Japan 2023 Winter Day 1: Planes & snow

Our flight should have got to Japan at 6am but Saturday flights from London to Tokyo now only leave in the late afternoon, meaning we lost a whole day in Japan. Our flight from Heathrow left at 17:45 and we didn’t reach Haneda until 15:30 the next day. The new flight route had added 3.5 hours onto the flight, and my travel sickness did not appreciate that.

Entering Japan now the borders have re-opened is a very different experience. There were hoards of workers as soon as you step off of the plane who are there to direct you to the Visit Japan website so you can show your QR code in order to skip ahead in customs queues. We were told prior that screenshots or print-outs of the QR codes were accepted, but this was not the case on arrival. We had to quickly access the free Wi-Fi in the airport in order to show a “live” QR code. Luckily I had anticipated issues and so we had the web page open on both of our phones so we were able to show them quickly. Once we had our green piece of paper in hand we were able to queue up for immigration. I was shocked to see how many people were not wearing masks, even with a sign every few meters reminding people to wear masks (they were still a requirement at this point). It didn’t take too long to get through quarantine, collect our luggage and be out the other side.

We were catching a domestic flight following our arrival in Haneda to Shin-Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. Unfortunately, when our flights were rebooked when our original morning flight was canceled, they didn’t leave as much room between our arrival and departure. It was quite a rush after getting our bags, trying to grab drinks, and catch the connecting bus from terminal 3 to terminal 1. The bus was *busy* and mainly filled with people holding snowboards and skis, all catching the same flight.

Squeezed onto the bus we headed to terminal 1, the shuttle bus is a regular city bus, quite unprepared for people with airplane luggage, or snowboards! Terminal 1 was quite a shock after the expanse of terminal 3, it was hectically busy and it was difficult to find what gate to get to. We found a place to drop off our luggage, and the security agents were very keen to check all of my photography and videography gear – particularly my drone batteries which were checked individually and their serial numbers compared.

The plane was absolutely full of screaming children, and my travel sickness was greatly unimpressed, so it was quite an unpleasant flight up to Hokkaido. Landing in Shin-Chitose was interesting, it had been a while since we had visited a small terminal. The flight was delayed and so the taxi we had booked to take us to our hotel was waiting, luckily we booked with a 45-minute delay option, so we were sure we wouldn’t have been stood up. It was great to see a smartly dressed man holding a sign with my name, I felt like someone from a movie. We were kindly ushered to a large electric car, with beautifully embroidered seats. It was about an hour from the airport to Sapporo city, and the snow just got deeper and deeper as we went, I was so excited!

The car dropped us off outside of our hotel, the only issue is there was a three-foot-deep mound of snow between us and the pavement. It was such fun clambering over the snow, trying to get out bags out of the car and onto dry ground.

We checked into our hotel, and it was my first opportunity to practice my Japanese, and it was, luckily, a success. They had our mobile Wi-Fi unit for us to collect, and so once in the room, we were connected, and able to rest for a moment. It was now 10:30pm, we had been traveling for over 20 hours, but I wasn’t sleepy, not wanting to waste the snowy night we donned our snow boots, ski jackets and hat and went to explore.

This is my first time going on a snowy holiday, coming from the UK holidays are meant for hot weather, but now snow is my firm favourite. It was great to explore the streets and see the Japan I know look new under the snow. After wandering around we grabbed some snacks from the conbini under our hotel, and finally went to sleep.

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