Hokkaido, with its numerous nature parks, dairy farming and stunning seasonal colours, offers a great alternative to the typical tourist route and has become increasingly popular with skiers wishing to experience the fine powder snow which makes for a world-class winter sports destination.

“Japan’s appeal has increased as the yen has fallen in value against the pound by 24.7% over the past five years, turning a country that was once regarded as a luxury destination for the few into a now affordable option for many."

YUMI TAKAKUBO, HEAD OF TRADE PARTNERSHIPS AND MARKETING, JNTO

Perfect 10

  1. Drift ice: Strong seasonal winds from Siberia cause drift ice to form across the Okhotsk Sea. From January to March experience this marvel with a snowshoe walking tour, boat trip or even hot air balloon ride at sunset

  2. Nature watching: Get as close as you dare to over 200 brown bears that reside on the Shiretoko Peninsula or book a whale-watching cruise to see orca and sperm whale

  3. Tea ceremony: The matcha tea ceremony has been part of traditional Japanese culture for centuries. It’s a quiet celebration performed with grace and beauty

  4. Winter sport: Hokkaido accumulates some of the finest powder snow. From November-March it’s a winter sports haven

  5. National parks: Discover the many national parks of Japan. Akan National Park has several trekking routes, providing magnificent views of Mt Meagan and Lake Onneto, a spectacular scene in autumn

  6. Culinary delights: Wonder around the daily fish markets and indulge in some of the freshest sushi. In autumn, chestnuts are a staple ingredient used in many dishes.

  7. Stay on a farm: Hokkaido is the country’s most agriculturally rich prefecture, known for its dairy products including Camembert cheese. Many now offer accommodation for those wishing to experience rural life

  8. Traditional dance: The indigenous Ainu people have been around since the 13-century, residing in the northern island of Japan. Witness their traditional dance ceremony and amazing woodwork creations

  9. Hot spring onsen:Part of Japanese culture for thousands of years, onsens offer the chance to relax and experience the healing powers of natural volcanic waters

  10. Crane spotting: The red-crowned crane is symbolic of Japan. Over 1,000 crane flock to the winter feeding site at Kushiro Marshland. Visitors can watch them dance. 

Falling for Hokkaido

As I walk through tree-lined streets, I’m struck by the colourful display on show. But it’s not cherry blossom season and the streets aren’t dusted with little pink flowers – it’s autumn here in Hokkaido and the trees are gold!

The cherry blossom season is one of the country’s major tourist attractions, but ask any of the locals here and they’ll tell you to come in autumn. The changing leaves blend from green to red with a final show-stopping gold blaze from late September until mid-October, before succumbing to a long winter – and it is a long winter.

Lasting from the end of October until March, the north of the country gets some of the deepest powder snow in the world, but the Japanese have the perfect solution to those cold winter nights.

My first experience of onsen – natural volcanic hot springs – arrives when my tour guide announces it is as part of my hotel package. I turn to her and voice my disappointment at missing out, due to my lack of a bathing suit. “Do not worry, for the onsen you must go in completely naked” she replies. These are words that send terror through me to my very core.

However, more than anything onsen is focused around cleanliness and the springs are usually separated by gender. It is believed that the waters have healing qualities for ailments ranging from skin conditions to cancer and leave visitors feeling healthy and rejuvenated.

Right, in I go…

What’s new

Airlines: All Nippon Airways, has introduced the Airbus A321neo to its fleet. The aircraft is now servicing domestic routes to/from Tokyo/Haneda Airport.

Japan Airlines has launched a new direct flight between London and Tokyo Haneda. The airline operates four flights daily to and from Japan with partner airline British Airways.

Hotels: Marriott International has unveiled five new hotels across Japan, including Izu Marriott Hotel Shuzenji and Nanki-Shirahama, just south of Osaka

Mitsui Fudosan Group has launched two new luxury hotels under the brand name The Celestine Hotels as part of its wider plans to open 10,000 new hotel rooms in Japan by 2020

Guntu – a new luxury floating hotel – takes passengers on a one-, two- or three-night journey through the scenery of the Seto Inland Sea.

Club Med will introduce its brand-new hotel Club Med Tomamu next month (December), located on the Tomamu mountain. 

Attractions: The first Super Nintendo World is coming to Universal Studios Japan, featuring globally known characters and game worlds from Nintendo. The park is scheduled to open in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

A Studio Ghibli theme park will open by 2020 near Nagoya. Ghibli Park will recreate landmarks and locations from the My Neighbour Totoro film.

Cruising: The government has designated six major ports as international cruise ship hubs to support plans to increase overseas cruise passengers by 5,000 by 2020. The new ports will be situated in Yokohama, Shimizu, Motobu, Hirara, Sasebo and Yatsushiro

Transport: The Royal Express offers visitors the chance to ride in style from Yokohama to the Izu Peninsula.

A New Invisible Train will start running in 2018. The ‘invisible’ train uses reflective materials to blend in with its surroundings and will run from Toyko into the mountains of Chichibu.

Operators: England Rugby Travel will operate as official travel and ticket packages to the Rugby World Cup 2019.

JTB Japan Travel Corp.has launched its new 2018 Sunrise Tours programme. JTB are now also offering English-language bus tours.

 

What the experts say

“The Post Office’s Holiday Money Report named Japan as one of the top 10 best value holiday hot spots for 2017 and Tokyo’s debut at number eight this year makes it the only long-haul destination in the list of top 10 Best Value cities.

“As the host country for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, we hope people will be inspired to visit Japan.

“There's a trip to suit everyone: solo travellers, three-generation family holidays, winter sports, cruising and those looking to learn about our culture!”

YUMI TAKAKUBO, HEAD OF TRADE PARTNERSHIPS AND MARKETING, JNTO

Where to book it

JTB’s 12-day Japanese Capitals tour features Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nara and Mt. Koya. It costs from £3,723pp, including international flights, accommodation and all guided touring.

Inside Japan has introduced a new 10- night Luxury Japan tour, costing £8950pp, it features top accommodation and exclusive cultural experiences.

The Dragon Trip has a six-night tour from £884 which covers nine ski resorts and 200 runs. This trip to Hakuba allows agents to bolt on a range of additional experiences such as meeting with Japan’s snow monkeys.