This report will cover the return leg of a recent weekend trip that I took up to Hakodate, on the island of Hokkaido. The tourism bonus of this underrepresented part of Japan will be located at the end of the report (a treat for those of you that can make it through the report). As a reminder, the routing is:
After 24 hours in Hakodate, it was time to fly home to Nagoya. In order to get to Hakodate Airport from downtown, there are three options: city bus, shuttle bus, and taxi. I opted for the shuttle bus (¥410 ($3.50 / €3.50)), which takes about 20 minutes to make the nonstop trip from Hakodate Station. So, here we are at Hakodate Station in order to catch the 12:00 bus to the airport. Pretty risky strategy for a 13:20 flight? Nah, no problem for a domestic flight in Japan.
After 20 minutes, here we are pulling into the airport terminal by bus. The airport looks pretty new with a big glass façade.
The bus stops right in front of the entrance and we all pile off the bus. I then enter the domestic side of the airport.
The check-in hall is big and well lit. I head towards the NH Premium Check-in line. I don’t have any bags to check, but I’m trying to get another printed boarding pass receipt on NH cardstock. The check-in agent was going to have none of that :( She just took my printed receipt, handwrote the boarding time on it, and handed it back to me.
We then take the escalator upstairs to the departures level.
The FIDS for HKD, so many exotic flights! The green light means that we are allowed to enter the security line. My flight is still shown on time at 13:20. With forty minutes until the boarding time at 13:05, I decided to head up to the 3rd floor.
What’s on the 3rd floor? The observation deck of course!
Other than the lady sitting reading a book, you can see everyone is peeled to the windows looking out over the tarmac on this beautiful sunny afternoon. I apologize for some of the photos not being up to NGO85 standard, but most were taken through the thick glass they have on the deck, but for some, I reached over the glass to get clear shots.
In case there is any doubt where I am:
I was shocked to see this beautiful bird for several reasons. First, I would have never have guessed GE operated a TPE-HKD route. Second, I never knew GE had wide-bodies. Nevertheless, this was a treat to spot! I like the tail livery. The GE A333 (B-22102):
About 10 minutes later, this NH B772 (JA8969) gets backed up for service down to HND with waves goodbye from the ground crew.
Gasp, what is this plane I can barely catch landing at the far end of the airport?
She’s so pretty! This is the NH B738 arriving from NGO, which will be my plane home this afternoon. She is soooo young, she was only 23 days old! This baby is so beautiful.
I was so distracted by her taxing, that I almost missed the NH B772 taking off! The sound was incredible being this close to the runway with an open-air observation deck with those thirsty PWs sucking air as she lifts up and banks left towards HND.
Here is one last look at my plane before I head back inside.
Back inside, here is a nice aerial view of the second floor lobby from the third floor.
On my way downstairs, I stop and admire this model of HKD. As you can see there are just 3 domestic jetbridges and 1 international jetbridge.
Downstairs, I make a quick stop at the stores to pick up some omiyage for my coworkers before heading into the security line.
There is only one line open for security and it is cleared in less than 5 minutes after scanning the bar code on my itinerary and collecting my boarding pass receipt.
There is no lounge at HKD so I just walk over to the waiting lobby near Gate 4. There are just a bunch of people sitting around watching a NY Yankees baseball game on the TV.
I’ll take this time to quickly photograph my boarding documents (note the handwritten boarding time on my receipt that I mentioned before) and the corporate screenshot using the free airport WiFi.
All Nippon Airways, NH498 Equipment: Boeing B737-800 [JA81AN, delivered March 2015] Departure: 13:20 (ATD: 13:24) Arrival: 14:55 (ATA: 14:47) Flight time: 1:23
Right on time, 15 minutes prior to departure, the boarding starts. Again, all boarding announcements at the gate are made in Japanese only. They start off with special assistance boarding. This was followed by NH elites (not *A elites, which was very strange). Third, was the call for Premium class passengers along with *A elites to board. That’s me, so I scan my boarding pass by myself and walk through the turnstyle.
Reaching the jetbridge, we have our little sign telling us this is the flight to Nagoya (NH498), with a squid acting as the arrow. The jetbridge is nice with clean windows, but nothing to really spot :( Reaching the threshold of the plane, I’m greeted by two FAs who smile, bow, greet me in Japanese, and then direct me to my seat.
Here will be my seat for the next 80 minutes. Preplaced in the seat is a blanket.
A look out the window gives a nice view of the GE A333.
At my seat, the FA immediately asks if everything is okay or if there is anything else she can get for me. I ask for a pillow, which she quickly returns with. No pre-departure drinks or oshibori, but newspapers are offered. I take The Japan News. I like how the FAs speak to me in Japanese, but then offer me an English newspaper.
Boarding is quickly finished and the front door is immediately closed. The jetbridge retracts and we are instantly pushed back. The load in Premium class is 5/8 and the gentleman in 1K was the same as on my flight NGO-HKD the day before, so he was also making a quick weekend trip up to Hakodate.
The ground crew waves us goodbye as we start our taxi out to the runway.
It looks like two JL Group planes arrived! First is a J-Air (XM) E-170 (JA215J) and next to it is a Hokkaido Air System (6L) Saab 340B (JA02HC).
No air traffic at HKD, so we turn onto the runway and immediately begin our westerly takeoff providing beautiful views of the Pacific as we lift off the ground.
We bank to the left, providing a breathtaking view back towards the airport before we begin our rise up over the small islands off of Hokkaido.
I’ll take a break and introduce the seat aboard this NH B738. In the bulkhead, seat pitch is good. The literature pocket contains slippers and headphones. I take the slippers home with me, part of the NGO85 leisure collection. The slippers are the same as in international J, they have a shoe horn and shoe bag inside of the packaging as well.
The window seats are nice because you get about 4 inches (10 cm) of extra space between the seat and the fuselage. The seats are very comfortable and wide even though they are slimline and leather. As Cobra has pointed out, they look very DeltaOne-esque with the dark blue and red accents.
There is a reading light next to your headrest along with a small storage compartment. Power adaptors are located on the front of the center console. Seat controls are located on the outside arm rest.
These privacy dividers actually work well. Here is a picture across the cabin at the gentleman sleeping in 1K. As you can see, he is completely hidden from view.
It’s a shame NH didn’t opt for BSI on these planes, this plane is so new, but doesn’t feel new since it has the old square windows and no BSI. No personal IFE, only a flip down screen that rotated between the moving map and variety programming in Japanese. As we level off, the FAs are released and begin their work. Here is a picture of the new NH uniforms. They now wear grey jackets with blue accents.
This isn’t related, but if you blow up the same picture and look at my FA’s hand, you can see that she wears her wedding ring on her middle finger. I have yet to figure out why some Japanese women do this, several secretaries at work also wear their wedding rings on the middle finger, but I’ve never found a non-awkward way to ask them why. Just a random cultural observation.
Before the meal service starts, I’ll quickly highlight the contents of the seatback pocket. Up first is a blurry (sorry!) picture of the premium class service guide. Since our flight departs between 13:01 and 16:59, we will only get a snack service (Premium Sabo). Then the drinks menu.
There is also a BOB menu in the seatback, which is what is available for the economy cabin. As I’ve stated before, Japan’s domestic service is very much in line with US domestic service. It’s not anywhere even close to what is on offer in China. The free drinks available on domestic flights are shown on the first page (coffee, beef consume, apple juice, tea, and water only). Prices are reasonable, but the options are a little strange highlighting the different regions of Japan. It’s worth noting that the Premium class Gozen meals can be purchased in economy for ¥1800 ($15, €15), but this Sabo meal is not available for purchase. Beer is ¥500 ($4, €4) and wine/spirits are ¥800 ($6.50, €6.50).
The seatback also has the ANA Sky Shop magazine, where creepy people can buy the NH FA aprons to reenact all their fantasies at home for the low price of ¥5000 ($40, €40), only in Japan…
Finally, a blurry photos of the air sickness bag.
Meal service starts as we reach Honsh?.
The FA opens up my tray table, lays down my two Premium Sabo boxes and a packaged oshibori. She’s clearly excited that I can speak Japanese and asks me what I want to drink. I request hot tea and sh'ch?. She asks me how I want my sh'ch? served, so I ask for just a cup of ice. The oshibori is scented, but it is fairly thin.
The Premium Sabo service has a savory and a sweet bento box. She returns quickly with my tea, bottle of sh'ch?, and cup of ice. The rest of the cabin was fast asleep, so I was the only person taking the meal. Let’s take a look at the savory box first.
The menu for the savory box, I'll translate the descriptions below. Hey, it’s says “menu” in English this time! Again, the catering is done by Nagoya Air Catering (NAC), and it contains a modest 286 kilocalories. There are two small sandwiches (tuna salad/tomato/lettuce and avocado/ham/lettuce), karasugarei (black halibut), vegetables, and an apple cake. It’s mainly just finger food that you'd expect to see in a lounge.
The sweets box is provided by LeTAO. There is a macadamia nut cookie and Mimi Eden fromage. The FA refilled my green tea and offered me another bottle of sh'ch?, which I happily took.
I finished eating just past Niigata.
The FA stopped by and chatted for a bit asking me how I liked the sh'ch? explaining it comes from Ky'sh?. She then asked me how my trip to Hakodate was and what I do for a living. I was the only awake passenger so she seemed to be very active in service and kept an eye on me. She asked me if I wanted any coffee and how I wanted it served. She soon returned with my coffee, a little chocolate cookie, and an oshibori to refresh post-meal.
The variety programming was pretty random, this time a NH ad, so I just worked on the crossword since it was quite cloudy outside.
A trip to the lavatory was also in order. Here is a photo of the front lavatory on the B738. It’s very clean with a nice tile floor and NH hand soap. I’m by no means an elitist so I really don’t care, but I did find it strange that several people from Y kept coming up and using the front lavatory even with the curtain drawn between cabins.
Coming back to my seat after using the lavatory, I find a little surprise waiting for me! The FA must have seen my cup was empty, so while I was in the lavatory, she placed a new cup of coffee, another chocolate cookie, and a new oshibori down on my tray table. Talk about being proactive! As soon as I sit down, she pops out of the galley smiling and tells me to enjoy the snack, which I happily do.
At this time, we were starting our final descent and the FA started to prep the cabin for arrival. Cabin shots as we being the final descent. Peaking back into Y, the seats look really nice and comfortable (although pitch is probably not very generous). I’ll do some Y reports on NH soon.
Two FAs then pop out of the galley again and present me with some NH postcards and a bag of NH candies and thank me for flying with them. What a delightful crew!
I’m surprised, but we approach from Tsu (?) and land from the south. There is light rain in Nagoya, but the touch down is smooth.
Turning back towards the terminal, we can see some NH Group planes parked at remote stands: ANA Wings Dash-8 in a special green livery and IBEX CRJ-700. There are also LQ and JL B737s at gates. This NH B735 was getting pushed back as we pulled into our gate.
The ground crew is standing at attention awaiting our arrival.
The jetbridge is quickly engaged and the front door is opened. Deplaning, the FAs bow and thank me for flying again. I thank them for their great service and the souvenirs they gave me before heading up the jetbridge.
Male NH employees do exist!
I make my way through the baggage claim and out into the arrivals level of the airport where I quickly make it onto the 15:07 train home (20 minutes after touchdown, which was at 14:47). Very efficient domestic arrivals at NGO as is expected.
Thanks for reading this series as we looked at NH’s Premium Class! More domestic reports coming soon! If you aren't interested in tourism bonuses, skip to the end :)
Now for the tourism bonus of this rather underexplored corner of Japan. It’s not a hugely popular destination for foreigners; it seemed to be mainly Japanese tourists on weekend trips. I would say one-day is enough to see everything there so this worked out perfectly. It is easily accessible by airplane, but not by train (with the new Shinkansen line in Hokkaido, maybe tourism will pick up soon).
The Red Brick Warehouse district near Hakodate Harbor.
One of the famous views in Hakodate, where you can see down the hills into the harbor. A San Francisco feel?
The next set of photos were taken in the Motomachi area, where all of the foreigners lived. The Russian Orthodox Church in Hakodate, a reminder of the Russian influence in Hokkaido.
The old Hokkaido Prefectural Office in Hakodate and the Old Public Hall of Hakodate. A reminder of the Imperial era of Japan with the very European influenced architecture.
After trade was allowed in Japan, the British quickly established a Consulate in Hakodate since it was (at the time) the major port of Hokkaido.
This is the old Soma Company Building, one of the original shipping companies in Hakodate during the Imperial era.
After walking through the Motomachi area, I took the tram to the far north side of the city where Goryokaku Park is. The park lies on the site of the former Goryokaku Fort, built in the 1850s to protect the city from the Russians (the design was inspired by French architect Vauban). Goryokaku Tower is located in the park, which strangely enough is one of the taller towers in Japan (107m tall), but provides beautiful aerial views of the fort and city. Unfortunately, I was one week too soon and missed the sakura! This entire fort would be covered in white cherry blossoms the weekend after I was there, only buds for me :(
The center of Goryokaku Park houses the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office.
About an hour before sunset, I began my trek up Mt. Hakodate. It’s an easy mountain to hike (or can you be lazy and take the ropeway). But the hike gave great sunset photos across the Hokkaido coast!
On top, I joined the hundreds of bundled up tourists to wait for the sun to slowly set and for the city to plunge into blackness. It was cold (0 C) and windy, so quite chilly while I waited to take these repulsive night shots.
The next morning, I did the hike again to get the same shots on a beautiful crisp morning. I also had to do a 20-minute photoshoot for some girls from Dubai (the only other non-Asians I saw), who seemed unimpressed with my iPhone photography skills.
More views from the top of the mountain where I took the sunset photos.
Now, for what everyone wants to see: food. Hakodate has a great morning market (asaichi) where all the local fisherman sell of their catch. Hakodate is particularly famous for kani (crab).
There are also a number of small restaurants to partake in these fresh offerings. I stopped in for a donburi for an early lunch, where they let you pick three types of seafood to top the rice bowl. Your FRist's offering of sake (salmon), uni (sea urchin), and ikura (salmon roe). A delicious treat.
And with that, I bid you all a farewell and thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed this series and more to come soon, just not of the exotic long-haul variety ;)
Hakodate - HKD
Nagoya - NGO
NH again demonstrates why they are the “Inspiration of Japan,” they provide a domestic product that blows JL's J-Class out of the water. With an impeding switch to OW in the future, you might see some upcoming JL Group domestic flights to compare.
Cabin comfort: This B738 was just a 3-week old baby! A little disappointing that NH doesn’t opt for BSI on their planes, I would have thought the blue mood lighting would have been the perfect match for their livery. The new Premium class seat is a treat for a domestic flight: royal pitch (50 in) and good width. In addition, the seat was very comfortable. Privacy is very good with the divider; in-seat power and USB is available. I like the tile floors in the lavatories.
Crew: What can I say? I had an absolutely wonderful crew again. Since I was the only passenger awake during the flight, the FA was always present to keep me well hydrated, even anticipating my needs. She was even chatty once she got past the nerves of speaking to a foreigner. The postcards were a nice gift from her. English remains a big problem with NH on domestic flights. Pilots only spoke in Japanese and the Crew only made two English announcements during the entire flight, everything else was Japanese only.
Meal and catering: I’m not a big fan of the Premium Sabo service. The finger food is only mediocre; it was like being served some lounge food on the plane. Quality of the food was okay, nothing special. The dessert box was good, but again, it was just a snack. JL doesn’t do food service in their “J-Class” so even this meager offering is infinitely better than the competition. I was well hydrated with two teas, two bottle of sh'ch?, and two coffees on a 75-minute flight. I would have given the food a 5, but I'll bump it up to a 6 due to the bountiful drink services. I'm obviously not flying for the catering on a domestic route, so it is what it is.
Entertainment: One overhead TV per row, but no on-demand programming, which is fine for a short flight where I spent most of the time just snacking. The IFE rotated Japanese variety programming and the moving map. Newspapers offered and inflight magazine.
On-time performance: Left on-time and landed on-time, exactly what one expects from NH.
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