Writer: Danly Fu, Yasuko Tanaka
We have interviewed the Sydney branch of JAL, one of the sponsors of Matsuri this year. Our discussion not only concerns Matsuri, but also that of the unique long-standing ties JAL has with Australia.
ーPlease tell us about JAL’s flights between Australia and Japan.
Branch manager Takaramoto: It’s been 48 years since JAL started flying to Australia, but there were more flights back then than there are now between Japan and Australian cities such as, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
Roughly 20-25 years ago, essentially 100% of approximately 800,000 customers were Japanese, but as Australia began to lose its popularity as a honeymoon destination along with its economic growth, the number of tourist customers decreased by roughly 300,000 in 2000.
But in recent years, Australia has regained its popularity as a tourist destination, with approximately 420,000 Japanese tourists visiting last year. The number of visitors to Japan has also increased, with 450,000 Australians visiting Japan last year exceeding Japanese tourists in Australia.
And although once in 2010, having closed all the routes between Japan and Australia except the one between Narita and Sydney, this year again in September, we resumed the route between Melbourne and Narita to satisfy growing demands from Japanese business community and Australian states/territories governments. Melbourne is the most populated city in Australia next to Sydney and an also popular place for Japanese business development and as tourists’ destination.
ーHow was the re-opening of the Melbourne-Narita route received?
Mark: We began service on the 2nd of September, and the number of bookings for September and October was definitely higher than we had anticipated. We also received feedback from Australian customers expressing satisfaction for not having to go out of their way to stopover in Sydney.
Takaramoto: Flight ticket were sold very, very quickly, partly with the help of route reopening commemoration campaign held at that time. Well, but it had been a concern– Yes, the route between Sydney and Narita has been getting established now because of its long history but what about Melbourne, will it work?
ーHave there been any particular efforts to increase customers in Melbourne?
Takaramoto: We have done things like sponsoring the Katsushika Hokusai exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria to make JAL a familiar name.
ーHave there been any other particular efforts toward Australians? Or, are there any particular services for customers of JAL’s international flights?
Takaramoto: There are 2 general kinds of services.
The first is our in-flight meals. Until recently we provided meals which appealed to Japanese people, but now we prepare meals which people of non-Japanese background can also enjoy. For example, serving size of foreign cuisine are generally bigger (than Japanese), so even in economy class we provide three side dishes (bread, salad, and dessert) on top of the main, for the satisfaction of our non-Japanese customers.
The second would be with regard to our seats. To provide better seating service to our customers, JAL has a 2-4-2 (8 seats per row) seating system compared to the typical 3-3-3 (9 seats per row) seating system of other airlines. This means that there is roughly 5 centimetres of extra seating space for our customers to comfortably enjoy the flight.
ーIt’s important to pay attention to seating in international flights, isn’t it?
Takaramoto: Indeed it is. Seats are of a private room type in Business and First class, and this “full-flat” type service is something that other airlines also do. But for JAL, reducing the number of seats in economy class not only provides extra comfort, but also helps JAL staff and crew deliver better service based on each and every customer’s needs.
We aim to provide friendly and meticulous service that is unique to Japan.
ーSo do you put effort into different areas in domestic and international flights?
Takaramoto: For domestic flights, it’s more important to be punctual and ease of boarding is also incredibly important. On top of that, we have made Wi-Fi free, so our IT department is also putting effort into making domestic flights more enjoyable.
ーDo you provide any special services that appeal to foreigners to use your domestic flights?
Takaramoto: There is a service which allows customers to fly on the domestic per flight for 10800 yen. This service allows for travel not only to big cities like Tokyo, but also allows customers to travel to other regions.
ーAre there any must-go tourism destinations within Japan?
Takaramoto: Australians are said to love sports, so we plan some package tours something to do with sports, such as cycling tour in Kumano Kodo and Shimanami Kaido. And in Tohoku and Hokkaido East, our foreigner customers can enjoy even lower airfare, per flight 5400 yen.
ーWhere are the popular tourist destinations within the country?
Takaramoto: Niseko and Hakuba, which are famous for their powder snow, have been consistently popular from long ago. Kyoto and Hiroshima which have well known World Heritage Sites with rich histories are immensely popular, too. Furthermore, recently places like Mount Koya have become increasingly well-liked tourist spots.
However, the places we would like to attract visitors to are Tohoku and Kyushu regions, with our hope that we would like to help their reconstruction (from the earthquakes).
ーPlease tell us about the activities you undertook at Matsuri last year, and the response.
Umei: In the JAL booth last year, we had photo opportunities and provided children with pilot, cabin attendant, staff at the airport ground staff, and mechanic costumes, and this had a bigger effect than we had imagined.
For example, even if children were reluctant to take photos, they enjoyed it after being told by their parents “Yes you can, go for it!” (laughs) Apart from that we also prepared a comic foreground for people to take photos.
ーWhat will you be doing for this year’s Matsuri?
Umei: We’re thinking of using the kids’ costume idea from last year as it had a great response. Apart from that we’ll be doing some new things as well.
Takaramoto: Please wait until the day to find out (laughs). Apart from providing activities like last year’s that are enjoyable for children, this year we’re also preparing things that will help adults understand more about JAL.
ーIt looks like we’ll be expecting a wide variety of things at your stall.
Takaramoto: That’s indeed the case.
ーFinally, what is Matsuri to you?
Takaramoto: Seeing Mikoshi (portable Shinto shrine), wearing happi coats… it’s something that both adults and children can enjoy. I think Matsuri day is the day you can enjoy the things that you can’t experience on the every day’s street.
Mark: The first time I went to Japan was in August, but the first memory I have of Japan was a Matsuri. To me, Matsuri is something that makes me think, “this is what Japanese culture is”.
ーThank you so much for your time today.
That brings us to the end of our interview with the Sydney branch of JAL. We hope Matsuri would be some opportunity for Australian people to think “Yes I want to travel to Japan, flying with JAL”, so us Matsuri volunteer staff are trying our best on the last spurt before Matsuri. Thank you to the branch manager Takaramoto, Umei, and Mark for co-operating with us in this interview.