This trip, like many before it, was planned and undertaken as a joint venture with my Bristol-based friend and travelling companion, Bruce. We had both become great fans of Japan in recent years. First there was an unusual cruise around the northern island of Hokkaido in 2014, then we went back to the country in 2018 on an itinerary where the principal focus was on the island at the opposite end of the main archipelago, Kyushu. In the early spring of 2019, I had an American Express British Airways Companion Voucher burning a hole in my pocket and it seemed that Hokkaido was calling once more. Specifically, we were interested in attending the annual Sapporo Snow Festival.
The timing of the trip was determined by a combination of the festival arrangements and the availability of suitable award inventory on BA’s two routes (Narita and Haneda) between the UK and Japanese capitals. Over the last 15 years, Bruce has inculcated in me an appreciation of the benefits of low-season and shoulder-season travel. Due to the nature of the main attraction on this trip, that box was ticked from outset. Having secured the long-haul flights to and from Japan, the other arrangements could then be slotted into place with reduced urgency and relative ease.
All of the above planning took place at a time of blissful innocence, before a certain nasty virus appeared on the scene. Even when the trip itself took place, Covid-19 was thought of as a local issue affecting a substantial (but to Westerners, relatively obscure) population centre in China.
Having set the scene, let me wind up this introduction with a pictorial ‘taster’ of what’s to come: