By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Travel & Life Editor
Hirokazu Kurihara couldn’t wait to make the announcement official on Thursday, rushing to the lectern when his name was called.
“It’s been a long time,” he said, trying to hold back a grin. “Too long, but we are returning.”
Kurihara, vice-president and regional manager of Japan Airlines’ Southwest Region, was one of the primary speakers at a luncheon at Yamashiro restaurant in Hollywood, to announce the return of JAL’s direct service between Los Angeles and Osaka.
It’s been more than eight years since then-financially troubled JAL discontinued its non-stop flights to and from the Kanai region of central Japan. With its resumption, the convenient gateway to some of the country’s most popular destinations – including the historic cities of Kyoto and Nara, and L.A. sister city Nagoya – is again available.
“Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city, and we want visitors to feel the energy of the Kansai people,” Kurihara said.
The midday event was put together by JAL and the Japan National Tourism Organization, whose L.A. office is in the heart of Little Tokyo.
JNTO Director Yasuyuki Harada called JAL the “Wings of Japan” and cited a 30 percent increase of foreign visitors to the country over the past year.
“Japan is experiencing an increasing amount of attention because of the Olympics that will be coming in 2020,” Harada explained. “We also want to introduce visitors to the wonders of Japan outside of Tokyo.”
Officials at the gathering estimated that 37,000 passengers annually will make use of the service between L.A. and Kansai International Airport. They also reported that some 900,000 U.S. visitors traveled to Japan in 2014, the most ever.
JAL Director of Southwest Passenger Sales Yukie Morinaga cited the airline’s rating as the number one carrier for on-time performance worldwide in 2012 and 2013. Ratings for 2014 have not yet been released.
“We want to be number one in customer satisfaction in the world, and we are working 24/7 to make this happen,” Morinaga said.
The L.A.-to-Kansai route will utilize the new Boeing 787 “Dreamliner,” the ultra-modern jumbo jet that was grounded for several months in 2013 due to overheating concerns over its lithium-ion batteries.
The 787 has been highly sought by carriers due to its efficient design and its greatly reduced consumption of fuel. On the JAL flights, the 787’s Economy Class cabin has been configured with a 2-4-2 seating pattern, one seat fewer than most other airlines. The two aisles are now nearer to all seats, allowing for easier access.
The airline also announced several new in-flight amenities, including a library of manga comic books in Japanese and English, as well as star chef-created menus, designer amenity kits in Business Class and its Magic-V entertainment system.