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Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008

JAPAN LITE

Japan takes flight


I have been thinking a lot about airlines recently, specifically the naming of them.

Consider Japan Airlines, for example. In 2001, Japan Air System merged with Japan Airlines, perhaps because they found that people were reluctant to travel on an "air system."

"Honey, my flight arrived a day early. We left on a low pressure system and it turned into a typhoon."

On the other hand, maybe they changed the name from "air system" because too many customers called up asking them to come fix their air conditioners.

There is also the outside chance that "Japan Air" System means that only Japanese air would be used. In that case, I wonder how they could know that the air they use is Japanese and hasn't, for example, blown in from Siberia. Perhaps the air particles are more polite?

Nonetheless, Japan Air System in the '90s was famous for its abstract rainbow designs on the sides of its planes, many of which were designed by film director Akira Kurosawa.

In 2004, Japan Air System and Japan Airlines (JAL) merged to form Japan Airlines System. So, whereas before you could fly in on an air system, now you could fly in on an airline system. I like airline system better than either air system or airway. Japan Airways would sound like you are going to descend through the Japanese nasal passages.

And did you know that JAL is the official airline of Tokyo Disneyland? This is important, because without this link, there would be no Disney designs painted on large, pink airplanes. These designs are more properly called ''riveries," perhaps because these images are ''riving" on the side of the plane. Imagine being Snow White, living on the side of a JAL plane at 40,000 feet, in searing winds. And all that taking off and landing every day!

Disney livery designs may not be such a crazy idea though. Perhaps the overzealous Japanese marketers are just trying to market Disney to the avian species. And it does seem to work. Many birds do stop at Tokyo Disneyland along their migration paths. And why not? If you had as many frequent flier miles as they do, you'd probably go too.

Hokkaido has some interesting airline names too. Hokkaido International Airlines is an "international" airline that flies only between the nations of Hokkaido and Tokyo. It is more commonly called "Air Do," an abbreviation using the "do" (pronounced doh) at the end of the word "Hokkai-do." If you look at the kanji for Hokkaido, however, you will notice that "do" is the same kanji as that used in "the way of," as in the way of the sword, or yai-do, or the way of tea, or cha-do. Thus, perhaps Air Do really means "the way of the air." The Japanese have elevated flying to such an art that when the plane is descending it is said to actually be bowing.

But then again, maybe Air Do is really supposed to be spelled Air Doh! and is the airline of Homer Simpson.

Hokkaido also has its own air system. Now in its 10th year, Hokkaido Air System flies around only Hokkaido. Makes you wonder what kind of an air system Hokkaido would have that would be different from the rest of Japan. A system that runs on Hokkaido bio-fuels: potatoes and lavender? Or one that flies in the trajectory of a potato? Surely they should be able to offer flights between Hokkaido and Idaho, both potato-loving parts of the world. They could call it the HokkaIdaho Air System and it could run on biofuel made from potato shochu.

While we're talking about airline names, I'd like to bring up a question about airline IATA codes as well. These are the letters that appear in front of your flight number. The airline code for Japan Airlines is JL and the code for American Airlines is AA. So why is the code for Malaysia Airlines MH? There is no H in Malaysia Airlines.

But I think I've finally figured it out. MH doesn't stand for Malaysia Airlines, it stands for Malaysia Hairlines.

Now that would be an interesting air system to fly.



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