Rainbow marks new link to Land of the Rising Sun

Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways launch direct flights to Tokyo's Narita airport.

The sushi had been rolled, the route charted and the tickets sold. The cabin lights were dimmed on Emirates Airline flight 318 and the plane headed up the runway at 3.45am on Sunday, five minutes behind schedule, on its inaugural flight to Narita Airport, Tokyo. The flight passed without incident - the Japanese breakfast was worthy of note - and landed at 5.34pm local time to a grey, misty evening.

A pair of water cannons greeted the airliner as the flight touched down, creating a rainbow through which the plane could pass in a ritual thought to bring good luck. Hours earlier, Etihad Airways's inaugural flight to Narita had received the same treatment. The fire crews had been busy with the rainbow welcome and all agreed it was a good day for links between the UAE and Japan. "It's part of a special custom in Asia whenever an airline arrives for the first time at a destination," announced the Emirates captain, as we taxied between the two fire engines. "Don't be alarmed by the sound of water against the plane."

There was a ceremony with orchids, a red carpet and photographers. A red ribbon was cut. "We wanted to come here for a long time and it's been a fantastic reception," said Richard Vaughan, a divisional senior vice president at Emirates. "Thank you for granting our wish. Japanese tourists will be made very welcome in Dubai and the UAE." Emirates flies to more than 100 cities in about 65 countries worldwide. It has flown to Osaka since October 2002, and will now have five flights a week to Tokyo.

Etihad offers flights to more than 60 destinations and will operate five non-stop flights per week to Tokyo, in addition to the flights it began to Nagoya in February. rwright@thenational.ae