Hokkaido is Japan’s second largest island and the northmost island in Japan. It’s famous for snow sports in the winter, and flower fields in the summer – a great place to enjoy the cooler weather and nature.
Ever since we first started planning the move to Japan, many years ago, we (Jonny and I) knew we wanted to experience skiing in Japan. We would have ideally liked to have gone for his birthday but as it was peak time, we just couldn’t afford it. So we booked a 5-day ski trip for the second week of February and got planning for our trip.
Skiing in Japan is a dream destination for many, especially Niseko, a town in the North of Japan with an average of 15 meters of snow every year. The cold climate in Niseko creates the ideal environment for perfect snow, known as “champagne powder” which is perfect for snowsports. Every year many people from around the world travel to Niseko to experience the world-famous powder, otherwise known as Japow, and this year we were lucky enough to experience it ourselves!
Transport from Tokyo to Sapporo
Getting to Sapporo from Tokyo, we had a few options:
Train/ Ferry/ Bus
Train: Tokyo to Oarai Port – approx 1h 30mins | ¥3,528–5,164
Ferry: Oarai Port to Tomakomai Port – 19h
Bus: Tomakomai Port to Sapporo – 1h 42m | ¥1,200–1,700
Travel time: 24+
Cost: Cheapest ticket on the ferry is ¥10,000 plus the train and bus fare
Bus / Train
Bus: Tokyo Station to Aomori – 10h 32min
Train: Aomori to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto – approx 1 hour
Bus: Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station to Sapporo – 4h 45min
Travel time: 18+ hours (with all the transfers)
Cost: ¥14,000 – ¥24,000
First shinkansen: Tokyo station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station – approx 4 hours
Second train: Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station to Sapporo station – approx 4 hours
Travel time: 8+ hours
Narita or Haneda Airport in Tokyo to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo
Travel time: 2 hours
Cost: ¥9,000 – ¥40,000
For us, this was a no-brainer. We booked the quickest route and made the 881 km journey by plane. Our flight was booked with Peach airlines which, according to the internet, is the Japanese version of Ryanair. Apart from how strict there were about the weight of the hand luggage, I have no negative comments to say about our experience with the airline, it was very pleasant and smooth.
On a side note, I had a hassle-free and calm experience going through security. This is a task I don’t normally enjoy as everything is so rushed and the security guards aren’t very friendly. But at this airport, we were even given slippers to wear, if we had to take our shoes off. It was a nice change from the normal airport security experience.
Narita to New Chitose airport with Peach Airlines: ¥21,300 / £130 / $156
Travelling with luggage to Sapporo
Our plane ticket included 7kg of hand luggage and 20kg of check-in luggage each which was more than enough for our trip to the North of Japan. We had planned to stay in Sapporo for a night before making our way to Niseko, so we decided to take only one piece of check-in luggage to make travelling around easier. This would have normally been ok, but we had to include Jonny’s heavy ski boots in the case, which was a struggle. After losing jumpers and socks, we repacked and managed to get the case under 20kg.
Quick note: Peach Airways are very strict about the weight of your hand luggage, they make you put your bags on the scales before going through security.
TA-Q-BIN: How to have a hands-free travel
Jonny brought his skis with him to Japan but instead of taking them to the airport with us, we sent them off directly to the hotel in Niseko! How did we do this, I hear you ask?
Here in Japan, there is a marvellous door-to-door luggage service with Yamato Transport called TA-Q-BIN. They will pick up your luggage, suitcase, or skis, from your house or hotel and send them to your next location in Japan. It’s absolutely brilliant, and I feel all countries should have this! It made our travel so much smoother and nicer.
Not having to carry heavy and awkward-length skis through stations and on the trains was great, and even better, it didn’t break the bank either! I would have sent the suitcase with the TA-Q-BIN service if we didn’t need the items for our night in Sapporo, but I did use the service on the way back to Tokyo. It was so nice to have just our backpacks and be hands-free, going through the luggage pick-up without having to wait for our case was also great!
All you have to do is get a waybill, fill it out and schedule a date for the collection. You can go online and get the waybill sent to your accommodation, or the hotel you’re staying at will likely have some you can fill out. On the form, you can write when you need them to deliver your case, but as I was in no rush on the way home, I left it blank and the case arrived two days after we got back. The cost of delivery is dependent on the size and weight of your luggage and you pay for it when they come and collect your item.
To find out more about sending your skis
To find out more about sending your luggage
Sending skis through TA-Q-BIN return journey – approx ¥4000 / £24 / $29
Sending a suitcase through TA-Q-BIN – ¥2510 / £15 / $18
1N1D in Sapporo
As mentioned briefly, we had planned a night in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido and the fifth largest city. The dates we had booked our ski trip, coincided with the Sapporo snow festival without us realising. I had seen these enormous statues in documentaries before and what a great coincidence that it was happening as we were going to the north of Japan. We extended our trip by an extra day and booked a hotel close to the snow festival, so we could see the sculptures ourselves.
For the one night and one day we were in Sapporo, we experienced the most unpredictable weather. There were huge mounds of snow on the side of the road and it was constantly snowing. It would go from a snow blizzard and back to normal so quickly. It was absolutely freezing and the strong winds didn’t help us stop feeling the cold either. But I loved it!
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri is held every year for one week in February, It first started in 1950, so this was its 73rd year. It’s one of Japan’s most popular winter events, bringing in tourists from all over the country and the world. I didn’t quite realise how big the snow festival was, the snow sculptures were dispersed across 10 different sites, spreading 1.5 km. I was so glad we got to see them in person, the amount of detail in each piece was amazing, they must have taken such a long time to finish!
Jonny and I really liked Sapporo as a city but didn’t get to explore it half as much as we would have liked. On the way back from the snow festival, we popped into a cafe and got a stick of candied strawberries and strawberry amazake – a type of Japanese alcohol made from fermented rice. It was my first time trying both and they were absolutely delicious! We’ve already said we want to come to Sapporo back to explore it more as one night and one day in snowy Sapporo just wasn’t long enough!
Sapporo to Niseko
In total, we took two trains and a bus to get from Sapporo to Niseko. The first train was from Sapporo to a small station called Otaru, which took approximately 30 minutes. The wind was so strong and there was so much snow, it made me glad to be in the warmth of the train.
Once in Otaru, we had to quickly squeeze ourselves onto a one-carriage train, where we were packed in like sardines. The journey from Otaru to Kutchan took approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes going through rural Japan. The train went around the coast and stopped in small towns that looked derelict, especially because of the snow covering everything. The view from the train was amazing, a thick blanket of white as far as our eyes could see!
When we arrived in Kutchan, we had to wait over an hour at the station, so we sat, ate our sandwiches and watched the snow fall. The complimentary bus we used is for hotel guests, it travels between The Green Leaf Niseko Village and Hilton Niseko Village to Hirafu and Kutchan towns during winter and summer. Getting on the coach was a great way to get a mini tour around Niseko.
Sapporo to Otaru – 30 minutes, ¥750 / £4.60 / $5.59
Otaru to Kutchan – 1 hour 20 minutes, ¥1290 / £7.90 / $9.60
To find out more about the complimentary bus, just keep reading!
By Coach or Private transfer
The most common way to get from Sapporo to Niseko is by coach. We chose to go via train as I’m not the biggest fan of coach journeys, and I will avoid it wherever I can. The journey by coach can take anywhere from 2.5 hours to 3.5 hours, depending on the weather and where your accommodation is. There are a few different companies that drive this route and is always best to book beforehand.
Chuo Bus – the cheapest coach option with stops
One way, Adult – ¥3,000 / £18.45 / £22.30 | Child- ¥1,500 / £9.20 / $11.10
Return, Adult – ¥5,200 / £31.90 / $38.70 | Child- ¥2,600 / £15.99 / $19.30
White Liner Bus – direct coach from New Chitose Airport to Niseko
One way: Adult- ¥5,000 / £30.70 / $37.60 | Child- ¥3,500 / £21.50 / $26
Niseko Village Airport Express – a direct private transfer
One way for 4 people and luggage from ¥33,000 / £202.95 / $245.92
Hokkaido Resort Liner – a direct private transfer
Small taxi ¥35,000, Jumbo Taxi ¥40,000 / £246 / $298
Alternatively, there are car rentals at New Chitose airport if you want to make the approximately 100 km journey yourself.
Travelling around Niseko
There are a few ways you can get around Niseko including buses and taxis, which I have listed below.
Niseko Village shuttle service – complimentary shutter service for hotel guests.
Niseko United shuttle service – During the winter, this bus also links from Niseko Village to Annupuri and Grand Hirafu resorts, which is free for anyone with an “All Mountain Lift Pass”. For those who don’t have a pass for all the mountains, normal fares apply.
Hanazono Shuttle – a bus running in the winter connecting Hanazono to Hirafu.
Hirafu Village Shuttle Bus– three free shuttle buses that will make continuous loops through Hirafu Village to the Hirafu ski area – each loop takes approximately 30 minutes.
Niseko Bus & Donan Bus – two local buses operating all year, going from Kutchan to Hirafu Welcome Center. Some of their services will go as far as Hilton Niseko Village.
Kutchan Night Go Bus – a night bus operating for the ski season
Taxis in Niseko
There are normally taxis waiting and available outside of Kutchan station. Most drivers will not be able to speak English so have the hotel name or your desired destination on your phone or a piece of paper. Your hotel will also be able to call a taxi for you but, here are some taxi companies to have on hand in case you need them in Niseko.
Sprint Taxi (0136-55-5400; app available in English)
Sprinter Taxi currently is temporarily closed.
Niseko Hire (0136-44-2635)
Smile Taxi (0136-44-2700)
Niseko International Transport Taxi (0136-22-1171)
Hachiriki Taxi (0136-21-2508)
The Green Leaf Niseko
Booking this trip, we only had a few things on our criteria:
1. For it to be affordable, but we were also happy to spend a bit more than usual to stay somewhere nice for Jonny’s late Birthday trip.
2. For the hotel to be a ski-in and ski-out as we hadn’t experienced that before and didn’t want to carry our skis on public transport.
3. For the accommodation to have a bath, which isn’t a very big ask here in Japan.
Feeling excited, we did some research, got a bit carried away and ended up booking our first-ever suite! Jonny and I were equally excited and terrified about how much money was just spent on this room – staying somewhere that costs this much is not the norm for us! But, we convinced ourselves that it was ok because it was a special treat and something that was on Jonny’s bucket list – totally ok right?!
About the accommodation
The Green Leaf Niseko Village is a hotel at the base of mount Annupuri that has 200 rooms with a great view of the scenery. An all-season hotel in Niseko with ski-in ski-out access during the winter and a great location to explore nature in the summer.
We booked our room for 4 nights and 5 days at The Green Leaf Niseko Village. Booking it at the time we did, meant we were able to get 20% off lift passes and 15% off of our ski hire.
The stay also included a Japanese fusion buffet breakfast, which was open from 7:00-9:30, they gave us a ticket for breakfast which we had to hand in every morning. However, we could only eat a fraction of what was there, luckily we came prepared. I talk more about the hotel food and vegan restaurants in Niseko in this post if you’re interested! At the same restaurant, you could also eat lunch and dinner if you wanted to.
Staying here, we almost didn’t feel like we were in Japan as there were so many English-speaking people around us. The hotel staff consisted of people from Japan, as well as people from different countries, most of whom could speak English, so for those who don’t speak Japanese, it’s very easy to communicate.
You can hire out ski and snowboarding gear without having to leave the hotel. They have their own ski hire in the same room as the boot room – where you keep all your snowsports gear which is very handy. The staff were super friendly and helpful in getting me what I needed. You just fill in all your details on an iPad, say what you’d like to hire and for how long, and they get it all sorted for you. Easy peasy! You can either pay for it then or at the end when you check out.
In the lobby lounge, there is a cosy bar looking onto the slopes. A great place to hang out and have a drink with your family and friends. Up until 17:30, you can grab bar food to eat, such as burgers and chips.
They also have a hotel shop selling small amounts of ski gear such as hats and gloves, as well as snacks, confectionaries, sandwiches and drinks – I was a little disappointed that there were no onigiris – only some pringles and a tube of mentos that we could eat.
At the hotel spa, you could treat yourself by paying extra to get massages and or treatments done after a day on the slopes.
Although each room comes with a bath, they had two onsens you could relax in, a normal split-gendered one and a mixed-gendered outdoor onsen you need your swimming costume for. Unfortunately, the outdoor one wasn’t open when we went, which was a shame because I was looking forward to that.
Corner Suit at The Green Leaf Niseko
The view from the suits was what sold us into getting this room! The Suites are end rooms with a corner window in the living room. The windows show an unobstructed view of mount Yotei, ski slopes or the surrounding countryside. It truly was magical and I felt lucky that we were able to stay in a room with such gorgeous views. It snowed every day when we stayed here and it was very peaceful to just sit in the chair and watch it all.
Our suite came with a kitchenette, which had a kettle, an espresso machine and espresso coffee pods, a mini fridge with free bottled water, a separate sink, crockery and cutlery. The room also came with 2 flatscreen TVs (which we didn’t use), a powder room, a bathroom with a bath that had L’occitane mini products, as well as 2 toilets, (I found this pretty exciting, I’d never stayed in a room with TWO toilets!!)
The room was very 80’s chic. From the lighting fixtures, wooden panelling, and the bathroom sinks, it felt very modern 80’s. Like many hotels across Japan, the room came with pyjamas – I love seeing what kind of pyjamas we get every time! At the Green Leaf, we were given typical Japanese yukata-style robes we could wear for the duration we were here!
Would we do it again?
Although I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the stay in our first suit with the gorgeous views, because I did, it was lovely! I’m just not sure the price justified the experience for us. Currently for us, not earning that much money, it’s not worth it – and it’s definitely not something we would be able to afford again anytime soon.
After a day of skiing, we would have a bath and get dressed in the yukatas. Unfortunately, even with the heating on, it wasn’t very warm or comfortable on the hard sofas, so we ended up spending most of our time in the bedroom under the covers. Because of this, I feel the extra money we had spent to have a second room was unfortunately wasted on us. I can’t deny that I didn’t love waking up to that view every day though!
One night at The Green Leaf Niseko: ¥58,680 / £362 / $430
At the time we booked the hotel, they had a deal where we got the fourth night free.
Other accommodations in Niseko
In the main ski area called Niseko village, there are five main accommodations by Mount Niseko Annupuri with ski-in ski-out access, dining and apres ski:
Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
For those who want to stay somewhere else, there is a range of accommodation available. From Airbnb, and apartments to chalets, there is something for everyone with different budgets.
Skiing in Niseko
It was only in the 1990s that Skiing in Niseko became popular with the rest of the world after a group of Australian skiers explored the area. Niseko ski resort is comprised of 4 interlinked ski resorts, with an elevation of 1308 m – Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Annupuri. If you get the Niseko United All Mountain Pass, you can have access to it all over the mountain (and the buses for free). Niseko is now known as one of the best destinations to get deep and dry powder guaranteed to cover the slopes every year- a destination many avid skiers have on their bucket lists!
After skiing in Japan, I completely understand why it’s a bucket list activity! Before Niseko, I had only gone skiing twice before, the first time in France and the second time in Bulgaria. Before this trip, I would have said my level was a cautious beginner, and after, I would like to say I’m intermediate level.
On days 1 and 2 of skiing, when I was trying to get my ski legs back, I thought I didn’t like it. I was scared of the steepness and not being able to stop myself, which stopped me from going down the mountain at any speed. I know how to get down the mountain, I’m not saying I have technique but I can get down the slope and stop myself when I need to.
However, I was all in my head, mentally blocking myself from enjoying it. But on day 3 something clicked, I felt confident in myself and my ability and I was actually finding it so much fun! Just a bit gutted it took three days, the last day of skiing for me to feel this way. But we did have such a good last day, even partially skied a black run!
On the mountain, they have 3 gondolas and 30 lifts, we even went on a single-person chair lift for the first time. It started off fun, and then it got scary, realising how high I was, with no safety belt and we were swinging like we were on park swings.
Ski pass – 3 days ¥22,700 online price / £139 / $169
Ski hire – Approx ¥15,000 including the discount / £92 / $111
Why did I like skiing in Niseko?
First off, the lifties (lift operators) are super friendly. They will wipe down the chair lifts with a broom before you sit on it, they will take your skis for you and put them in the gondola, and in general really nice and polite!
Most of the slopes (that I skied on) were so wide, and quiet – two combinations I love. I feel a bit nervous on narrow slopes in case I can’t stop and the two previous times I went skiing, the number of people on the slopes made me feel so nervous and on edge. But here, you almost felt as if you had the mountain to yourself, which was a dream and did wonders for my confidence!
There’s a great range of slopes for everyone with different abilities, Jonny and I are people with two different ski abilities, he has been going skiing since he was younger, and I’ve only just started. For those who are confident skiers, you can ski the famous strawberry fields. There’s also a fun park and side country skiing, where you can go in and out of trees, which was one of my highlights! It was so fun to ski on terrain that hadn’t been bashed down, skiing was totally different feeling from skiing the slopes. There’s something for everyone whether you’re a beginner or an expert and I can’t imagine you’d get very bored with such a variety.
The Japow was something else, at first I felt like I had to learn how to ski again, but once I got used to it, it was amazing! It was so fluffy, dry, and such fun to ski on- in some areas, it was so deep too! I felt like I was truly spoilt with the best skiing conditions and now don’t know how I’m going to be satisfied with anything else.
We really loved exploring the north of Japan and were amazed by the amount of snowfall. Our only problem? It just wasn’t long enough. As soon as I felt like I’d got my ski legs, we were going home. We could have stayed so much longer and we can’t wait to return!