During his long and notable career, SWISS Captain Theophil Mueller has experienced Japan a few times and recalls his travel tips by train through the country and shares his story.
1. Please tell us something about yourself. How did you become a pilot?
Theophil Mueller: I grew up together with my siblings, one sister and two brothers. We always lived quite close to the airport and as a young boy my dream was to one day fly an airplane. But in those days it seemed almost impossible for me to become a pilot. However, during my studies in technical engineering I gained enough self-confidence to make that dream become reality. I applied for the selection process at Swissair with the hope of being accepted for initial pilot training at the Swissair Aviation School. In the meantime I have now been flying for more than 32 years. I have had the exceptional opportunity to see the world from above and to explore interesting cities in different countries. I have met many wonderful people and experienced different cultures, which has been an enrichment of my life. Now, together with my wife, I still live quite close to the airport. Unfortunately, none of my three grown up children chose flying as their profession. During my long career many things have changed and the working conditions have become harder but flying is still a dream and I still love my profession.
2. How many times have you flown to Japan? And how many times are you assigned to fly to NRT per year? Or can you request certain routes?
My first flight to Japan was in 1992 as a first officer on the MD 11. Two and a half years later I returned to the short-haul fleet for my upgrading. I returned to Japan again in 2004 as a captain on the Airbus A340. I have not counted up all my flights to Japan, but on average I fly to Narita three to five times per year.
3. Do you have a favourite place you like to visit when you’re in Tokyo?
I don’t have a single favourite place to go in Japan. There are so many places to visit or things to do. For instance, downtown Tokyo is very interesting, with the beautiful parks such as Ueno Park or the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. There is the very modern Tokyo, which you find in Shinjuku with the skyscrapers and the observer level in the government building, the hectic area of Akihabara or Odaiba with the Island Mall and the Toyota Museum. You can do a short boat trip under the 12 bridges to the Asakusa Kannon Temple “Sensoji”. I like also to explore the surroundings of Narita by bicycle or to stay in the nice village of Narita with the temple and the quiet park. For me the best event in Narita is the Narita Drum Festival in April with the big performance at the Narita San Temple.
4. Odakyu Electric Railway has a scenic train that connects downtown Tokyo to a hot spring resort called Hakone. You had the opportunity to experience a trip to Hakone followed by a photo-shooting at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo for the cover of their on-board magazine. How come and what was your first reaction?
Honestly, when Mr. Takeshi Shibata, station manager for SWISS at Narita Airport, asked me to participate in the photo shoot, my first reaction to that request was: “Why me?!” But I have known Mr. Shibata for many years and he explained the details. Now I am a little bit proud that I could take part in this photo shooting for the occasion of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Switzerland. It was a very interesting experience and the new train looks really great. I would like to do a trip on that train, and if it would be possible to do so in one of the front panoramic window seats that would be an exceptional moment.
5. Can you tell us about your trip to Hakone? What did you enjoy the most?
It was a great experience to travel to Hakone on the Odakyu Railway in the “Romance Car”. Also the train ride from Hakone-Yumoto to Gora with the Mountain Railway, Japan’s oldest mountain railway, which is linked with the Räthische Bahn in Switzerland, was fantastic. By the way they are celebrating the 35th anniversary of a “sister railway” relationship! Unfortunately the sun was not in sight and we could not admire Mount Fuji as every visitor would like to do. So this gives me a reason to come back again!
In Hakone we were treated like special guests and could spend the night in the very nice hot spring Hatsuhana Hotel. The guest rooms in this hotel are very spacious and comfortable. The Japanese dinner was the best we have ever tasted. Every dish looked like a piece of art and we were impressed by the selection of the ingredients associated closely to the beautiful four seasons in Japan: during our visit it was summer. The same nice Japanese-style breakfast awaited us the following morning.
6. If you were to recommend Hakone, which season would you suggest? Was the access easy from NRT airport?
I really recommend a trip to Hakone. I personally would visit Hakone during fall when the trees are so colourful and Mt. Fuji gets the first fall of snow. It is not so difficult to make a trip to Hakone when you fly from Zurich. The SWIS route is operated daily, with the flight arriving at Narita the following day at around 8 a.m. There are direct trains from Narita Airport with Japan Railway Line (JR) to Shinjuku aboard the Narita Express (1 hour 20 min). You then take the Romance Car departing from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto (1.5 hours). You will already be there by lunch, or you can enjoy lunch (bento box) on board, as I did, on the Romance Car. Then I think it is best to buy a one-day Hakone free pass which includes all the trains, buses and cable cars in the Hakone area.
Thank you for the interview.
This year in 2014 marks an important year for SWISS in Japan as we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relationship between the two countries.