As a not avid but long time smoker, something I enjoy about foreign airports is that their assholes aren’t so tightened by political stupidity that they’ve banned smoking rooms. I understand that non-smokers don’t want to inhale smoke, but I also think it’s wrong to punish smokers, or inconvenience them, for doing something that isn’t illegal. Singapore’s Changi Airport has smoking rooms. Japan’s Narita Airport has smoking rooms. Germany’s Frankfurt Airport has smoking rooms. NAIA in the Philippines doesn’t have a smoking room, but the Philippines tries to emulate all the laws the US passes, and that airport just sucks anyway, so it doesn’t count.
On a long-haul flight from Manila in the Philippines to New York City, that stop at Narita is a small blessing if you’re a smoker. I’ve gone through there twice, in different areas each time, and in both instances a smoking room was conveniently placed for people on short or long layovers.
The smoking rooms are completely closed in with tinted glass windows and doors that you open by pushing on a pad on the door, located where a handle would normally be. Inside is a vending machine, lots of benches, a television, cigarette butt receptacles / ashtrays and even a stand with car-style lighters for people who forgot those or couldn’t get their lighter through security at their point of origin.
When I sat down in the smoking room it had a really relaxing atmosphere. There was an assorted crowd inside that fluctuated constantly as people rushed in and rushed out to head to their gates. I saw Japanese businessmen talking in clipped tones, likely about some upcoming project, convention or deal. I saw airline attendants, Japanese and otherwise, enjoying their breaks. There were plenty of travelers, mostly Asian, lounging with dazed looks on their faces.
While there, a traveler that looked like he was from the Middle East was trying to give away a meal voucher he had. He asked me if I had time ‘til my next flight and told me about the voucher, asking if I wanted it. I only had a few minutes left by that point so I declined. It was odd, but he went around almost the whole room before running into someone that would take it from him. It’s possible that everyone had a connecting flight coming up shortly, but I think it’s more likely that most people just won’t take something free, because scams are so prevalent. No one wants to get suckered.
Another guy I spoke to was from the US. He was on his way back home to pick up his dogs and bring them back to Japan. That sparked a long conversation about pet importation, since I had my cat Marble with me on my flight, importing her to the US, and had previously imported her and three other cats to the Philippines from Singapore. Japan is pretty strict on their import requirements, especially compared to the US which barely asked me for any documentation at all for Marble and didn’t require an import permit.
Narita as a whole is a very modern, attractive airport that reminded me of Changi and the airport in Kuala Lumpur. My only complaint about the place is that it didn’t have free wi-fi throughout the terminal, though I did find a wi-fi kiosk sponsored by Google. The catch was that after registering to use the service, you were presented with an advertisement encouraging you to download the latest version of Google’s browser, Chrome.
Leaving Narita and arriving at JFK in New York was like leaving a posh neighborhood and stepping into the projects. JFK even smells funny, but from what I’ve been told it’s common knowledge that the place is a dump in serious need of remodeling. One of the most interesting thing about Narita, though, are the toilets. Have a look for yourself:
These types of toilets are common in Japan. The one pictured above had a heated toilet seat and a sprayer that you could use to clean your backside. It also had a blow dryer that would dry your backside after it was sprayed clean. Even if I’d needed to use them, I don’t think I would, since it was a public toilet. I spent about five minutes looking at the toilet bowl from different angles, trying to figure out where the spray and blow drying would come from, but I gave up. If I ever have a chance to stay in a hotel in Japan, I might give it a try. Or France. I hear they’re used there too.
Passing through Narita is, overall, a pleasant experience with a clean environment, satisfactory amenities and interesting people watching opportunities.