Fresh off the plane from our business class flight from Hanoi, we made a beeline for Tokyo Narita’s duty free shops to pick up some shiroi koibito cookies. If you haven’t tried these delightful chocolate sandwich snacks you simply have to pick up a box or two the next time you’re in Japan – they’re a real treat!
Anyway, we had another three hours or so to kill before hopping on our long-awaited First Class flight, so off to the lounge we went. Japan Airlines has two clusters of lounges at Narita Airport, one in the main building and one in the satellite terminal. Both feature a First Class Lounge for First Class passengers and Oneworld Emerald members, as well as a Sakura Lounge for business class passengers and Oneworld Sapphire members.
Our entry to the First Class Lounge in the main terminal was processed swiftly. I asked if I could take a shower, and my boarding pass was promptly exchanged for a shower key.
We walked around the lounge a bit to find a comfortable place to sit, eventually deciding on a spot in the brighter part of the lounge.
The lounge’s decor primarily consists of dark marble and wood, with beige and redcurrant accents. Similar to JAL’s business class seat moquettes, it was a colour palette that I really enjoyed. With daylight streaming in from the windows, about half of the lounge is illuminated, while the other half retains an element of that “posh restaurant” look that's evoked by the dark colours.
There’s plenty of sitting room available throughout, although for a spacious First Class lounge, this place filled up surprisingly quickly in the morning – I’d venture to guess that most guests were Oneworld Emerald members or held equivalent elite status.
In my opinion, part of what makes or breaks a First Class ground experience is the tranquility and exclusivity in the lounge, and there wasn’t much to speak of here during my time in the lounge.
As you walk towards the windows, you approach the main dining area, with yet more seating options available.
Further in the back of the First Class section is the business centre, a smoking room, and a shoe polish service.
Japan Airlines previously offered complimentary massage treatments in their First Class Lounge, although nowadays that's been replaced with electric massage chairs. Automation is killing jobs, I say!
Before eating breakfast, I decided to freshen up first, since we had just gotten off a redeye flight and had another 12-hour flight coming up.
The shower room was slightly on the small side – especially for a First Class lounge – and having brought my duffle bag inside with me, I had to maneuver around the room a little gingerly.
The shower itself was a highlight. Not only was the water pressure extremely satisfying, but you could also choose from a variety of water output modes. I had way too much fun with this feature, alternating between using the rain shower and the wall-mounted nozzles that would spray you horizontally with blasts of water.
After my shower, I had a quick shave and changed into a dress shirt and pants. Perhaps this is old-school of me, but I do feel some kind of obligation to look put-together while flying First Class. I know some people like to “break the mold” by taking their fancy seats in a T-shirt, shorts, and open-toed sandals, but somehow that just doesn’t sit right with me.
Anyway, back in the lounge itself, I headed straight to the buffet to fill up on breakfast. A delightful assortment of breakfast foods was available, ranging from whitefish escabeche to grilled mackerel. The culinary influences were surprisingly varied, since I was expecting there to be mainly Japanese food.
Of course, as is standard throughout airport lounges in Asia, the “token” Western items of scrambled eggs, sausages, and potatoes were also available.
A variety of soups, sweets, and fruits were available as well.
To drink, the lounge offered juice, self-serve beer, espresso drinks, and an wide selection of alcohol (although nothing too fancy).
The standout feature of the food and drink selection was no doubt the in-lounge sushi bar, where three sushi chefs fastidiously prepare handmade sushi for lounge guests. You only get three pieces at a time, although you can always go back for more.
The sushi menu consists of a trio of maguro (fatty tuna), flounder, and tamago, although you can mix and match among these three kinds of sushi for your order. For example, you could ask for two pieces of maguro and one piece of flounder, and on your next order you could get three pieces of maguro, etc.
I think I went back for about five rounds of sushi in total. Eventually I started ordering three pieces of maguro each time, since it’s absolutely delicious and is definitely the best pick among the three options.
After consuming more than my fair share of sushi, I decided to go check out the Sakura Lounge next door and see what it was like. The first thing I noticed is that it's designed in quite an interesting way. Upon entry, you first take an escalator downstairs, where the main seating and relaxing areas are located.
Compared to the First Class Lounge, the decor here makes use of much brighter colours. Combine that with the floor-to-ceiling windows of the atrium area, and the Sakura Lounge can actually feel like a much more airy and comfortable place to kill time.
I especially liked the design of this bar over by the windows.
Nevertheless, it was also a lot more crowded here, and it seemed like there weren't many seats available despite the size of the lounge.
From the atrium, you can take the stairs back up to the Sakura Lounge’s main level, which is where you’ll find the dining area. The food spread here is altogether quite similar to that of the First Class Lounge, with the exception of the on-demand sushi bar.
Back in the First Class Lounge, Jessica and I both agreed that we found the lounge a shade underwhelming, so we decided to spend a little time exploring Tokyo Narita's endless duty-free shops before heading to the gate.
Airlines like Lufthansa have set the bar extremely high when it comes to First Class ground services, and in that regard I couldn't help but find Japan Airlines's flagship First Class Lounge at Tokyo Narita a little disappointing.
Don't get me wrong, it's of course a very comfortable space to kill time before your flight, but there was very little to set the lounge apart from a regular business class lounge. While the made-to-order sushi bar constitutes one notable exception, things like bigger shower rooms and sit-down à la carte dining would certainly go a long way towards bringing JAL's First Class ground experience on par with the rest of the world's leading airlines.
Having said that, our feelings of dissatisfaction instantly evaporated upon boarding the flight itself, where JAL treated us to a tremendous display of luxury all around on our 12-hour flight to Chicago. All the details to follow in the next and final installment of this trip report.