#MyJALtrip: Let’s go on a trip! Autumn & winter edition
It’s difficult to choose the best time to travel to Japan because every season brings a different atmosphere, a unique set of traditions and incredible experiences. Serving as a cabin attendant onboard Japan Airlines, I am fortunate to have experienced Japan in all 4 distinctive seasons.
If you enjoy the pinkish hues of sakura (桜), or cherry blossoms, you would appreciate the beauty of Japan in autumn. Beginning in mid-September and lasting till December across all regions, Japan enjoys around 3 months of autumn. As the greens of summer give way to shades of red, yellow, orange, and brown, autumn in Japan provides one of the most vibrant scenic views. Kōyō (紅葉), or autumn maple leaves, in Japan are identified by its deep red hue. If you’ve flown with us in autumn, don’t be alarmed if you find decorative maple leaves atop your meal—it’s just us incorporating the seasons as a part of your in-flight experience!
Momijigari (紅葉狩り), also known as red leaf hunting, is a centuries-old tradition where nature enthusiasts seek out the best spots to view the crimson foliage. Famous viewing spots include the Eikando Temple gardens and Tofukuji Temple in Kyoto, as well as Ueno Park and Rikugi Garden in Tokyo.
Kochia in a seasonal spectrum of colour. (Image credit: JAL / Joycelyn)
If you’re seeking something slightly different, you should include Hitachi Seaside Park (国営ひたち海浜公園 Kokuei Hitachi Kaihinkōen)—located 2 hours away from Tokyo by train in the prefecture of Ibaraki (茨城県 Ibaraki-ken)—in your itinerary. The area boasts natural landscapes full of flowers and plants, and is a popular attraction for anyone seeking a carefree escape to nature. Aim to visit during the annual Kochia Carnival which takes place from mid-September to mid-October. The month-long festival can get rather crowded, so if you are looking to take scenic pictures leisurely without anyone photobombing, visit early on a weekday.
Crimson red Kochia at sunset. (Image credit: JAL / Joycelyn)
Upon entering the public park, head towards Miharashi Hill. While not technically leaves, the gently sloping hill is covered in a carpet of around 32,000 fluffy pom-pom shrubs called kochia (コキア), also known as summer cypress. Kochia are recognized for their unique round shape and can grow to as large as 80cm tall. The colour changes from a vivid green in summer to an almost fiery red around autumn. The fluffy, scarlet tufts against the clear blue skies are truly breathtaking.
At the foot of Miharashi Hill. (Image credit: JAL / Joycelyn)
The red kochia are not the only flora in the area—while you’re there, check out the cosmos flower fields. Cosmos, often dubbed “autumn’s cherry blossoms” due to its pinkish hues, are flowers that bloom in autumn. Over 2 million have been planted at the foot of Miharashi Hill, creating an incredibly picturesque scene.
There are many food stalls around Miharashi Hill, but the must-try seasonal exclusive treat is the kochia-flavoured ice cream, which uses cranberries to mirror the reds of the kochia shrubs.
Once you’ve had your fill of instaworthy pictures, head back and enjoy the rest of Hitachi Seaside Park. Take in the cool autumn breeze while strolling along the Dune Garden, an aromatic herb garden and boardwalk which overlooks the ocean. There is also a small amusement park complete with a giant Ferris wheel which provides a birds-eye view of the entire park. The area is massive so I recommend purchasing the 1 day-pass at ¥600 for the small train which stops at numerous locations around the perimeter of the park. You can also choose to rent a bicycle from ¥450.
Stressed. Blessed. And Kochia obsessed. (Image credit: JAL / Joycelyn)
For anyone still having doubts about exploring Hitachi Seaside Park, let me assure you that the reddish hues across Miharashi Hill are as vibrant in real life as they are in pictures. The panoramic views are phenomenal and allow photography from almost any angle. It’s also a rare sight to catch both red kochia and cosmos flowers in full bloom, in the same space. If you have a day to spare, do visit!
Hitachi Seaside Park (国営ひたち海浜公園)
Address: 552-18 Ajigaura, Hitachinaka, Ibaraki 311-1201 Japan
Nearest station: Katsuta Station (勝田駅)
Opening hours: Hours may differ according to seasons
Admission fee: ¥450
Tel: +81 29-265-8185
(Image credit: JAL / Apple)
As crimson autumn leaves fall and are blown away in the cool breeze, winter beckons. Hailing from tropical Singapore, I long for winter holidays, particularly snowfall.
Embarking on Japan Airlines during winter is always a slightly busier experience. Most passengers would hand-carry their winter coats and puffy jackets, and we would help to skillfully fit them into the overhead compartments. It’s common for passengers to excitedly discuss itineraries about the best powdered slopes even before they nestle into their seats. A trip to Japan brings out the best emotions.
View from the train in Sapporo, Hokkaido. (Image credit: JAL / Joey)
Winter in Japan generally begins in December and lasts till late February. If you’re looking for abundant snowfall, you should visit the northern parts of Japan. A popular winter destination is Hokkaido (北海道). If you’re pressed for time, transit to our domestic flight at Tokyo airports. If you have time to spare, take the shinkansen for a scenic route to Hokkaido’s southernmost city, Hakodate (函館), before switching over to the limited express trains to the capital city of Sapporo (札幌).
At the entrance of Asahiyama Zoo. (Image credit: JAL / Joey)
As an avid animal-lover, my very first visit to Hokkaido took me to Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園 Asahiyama Dōbutsuen). Located just outside of central Asahikawa City (旭川市), the top-rated zoological-garden offers a uniquely immersive experience. While the animals are not free of cages, Asahiyama Zoo is slightly different in that the animals are not kept in temperature-controlled enclosures. They are allowed to roam around in an environment similar to their natural habitats of snow-covered terrains. Remember to keep yourselves warm because you’ll be experiencing the same subzero temperatures as the animals!
When you enter, be sure to check out the board titled Mogu-Mogu Times. These are the animals’ feeding times for the day. You should plan your route around the feeding times for the best viewing experiences.
Penguin parade (top) and penguins in their enclosure (bottom). (Image credit: JAL / Joey)
A crowd favourite at Asahiyama Zoo would be the penguins. The Penguin Walk, which occurs twice daily only from mid-December, is the most adorable thing you’ll see. Go early to snag a good viewing spot and catch the flightless birds waddle and slide through the snow. I felt like a part of the penguin colony as I observed them speed through the water in the glass tunnel that runs through the penguin pool.
Cute seals. (Image credit: JNTO)
A large vertical glass pipe, known as the Marine Way, running from floor to ceiling lets visitors enjoy the spotted seals swimming through from all sides.
Get up close with a polar bear. (Image credit: JAL / Joey)
Other immersive experiences I really enjoyed were the polar bear and wolf enclosures. You can observe these majestic creatures through a small glass dome within their respective spacious enclosures. The zookeepers are always nearby to provide some interesting tips and to make sure the animals are safe and free of unnecessary anxiety.
Beautiful red-crowned crane. (Image credit: JAL / Apple)
Native wildlife unique to Hokkaido include the Yezo sika deer (蝦夷鹿 yezoshika), the white-tailed eagles (尾白鷲 ojirowashi) and the red-crowned cranes (丹頂鶴 tanchōzuru) are also available at Asahiyama Zoo. Did you know that the red-crowned crane is the symbol of Japan Airlines? It’s actually a part of our logo! We call it the tsurumaru (鶴丸), or crane circle. In Japan, a red-crowned crane is often featured in myths and legends, and is said to symbolise luck, longevity, and loyalty. It’s an apt description, especially in these trying times, because these cranes were on the brink of extinction with only 20 left in Hokkaido in the 1920s. Just like the cranes, we are resilient and will emerge soaring.
Enjoying a hot bowl of udon noodles. (Image credit: JAL / Joey)
Asahiyama Zoo’s cafeteria is a great place to grab a quick, tasty, and affordable meal. A piping hot bowl of udon noodles is perfect in the icy weather. Sip on complimentary green tea in the cosy eatery. If you can’t get enough of the cold, I’d recommend the Hokkaido milk soft serve ice cream.
If you’re planning a visit in early February when winter peaks, you’ll be able to experience the annual Asahikawa Winter Festival (旭川冬まつり Asahikawa Fuyu Matsuri), where you can enjoy the Asahiyama Zoo by Snow Light. The pathways in the zoo will be illuminated in an almost magical glow, courtesy of large ice lamps. The cold and heavy snow adds a dimension of wonderment to the viewing experience. Fair warning, if you’re intending to bring young children, they might be frightened by the sudden howls and roars especially when you can’t really see the animals.
Do note that Asahiyama Zoo is usually open from 10:30am to 3:30pm, and is only open till 8:30pm during the Asahikawa Winter Festival for the Asahiyama Zoo by Snow Light.
Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園)
Address: Kuranuma Higashiasahikawacho, Asahikawa, Hokkaido 078-8205
Nearest station: Asahikawa Station (From Asahikawa Station, take a 40-minute bus ride on bus number 41, 42, or 47 to Asahiyama Zoo. It will cost you around ¥450.)
Opening hours: 9:30am–5:15pm (late Apr–mid Oct), 9:30am–4:30pm (mid Oct–early Nov), 10:30am–3:30pm (mid Nov–early Apr) (Note: The zoo is typically closed from early to late April, first week of November, and the year-end holidays)
Admission fee: ¥1,000 (Adults), Free (High school students and younger)
Tel: +81 166-36-1104
Shoyu ramen. (Image credit: JNTO)
If you’re a foodie, you must try Asahikawa ramen (旭川ラーメン). Like many places in Hokkaido, Asahikawa is known for its ramen, particularly its shoyu-based broths. A distinctive characteristic of Asahikawa ramen is the thin layer of oil on top of the soup which insulates against the cold.
The Asahikawa Ramen Village (あさひかわラーメン村 Asahikawa Ramen Mura), located on the outskirts of the city, is worth a visit. There is a collection of eight small ramen restaurants situated side by side. All eight restaurants—Aoba, Ittetsu-an Matsuda, Ishida, Tenkin, Santoka, Saijo, Koubo Kato, and Baikoken—are established eateries within the region. Opt for the mini-sized ramen so you can sample the menu from the different stores!
Asahikawa Ramen Village (あさひかわラーメン村)
Address: 4-119-48 Nagayama 11 Jo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido 079-8421
Nearest station: Minami-Nagayama Station (南永山駅)
Opening hours: 11am–8pm (Hours are shortened for the time being due to COVID-19)
Admission fee: Free
Tel: +81 166-48-2153
The various seasons provide very different and unique Japan travel experiences. If you’re looking for a year-round holiday destination, Japan would be your best bet! Curious about Japan in spring and summer? Click here to find out more.
Header image credit: JAL / Sherlin
Japan Airlines' Cabin Attendant Joycelyn (Autumn)
Joycelyn enjoys getting lost in nature and escaping the ordinary. She is a search engine wizard and a committed Google Maps navigator when it comes to exploring new places.
Japan Airlines' Cabin Attendant Joey (Winter)
Joey loves the cold and relishes her next snowy adventure. Her favourite winter pastime is taking brisk walks on frosty nights.