“Only if you’re ugly:” Japanese Low Cost Carriers (LCC)


“The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.”  ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“I’m so ugly – I worked in a pet shop, and people kept asking how big I’d get!”  ~ Rodney Dangerfield

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”  ~ Robert Frost

We all have baggage.

We all have baggage.

“I’m SAR-re, you must out one kilogram,” the Peach Airlines Japanese counter attendant said as we tried to check in for our flight home from Kyoto.

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Do kids get to have heavier baggage, you know, since they weigh less?

Do kids get to have heavier baggage, you know, since they weigh less?

Jody and I were prepared for this eventuality.  We packed for our Far East foray together, sharing one small suitcase because we would be using so much public transportation.  And bringing extra stuff like we always do, we were slightly overweight.  It seems that the Japanese LCCs (Low-Cost Carriers) only allow for 20 kilograms (44 pounds) per checked bags, but will go to 21 kilos (and additional 2.2 pounds) by placing a “HEAVY” tag on the bag, but you can’t pay for any extra weight beyond that absolute cutoff.

Our bags weren't free, but still only $25.

Our bags weren’t free, but still only $25.

Adjusting the bag and taking it back through x-ray, we bring it confidently back up to the counter for re-weighing, and perfect!  We are at 20.6 kilograms.  “Oh-kay,” the attendant says with a beaming, courteous smile like really only the Japanese can provide in a customer service setting!

About all she did was make our carry-ons heavier....

About all she did was make our carry-ons heavier….

She gets out a “HEAVY” tag, and on the back she writes some things.  “You must sign,” she says, still with a smile.

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Not knowing what I’m signing for, I pause.  She must sense my confusion because she continues, “You sign only if you are ugly,” again with a smile.  “So we not responsi-ber because you are ugly.”

This is kind-da how I felt...(sigh).

This is kind-da how I felt…(sigh).

Now both Jody and I are confused.  I smile back, thinking to myself in my inner voice, “Okay, I get it:  all us gaijin look the same.  But did she really just tell us we were ugly?”  And worse, we have to sign and acknowledge that unpleasant characterization?!?

Wait a tick!!  Maybe she’s talking about our luggage!  However, the bag is not that bad as to be summarily and nonchalantly dismissed as ugly, regardless of how much she may be smiling.  The bag may be worn, it is certainly not handsome, and possibly it’s beyond its prime, but ugly?  That’s a little extreme.

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Not satisfied and not understanding what was Lost in Translation in this transaction, I ask – just to be sure – and with my own pleasant but now slightly bruised ego, “What are we signing for?”

“Sign only if you’re ugly!” came another overly cheerful response.  Boy she is “real-ree” happy about me being so unattractive….

No, ThIS is ugly, and certainly no virgin.

No, ThIS is ugly, and certainly no virgin.

Best flight attendant uniform ever.  Or at least since the 40s....

Best flight attendant uniform ever. Or at least since the 40s….

I turn and face Jody, with a grimacing smile that silently says, “Is she really saying that to us?”  Jody, recognizing that all three of us were due for some much-needed clarification, turned to the attendant and asked, “Do you mean ‘HEAVY?’!”

“YES-YES!” came the hurriedly excited reply matched with exaggerated head-nodding.

Whew.  What a relief.  Jody and I aren’t ugly after all.  And neither is our luggage.  Now we’re just…“heavy.”  That’s a lot better than being ugly; nothing a diet can’t take care of….

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I still don't get the whole "Peach" thing.  But sex always sells.

I still don’t get the whole “Peach” thing. But sex always sells.

A LCC (Low-Cost Carrier, aka no-frills, discount or budget carrier or airline, or better yet, plain’ole cheap bastards) is an airline that generally has lower fares but offers fewer amenities.  To make up for revenue lost in decreased ticket prices, the airline often will charge for extras.  They are not to be confused with smaller, regional airlines; LCCs in fact quite often offer wide domestic and limited international services.

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Really, they dress their dude stewardesses in THAT??

Really, they dress their dude stewardesses in THAT??

0020_peach2In 2012, three new budget airlines entered the Japanese market serving Okinawa (where we live), creating increased competition and thankfully much lower fares on several domestic and international routes.  Interesting enough, while competing directly with the established JAL and ANA Japanese full-service airlines, almost 40% of Peach is held by ANA, a direct competitor.

"Cute" in Japan has no price.

“Cute” in Japan has no price.

Yes, that's plastic lawn furniture in their terminal.

Yes, that’s plastic lawn furniture in their terminal.

Yes, that's basically an empty hangar/warehouse....

Yes, that’s basically an empty hangar/warehouse….

The fares offered by Peach were truly unbeatable.  In fact, since they were about 30% (or less) of what ANA or JAL would charge, we actually made inquiries as to their safety, performance, and validity at our on-base Japanese travel agency, who quickly vowed on all three points.  While Peach doesn’t use the standard passenger terminals, which for the Okinawan hub means a bare-bones operations involving plastic lawn furniture and a warehouse like environment, their services, aircraft, and performance were impeccable.  Actually, being in their own terminal building, while necessitating an extra shuttle ride, makes check-in and security quite easy and simplistic:  there were no lines anywhere and we never had to wait for service.  We boarded on-time with seat assignments situated together, and their departure and arrival times were as advertised.  And, they were flying new Airbus aircraft, an industry standard by any means.  The service is so good actually that there is really no need to ever fly with the “heavies” at three times the cost.

Our Peach-sweet ride to Kyoto

Our Peach-sweet ride to Kyoto

In a truly humorous note, the LCC sharing the hangar with Peach is called Vanilla, probably the perfect name for a budget airline!

Peaches and cream.  Sort'of.

Peaches and cream. sort ‘of.

But be careful when you are “ugly.”  These cheap bastards are not afraid of calling you out and making you answer for such transgressions!

Photo-Bombed by the Asian Dude!!

Photo-Bombed by the Asian Dude!!

Lost in Translation


Ichiban in Japanese.

Ichiban in Japanese.

“Ichiban” (Japanese) – literally “first” with an air of superiority; alternatively, “the shiznit” as urban slang….

This is NOT a story about shiznit. It is a story about things getting Lost in Translation, a favorite pastime of the Japanese.Realizing that Jody and I will probably not eat enough Japanese food while living in Okinawa over the next three years (here’s where you should feel the sarcasm dripping down the back of your neck), we decided – after an exhausting day of moving and packing for our Far East Fling – to head over to one of our favorite local Japanese restaurants in Pensacola, Ichiban.

Ichiban has been consistently good, marginally authentic, and we both consider it one of our better Asian-inspired and flavored eateries.  We ask for one of their low tables, the gimmicky ones with a tatami floor, you know, to help us get into the habit of taking our shoes off about five times as often as we ‘Mericans do in the states.  I glance over at the Sushi bar, and I see THREE what appear to be full-blooded and able-bodied Japanese sushi chefs.  No Amerasians or API knock-offs here.  Oh, and they are working in a space the size of small linen closet.  The ambiance is good; picturesque Japanese-themed décor in low light, all seats taken by eager, happy and hungry customers.

Ichiban, Pensacola, FL

Ichiban, Pensacola, FL

And then our overly caucasian waiter shows up.

No problem.  He’s very courtesy, soft-spoken, and by all appearances, seems to be a seasoned waiter capable of handling the most complex of sushi orders.  So, we start to order, and something odd happens….

Jody orders a couple of sushi rolls and asks to leave the cream cheese off, to which the waiter – we’ll call him Gaijin for purposes which complement this blog oh so well (and if you really appreciate this particular vernacular reference, please leave a comment!) – jokes that he too dislikes cream cheese on his sushi and gladly annotates his order-taking/keeping pad just so.  One hopes.

Now my turn.  I order vegetable tempura – a very hard thing to cook properly at home (seltzer water is the key in the batter, but mum’s the word).  One of the primary reasons I asked Jody to marry me stems from our mutual, shall we say, “dislike” of mushrooms, and since the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty keeps me from declaring global thermonuclear war on all mushrooms far and wide, I asked Gaijin to substitute another vegetable in place of ‘shrooms.

He smiles helpfully as he offers his first and almost instantaneous suggestion for a viable substitute for the disgusting and offensive fungi:  cucumbers.

Jody and I share one of those almost imperceptible yet knowing glances with each other, the kind that come only from a deep intimacy, mentally and silently both stating in unison, “cucumber tempura??”  I swear Jody’s lips mimed this phrase!

I look up at Gaijin and smile that kind of smile where you don’t know exactly what to say without embarrassing someone you don’t know nor wish to put on the spot.  I start, trying to buy some time while my mind raced for a more optimal solution, “Well, I was thinking more like….”

“Asparagus?” Gaijin replies.

If we could only empty them on our command.

If we could only empty them on our command.

“Yes,” my response comes, said quickly in relieved fashion.  But then immediately the thought flashes through my mind:  asparagus is not normally a “standard” tempura vegetable.  Way too expensive.  Confusion returns, but all seems well and I really like tempura asparagus, so I let this portion of my order go.  And I continue order udon soup – my favorite Asian soup besides maybe Vietnamese Pho – as my main dinner entrée.

The service is good and attentive, and our drinks and Japanese ginger tea quickly arrive.  But we wait and wait, and for a tempura appetizer, it seems an inordinately long period of time.

And then suddenly food appears.  Jody gets her sushi rolls…as ordered.

And just as suddenly, what appear to be sushi rolls are placed in front of me.  “Veggie sushi roll,” Gaijin speaks softly as he glides a plate in front of me.

Vegetable Sushi - what's the point? And not what I ordered....

Vegetable Sushi – what’s the point? And not what I ordered….

“Oh I don’t think so!” I reply.  Now he looks as equally perplexed.  “No, I ordered the vegetable tempura.”  More bewilderment as you can literally see the waiter replaying in HIS mind the order-taking process from 15 minutes prior, but surely one of fifty tonight to try and remember, and no doubt, one of hundreds for the week which would befuddle even the most proficient of servers.

Weird yet Official Signage in Japan

Weird yet Official Signage in Japan

No problem.  Mistakes happen.  And as quickly as the food was placed, it was removed while Gaijin retires to correct his mistake.  In the meantime, my soup does arrive.  As ordered, mind you, but not as prepared as it is in the orient.  Nor does it taste even remotely like even the shadow of an udon soup bowl in the Far East….

Delicious Udon Soup.  It awaits me somewhere in Okinawa....

Delicious Udon Soup. It awaits me somewhere in Okinawa….

Jody and I, however, make the best of our situation and endeavor to happily enjoy our food, talking about how much we look forward to eating out in Okinawa.

And my tempura arrives….

An official boatload of tempura....

An official boatload of tempura….

…to our shock and awe.  And even speechless amazement.

It is a “tempura boat” dinner entrée!  I literally have never seen more tempura on one plate – which happens to be one of those cheesy boats so often used in American Asian food – in my life.  Certainly easily enough to feed a table of four, if not six comfortably.  So large, in fact, that it’s quite ridiculous not just to be placed on my table, but served with another entrée item off the menu…to a single diner.

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At this point really all we can do is laugh.  And we do.  However, as I’m smirking about the foolishness of this particular situation, I do tell Gaijin that what and all I really wanted was a couple of hot, succulent, perfectly breaded pieces of tempura.  Well, actually no, I didn’t say exactly that; I did say that I wanted the appetizer tempura, and at this point, Gaijin offers a final apology and retires quickly, and quite unexpectedly extricates himself from the awkward situation.  Of his making.

Needless to say, the attentiveness to our needs for the remainder of the evening was significantly curtailed.

So, this actually turned out to be the perfect way to prepare if not wet our expectations – and our taste buds – for our upcoming Far East Flirtations with any number of forthcoming culinary adventures.  We, at least, can be assured that our wait staff overseas will be…for sure Japanese…and mostly correct in translation, even though quite certainly English will be at least their second language.

And hopefully, god willing, this will be our LAST silly gaijin-boatload of tempura.

PS – if you couldn’t figure out or decipher the featured graphic, below you’ll find the key:

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