Founded by pioneers under the watchful eyes of the Americans, Hokkaido in many ways is Japan’s new world, taking days to travel from Tokyo by ship. With a fusion of Western and Japanese influences, its craft beer and dairy products have won fans from around the world. For followers of more traditional fare like sashimi and sushi, its proximity to both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan ensures a constant supply of the freshest crab, octopus and every kind of seafood imaginable.
These days, Australian adventurers in search of the freshest cuisine and snow powder can reach Hokkaido in less than 11 hours, courtesy of new direct services from Sydney to Sapporo from 16 December 2019 and March 2020, cutting travelling times by two hours to Japan’s winter festival capital city of Hokkaido. While the launch fares are higher than those for the inaugural services to Osaka in 2017, the flight to Sapporo is an hour longer and does not support a 24 hour turnaround service for the Airbus 330 aircraft. QF 39 flies from Sydney on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 0930 and arrives at Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport at 1835. QF 40 from Sapporo to Sydney are all evening departures, leaving at 2005 with a morning arrival into Sydney at 0905. The success of this flight means that it is likely to be available for the 2020/21 winter season in Japan.
Full service flights between Australia and Japan in the peak northern winter holiday season usually cost $1400 or more on Japan Airlines, Qantas or ANA, the three direct service carriers, but only Qantas is offering a direct service to Sapporo. Qantas Frequent Flyers can redeem 70,000 points plus $330.24 in taxes for a classic reward flight in economy class, however there is no or limited seats for classic rewards in the peak periods between January and early February. Instead, indirect flights via Osaka or Tokyo on Jetstar or Qantas are available for redemption. March 2020, on the other hand have reward tickets and fares from $1,100 return. Qantas also offers overnight flights from Sydney to Tokyo, allowing visitors the convenience of going to Sydney Airport straight after work in the evening and being able to ski or snowboard in Hokkaido the next day.
One of the best times to visit Northern Japan is in February and March. There is excellent snow cover, with fewer crowds after Chinese New Year and Australian school holidays. Discover another side of Japan with some of the lesser known festivals, such as the Koide International Snowball Fight, Asahikawa Winter Sculpture Festival and the Yubari Fantastic Film Festival. A Japan Rail Pass is great way to travel around Hokkaido and Honshu, and to experience the marvel that is the Japanese rail system, with Shinkansen bullet trains now available from Shin-Hakodate to Aomori and Tokyo. Remember, this is the country where engineers and town planners spend their whole life making trains run even one minute faster. And even away from the bullet train, there are high quality services and frequencies on the other trunk lines. Fancy a spontaneous day trip to Otaru, Asahikawa or Niseko from Sapporo? Well with a rail pass this is even easier and more flexible.