we came). This time, it was really too bad that there was no mixed bathing (a vanishing breed of Japanese onsen), because my friend and I saw four whales swimming past off shore, and we had no way to tell my wife to look. Any equipment which could take pictures is a no-no in an onsen and they were too far away for taking a decent picture anyway. (I exceptionally use a commercial picture here.)
Whales do cruise in the vicinity of Hachijōjima in winter; whale watching is part of the attractions of the island, with some luck of course. We later looked for a long time from the decorative pool in the public area after we were all together again, and then the next day off a different shore, but we never saw them again.
I don’t have pictures of a whale, but at least I have picture of whale decorated local bus.
There are whale watching boat tours from Hachijōjima, and also boat tours from neighboring Mikurajima to go swimming with dolphins, but these are the only ones we saw.
Local food is also part of the attractions of Hachijōjima. You can’t eat omelets with bioluminescent mushrooms, but you can eat flying fish which is caught in winter until mid-May. This fish is sufficiently iconic in Hachijōjima to be the decoration of the panoramic road appearing in the first picture of this bonus.
This fish has a light distinct taste that I liked, although I would not make it my favorite one. This is the sashimi in the background here.
You can also eat turtle legs in this no-frills restaurant installed in a former warehouse..
They are unrelated with the protected turtles which come ashore to lay their eggs on some beaches of de Hachijōjima ! What the Japanese call kamenote 亀の手 (« turtle leg ») due to their faint likeness are actually barnacles (Capitulum mitella) which you break with bare hands before eating the inside. It is a lot of messy work for not much reward, actually.
Much more upscale, you have this restaurant which does not look like much from the outside, which is often the case of the best restaurants and traditional hotels in Japan.
There, in a room decorated with beautiful calligraphies (Left : Education is the responsibility of the country Right : Luck comes when staking on virtue)
And protected by a shintō altar up on the wall
… we have lunch in a private room on tatami mats. A merciful low seat was provided to my wife : this small piece of furniture is increasingly available – a sign among many others of the aging of Japan’s population.
A glimpse at the meal which was on par with the local renown of the place.
I saw in the kitchen these flying fish heads creatively displayed for other guests, with the fins turned toward the front.
This is one of them, displayed by a kitchen staff
Enjoy your meal, and thanks for reading me !
Hachijojima - HAC
Tokyo - HND
There is a fan-club look in my ratings where the only below par evaluation is that of ANA’s minimal catering, but facts are facts.
Top grade for the seats : they may look old-fashioned but they are very comfortable, with an increased width for the middle seat which is usually the worst one in a row. An ANA flight to another destination would probably have a better load ratio, but the seat layout would be the same.
Top grade for the crew : for the pilots who made a perfect landing in challenging weather conditions, but without compromising safety since cancelling the landing (and therefore the flight out of HAC) was seriously considered. And for the FAs too for their extra attentions towards passengers keenly interested in the flight and the plane : I never experienced this in Europe.
Entertainment on board is limited to the ordinary in-flight magazine (with the quite out of the ordinary presentation of ANA’s flight, which was in my FR of the incoming flight)
Straight A for HAC and HND where fluidity, accessibility and services are top class, with cleanliness on par with Japan’s very high standards.
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