We arrived super early for our shinkansen at Odawara and were fortunate enough to get all our seat reservations sorted for the rest of the trip, result! We waited for a while before boarding our bullet train to Tokyo.
Train: Kodoma 640 Odawara to Shinagawa
Depart: Odawara Station 11:42
Arrive: Shinagawa Station 12:09
Seats: Coach 12 (Seats Unknown)
Locomotive: Shinkansen N700 Top Speed 177mph (285 km/h)
Train: Keikyu Main/Airport Line Rapid Ltd. Exp Shinagawa to Haneda
Depart: 12:22 Shinagawa
Arrive: 12:38 HANEDA AIRPORT DOMESTIC TERMINAL
Locomotive: Keikyu N1000 series Top Speed 75mph (120 km/h)
Our transfer at Shinagawa was not a success. The vastness of the station, orderly crowds of workers and a complete absence of signage did not help. We were searching for the Keikyu Line, but the Keikyu Line was threatening to win the game of hide and seek. With a tight connection a slight panic started to set it. On closer inspection it turned out the train company that ran the Keikyu Line was not affiliated to the JR Line we had just got off of and therefore signage was minimal at best. In addition the transfer points were a long way from each other. We eventually found the Keikyu line, got on the wrong train, got off before it left and squeezed into the train headed to Haneda Airport with seconds to spare.
This train truly went at some speed for a commuter train and about 15 minutes later we were at the airport. We got off, recharged our Pasmos for Sapporo, attempted to work out the JAL domestic check in process and the location of the desks. HND seemed like a pretty nice airport and before long we found the desks and had someone check us in. If you are on regular JL stock as opposed to a BA reward flight you could easily print your own bag tag and self check in. We loved the attention to detail the staff had when taking care of baggage. Security was easy and it turns out liquids are fine but they need to be placed in a special scanner for checking. Thankfully Anne-So’s water bottle passed with flying colours.
We walked towards the gates and had a browse for food along the way. Immediately I spotted some chocolate covered potato crisps but this lunch option was instantly vetoed (confession, I did buy some later for the trip home). I took a few snaps, noticed the very late looking boarding time and went to find lunch. I dug out a bento, a drink and some fancy wafer biscuits totalling up at less than £10.
I enjoyed my lunch and before long it was time to board. Boarding was later than planned as the flight was behind schedule… Even in Japan! Our waiting time did allow me to reflect on our short time in the land of the rising sun so far. There is a lot of technology in place but also a lot of manual jobs we just don’t do back in Europe anymore. At boarding there was a man whose job it was just to hold a sign telling people if it was their turn to board despite electronic signs and announcements. When boarding commenced the gates were automatic. However, the gates are also fully staffed, with one person making sure you put your boarding pass on the reader correctly and another to thank you for flying JAL. I just can’t see it at home where the whole point of machines is to get rid of both the financial and emotional cost of the human element, rather than help them to do a better job!
Flight: JL519 Tokyo to Sapporo
Depart HND: 14:30
Arrive CTS: 16:00
Seats: 23D & 23E
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200 (Reg Unknown)
Service was friendly throughout on this flight and consisted of a couple of drinks runs. We chose the JAL Sky Time which was refreshing. Entertainment wise headphones were provided, there was also on board Wi-Fi which via the JAL app you can use to watch films and TV shows.
This was a three class aircraft, we were in Y Class (Economy), J Class is Y service with a large leather recliner seat, First which we didn’t see has a further upgraded seat, meal and lounge access. It is possible to upgrade for cash at the airport for a fairly low fee subject to availability. Unfortunately there was no availability on either of our flights. Other than being around 20 mins late the flight was uneventful.
On arrival at Sapporo, our baggage was on the belts in no time at all so we headed straight for the train to the city centre. All was going to plan till I got a feeling of deja vu and worked out we were on the wrong train yet again… Once more we made the last second dash to the train on the adjacent track. We arrived on time at Sapporo station and changed on to metro. After some minor concerns we’d come out the wrong exit we turned around 180 degrees and saw our hotel standing tall up ahead.
Hotel: Ibis Styles Sapporo
Room: 804 Superior Double, Non Smoking
Check in was warm but efficient and included a welcome drink (not at the bar, but simply just handed over at the check in desk) I chose a beer, Anne-So an orange juice. We headed up to our room to quickly unpack. The view was pretty decent including the Ferris wheel overlooking the city. There was plenty of space for all our luggage and to move around the room freely. Clearly it is possible to get a large room in Japan without a large price tag to go with it.
We took the metro in the direction of the Sapporo Beer Museum and enjoyed a leisurely walk through residential Sapporo till we arrived at the museum. Whilst we were too late for tastings and a tour we loved how beautiful the old brewery looked lit up at night. Around the brewery there were many Ghengis Khan (Jingisukan) places filled up to the brim with suited (and often intoxicated) men in their uniform of white shirts enjoying a beer or five to wash down copious servings of grilled lamb.
We walked back to the station and over to the bustling nightlife area for dinner. Between the bar touts, neon, love hotels and restaurants it was quite an experience. We eventually found Daruma which was recommended by our guidebook as being a great place to try Genghis Khan, which in short is cook your own lamb on a special grill along with onions, garlic, dipping sauces, kimchi and plenty of beer.
The food tasted really good and was rather cheap so we went for seconds. We strolled back to our room via a whole bunch of seedy looking love hotels. We smelt like a BBQ pit and didn’t care! It was quite the experience.
Absolutely shattered we decided to call it a night, or so we thought. We spotted a cute little cake shop that was still open and felt obliged to indulge. At the time of eating these cakes seemed like a great idea.
Let’s say the following day was a beautiful day but one that didn’t go to plan one bit. Between both of us being all over the place time zone wise as well as a lack of sleep and energy from being sick we needed a break. We crawled out for breakfast as it was included in our room rate and all I remember having were a couple of dry and not particularly nice mini pastries and a mug of green tea. I then went back to the room to sleep whilst Anne-So fought a losing battle with the Japanese explanation only laundry room. Well I tried to help a little but even with Google translate we were not entirely successful. Thankfully we avoided the laundry room version of Bill Murray and the talking treadmill.
Anne-So also had the hotel cancel our lunch reservation as neither of us were in the place to chow down on a multi-course crab menu.
We summoned up some reserves of energy and feeling brave we decided to walk to the rather lovely Odori Park. On the plus side we were never more than five minutes from a toilet stop. On the downside there was also a massive food festival in the park. We were definitely carrying some bad karma from somewhere.
After an hour or so we headed off via the metro to Maryuama Park. We had a lovely walk through the park, the weather was absolutely perfect for it and there were plenty of toilets and also vending machines for the best upset stomach drink, Coke!
The park contained the Hokkaido-jingu shrine (supposedly containing the soul of the Emperor Meiji) was well worth the effort. Between the wildlife, buildings and people watching it was great fun and very relaxing.
As the sun was fading the real highlight was still to come. On the other side of the park from the shrine was a winding trail up the hillside with hundreds of little Buddha statues and hardly a soul around. Had we both been feeling 100% we would have definitely made it to the top, but between the fading light and our fading condition we called it a day and went back to the hotel for a rest.
Whilst I slept Anne-So found some reserves and took some more photos of the park by the hotel.
Feeling worse for wear I was craving chips and Anne-So food and we thought that MOS Burger would be more authentic than McDonalds. We did the usual ramble through the love hotels and bright lights finding our destination about 10 minutes later. Truth be told this place was a bit of a dump with a mishmash of clientele but we ordered our meals and they soon arrived. I was happy just to finish 80% of my food. Lets be nice and say it was OK at best, then never speak of it again. We were both sad that this was what we had been reduced to.
We called it a night and shuffled back to the hotel hoping tomorrow would bring a brighter day than the salaryman’s hangover we were feeling.
Our final morning in Sapporo started with the Ibis breakfast buffet. Again it was not the kind of thing to get me in the mood for food but at least just being in its presence no longer made me feel sick. It was the same routine as the day before, a couple of pastries and a mug of green tea. Nevermind…
We packed, checked out and left our bags at reception ahead of our morning stroll to see the famous old government buildings of Sapporo. Within minutes of exiting the hotel it had become obvious there had been a serious drop in temperature thanks to some cold Hokkaido winds. We made a hasty retreat back to the hotel for our coats before braving the elements once more. We nearly skipped this bit of the city and whilst the clock tower was a bit of a downer the park next to the town hall was awash with cherry blossom gently falling from the trees in the wind. It was pure magic, every second, so much so we ended up being a little late back to the hotel.
We had a great time in Sapporo all things considered, it was a great place to unwind after what felt like 3 or 4 days of constant movement. It was now time to head south to Fukuoka, assuming all that hanami didn’t make us miss the flight!