I find Japan charming. It’s got its quirks, and the language doesn’t really help, but people make up for it. My recent visit was the fifth since 2003, and third in as many years.  First the visa – of the many countries and embassies that I go to for visas, Japan is unique that it requires original letters of invitations. printed or e-mailed ones are not acceptable. They need the paper with the squarish red stamp on it. But once you get that piece of invitation, it’s kinda straight forward. No questions asked. I think being the fifth time they weren’t as meticulous as they’d be on a first time visitor though.

Flights to Japan are non-incident in general. But if you fly Thai Airways, you can be sure that the flight to Tokyo possibly gets one of the best planes on the fleet. When i flew last week, it was the latest 777-200ER that they leased from Jet Airways. Given that this was Extended Range (ER) air-craft meant to fly India – USA non-stop, the seat pitch even in economy was really good. So, it was indeed a good flight.

Arrival in Tokyo is fun. They land on the never finished runway with a farm right there in the middle.  The well known story is that the farmer who owns that piece of land didn’t like the way government officials mis-using imminent domain rules to expand the airport that he fought back and the courts ruled in his favour. Meaning that the government can’t force him to sell it. so, the runway remains far shorter then it would have been. you can see this picture http://www.airliners.net/photo//0874120/M/.

The charm of Japan is in its service standards. Even before you hit the Immigration official, you’ll pass through at least two other ‘helpers’ who will check if you have the forms and another one who’ll come walking the queue to see if your forms are filled correctly. I believe that this does save time eventually, but also helps visitors, who has been confined to the airplane for long hours. Even frequent fliers tends to make mistake after being in the sanitized air of an air-craft for longer hours. A little bit of help, does help.

Sometimes the Japanese can overdo the ‘stewards’ bit though. It’s common to walk through a conference or an event in Japan with two stewards standing every corner and every hallway with signs. I’d rather believe that most people attending these events are more than capable of finding their way.

Japanese food is another of its charm. You can get equally interesting boiled, fried, baked and even raw stuff. I prefer shoba noodles to ramen. This time around I got to try some interesting Ekonomi-akai Osaka style- in tokyo. Though for some reason, I didn’t eat any sushi. Time was well spent on other foods.  Even at Narita Airport, there are some good food places now in the Airport Mall. And my highlight was the Hagen-Diaz icecream vending machine.

Departure proceedings in Japan are fairly straight forward, and the ANA lounge was great. I was invited into the first class section by my friend Mr. Toyama. Irrespective of which lounge you are – ANA possibly are the only airlines which has a proper kitchen in the lounge and you can get your choice of noodles at the noodles bar.

Before ending, just so that you don’t think I was in Japan to just have fun, I was there for a reason. I was speaking at a major Japanese Internet Conference -  Interop-Japan. One of the founders of the event Toru Takahashi from IAJ had asked us to be part of a panel on Internet Exchange Points around the World. I was speaking about IXP Trends in Asia Pacific Region. While I didn’t go to any other sessions, as most were in Japanese, the exhibition was enormous. I’ll spare the details, but the highlight was a 100GigE circuit between two Cisco CRS-3. Now beat that.