Home >> Itineraries,Japan Travel >> Hokkaido Winter Self-drive with Kids Itinerary (2 to 18 December 2014)

Day 1: Singapore -> Bangkok -> Sapporo

Overnight flight to Chitose on Thai Airways

Day 2: Sapporo

Shopping and dining around Susukino area.

Stay: Mercure Hotel Sapporo

 

Day 3: Sapporo

Hokkaido Winter Self-drive with Kids Itinerary Bowling and arcade at Dino's

Bowling at Dino’s

Hokkaido Winter Self-drive with Kids Itinerary Sapporo White Illumination

Sapporo White Illumination

Hokkaido Winter Self-drive with Kids Itinerary German Christmas Market

German Christmas Market

 

Stay: Mercure Hotel Sapporo

 

Day 4: Sapporo

Hokkaido Winter Self-drive with Kids Itinerary Jyogai Ichiba (Sapporo Central Wholesale Market)

Jyogai Ichiba (Sapporo Central Wholesale Market)

Mitsui Outlet Park Kitahiroshima

Mitsui Outlet Park Kitahiroshima

 

Stay: Mercure Hotel Sapporo

 

Day 5: Sapporo -> Asahikawa

Asahiyama Zoo

Asahiyama Zoo

 

Stay: Loisir Hotel Asahikawa

 

Day 6: Asahikawa -> Lake Akan

Lake Akan

Lake Akan

Ainu Kotan

Ainu Kotan

 

Stay: Forest of Akan Tsuruga Resort Hanayuuka

 

Day 7: Lake Akan -> Lake Mashu -> Iozan -> Lake Kussharo -> Kushiro

Lake Mashu

Lake Mashu

Iozan

Iozan

Lake Kussharo

Lake Kussharo

Fisherman's Wharf MOO

Fisherman’s Wharf MOO

 

Stay: Toyoko Inn Kushiro Jujigai

 

Day 8: Kushiro -> Obihiro

Kushiro City Marsh Observatory

Kushiro City Marsh Observatory

Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary

Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary

Tsurumidai

Tsurumidai

Kushiro Washo Market

Kushiro Washo Market

Obihiro Station

Obihiro Station

 

Stay: Richmond Hotel Obihiro

 

Day 9: Obihiro -> Tomamu

Mugioto

Mugioto

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

Tomamu Ice Village

Tomamu Ice Village

 

Stay: Hoshino Resort Tomamu

 

Day 10: Tomamu -> Niseko

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

Chitose Rera Outlet

Chitose Rera Outlet

Lake Shikotsu

Lake Shikotsu

Niseko Village

Niseko Village

 

Stay: Hilton Niseko Village

 

Day 11: Niseko

Grand Hirafu Base

Grand Hirafu Base

Skiing at Niseko Village

Skiing at Niseko Village

Prativo (Niseko Milk Kobo)

Prativo (Niseko Milk Kobo)

 

Stay: Hilton Niseko Village

 

Day 12: Niseko -> Noboribetsu

Hilton Niseko Village

Hilton Niseko Village

Lunch at Lake Toya

Lunch at Lake Toya

Orofure Pass

Orofure Pass

Hotel Mahoroba

Onsen and dinner at Hotel Mahoroba

 

Stay: Hotel Mahoroba

 

Day 13: Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya

Marine Park NIXE

Marine Park NIXE

Onsen and Dinner at Toya Kohantei

Onsen and Dinner at Toya Kohantei

 

Stay: Toya Kohantei

 

Day 14: Lake Toya -> Rusutsu -> Sapporo

Lake Toya

Lake Toya

Silo Observatory

Silo Observatory

Skiing at Rusutsu

Skiing at Rusutsu

Kinoko Ou Koku

Kinoko Ou Koku

 

Stay: ANA Holiday Inn Susukino

 

Day 15: Otaru

Day trip to Otaru

Day trip to Otaru

Stay: ANA Holiday Inn Susukino

 

Day 16: New Chitose Airport

Doraemon Waku Waku Skypark

Doraemon Waku Waku Skypark

Airport Kids Athletic

Airport Kids Athletic

Apina Amusement Place

Apina Amusement Place

 

Stay: Air Terminal Hotel

 

Day 17: Sapporo -> Bangkok -> Singapore

Home Sweet Home! :)


Click on the links below for detailed write-ups for this trip:

Part 1: Sapporo
Part 2: Asahikawa, Akan National Park
Part 3: Kushiro, Obihiro, Tomamu
Part 4: Niseko, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, Rusutsu
Part 5: Otaru, New Chitose Airport


Itineraries for my other trips to Hokkaido:

Eastern Hokkaido self-drive in Winter (Feb – March 2010)
Hokkaido self-drive with kids in Autumn (October 2013)
Hokkaido self-drive with kids in Summer (June 2014)


This post is archived under my Japan Travel Blog:
japan-travelogue

the author

482Comments

  1. Julie says:

    Hi is it difficult to drive in winter with snow. Looking at self drive trip in mid dec 2015 ? Ps, I’m a season driver anything to take note ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, yes it is difficult to drive in Winter. However, it is also difficult to move around without a car in winter, especially with kids or elderly. Trolley luggages and strollers are a pain to push through the snow. That’s why we decided driving is the lesser of the two evils.

      When it’s snowing heavily, visibility is near zero. Sometimes you can barely see what is in front of you, and you will have to depend on the car GPS to warn you if the road is going to curve or it’s going straight. If you drive too fast and do not realize a bend or turn is coming up, by the time you spot a bend, the car is not going to slow down in time when you step on the brake because of the reduced friction and that’s when you go off the road. So drive slow. (Speed limit for all roads including tollways is 50km/h in winter. The locals usually don’t follow it, but it’s prudent for tourists to stick to it.)

      The best way is to stay safe is to keep to well-travelled roads (like tollways) where there will be tyre markings left by cars in front and you can follow the tyre markings to stay on the road. When it is snowing heavily, the tyre markings of previous cars get covered up very quickly. Try to stay behind slow-moving big vehicles, they leave deeper tyre markings which are easier to follow.

      There are many tunnels around Hokkaido and it will be very tempting to drive fast in the tunnels because the road is not covered with snow at last. However when entering and exiting tunnels, please slow down. This is where snow becomes ice and it is extremely slippery. It is okay to pick up speed once you are safely inside the tunnel, but when you start to see snow on the road nearing the end of the tunnel, that is when you should start slowing down again.

      Another thing about driving when there is snow is that lane markings are all covered with snow.
      – Look for a sign hanging from the top in the middle of roads that says “中央線” with an arrow pointing down. It is pointing to where the centre divider is so that you don’t drive onto oncoming traffic.
      – At cross junctions within cities, there are usually no traffic light. Usually you will see a stop line if you do not have the right of way, but this will be covered when there is snow. So when approaching cross junctions, look out for any triangular sign that says “止まれ”. The sign tells you that you DO NOT have right of way and must stop to give way to perpendicular traffic. If in doubt, just slow down when you approach any cross junctions to check if there is any car in the perpendicular direction.
      – At traffic lights, you need to estimate where the stop line is. Sometimes junctions will have a sign that says “停止線”. It indicates where the stop line is. Stop behind that sign, otherwise will be stopping on the pedestrian crossing.

      These are some of the things I can think of off-hand. In general, just drive real slow. Remember that your car will not stop if you try to e-brake on snow. Give yourself plenty of time to drive around (i.e. don’t pack your itinerary to try to cover many places in one day. I would say at most 1 or 2 places in one day.)

      Never try to drive in the dark when it’s snowing. Always plan to reach your accommodation by 4pm. Bear in mind that the sun sets at 4+pm in winter.

      When using google map to estimate driving time, double the time for winter, because it’s possible that you will be driving at half the normal speed.

      • Geraldine says:

        Hi

        It was such fun reading your blog. I am planning a trip to Hokkaido this Dec and would like to seek your advice on places to visit.

        We have 2 kids aged 7 and 12 and we’ll be spending 7 days in Hokkaido from 3 Dec to 9 Dec.

        We’ll arrive at around 7pm at Chitose so my Husband intend to stay the first night at a hotel near the airport before heading back to the airport to collect rental car the following morning before heading to Norboribetsu where we have booked an onsen for one night. After that we’ll head to Lake Toya where we’ll stay for another night. So far that’s all we’ve planned as we have not decide whether to go to Rusutsu, Niseko or Tomamu. Would you be able to recommend places where we can visit? Is it difficult or dangerous to drive to the ski resorts?

        After Hokkaido, we’ll be spending another 5 days in Tokyo. I read from one of your blog that your friend booked from Airbnb while visiting Japan. Do you recommend that for my family of 4 (me, my hubby, 2 kids 7 and 12)? There are so many places to visit in Tokyo so would be grateful if I can get some recommendations from you too.

        Thank you
        Geraldine

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hi,

          Glad you had fun reading my blog.. :p

          I agree with your husband to spend the first night at the airport. There is only 1 hotel at the airport: Air Terminal Hotel.

          As for ski resort, if you are going in the direction of Noboribetsu and Lake Toya, then you should go to either Niseko or Rusutsu next. In terms of difficulty in driving, Niseko is a lot more difficult to drive to compared to Rusutsu.

          For Tokyo B&B, I did not book from AirBnb. I booked from Homeaway:
          http://www.homeaway.com.sg/

          From what I understand, Homeaway positions themselves as an apartment rental service for families, and less so for free-spirited budget travellers. Which means perfect for us. You can read more here:
          http://blog.homeaway.asia/post/113313860844/5-reasons-why-you-should-try-vacation-rentals

          Their apartments in Tokyo look great, and many of them are very well located near major train stations like Shibuya and Shinjuku. I haven’t gone for my stay yet (going in December), but just based on the location on the maps and the pictures, they generally look like value for money. Tokyo hotels are notoriously small, you will never be able to get the same amount of space in such locations at hotels.

          Disclaimer: I am being sponsored by Homeaway to review their accommodations, but I am not paid to recommend them nor do I get referral fees.

          As for places to visit in Tokyo, it really depends on your interest. Here are some suggestions of places I usually recommend for a Tokyo trip with kids:

          Sanrio Puroland
          Legoland Discovery Centre
          Doraemon Museum
          Ghilbi Museum
          Tokyo Sea Life Park
          Sunshine Aquarium
          Ueno Zoo
          Tama Zoo
          Tokyo Fire Museum
          Tokyo Subway Museum

          In addition, because it’s winter, there are some great illuminations going on. I particularly like those at theme parks. You can go for rides among the illumintaion. The ones I know of reachable from Tokyo include:
          Sagamiko Illumillion
          Toshimaen
          Yomiuriland Jewellumination

          • Geraldine says:

            Thank you for your prompt reply. Glad that I found the right person to seek advise from. I am looking for lodging which is near train station. However, not sure which train station is the most convenient for touring around Tokyo. Do you have any recommendations?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              The main hubs are Tokyo station and Shinjuku station. Tokyo station is good for catching shinkansen and going Disneyland, Shinjuku is good for catching the Odakyu line to Hakone. But generally hotels near Tokyo station are very expensive. As for Shinjuku, the cheaper accommodation tend to be at Kabukicho, which is the red light district.

              If you like shopping, you can try Shibuya area. I like the shopping around Shibuya and from Shibuya, you can actually walk all the way to Harajuku and Omotesando.

              Personally, I like to stay near Ueno station if I am flying Narita because of the direct Keisei line connection. Ueno is also very close to Asakusa and Akihabara, and it is generally cheaper to stay there.

              • Geraldine says:

                Thank you. The information you’ve provided is very helpful. I am planning to book from Homeaway.

                Can I also check with you where we can buy affordable waterproof winter wear and boots in Singapore?

                Thank you!

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  You can try Winter Times, I bought my kids’ winter wear from there and have also seen them selling boots. The store called Traveller World at Vivocity has a wider range of kids winter wear by Winter Times compared to the neighbourhood Winter Times branches.

                  • Geraldine says:

                    Thank you for your help. I am grateful for all the information you have provided as it really save me tons of time to do research. Sorry to trouble you but I might be back with more questions :p

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      No worries, feel free to pop by if you need any more help. :)

                    • Geraldine says:

                      Hi sorry to disturb you again. I am back with more questions. My husband has decided not to drive so now we have to figure out the trains and buses for the trip. Do you mind giving me advice on how to take public transport from CTS to noboribetsu onsen town? We booked Ryotei Hanayura. Is it more advisable to book all the bus and train passes before the trip? Thank you.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      I went to take a look at Hanayura’s website:
                      http://www.hanayura.com/contents/access/index.html

                      According to that site, there is a bus running from CTS to Noboribetsu:
                      道南バス 新千歳空港 ⇒ 登別温泉 / はやぶさ号・約60分
                      (Donan Bus) CTS ⇒ Noboribetsu Onsen / Bus Hayabusa (approx 60 min)

                      So I went to Donan bus website and this is the timetable for bus Hayabusa:
                      http://donanbus.co.jp/citybus/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2013/11/%E6%96%B03%E5%AE%A4%E8%98%AD%E6%96%B0%E5%8D%83%E6%AD%B3%E7%A9%BA%E6%B8%AF%E7%B7%9A.pdf

                      However, Hanayura is not listed as one of the stops for the above bus. So you may want to email the hotel to ask which stop you should alight at if you are arriving by the Donan bus Hayabusa.

                      For Donan bus, there is no need to book it in advance. Usually for buses in Japan, you board first and pay when you are getting off the bus.

                    • Geraldine says:

                      Hi thank you for your help again. Can I check if heat-tech thermal wear from Uniqlo works well in Hokkaido?I have wool thermal wear from Winter Times and is wondering if it will be too warm for the kids to wear indoors. It will be such a hassle to remove their thermal wear as we will probably be moving in and out quite a lot.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Yes, for that reason I prefer Uniqlo’s heat tech to wool thermal wear. Wool thermal wear are extremely uncomfortable once you step indoors because the Japanese really turn up their heaters in the shopping centres and trains. And you can’t possibly be removing thermal wear on the train. I do layering, with Uniqlo’s heat tech as the bottom most layer. Over it I put on another heat-tech short sleeve shirt and a wool vest. These layers are never removed. Then I put on another long-sleeve wool sweater, followed by a down jacket. The down jacket is removed once we step indoors and the wool sweater is sometimes removed if we are going to spend the next few hours indoors.

                    • Geraldine says:

                      Thank you for your prompt reply. Will be reading your blog and will pop by to seek more advice.

                    • Geraldine says:

                      Hi hope you had a great weekend. We are almost done with all the planning and shopping for our Japan trip in Dec. Thanks for all your help!

                      I have not found suitable waterproof jackets, pants and boots for both adults and kids yet. Do you think it is advisable for us to buy these things when we are there? As we will only land around 8pm, do you think it will be easy for me to find these things in the late night shopping area in susukino on my first night there.

                      We’ll be going to Noboribetsu (day 2), Lake Toya (day 3), Rusutsu (day 4), Otaru (day 5), Sapporo (day 6). In case I really couldn’t get these things in time, would it be feasible that we rent ski wear from Rusutsu when we reach there. Appreciate your advice. Thanks!

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      It is quite difficult to find those stuff for kids. And I think by the time you reach Susukino, only 24 hour duty free shops and restaurants will still be open – don’t think those boots and clothes shops are still open. Try to get them in Singapore – have you tried Traveller World at Vivocity? I bought my kids’ waterproof pants there. They had quite a good selection of kids winter wear.

                      Yes, if all else fails, you should be able to rent ski jackets and pants from the ski resorts. The price list for rental at Rusutsu can be found here:
                      http://en.rusutsu.co.jp/winter-season/rentals/

                    • Geraldine says:

                      Thank you. I will go to VivoCity to take a look. Can I also check with you if it is difficult to get the tickets for fujiko museum from lawson when we are there? It is expensive to get from bridge.jp because of the handling and shipping fees. Thank you for your help!

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      I have never tried Bridge.Jpn. My friend bought her tickets for Doraemon and Ghilbi Museum together from them – so I guess that averages out any handling and shipping fees. She told me Doraemon is not has hard to get as Ghilbi, so I think it is possible to get your tickets at Lawson after arriving in Japan. Though I am not sure if language barrier may pose to be a problem. If you REALLY want to visit Fujiko Museum, I would advise you just buy the tickets beforehand for a peace of mind. But if you are like, don’t mind missing it if you are unable to get the tickets, then you can try purchasing the tickets after you arrive.

                    • Geraldine says:

                      Thanks for your prompt reply.

  2. Grace Wu says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for sharing your travel experience with us, what an awesome blog!
    We are planning to travel to Hokkaido with kids (aged 12 and 3) but somehow nervous about driving. Are the places that you visited accessible by train? If we also want to cover Hakodate, would it be recommended to buy JR pass and travel by train from Tokyo? Thanks.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Currently there are no shinkansen (bullet trains) running from Tokyo to Hakodate. So the train ride from Tokyo to Hakodate is going to take a whopping 6 hours with 1 transit. If you want to use the Japan Rail Pass, I suggest you postpone your trip to 2016. The Hokkaido shinkansen is expected to start end 2015 / early 2016 and will reduce the train travel from Tokyo to Hakodate to 4 hours.

      Most places in Hokkaido require a bus ride from the nearest train station. If you are planning a trip in December, the major ski resorts at Niseko and Rusutsu can be reached by bus from Sapporo station or New Chitose Airport. Tomamu resort is accessible by train. Major cities such as Sapporo, Hakodate, Otaru, Asahikawa, Obihiro and Kushiro are all easily reachable by train. But let’s say you want to go Asahiyama zoo, you will need to take a bus from Asahikawa station. And if you want to see the cranes at Kushiro, you will need a rental car to get to the crane area. The onsen towns all require bus rides from the nearest train stations as well.

      • Grace Wu says:

        Thank you for the prompt reply. How about the lakes like Lake Toya, Lake Akan, Lake Mashu? I suppose there are no direct train to these places as well?

        I can see some issues as we need to bring a stroller for our youngest kid. May I know how much roughly the car rental that can fit a family of 4? We might consider driving but not too sure as well about the safety as it is during winter. Thanks again.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Lake Toya, Lake Akan and Lake Mashu are all not accessible by train.

          It is extremely difficult to push a stroller through the snow in winter. Same goes for trolley luggage. Which is why we eventually decided to drive. But I will be honest and say it is quite dangerous to drive in winter. I almost had an accident during my first winter drive in 2010. And we did get into a small accident when we encountered an unexpected snow storm in Autumn in 2013. It was through these experiences (and the fact that it was already my 4th driving trip to Hokkaido) that I felt confident enough to drive in winter again for this trip. Even then, there were petrifying moments when I wished I had just taken a train.

          If you want to visit places like Lake Akan and Lake Mashu and to see the cranes, my best advice is for you to take a train to Kushiro and rent a car from there. This way you minimize your driving and the drive in Eastern Hokkaido is less intimidating than Central Hokkaido where traffic and snow tends to be heavier. My sister did that during a trip in December and it was her first time visiting Hokkaido and driving in winter, she did not encounter any problems. Just make sure you drive in daylight and reach your accommodation by 4pm.

          For Lake Toya, you can actually take a bus from Toya station or Sapporo station. The bus is operated by Donan Bus.

          For car rental, a very rough estimate will be about 8000 yen per day for a 5-seater sedan or 10000 yen per day for a 7-seater wagon. If you pack light, your family should be able to fit into a sedan.

  3. Cecilia says:

    Hi.

    Just wondering if you travel alot to Japan because you understand Japanese? Are there alot of places on your itinerary we can’t travel to without self-drive?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It was the opposite actually. I have been travelling to Japan before I started learning Japanese. It was because I enjoyed going to Japan so much that I went to take up a basic Japanese course.

      For Hokkaido, yes, there are some places that are difficult to reach without self-drive. But it depends on what you want to do. If you just want to go and ski, then ski resorts usually have buses to shuttle you there from Sapporo. But for the nature sights, I recommend either self-driving or following a package tour if you are worried about driving. Hokkaido’s public transport is pretty sparse and infrequent.

      • Cecilia says:

        Hi bumblebeemum.net

        Thank you for reply so fast. What are the places in your itinerary we can go without self-driven and can be reached by buses or trains? Are there any theme parks in Hokkaido? We love theme parks! Am trying to look for countries suitable for the kids and suitable for the “CFO’s” budget after out initial plan to Korean is being scrapped because of the MERS.

        I am considering Hokkaido because of my initial promise to the kids to bring them to ski resort. I am also contemplating because it seems like more of a scenery holiday which might be a little boring for us.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          There are theme parks in Hokkaido but they will be closed during Winter. The ones I know of are Rusutsu’s Amusement Park and Hokkaido Greenland but they don’t operate in winter months.

          If your aim is to do skiing, then you don’t need to drive. The famous ski resorts like Niseko and Rusutsu have buses from Sapporo and New Chitose Airport. Tomamu can be reached by train. Skiing is totally awesome in Hokkaido and Niseko has instructors from all over the world and you will not encounter language barrier there. If you go early December, prices are still quite affordable. Later on into the season, prices will more than double. This is because in early December, most ski resorts are still not fully operational. If you just want to ski or snowboard, it is not a problem. But if you want to do other activities like sledding, tubing etc, the snow parks for them are usually not ready until end of December earliest.

          Another great place to visit in Winter via public transport is Asahiyama Zoo which is accessible by train to Asahikawa followed by a ride on the Zoo bus.

  4. Liew says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for sharing the itinerary, am really lost while planning for a Hokkaido trip.
    I’m still pondering to whether self-drive or go with the public transport. )’:
    I’ve seen many good views at Tomamu resort, and saw you mentioning that it’s accessible via train, wondering what is the nearest train station and is it quite direct if I travel from Sapporo?

    And any recommendation for Onsens in Hokkaido?

    Planning to go Asahiyama Zoo, Tomamu Resort, Sapporo and understand that they are approx. 2 hr drive apart from each other :/

    Hear from you soon!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Tomamu Resort is near Tomamu station. There will be a resort shuttle bus to bring you between the station and the hotel lobby.

      Self drive timing depends on season. Eg between Sapporo and Asahikawa, it may take 2 hours in summer but we took 4 hours in winter due to heavy snow along the way. If you are visiting in Winter, I recommend public transport for the places you want to go (Sapporo, Asahikawa, Tomamu). Train is much faster than driving in winter.

      • Dorothy Cheong says:

        This is Dorothy Cheong again, travelling from 9-19 December by mpv. Can we park our mpv in Tomamu station and take the shuttle bus from the station to the resort? Or is it easy to drive up the resort? Will the road be wide like Mt Fuji?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          If you are driving, you should just take your car all the way up to the resort’s parking lot. I am not sure if it’s safe to just leave your car unattended at Tomamu station.

          With that said, I will be frank and tell you it is not easy to drive up to Tomamu resort. You need to drive VERY SLOW as you are approaching the resort because it is very easy to miss the turning into Tomamu. If you are coming from the West (Sapporo / CTS), it is still not too bad because the turning is on your side of the road. But if you are coming from the East (Kushiro / Obihiro), it is easy to miss the turn or turn onto the oncoming traffic. Let me show you the map so that you can be prepared:

          There is a very sharp turning as you approach the entry to Hoshino Resort.
          Click here for zoomed in map on the turning

          It is very easy to miss and it is very easy to turn onto the wrong lane (i.e. into oncoming traffic) if you are unaware of it. There are signboards but they may not be easy to spot if it’s snowing. Just drive dead slow when you approach that junction. If you are coming from the East, remember you are making almost like a V-shaped turn. There is a divider between the the lanes for the 2 directions, if you do a perpendicular turn, you will be turning into the oncoming traffic. You need to go past the divider and do a V-shaped turn back into the lane of your direction.

          To help you understand what I’m saying, click on > this link <. Imagine yourself coming from the right along route 136. If you take a perpendicular right too early, can you see you will be driving into the wrong direction? You need to go forward a bit more, past the divider (that triangular patch of blue) and do a V-shaped turn. Get it? Once you make this turning onto the road leading to the resort, keep your eyes peeled for directions leading to 'The Tower'. The signs are not big, and visibility will be poor in heavy snow (which is quite common considering you are at a ski resort), so you need to drive really slow and be very alert. Get the passenger sitting next to you to help spot the direction signs. And make sure you are there in broad daylight. The roads to the resort will be narrower than those at Mount Fuji. Just drive slowly and keep to the tyre tracks left behind by previous vehicles.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Forgot to add that there is direct train from Sapporo to Tomamu. You can check train schedule and timings on hyperdia.

  5. June says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,
    It’s me. I was asking your advice on Hokkaido which we completed in jun. We love Hokkaido so much we’re going again in Dec :P.
    We’re going during the 2nd week and I saw from your blog that many places are not open at that time. I was hoping you could suggest a few places that we could visit in 1 week. I don’t want to drive too intensively as we will be travelling in 2 cars. So far on our wish list is 1 night in Otaru. 1 onsen stay and maybe zoo in Asahikawa.
    Very much appreciate your advice
    Thanks
    June

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Lol, welcome to the Hokkaido travel addicts club.

      In 2nd week of December, most of the snow parks will not be open yet. The only one open will be Tomamu Ice Village. The penguin parade at Asahiyama zoo will also not have started. I recommend going to Eastern Hokkaido. The cranes at Kushiro is a must-see. You can also see the swans gatherings at Tokachigawa and Lake Kussharo. Akan National Park is very beautiful, do visit Lake Mashu (my favourite lake in Hokkaido), Iozan and Lake Kussharo. You will have a good chance of spotting wild Hokkaido foxes around Akan National Park. Winter is the BEST time to go onsen, so plan more onsen stays.

      Planning for a winter trip is very different from planning a summer trip. You will be driving at half the speed you did in summer. And the sun sets at 4+pm and you should always avoid driving in the dark i.e. you will need to reach your accommodation by 4pm latest. So usually, in one day, you visit maybe 1 or 2 (more only if they are really nearby) places, have lunch, and it’s time to head back to the hotel. Which is why I would recommend spending more night at onsen resorts for winter trips. Because you can relax in the onsen and look forward to dinner in the hotel after checking in.

      1 week is actually quite rushed. But if you really only have 1 week, this is what I recommend:
      Day 1: New Chitose Airport – Tomamu (Stay Hoshino Tomamu Resort)
      Day 2: Tomamu – Obihiro (Tokachigawa Onsen) – Kushiro (Stay at Kushiro)
      Day 3: Kushiro – Lake Akan (Stay at Lake Akan)
      Day 4: Lake Akan – Sounkyo (Stay at Sounkyo onsen)
      Day 5: Sounkyo – Asahiyama Zoo – Asahikawa
      Day 6: Asahikawa – Otaru
      Day 7: Otaru – New Chitose Airport

      The snow will be extremely heavy around Tomamu, Sounkyo Onsen and Asahikawa. Please drive slowly. For winter driving tips, please see my reply to Julie (the first comment) above.

  6. Blessed Mummy says:

    Hi hi,

    Chance upon your blog and would like to seek some advise from you. We will be travelling with 2 kids and 1 infant to Hokkaido in Dec. Planning to stay 3 nights in Sapporo after which we will drive up to Niseko for a 3nights stay. If we want to visit the places that your family visited, after Niseko which place shall we go ? Planning a 9 days trip in Hokkaido. hopping to hear from you soon. Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Firstly, do you have experience in driving in snowy condition? If not, I recommend you take a bus to Niseko instead of driving. It is extremely difficult to drive in Niseko during winter due to the heavy snow. Hokkaido Resort Liner operates buses between Sapporo and Niseko. The information is for the coming winter is not up yet. Check their website again in October for more details:
      http://www.access-n.jp/

      For the remaining 3 days, maybe you can extend 1 more day in Sapporo to do a day-trip to Asahikawa, visiting the Asahiyama Zoo. I recommend getting this Zoo tickets + Return train tickets + return bus tickets from JR:
      http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/pticket/pticket03.html#06

      For the other 2 days, you can do a side-trip to Hoshino Resort Tomamu, spending a night there. There is a wave pool that is warm even in winter, onsen and an Ice Village there. Tomamu is accessible via a direct train from Sapporo.
      http://www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/en/
      http://www.snowtomamu.jp/special/icevillage/index_en.html

      • Blessed Mummy says:

        hi hi, thank you for your speedy reply. We are experience driving in snowy condition. Tomamu and Asahikawa Zoo are in our list. Could you please help to review and advice me on the itinerary (for 9 or 10 days trip in Hokkaido),
        We are interested to visit Lake Toya, Lake Akan, Lake Mashu, Lozan ,Lake Kussharo and Kushiro and how the route should be ? Thank you so much.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          If you are planning to spend 3 days at Niseko, I don’t think there is enough time to visit all the places above in 10 days. Here’s a possible 10-day itinerary, without Lake Toya:

          Day 1: New Chitose Airport – Tomamu
          Day 2: Tomamu – Kushiro (Cranes, Kushiro market, Fisherman Wharf MOO)
          Day 3: Kushiro – Akan National Park (Lake Mashu, Iozan, Lake Kussharo) – Lake Akan
          Day 4: Lake Akan – Sounkyo Onsen
          Day 5: Sounkyo Onsen – Asahiyama Zoo – Asahikawa
          Day 6: Asahikawa – Sapporo
          Day 7: Sapporo – Niseko
          Day 8: Niseko
          Day 9: Niseko
          Day 10: Niseko – New Chitose Airport

          • Blessed Mummy says:

            hi hi, thank you so much for your suggested itinerary. If I do away the 3 night stay at Niseko and replaced it with Rusutsu and lake Toya, what will be the possible itinerary? So sorry for bombarding you with so many questions. This is my 1st trip to Hokkaido and I’m lost.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              No worries, glad to help wherever I can.

              If you remove Niseko, then for the last few days, you can go:

              Day 7: Sapporo – Rusutsu
              Day 8: Rusutsu
              Day 9: Rusutsu – Lake Toya
              Day 10: Lake Toya – New Chitose Airport

              If you want to go Niseko, you can just change Rusutsu to Niseko. Just that Niseko is SLIGHTLY off the grid, about an additional 1 hour driving in each direction compared to Rusutsu. I have pinned the 4 places (Sapporo, Niseko, Rusutsu and Lake Toya) on Google Map: >click here to view<. You can see Niseko is a slight detour compared to Rusutsu which is along the way between Sapporo and Lake Toya.

  7. Dorothy Cheong says:

    Hi,

    I googled and saw your blog. I am fascinated by your sharings in your blog. I have also fallen in love with Japan after my first trip in June 2014 with friends. Since then, I have travelled 2 additional times to different parts of Japan with group of friends and family members. We have always been driving in Japan. My up and coming trip is 9-19 December 2015 to Hokkaido which I am very anxious as we will be driving on a snowy road. After reading your blog, I have some consolation which is to always keep slow driving. May I know whether the roads are hilly and winding? I am apprehensive on mountaineering roads or winding roads. We will be driving from Chitose to Hakodate (2 nights) then to Noboritbetsu for a night before Furano (a night), then Lake Akan (a night), Asahikawa (a night) and finally to Sapporo (3 nights).

    Await your generous reply from your experience. Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Travelling to Japan is really very addictive!

      Regarding roads in Hokkaido, yes, they are mountainous and hilly and winding. Especially if you are headed to snow resorts. But they are not super narrow like some other countries, say Taiwan. Just go slow and keep to speed limits and slow your vehicle down well in advance when you are approaching a curve. And NEVER drive after dark in winter. Make sure you get to your accommodation by 4pm latest. When you use google map to check the driving time required, DOUBLE IT for winter. I’m not exaggerating.

      Is there any reason you are going to Furano in winter? There are better ski resorts, like Tomamu, and the roads around Furano are quite difficult to drive in winter. My recommendation is for you to swap Furano for Tomamu. If you look at the map, Tomamu is much more along the way from Noboribetsu to Lake Akan than Furano. And Tomamu has Ice Village in December. I have mapped out the routes for you to compare:
      > Map for Noboribetsu – Tomamu – Lake Akan
      > Map for Noboribetsu – Furano – Lake Akan

      Another thing is, are you going to skip the cranes in Kushiro? It seems a bit wasted to drive all the way to Lake Akan in winter but not go to Kushiro to see the cranes. I recommend reducing a night in Sapporo and slotting in Kushiro between Tomamu and Lake Akan. The crane gatherings only happen in winter and it would be a pity to miss it.

      • Dorothy Cheong says:

        Hi,

        Thank you for your prompt reply. My reason for dropping by Noboribetsu and Furano is to give us a break, considering the long distance from Onuma (snow activities near Hakodate) to Lake Akan/Kushiro. When I googled earlier, the nearest town after Noboribetsu was Furano, two hours plus but when I saw the google map you gave me, it was much longer than Tomamu. Funny! My initial plan was to drive from Noboribetsu to Kushiro but that seems to be a much quieter and longer distance. Anyway, Tomamu seems to be pretty interesting with the Ice Village and after relooking at your link again, we would have to make some adjustment. Thank you for the suggestion.
        Just to get further confirmation. Is the road at snow resort almost the same like Mount Fuji, wide and comfortable to drive?
        Yes, our purpose of going to Lake Akan is solely to see the crane.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yes, the roads around Hokkaido are pretty similar to Hakone / Mount Fuji region. Just that they will be covered with snow in winter. For winter driving tips, see my reply to Julie (first comment above).

          If you are looking for a place to break up the drive from Noboribetsu to Lake Akan / Kushiro, then Tomamu is the ideal place.

          Ah.. I considered the cranes to be part of Kushiro rather than Lake Akan. Ideally you should spend 1 night at Kushiro AND 1 night at Lake Akan, especially in winter, to slowly explore the region. At Kushiro, you can see the cranes and visit Washo Market. At Lake Akan, you can drive around to Lake Mashu, Iozan and Lake Kussharo. You would need 2 days to cover all these comfortably.

          • Dorothy Cheong says:

            Hi,

            Yes, I read the tips for driving in winter in reply to Julie. Very good tips and will take note. Thank you for all the recommendations and advice. Will rearrange my itinerary.

  8. Fiona says:

    Hi bubblemum,

    Your blog is so informative!!

    We are planning to go Hokkaido in 2nd week of Dec this year, about 8 days. We have a family of five with 3 kids aged 8 and 6 respectively. Can you assist to advise the itinerary? My husband wants to stay in a ski resort about 2 days and I want to bring the kids to Asahiyama Zoo.

    Is it advisable to drive or to take public transport? Can you also advise on the accommodation?

    Thank you so much!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For winter, if you have never driven in snowy condition before, I usually recommend public transport. But the problem is Hokkaido’s public transport ain’t great. And with kids, I felt that driving was the lesser of two evils (compared to having to move around in snow with kids and luggage).

      What I would advise is for you to find a hotel in Sapporo, connected to Sapporo station, to base yourselves. This means you should be able to go by train from the airport to the hotel without having to go into the snow. Because really, walking around in the snow with kids and luggage is a total nightmare. Note that you will not be able to roll trolley luggage properly through snow. Accommodations easily accessible from Sapporo station that I know of (though I have never stayed in) include:

      JR Inn Sapporo
      (Their website says “Accessibility without being drenched with rain”.)

      Hotel North Gate Sapporo
      (From the map it looks like it is right smack outside Sapporo Station’s North exit.)

      JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo
      (The hotel that is within JR station i.e. you don’t even need to step out of the station to get there)

      From Sapporo, you can visit Asahiyama Zoo as a day-trip by train + bus. Asahikawa area is extremely difficult to drive in winter, so I recommend the train + bus.

      In 2nd week of December, I would recommend Tomamu for a ski resort. Their ice slide and snow tubing would be ready, while the ones at other resorts would not yet be ready till end December. Tomamu is also accessible by direct train from Sapporo. What you can do is, leave you big luggage at the hotel in Sapporo and pack a smaller bag for the 2 days at the ski resort when you visit Tomamu.

  9. Fiona says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum,

    Thank u for the reply!!

    We are thinking to change our itinerary, hence need your advise on our itinerary.

    1) day 1: Chitose to Sapporo
    2) day 2: tour at Sapporo
    3) day 3: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
    4) day 4: Sapporo – Asahiyama Zoo- Sapporo
    5) day 5: Sapporo – Tomamu
    6) day 6: Tomamu
    7) day 7: Tomamu – Kushiro
    8) day 8: Kushiro – Lake Akan – Sapporo
    9) day 9: Chitose to Singapore

    Is the above itinerary ok? From Tomamu to Kushiro is it far? And from Kushiro to Lake Akan is it far?

    We are thinking to chartered a driver, do you have any contacts? What accommodation do you recommend to stay over at Kushiro?

    Thank u in advance!!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 8 looks bad. You should spend the night at Lake Akan instead of Sapporo. What time is your flight back on Day 9? If it is in the evening, you can take a shuttle bus back to CTS directly from Lake Akan.
      http://www.tsuruga.com/en/access/shuttlebus.html

      The rest of the itinerary looks okay. Tomamu to Kushiro is not far (by Hokkaido standards). It is a 2.5 hours direct train.

      Kushiro to Lake Akan is not far either. But you would need a car to cover the scenic areas in between. I do not have contact for a chartered driver, because I always self-drive. But a driver sounds good. If you can find a driver to pick you up from Kushiro, drive you to the places to see cranes, then to Lake Mashu, Iozan & Lake Kussharo before dropping you off at an accommodation in Lake Akan, that would be excellent.

      At Kushiro, you can try Super Hotel Kushiro (which is a short walk to Washo Market & 15 min walk from Fisherman’s Wharf MOO) or Crowne Plaza ANA Kushiro (which is right beside Fisherman’s Wharf MOO & 15 min walk to Washo Market).

  10. Fiona says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum,

    Ur reply is so speedy!! Thank u!!!

    For day 8, if we stay at Lake Akan, what accommodation will you recommend?

    Our flight back from Chitose to Singapore is 1pm, do you think will b in time if we travel from Lake Akan to Chitose on Day 9?

    This is the 1st time that we are traveling to a winter country. Hence, I need your advise on what to prepare for the kids.

    Looking forward for your reply!!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      At you on budget or willing to splurge? Tsuruga group has 3 hotels at Lake Akan. If you are on a budget, try Hanayuuka. There are not much facilities within Hanayuuka, but you can catch their free shuttle to Akan Yuku No Sato to use the facilities there. So you pay like 3* price but enjoy 5* facilities. But if you want a truly 5* experience and don’t mind splurging, then just stay at Akan Yuku no Sato.

      I don’t think you can make it in time to CTS for a 1pm flight from Lake Akan. You may have to push everything forward by cutting out Day 2 at Sapporo and shifting it right to the back. i.e.

      day 1: Chitose to Sapporo
      day 2: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
      day 3: Sapporo – Asahiyama Zoo- Sapporo
      day 4: Sapporo – Tomamu
      day 5: Tomamu
      day 6: Tomamu – Kushiro
      day 7: Kushiro – Lake Akan
      day 8: Lake Akan – Sapporo
      day 9: Sapporo – Chitose to Singapore

      For winter clothing, stock up on heat-tech inner wear from Uniqlo.

      Head: Wear a beanie that can cover the ears.
      Body: Wear a heat-tech long sleeve, followed by a layer of vest (something to keep the chest warm), followed by a thick sweater / cardigan and finally a waterproof winter jacket meant for sub-zero temperatures.
      Bottom: Wear a heat-tech leggings, followed by thick waterproof pants.
      Feet: Wear a pair of long socks, layered by a pair of thick short socks and high waterproof boots.
      Hands: Waterproof winter gloves

      It is important that the outermost layers are waterproof, because you really do not want to get wet in winter. Do not neglect the shoes. They must be absolutely waterproof and high enough so that snow will drop into the shoes.

      Additional stuff: You can buy heat packs from Daiso. I especially like the sticky ones that can be stuck to clothes / under the socks. You can stick them to the your clothes to keep yourself warm. The ones to be stuck to the bottom of the socks are a life-saver, because the feet which is in constant contact with the ice and snow on the floor always gets cold very quickly.

      • Fiona says:

        Hi Bumblebee mum,

        Thank you for your advise!! You are very detailed!!

        Can I check where can I buy the waterproof boots for adults and children?

        Where do I go to watch cranes in Kushiro? We can also watch cranes at Lake Akan?

        One last question, how long is the travelling hours from Lake Akan to Sapporo via driving (If we charter driver) and via public transport? I need to know because I want to plan where to go in Sapporo on Day 8.

        Thank you once again!!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Ah… Right.. I bought my waterproof boots in Hokkaido. Once you reach Sapporo, try Tanukikoji. I saw shoe shops there selling waterproof boots, the cheap Phua Chu Kang kind with a rope to tighten at the top to prevent snow from falling it. Doesn’t look very nice but it works. The department stores tend to sell fashion boots that are not really meant for deep snow, more for walking around the cities. If you want something that looks good and can withstand the snow at ski resorts, you need to go sports shops.

          The cranes are all gathered at an area in between Kushiro and Lake Akan (which is why some people say go Lake Akan to see crane but I say go Kushiro, but we are all talking about the same place). There are two main areas they gather to feed in winter: Tsurumidai and Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary. If you are getting a driver, check with him if he knows these places. If he doesn’t… Err… find another driver. I find it hard to believe that a driver from Kushiro would not know these places.

          It is a bit hard to estimate driving time in winter because it really depends on how heavy the snow is and how much snow has accumulated on the road by the time you are there. But just a very rough gauge:
          – Drive direct from Lake Akan to Sapporo is 4 hours fastest. If it snows, it will take longer.
          – Shuttle bus would probably take about 5 hours since it needs to go to the airport before reaching Sapporo.

          You will probably be spending all day on the road on Day 8 really. You may want to consider not going back to Sapporo and just go back to CTS directly, spending the night at Air Terminal Hotel. There are lots to do at CTS:
          http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/02/21/hokkaido-new-chitose-airport-with-kids/

  11. Mabel says:

    Plan trip to Hokkaido (19-26 Sep 2015)

  12. Fiona says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum,

    Thank u for all the info and advise :)

  13. Fiona says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum,

    My husband said it’s too tiring to travel so many places. So we would like to eliminate either Kushiro or Lake Akan. Which place would u recommend us to eliminate?

    Thank u in advance! :)

  14. Fiona says:

    Thank u!! We will go Lake Akan to see cranes!! :)

  15. Fiona says:

    It’s beautiful!! I can’t wait to go there!

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Bumblebee Mum,

      I have bought most of the winter wear. I need your advise on the bottom, can the kids wear thermal wear with jeans during the day trip at Otaru and Sapporo. Will let them wear long socks layered by short thick socks and water proof boots. Is it ok?

      Can you also advise where to buy waterproof pants in Singapore?

      Thank you very much!!

      Best Regards
      Fiona

      • bumblebeemum says:

        Nono… Please don’t wear jeans. Jeans are not waterproof nor windproof. Please get something waterproof. Your kids may slip and fall (something that happens pretty easily in winter) and get their bums wet, so make sure the outermost layer of their pants are waterproof. Try Cold Wear / Winter Times? If not Northern Face / Columbia?

        • Fiona says:

          Hi bumblebee mum,

          Sorry to disturb, It’s me again! I happened to check thru the JR fares. Can I check with u on the Sapporo-Otaru welcome pass, do we need to use the consecutively for 2 days I.e. Mon travel to Otaru and Tues using subway? Or can I use on I.e. Mon and Wed? Also, Any shopping mall to recommend that is around to JR Sapporo?

          Thank you for your advise!

          • bumblebeemum says:

            For the Sapporo-Otaru welcome pass, the return trip to Otaru and the subway card are separate. So you can use the subway card any day, regardless of when you do the Otaru trip.

            JR Sapporo? I am not really into fashion, so my favourite shopping spot there is Daimaru food hall at B1 of Daimaru. Sapporo Ramen Republic at 10th floor of ESTA is also worth checking out. Otherwise I find the things at ESTA generally cheaper than Stellar Place or Daimaru.

  16. Mabel says:

    Hi, Really enjoy your blog.. My Hubby and I plan to travel to Hokkaido Self drive in Sep 19-Sep 26 for 8D6N. Could you advise us with the short day in Japan. Which place is
    best to go? Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You can try your luck around Lake Akan / Daisetsuzan National Park during this period for autumn foliage. You should also visit Furano & Biei. The region is still very beautiful with the colourful flower fields still blooming in September, although lavender will be gone by then.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi, Thanks for your reply.

        I will pick up the car from the airport
        and drive down first stop to Adahikawa. Can give advise the distance and worth to go?

        Day 1 Asahikawa
        Overnight two day onsen/Hotel?

        Day 3 Furano Biel
        Overnight 1 day Hotel suggestion?

        Day 4 Taisetu Mountains/Sounkyou
        Overnite 1 day Hotel suggestion?

        Day 5 Kushiro
        Overnite 1 day Hotel suggestion?

        Day 6-7

        Sapporo overnight 2 day
        Beside Mercure Hotel any hotel to recom?

        Thanks

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Your itinerary looks way too rushed. 1 day is definitely too rushed for Furano and Biei. And Kushiro to Sapporo is VERY far, I recommend breaking the driev up. Btw, because you posted anonymously, I’m not sure which thread you are replying to and what has been discussed before. E.g. when you are travelling / who you are travelling with (kids / retirees / couple) etc. All these make a difference in determining if a place would be worth visiting or not and it’s a bit hard for me to advice you without these information.

    • Mabel says:

      Hi, Thanks for your reply.

      I will pick up the car from the airport
      and drive down first stop to Adahikawa. Can give advise the distance and worth to go?

      Day 1 Asahikawa
      Overnight two day onsen/Hotel?

      Day 3 Furano Biel
      Overnight 1 day Hotel suggestion?

      Day 4 Taisetu Mountains/Sounkyou
      Overnite 1 day Hotel suggestion?

      Day 5 Kushiro
      Overnite 1 day Hotel suggestion?

      Day 6-7

      Sapporo overnight 2 day
      Beside Mercure Hotel any hotel to recom?

      Thanks

      • bumblebeemum says:

        Hmm.. Why do you want to visit Kushiro? It seems a bit out of the way.

        For Asahikawa, the only thing interesting there are the zoo and ramen village. If you are not travelling with kids, you can give the zoo a miss. I would give Kushiro a miss and shift the other night to Furano / Biei. And I would swap the order of your itinerary, because of your travel dates. There’s a better chance of seeing autumn foliage towards the end of the month.

        Day 1: CTS – Furano

        Day 2: Furano

        Day 3: Furano – Biei (sightseeing while passing through) – Asahidake Onsen for the night

        Day 4: Asahidake ropeway + hiking – Sounkyo Onsen for the night

        Day 5: Sounkyo area sightseeing + ropeway – Asahikawa for the night
        http://www.sounkyo.net/english/tourism/
        – You can have dinner at Asahikawa Ramen Village
        http://ramenmura.com/

        Day 6: Asahikawa – Sapporo

        Day 7: Sapporo – CTS

        As for accommodation:

        Furano: New Furano Prince Hotel is the most popular hotel there, with Ningle terrace and ropeway and all.
        http://www.princehotels.com/en/newfurano/

        Asahidake Onsen: Never stayed there before.

        Sounkyo Onsen: I stayed at Choyo Tei before and loved it.
        http://en.choyotei.com/

        Asahikawa: I stayed at Loisir because they had a good deal when I was there. But the hotel I have been KIV-ing (though I never stayed) is Asahikawa Grand Hotel.
        http://www.solarehotels.com/hotel/hokkaido/loisir-asahikawa/
        http://www.asahikawa-grand.com/eng/

        Sapporo: Hmm.. Not sure what else to recommend.. Of all the hotels I have stayed in in Sapporo, I still liked Mercure best.

        • Mabel says:

          Thank for your comment.

          Mercure hotel fully booked on that date Japan holiday start 19-23 Sep.

          Maybe I will try other hotel surrounding.

          • bumblebeemum says:

            Ah… I see… If you are looking for hotels nearby of similar price range, can try ANA Holiday Inn Susukino or Toyoko Inn Susukino.

            • Mabel says:

              Hi Bumblebee Mum

              Self drive (Two person 19 Sep-26 Sep)

              Can you help me to see the calculation distance for self drive.

              19/09 Reach Sapporo airport – 9am (pick up car and leave to Furanao 12pm)

              19/09 Sapporo airport to Furanao – Approx 2.5 hours (Hotel Prince Hotel/Furano or nearby hotel 2 night)
              Furanao to Biel – Approx 1 hrs
              (Sight seeing)

              21/09 Biel to Ashikawa – Approx 4 hrs (Asahikawa grand hotel 2 nights)
              (Sight seeing)

              23/09 Asahikawa to Sapporo station – Arrpox 5 hrs

              23/09 Return car Sapporo nearby

              26/09 catch 11am flight back to Singapore

              Hilton Niseko village is this the best time to go in winter time?

              Thanks

              • bumblebeemum says:

                Hmm.. the timings you have stated, are they driving timings? Or include sightseeing? For driving timings, Google map gives a pretty good estimation for summer (non-snowy) drives. E.g. Biei to Asahikawa is only a 1 hour direct drive. And Asahikawa to Sapporo is a 2 hour direct drive.

                19/09: I do not recommmend going to Biei on the first day. Just stay around Furano for the first day. You can go to Biei on 21/9 when you are heading up to Asahikawa, because Biei is in between Furano and Asahikawa.

                Niseko is a ski resort, so yes, the best time to go is Winter. But I enjoyed the region even in summer – it is very scenic. Your dates look like it’ll be a good time for autumn foliage at Niseko actually.

                • Mabel says:

                  Hi, Bubmle bee mum

                  If I want to go Hilton Niseko village. on which day is best to
                  go and stay over night. day 22 or 23?

                  19-21 Sapporo airport to Furanao – Approx 2.5 hrs Prince Hotel/Furano) Furanao to Biel – Approx 1 hrs
                  (Sight seeing)

                  21 Furano – Biei (sightseeing while passing through) – Asahidake Onsen for the night

                  22 Asahidake ropeway + hiking – Sounkyo Onsen for the night (Sight seeing)

                  23 Sounkyo area sightseeing + ropeway – Asahikawa for the night (Sight seeing)

                  24-26 Asahikawa-Sapporo – Mercure Hotel

                  If I want to go Hilton Niseko village. Which direction
                  is nearer?

                  • Mabel says:

                    Hi, Bumble Bee

                    I have problem book Asahidake and Sounkyo Onsen

                    Asahidake Which hotel will you suggest?

                    Choyo Tei I went in to book and they request me to put
                    Mobile and House number..

                    What does is mean by put mobile and House number “half-width”?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Hmmm… The half-width thingy is Japanese. Try booking through Rakuten instead? When I have problems keying in particulars with the Japanese booking websites, I will try to book through Rakuten:
                      http://travel.rakuten.com.sg/hotel/Japan-Hokkaido-Kamikawa_Sounkyo_Choyotei/5502/

                      You can also try hotel booking websites such as Agoda, booking.com, hotels.com etc. See which one offers the best price.

                      I have never stayed in Asahidake, so can’t recommend any particular accommodation. I don’t think there are that many hotels in that area. Just browse through listings on hotel booking websites and see what is available?

                  • bumblebeemum says:

                    Hi,

                    You cannot go to Hilton Niseko Village on 22 or 23. It is at a totally different area in Hokkaido. If you REALLY want to go, I suggest you go from Sapporo. i.e. on the 25th, you drive from Sapporo, through Jozankei onsen area, stopping by Houheikyou Dam, towards Niseko. You MAY be able to see some autumn foliage that way, though September seems a bit early for autumn foliage around Jozankei (I was there mid October and autumn foliage was at its peak then). But as you get nearer to Niseko, there should be autumn foliage by late September.

                    I have plotted out the Sapporo – Jozankei Onsen – Houheikyou Dam – Niseko route on Google map:
                    > Click here to view map

                    If you do go to Niseko, the popular route to drive around Niseko in autumn is along route 66.

  17. Chermaine says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    firstly, would like to thank you for your informative blog.

    I would be travelling to hokkaido from 26 Nov (landing 3pm chitose) to 6 Dec. Just 2 people.
    1) What are the weather conditions like for self driving? Are snow tyres and snow chains required?

    2) Which of the following do u think i should give it a miss? and how should i plan the itinerary? would like to go skiiing and onsen as well.
    Asahikawa
    Asahi-dake
    Taisetsu Mountains
    Sounkyou
    Daisetsuzan
    Lake Mashu
    Iozan
    Lake Kussharo
    Lake Akan (Akan National Park)
    Sapporo
    Mt Moiwa Ropeway
    Mt Tengu
    Otaru
    Hirafu/Niseko
    Mt Yotei
    Rusutsu
    Mount Usu
    Lake Toya
    Noboribetsu
    Kitayuzawa
    Tomamu/Lake Shikotsu/Kuttara-ko
    Hakodate

    Thanks in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) It will be snowing by then. Snow chains will not be required, but roads will be covered with snow at some points. Snow tyres will definitely be required.

      2) You got to choose one: Either explore the central region (Niseko, Lake Toya, Otaru, Noboribetsu) or Eastern region (Tomamu, Akan National Park).

      Central region possible itinerary would go like this:

      26 Nov: Spend the night at Sapporo
      27 Nov: Sapporo (Mount moiwa ropeway is in Sapporo)
      28 Nov: Day trip to Otaru / Mt Tengu Ropeway)
      29 Nov – 2 Dec: Niseko skiing (use Hokkaido Resort Liner, no need to drive)
      3 Dec: Rent a car, drive to Lake Toya.
      4 Dec: Drive to Noboribetsu
      5 Dec: Drive to Lake Shikotsu
      6 Dec: Drive back to CTS

      Eastern Hokkaido possible itinerary would go like this:

      26 Nov: Spend the night at Sapporo
      27 Nov: Sapporo (Mount moiwa ropeway is in Sapporo)
      28 Nov: Day trip to Otaru / Mt Tengu Ropeway)
      29 Nov – 1 Dec: Tomamu skiing (you can get there by train from Sapporo)
      2 Dec: Rent a car, drive to Kushiro (visiting the cranes / Washo Market)
      3 Dec: Kushiro – Lake Akan (visiting Lake Mashu / Iozan / Lake Kussharo along the way)
      4 Dec: Lake Akan – Daisetsuzan region (staying at Sounkyo onsen)
      5 Dec: Sounkyo – Asahikawa
      6 Dec: Drive back to CTS

      In both itineraries, I am assuming your flight on 6 Dec is not too early, and you have ample time to get back to CTS. If your flight is early in the morning, you need to tweak the itinerary to return to CTS a day earlier (e.g. by spending a day less skiing)

      • Chermaine says:

        Dear Bumblebeemum,
        Greatly appreciated the reply.

        we are intending to rent a car from chitose airport and returning it at the same place.
        Do u think there is sufficient time for us to drive to sapporo if we are landing at 3pm?

        Also, which is more recommended? Central or eastern?
        I prefer to ski in niseko however its hard to forgo Lake Akan and the Daisetsuzan Region.

        Thank you

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Nope, if you land at 3pm, it will definitely be dark by the time you clear customs and collect your rental car. Driving to Sapporo in the dark in winter is a bad idea. I recommend taking public transport to Sapporo and renting the car only when you are leaving Sapporo. You can return the car to CTS. Most car rental companies just charge a nominal drop-off fee for pick-up in Sapporo and drop off in CTS. Some companies even waive the drop-off fee, since this is very common.

          Personally, I prefer the Eastern Hokkaido route in winter. But I don’t ski, hence I’m not attracted to Niseko personally. LOL… I’m more into Tomamu because of their giant ice slide at the Tomamu Ice Village.
          http://www.snowtomamu.jp/special/icevillage/index_en.html

          • Chermaine says:

            Dear Bumblebeemum,

            Just realised my flight back is on 7th instead of the 6th. do u think the below itinerary is possible?
            27 Nov: Sapporo
            28 Nov: Otaru (drive to niseko before 4pm-overnight stay in niseko)
            29 Nov: Niseko
            30 Nov: Lake Toya
            1 Dec: Noboribetsu
            2 Dec: Lake Shikotsu
            3 Dec-4 Dec: Tomamu
            5 Dec: Lake Akan
            6 Dec: Daisetsuzan/Sounkyo/Asahikawa
            7 Dec: Drive back to CTS

            Thank you

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Nope, that itinerary is way too rushed. If want to go Niseko as well as Eastern Hokkaido, I suggest you skip Sapporo and Otaru totally.

              27 Nov: Take bus from CTS to Niseko
              28 Nov: Niseko
              29 Nov: Rent car from Niseko, drive to Lake Toya.
              30 Nov: Lake Toya – Noboribetsu
              1 Dec: Noboribetsu – Tomamu
              2 Dec: Tomamu
              3 Dec: Tomamu – Kushiro
              4 Dec: Kushiro – Lake Akan
              5 Dec: Lake Akan – Sounkyo
              6 Dec: Sounkyo – Asahikawa
              7 Dec: Asahikawa – CTS

              • Chermaine says:

                Thank you.
                But do u think niseko ski will be open on 27-28 November?
                I’ve found on some sites which mentioned that it will only open on 1st dec.
                Thanks again :)

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Yes, Grand Hirafu should be open by end November, though not fully. Only selected ski lifts will be open then I believe.

                  • Chermaine says:

                    Hi Bumblebeemum,
                    i was trying to reserve a car via tocoo. Would like to check with u the following:-

                    1) Do u usually pay for the Compensation Coverage (Voluntary)? Do u know what do they cover under this?

                    2) Have u used their wifi router before? What do u usually use to get internet access in hokkaido?

                    Thank you

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      1) Okay, I am not 100% sure, but I think this is what compensation coverage means: In the event of any accident, there is an amount of money (known as ‘excess’ in insurance) that you would need to pay before the insurance covers the remaining amount. So for e.g. if the excess is $1000, and cost of damage is $5000, you will need to pay $1000 and the insurance company will pay the remaining $4000. But if the damange is only $500, you will have to pay that $500 and the insurance company pays nothing. Compensation coverage basically covers this excees, i.e. if you top up for compensation coverage, in the event of any damage, you will be fully covered.

                      With that said, I always OPT OUT of Tocoo’s compensation coverage. If you want to ensure you are fully covered, I recommend you get comprehensive insurance coverage directly from the car rental company, it is much more straight forward. From what I read on Tocoo’s website, if you get their comprehensive coverage, you will still need to pay the car rental company first, and contact Tocoo after that for claims. Sounds like a real hassle. So don’t bother with Tocoo’s insurance and buy insurance from the car rental company.

                      You may also want to check your travel insurance to see if they cover CDW for self-drive trips. If they do, you really don’t need this extra insurance as your travel insurance should take care of it. Also, some credit cards offer to travel insurance that covers CDW if you used the credit card to pay for the trip, so check if you have that already.

                      2) Nope, I have not used Tocoo’s WIFI router before. If you need WIFI router, you may want to consider getting from Changi Airport. (I am assuming you are from Singapore?)
                      https://www.changirecommends.com/owifi.aspx

                      I don’t usually have internet access when I travel. It’s just a personal preference. I don’t like to be constantly connected to the internet when I’m on holidays.

                    • chermaine says:

                      Hi Bumblebeemum,

                      can i also check if we need a special international license to drive in hokkaido?

                      If yes, how do we get it?

                      thank you

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Yes. Singaporeans must apply from international driving permit and bring BOTH the IDP and Singapore driving license along to Japan, otherwise the car rental company won’t let you rent a car!
                      http://www.aas.com.sg/?show=content&showview=8&val=461

  18. celestine Lim says:

    hi bumblebeemum, after reading ur hokkaido blog i pluck up my courage to do my 1st self drive trip-2girls. I will be departing 09nov to 16nov 2015. My itinerary will be a relaxed one covering central hokkaido.
    Day 1: Sapporo. R&R
    Day 2: Sapporo. Explore.city
    Day 3: Sapporo.11am Pick up car. Shiroi koibito factory, mt moiwa etc..can you recommend where else.
    Day 4: 9am Drive to noboribetsu. On d way stoppver at lake shikotsu for pic continue to Noboribetsu. Explore jikokudani.
    Day 5: Drive to Otaru. Stopover at Lake toya. Drive to Niseko takahashi Milk kobo. Drive to Otaru.
    Day 6: 8am drive to Cape kamui, Shakotan, Visit fruit farm. Visit mushroom kingdom
    Day 7: 11am drop off car in otaru. Explore otaru.
    Day 8: Train otaru-Sapporo-New chitose.
    – im not sure if d above planned is ok for 1st timers.
    Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 3: Other places you can explore with the car are Sappor beer factory and Hitsujigaoka observation hill. You should also visit Hokkaido’s Univerity Gingko Avenue, hopefully the trees would have turned golden by November!

      Day 5: This itinerary looks too packed. November is already winter in Hokkaido, the sun is going to set really early (around 5pm). It may even be snowing by then. So please avoid driving after dark and keep your itinerary loose. I would recommend you omit the itinerary for Day 6 and spread out what you want to do on Day 5 over 2 days. You may also be too late for fruit-picking season. If you really want to try your luck at fruit picking, there are fruit farms at Sobetsu near Lake Toya. That is more along the way than Yamamoto Fruits Orchard.

      • celestine Lim says:

        thank you for your reply really appreciate the advice. I’ve revised as fllws;
        Day 04: Lake Shikotsu kohan. Is this the place for the yummy cheese imo you were saying. Do u hv the mapcode for this.After Lake shikotsu will go directly to noboribetsu.
        Day 05:i will skip Lake toya n fruit farm. 11am Noboribetsu drive straight to Niseko milk kobo.
        Day 6: 8am Cape Kamui, Shakotan, mushroom kingdom.

        thank you

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hi,

          Day 4: The map code for the Lake Shikotsu cheese imo mochi is 867 063 387. But 2 of my friends who went Hokkaido recently both had problems using map codes. If the map code doesn’t work, just follow directions to Lake Shikotsu. The shop is very near the Tourist Information Centre at Lake Shikotsu. Just across the road, facing the lake.

          Day 5: You can still stop for some photos along Lake Toya, which is very scenic. Lake Toya is right smack along the way from Noboribetsu to Niseko, you are going to pass by it anyway, if you use the non-toll way (which is much shorter than the toll way). See this post for instructions on how to set the GPS to take the non-toll way.

          One of the best places to stop for a quick photo opportunity is the Silo Observatory on the WEST side of Lake Toya. You can see both Lake Toya on on side and Mount Yotei on the other side. The map code for the Silo Observatory is 321 726 760. Click here for Google Map location.

          I have plotted out the route from Noboribetsu to Niseko, with a stop at Silo Observatory at Lake Toya on Google Map, so you can see that it is along the way. Click here here to view route on Google Map.

  19. Fiona says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum,

    It’s me again..

    Can you help to recommend the places to go in Sapporo (1 day) and Otaru (1day)? I will be taking the JR and for Sapporo we will like to go to the chocolate factory.

    Thank you very much!!! :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For 1 day in Sapporo, you can visit either Nijo Market or Sapporo Central Wholesale Market in the morning, the chocolate factory in the afternoon, and take the Mount Moiwa ropeway in the evening.

      For Otaru, just explore the shops along Sakaimachi and the Otaru Canal area.

    • Fiona says:

      Thank u very much bumble bee mum!!

      Can I check, will it be suffcient if I spend half a day at Otaru?

      Thanks for ur advice!

  20. Sam lee says:

    Hi Humble Bee Mum,

    Like. the rest, I stumble upon your blog while searching for snow in Hokkaido. I will be traveling there on the 10th of December and will stay for a week. We are going free and easy and my children is hoping to see snow. I’ve found out there will be no snow early December. We will not be driving and was wondering whether you can recommend any places for me. There’s 6 of us. 2 adults and 4 children, 11 and above. Thank you in advance

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Why wouldn’t there be snow in early December? Maybe in Sapporo there will not be thick snow yet (it really depends… When we were there, there was no snow on the floor yet on 2-6 Dec while we were in Sapporo, but right after we left Sapporo and drove to Eastern Hokkaido, my friend posted a photo of herself in Sapporo covered in THICK THICK snow! Because super heavy snow came right after we left and within 3 days, the whole Sapporo was covered with enough snow for my friend to build a snow man. So there’s a bit of luck involved.

      So for a guaranteed snow experience, you need to head to the snow resorts. Niseko and Tomamu will be full of snow by December. Asahikawa Zoo should also have a lot of snow then.

  21. Peng says:

    Hi bumblemum,

    Your blog is fantastic & you are so experience in Hokkaido!
    My family of 3 (kid 10 yr old) will be going to Hokkaido for the 1st time on 1st to 2nd week Dec. Trip of 1 days: 10 full days (10 nights).
    Considering 1st visit, appreciate some of your valuable advise:

    1) is Hakodate worth going?
    2) Should we stay in Asahikawa for a night? Anything worth seeing there in the night or next morning?
    3) Which lake is worth going in winter? Lake Toya, Mashu, Akan, Onuma?
    4) Which onsen is good in Noboribetsu?
    5) Which ski resort should we visit? Rusutsu, Niseko, Tomamu? Prefer 2 nights stay.
    6) which ski resort has reindeer sledding 1st week of Dec? any other ski resort with kid activities?
    7) Can you advise which area should we rent a car and which should we take public transport?
    8) Is it to rush to cover: Sapporo 3 nights, Otaru 1 night, Ski resorts 2 nights, Onsen 1 night, the rest flexi…
    9) Anywhere else not to be missed for a winter trip?

    Thank you so much for your generous sharing. :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) is Hakodate worth going?

      Depends on how much time you have and what is your interest. I love their morning market and the night view from Mount Hakodate. But if you are looking to spend more time skiing, then give it a miss.

      2) Should we stay in Asahikawa for a night? Anything worth seeing there in the night or next morning?

      Asahiyama Zoo is worth visiting. There is also a famous ramen village there, though I do not recommend driving there for dinner during winter because you will be driving in the dark in extremely heavy snow, which means zero visibility. You can stay at Asahikawa for a night if you plan to visit the zoo.

      3) Which lake is worth going in winter? Lake Toya, Mashu, Akan, Onuma?

      Depends on the direction you are heading. If you are heading East, you should visiting Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo, Lake Akan. If you are heading South, you should visit Lake Toya and Onuma Koen.

      4) Which onsen is good in Noboribetsu?

      I like Hotel Mahoroba.

      5) Which ski resort should we visit? Rusutsu, Niseko, Tomamu? Prefer 2 nights stay.

      Again, depends on the direction you are heading. If you want to go East (towards Lake Akan), then go to Tomamu. If you want to stay around Central / Southern region, then to to Niseko. Rusutsu is not particularly interesting in early December. Their snow park only opens in late Dec.

      6) which ski resort has reindeer sledding 1st week of Dec? any other ski resort with kid activities?

      Our reindeer sledding was done at Tomamu. Most resorts do not have much kids activities in early December because there is still not enough snow to construct the snow parks. Only Tomamu’s Ice Village would have a giant ice slide and snow tubing lane at that time.

      7) Can you advise which area should we rent a car and which should we take public transport?

      You should take public transport as far as possible. Drive only when you need to (e.g. if you want to visit Akan National Park, you can take train until Kushiro and rent a car from there to explore the Akan National Park area.)

      8) Is it to rush to cover: Sapporo 3 nights, Otaru 1 night, Ski resorts 2 nights, Onsen 1 night, the rest flexi…

      It looks okay to me. In fact, you do not need to spend 1 night at Otaru. You can take a day trip to Otaru from Sapporo. In winter, try not to move around so much with luggage.

      9) Anywhere else not to be missed for a winter trip?

      Personally I think the cranes in Kushiro are worth visting. They only gather at the feeding grounds during winter, so I would recommend heading there for a winter trip.

  22. Peng says:

    Hi Bumblemum,

    You blog is fantastic and you are so experience in Hokkaido!

    I’m planning a trip on the 1st to 2nd week of Dec to Hokkaido (12 days: 10 full days and nights, actually) …Gonna be our very 1st trip there and would like your valuable advise on the following:

    Couple with a primary level kid

    1) Is it worth to visit Hakodate?
    2) Which onsen is good in Noboribetsu?
    3) Which Lake is best to visit in Winter? Lake Toya, Mashu, Akan, Onuma?
    4) Which ski resort is a better choice? Rusutsu, Niseko or Tomamu?
    5) which has the reindeer sledding on the 1st week of Dec?
    6) Is biei worth going in winter?
    7) Are we able to see Unkai in Tomamu in Dec? Gondola still open?
    8) Which places is best to rent car and which best to take bus/train?
    9) Should we stay a night in Asahikawa (going to zoo)? Anything to see in the night there or next morning? Is there penguin parade on 1st week Dec?
    10) Possible to get your advise and suugestion of hotels to cover Otaru 1night, Sapporo 3 nights, Onsen 1 night, the rest flexi…
    11) Any other places that is a must-see in winter?

    Thank you in advance for your valuable sharing.:)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Oops, just realised you have one more comment here. I shall just answer those that I have not already answered.

      6) Is biei worth going in winter?

      Nope.

      8) Which places is best to rent car and which best to take bus/train?

      You should take bus / train for all major cities (Sapporo / Otaru / Hakodate / Asahikawa / Tomamu / Kushiro) and bus for Niseko. Areas that need to drive would be Lake Toya and Akan National Park.

      7) Are we able to see Unkai in Tomamu in Dec? Gondola still open?

      Nope.

      • Peng says:

        Thank you so much for your advises!
        Do you have the GPS co-ordinates to see the cranes?

        Do you mean rent a car from Kushiro to go Lake Akan & stay a night there? Any hotel or onsen to recommend there?

        And also rent a car once I reach Hakodate? Which website to book a car and can I return it in another town?

        Should I buy a 5 day pass in Sapporo station? Is it better to buy a package day trip to the Zoo or just use the train pass?

        Any place to visit at night in Otaru? Any idea what is the latest train back from otaru?

        Cheers! Many Thanks! :)

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I searched Mapion for the map codes of the crane places. I haven’t tried these out so I cannot guarantee if they will work.
          Map Code for Tsurumidai: 556 353 203
          Map Code for Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary: 556 535 152

          Here are google map locations:
          > Tsurumidai
          > Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary

          Both occasions when I drove to see the cranes, I did not use the map and relied on road signs along route 53. Tsurumidai is along route 53, so if you are coming from Kushiro, you should see it along route 53 on your RIGHT. Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary requires you to make a right turn along route 53, keep an eye out for the road sign asking you to turn right.

          Yup, you can rent a car from Kushiro to explore the Lake Akan area, spending a night at Lake Akan. After that, return the car back to Kushiro. If you are willing to splurge, Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga is a great resort:
          http://www.tsuruga.com/en/

          If you are looking for something for budget-friendly, hanayuuka is also ran by the same resort. Hence, they offer shuttle services over to Yuku no Sato for you to use the facilities there.
          http://www.hanayuuka.com/en/

          You don’t need a car for Hakodate. You can get around the main sights of Hakodate by foot, or by the streetcar.

          I recommend you get the 7-Days JR Hokkaido Rail Pass. Use it for:
          1) Sapporo – Asahikawa – Sapporo
          1) Sapporo – Hakodate
          2) Hakodate – Sapporo
          4) Sapporo – Tomamu
          5) (Won’t be using if you plan to be in Tomamu on this day)
          6) Tomamu – Kushiro
          7) Kushiro – Sapporo

          Otaru canal is quite beautiful at night. There is Otaru Beer in one of the warehouses lining the canal, looks like a place I would chill out at after dark. For train schedules, you can check using Hyperdia:
          http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

          • Peng says:

            Thank you for your advises! Much appreciated!

            So you suggest to stay a night in Kushiro and a night at Lake Akan?
            Any hotel recommendation in Kushiro?
            How far is Kushiro to Lake Akan to drive in winter ? Considering stopping for photo taking and cranes watching?

            Any hotel to recommend in Lake Toya other than Toya sunpalace?

            Cheers!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Kushiro is pretty compact, you can walk between the train station all the way to nusamai bridge, so staying anywhere in between these 2 points would be ideal. There are 2 Super Hotels in Kushiro if you are looking for a budget option.
              http://www.superhoteljapan.com/en/s-hotels/kushiro/
              http://www.superhoteljapan.com/en/s-hotels/kushiroeki/

              If you want to be near Fisherman’s Wharf MOO (where I recommend having dinner), you can try Crowne Plaza ANA Kushiro:
              http://www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotels/us/en/hokkaido/kuhja/hoteldetail

              Kushiro to Lake Akan is about 2 hours drive direct. The cranes are in between Kushiro and Lake Akan, at an area called Tsurui.
              > Direct Route from Kushiro to Lake Akan
              > Route via Tsurui

              But if I remember correctly, when I tried to drive from Tsurui to Lake Akan in winter back in March 2010, there was road closure and I had to back track to Kushiro to take the direct route up via route 240 to Lake Akan again.

              So I would say allocate 4 hours to be safe for Kushiro to Lake Akan with crane-viewing in between.

              For Lake Toya, the popular hotel is Lake View Nonokaze. I have never stayed there before though because it is quite pricey.
              http://en.nonokaze-resort.com/

              • Peng says:

                Thank you, thank you.
                Wow! With the long train ride plus driving to Lake Akan 4 hours, I guess It’s better I stay put in Kushiro for a night. *sweat*
                Maybe I should on rent the car after a night in Kushiro since most places don’t need a car in Kushiro?

                Yes, nonokaze is sooooo pricey!! And a lot of hotels there are smoking rooms! Non-smoking rooms are even pricier.

                Do you book via Japanican? Is it reliable?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Yes, you should spend the night at Kushiro. Washo market is a must-visit. And I enjoyed walking around Kushiro because they incorporate crane designs into little nooks and crannies, like on their manholes and on their bus stop. There was a crane sculpture outside Kushiro station, and you can collect crane chops from the station itself. So while Kushiro city did not have big famous tourist attractions, it was these little things that kept us amused and gave us photo opportunities.

                  Yup, you can rent the car the next morning.

                  I haven’t tried Japanican before. Usually I use Rakuten.

      • Peng says:

        oh yes, forgot to ask about Furano. OK to go in winter and is the cheese factory good? must I drive there? Thank you v much!! :)

  23. Cecilia Teo says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum

    Have written to you about 2 months ago. Finally booked my flight! Need your help in the itinerary. I will be arriving in CTS on 9 Dec morning and my flight back is on 1055hrs on 18 Dec. We will be taking public transport all the way. The following are the places I would like to go. Please also suggest accommodation that we can stay at.

    – Chocolate factory, beer factory, cheese factory (optional),
    Is there any instant noodles factory?
    – Factory outlet mall, any other interesting shopping area eg. shops selling Japanese goodies
    – Zoo
    – Penguin Parade
    – Jigokudani Hell Valley (is it worth visiting)
    – Tomamu, Niseko
    What is the difference? I need fun activities for the kids. Want to stay 2 nights at ski resorts
    as kids wanted to see and play with snow very much!
    Any ski resort with onsen?
    – What to do at Otaru Canal?
    – Any markets like Kushiro Washo?
    – What is this Central Wholesale Market?
    – Noboribetsu Bear Park
    – Any similar stores like Daiso?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) Chocolate and beer factory are in Sapporo.

      2) There are no instant noodle factories in Hokkaido.

      3) There are lots of department stores stretching from Sapporo station all the way to Susukino station. Many of them are linked to the underground shopping arcade, so you can walk along the underground shopping arcade and pop in and out of the various department stores.

      4) The zoo you mentioned, are you referring to Asahiyama zoo? If you are, it can be done as a day-trip from Sapporo. Please note that for your travel dates, the penguin parade would not have started yet.

      5) If you are planning to go to Noboribetsu for the bear park, then you can go to Jigokudani while you are there.

      6) For your dates, you may want to go to Tomamu instead of Niseko. At least the ice village with the giant ice slide and snow tubing lanes at Tomamu will be ready. The snow parks for kids in Niseko will not be ready yet. In early-mid December, Niseko is purely for skiing and snowboarding.

      7) At Otaru, there are many shops and cafe along Sakaimachi. You can make candles, experience glass blowing, and visit the Music Box Museum. You can read more here:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/06/13/hokkaido-self-drive-with-kids-june-2014-part-5-otaru-canal-unga-plaza-denuki-toppi-sushi-sakaimachi-masazushi-hotel-vibrant-otaru/

      8) If you want to go to a market, visit the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market. Click here for location on google map. It is essentially a seafood market with stalls lining the road selling all kinds of seafood, souvenirs and fruits. Kita No Gourmet, one of the bigger shops at Sapporo Central Wholesale Market, offers free shuttle service there from hotels in central Sapporo. You can read more about Kita No Gourmet here:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/03/30/hokkaido-best-food/

      9) For ski resort with onsen, Hoshino Resorts Tomamu has an onsen.

      10) There is a big Daiso at Susukino in Sapporo. Click here for google map location.

      A possible itinerary would go like this:

      9 Dec: Sapporo
      10 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
      11 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Asahiyama Zoo)
      12 Dec: Sapporo – Noboribetsu
      13 Dec: Noboribetsu – Sapporo
      14 Dec: Sapporo
      15 Dec: Sapporo – Tomamu
      16 Dec: Tomamu
      17 Dec: Tomamu – New Chitose Airport (Spend last night at Air Terminal Airport)
      18 Dec: Flight home

      Accommodation wise:

      For Noboribetsu, I recommend Hotel Mahoroba. There is direct shuttle there from Sapporo:
      http://tohoresort.com/access/mahoroba_Change_bus_en.html

      For Tomamu, there is only 1 resort there:
      http://www.snowtomamu.jp/summer/en/

      For Sapporo, since you are using public transport, I recommend you stay somewhere connected to JR Sapporo station. I have never stayed there before because I always self-drive, so transport is not an issue for me. But below are hotels I found on google that look like they are connected to Sapporo station:

      JR Inn Sapporo
      (Their website says “Accessibility without being drenched with rain”.)

      Hotel North Gate Sapporo
      (From the map it looks like it is right smack outside Sapporo Station’s North exit.)

      JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo
      (The hotel that is within JR station i.e. you don’t even need to step out of the station to get there)

      • Cecilia Teo says:

        Hi Bumble Bee Mum

        Thank you for your detailed information.

        1) Are there other zoos? What are the differences?
        2) For Tomamu Ski Resort, other than the ice village, we can doing skiing during the period we are there, right? Are there anything we need to bring by ourselves at the ski resort? You think 2 nights at the ski resort is enough? I briefly browse through the resort’s website, I see that there are 2 accommodation there. The differences, one more expensive?

        As for trains to my destinations, do I have to book the tickets in advance?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1) There are many zoos throughout Hokkaido. There are zoos at Sapporo, Obihiro, Kushiro. The most famous zoo in Hokkaido is Asahiyama Zoo. That’s the only one I have visited. But if you find it too much of a hassle to go to Asahikawa just to visit a zoo, the zoo at Sapporo is much more accessible:
          https://www.city.sapporo.jp/zoo/english/index.html

          2) Yup, skiing will be available in December at Tomamu. The number of nights to spend at a ski resort really depends on how much you want to ski. If you are just looking to try out skiing for a day, then 2 nights will be enough. But if you really want to learn to ski, then you should stay longer. As for accommodation at Tomamu, just go for The Tower. Think 99% of people who go to Tomamu stay at The Tower.. :p

          3) There is no need to book train tickets in advance.

      • Cecilia Teo says:

        Hi Bumble Bee Mum

        Btw, the hotels you recommended have shops nearby? I usually like to leave hubby and kids in the room at the end of the day and walk around by myself.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Most of the late-night shopping is at Susukino area. Those hotels I recommended are near Sapporo station. I guess you would have to make a choice in this case:
          1) Stay at Susukino where you can enjoy late-night shopping, but have to take an extra subway ride each time you have to go to Sapporo station
          2) Stay at Sapporo station where you can easily catch a direct train to Tomamu / Asahikawa / Otaru / bus to Mahoroba but have to take a subway ride if you want to go late-night shopping

          • Cecilia Teo says:

            Hihi Bumble Bee Mum

            Thank you for your suggestions. Didn’t have time to reply earlier.

            Based on the itinerary you suggested, is it possible for me to go see the cranes using public transport? Any time to venture out to somewhere else?
            Do I need to buy a rail pass for a few days?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              I really have no idea about public transport to the cranes. I believe there are buses, but it is going to be extremely infrequent and you will end up spending all your time waiting for the bus (which is what I found to be the case when I traveled to other rural parts of Japan in my earlier trips that resulted me to eventually just self-drive). Anyway looking at your itinerary, doesn’t look like you have time to visit the cranes.

              You may want to considering getting the 4-day flexi rail pass for the following days:
              1) Day trip to Otaru
              2) Day trip to Asahikawa
              3) Sapporo – Tomamu
              4) Tomamu – CTS

              I am not sure if the flexi pass will be worth it, so what you need to do is, use hyperdia to check the costs for the above train rides:
              http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

              Add them up and see if they are more expensive than the rail pass:
              http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/08/02/rail-passes-in-japan-hokkaido-rail-pass/

              • Cecilia says:

                Thank you for your ever fast reply, Bumble Bee Mum. I’ll check out the fares. So if I need the flexi pass, I can purchase on the spot at the station?
                For the kids’ winter wear, how kind of material is your kids’ jacket? You think with thermal wear and a normal long sleeve tee and a winter jacket outside, is enough to withstand the cold? Didn’t want to purchase too much winter clothes as the kids outgrow very fast.

          • Cecilia says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum

            It’s me again. Would like to check with you if the Vessel Inn Sapporo Nakajima Park Hotel’s location is good. Are there much shops around? Is it near Susukino area?

            Regards

            • bumblebeemum says:

              You will need to walk to Susukino from Vessel Inn for shops. Nakajima Koen itself is a park, so not much shopping there. More for like quiet morning walks. From Vessel Inn, you should be able to reach the hub of Susukino within a 10 min walk.

      • Cecilia says:

        Hi bumblebeemum

        9 Dec: Sapporo
        10 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
        11 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Asahiyama Zoo)
        12 Dec: Sapporo – Noboribetsu
        13 Dec: Noboribetsu – Sapporo
        14 Dec: Sapporo
        15 Dec: Sapporo – Tomamu
        16 Dec: Tomamu
        17 Dec: Tomamu – New Chitose Airport (Spend last night at Air Terminal Airport)
        18 Dec: Flight home

        According to your suggested itinerary, I were to spend a night in Noboribetsu. You reckon 1 night is enough if I need to go to Bear Park and the Hell Valley? Should I reduce 1 night in Sapporo before I leave for Noboribetsu? I have already booked for he 1st 3 nights of accommodation but should be able to cancel due to no cancellation charge. Should I change my itinerary to:

        9 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru
        10 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Asahikawa Zoo)
        11 Dec: Sapporo – Noboribetsu
        12 Dec: Noboribetsu
        13 Dec: Noboribetsu – Sapporo
        14 Dec: Sapporo
        15 Dec: Sapporo – Tomamu
        16 Dec: Tomamu
        17 Dec: Tomamu – New Chitose Airport (Spend last night at Air Terminal Airport)
        18 Dec: Flight home

        But at the time of checking the Hotel Mahoroba, there are limited rooms left for checking in on 12 Dec. If there are no rooms left, do you think it’s advisable to stay 1 night in Sapporo upon arrival then proceed to Noboribetsu for 2 nights and come back to Sapporo to stay before I proceed to Tomamu?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I think 1 night in Noboribetsu is enough. Noboribetsu is pretty small, spending 1 night means you have 2 days to explore – that’s more than enough. Unless you want to visit NIXE Aquarium.

          • Cecilia says:

            Thanks Bumblebeemum. That means I have to leave Sapporo very early. If the Hotel Mahoroba is full, what other alternative hotels do you suggest? It’s also fine I go Tomamu 1st then come back to Sapporo then go Noboribetsu before I go to Airport hotel? If airport hotel is full, is there any other suggestions?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              I have only stayed at Hotel Mahoroba in Noboribetsu before. If it is full, I guess you can just search booking sites such as hotels.com / Agoda / booking.com etc for alternatives and find one that suits your budget.

              Yup, you can also go Tomamu first then Noboribetsu. No difference. Air Terminal Hotel is the only hotel within the airport. The next nearest hotels to the airport will be at Chitose City – which requires a short train ride to the airport. Some hotels in Chitose City offer shuttle services to the airport.

      • Cecilia says:

        Hi BumbleBeeMum

        Urgently need your help!! Due to some reasons I was late in booking my accommodation. So far I have booked my accommodation in Sapporo from 9-12 Dec. I can’t get any accommodation from 15-17Dec at the Hoshino Ski Resort from their website! Any other websites I can book from? Are there any other ski resorts to recommend? Can you please advise me what to do?? I don’t want to disappoint my kids as they will be very upset if they can’t go to the ski resort. Please help me.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I have always booked Tomamu resort via their website. They look like they are fully booked for your dates indeed. I guess you would have to try other ski resorts such as Rusutsu or Niseko. Or you can book a pension (homestay) near Tomamu. This is the homestay I know of:
          http://ingtomamu.com/english/

          • Cecilia says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum

            Thank you for your recommendation. Managed to get a room at Hoshino later in the day after I e-mailed you. I managed to get a room 3 days earlier than the mentioned date. Phew! How weird when I checked earlier and there were no rooms for 1 week before and after the dates I wanted.

            What’s the most convenient and inexpensive way to get to the resort?

            Another thing, how do you suggest that I get to Hotel Mahoroba? I see that they have a shuttle from Sapporo to there but the pick-up is quite late at 12 plus. It would be quite late from I arrive there and I don’t have time to visit the Hell Valley and the Bear Park. The pick-up next day is too early. How do you think I should arrange my timing.

            Is there direct transport from Hotel Mahoroba to the airport as I need to stay a night at the airport before my flight the next day?

  24. Joseph Teoh says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,

    Really enjoy and appreciate your blog, so detailed with all necessary information and sharing your cost saving tips. You are definitely the true master we are seeking for advise.
    We would very much wonder if you could recommend an itinerary for our trip to Hokaiddo in Dec 2015 with 2 KIDS (age 6 & 9) (Arriving Chitose 28 Nov -10am) (Depart Chitose 10 Dec -2pm)
    Was hoping to bring the kids for a simple basic Skii experience and to enjoy scenery and food. We are exploring to go by both public transport and self drive minimal. Thank you so much!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I would probably do something like this:

      28 Nov: Sapporo
      29 Nov: Sapporo
      30 Nov: Day trip to Asahiyama Zoo (stay Sapporo)
      1 Dec: Day trip to Otaru (stay Sapporo)
      2 Dec: Sapporo – Niseko by bus.
      3 Dec: Skiing at Niseko
      4 Dec: Skiing at Niseko
      5 Dec: Niseko – Sapporo by bus. Then train to Tomamu.
      6 Dec: Skiing / Snow activities at Tomamu.
      7 Dec: Tomamu – Kushiro by train. Visit Washo market / Nusamai bridge area / Fisherman’s Wharf MOO.
      8 Dec: Rent a car to visit the cranes. From there, drive to Lake Akan.
      9 Dec: Drive around Akan National Park area (Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo, Iozan). Drive back to Kushiro, return car. Train back to Chitose Airport.
      10 Dec: Flight home.

      I recommend you get the 4-day flexi Hokkaido Rail Pass. You can use it for:
      1) Day trip to Asahikawa
      2) Train to Tomamu
      3) Train from Tomamu to Kushiro
      4) Train from Kushiro to CTS
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/08/02/rail-passes-in-japan-hokkaido-rail-pass/

      • Joseph Teoh says:

        Thank you so much Bumblebee mum for even replying on a late sunday night.
        We will follow as per your suggestion, this plan looks really great!

      • cakies00 says:

        Hi, thanks so much for sharing this. May I know:

        1) how long are the bus and train journeys indicated? Can u indicate the estimated bus/train ride for each stretch?
        2) Any idea where to collect the car to drive to visit the cranes? Is collection and returning point the same? How many hours drive for each stretch for this part of the itinerary? Want to have a gauge so my hubby doesnt over tire himself from driving.
        3) for an itinerary above, possible to stick to a all-in 5k budget?

        Thanks so much

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1) I didn’t use bus or train as we rented a car and drove all the way. For driving time, you can use Google map to do an estimate. Google map’s estimated driving time is pretty accurate in good weather, but you need to double it for winter driving. As for train routes, hyperdia will give you an exact timing.

          2) To visit the cranes, you can rent a car from Kushiro. Driving from Kushiro station to the crane area should take about an hour in winter. You can return the car to the same place after that.

          3) 5K inclusive of air tickets? May not be possible. We spent 8K in total for this 17-days trip, inclusive of 3 air tickets which we bought during a promotion.

  25. Jamelle Seah says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum, I am glad to chance upon your blog. Many useful information! Me and my family of 4 (2 kids, 9yo and 5yo) are planning for a winter holiday in hokkaido from 22dec – 2jan. I have heard of many snowstorm in hokkaido. Wondering if my date is recommended to go hokkaido with kids?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Yes, in December there will be snow storms in Hokkaido. But they are not as scary as they sound. Encountering a snow storm is akin to encountering rain in summer. It’s just part and parcel of travelling. In fact, I prefer snow because they don’t drench you the same way rain does. I actually enjoyed having snow land on my (waterproof) jackets and flicking them off during my first winter vacation.. LOL!

      Your dates look great for a trip to Hokkaido. Snow parks at the various resorts should be ready by end December, and you may even be able to catch the penguin parade at Asahiyama Zoo. You can read more about planning a winter vacation on my latest post:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

  26. sera says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum

    Thanks for your advice previously. After much consideration, we have decided to drive since I have my 6 year old son with us as well. Hubby is an experienced driver and familiar with slippery roads.

    This is our itinerary and we will be travelling from 3 Dec to 11 Dec. We have already booked air tickets and transport through Nippon Rent-a-Car and hire through their long term campaign and obtained 15% and on top on that a further 5% for members. We have also obtained HEP as well. Is it necessary? I can still make changes to the itinerary but I can’t change my flight as added charges will be imposed.

    02-Dec-15 Wed Tokyo -Hakodate ( staying in Oyado Aozora)

    03-Dec-15 Thu Hakodate -Lake Toya (staying in Hotel Grand Toya)

    04-Dec-15 Fri Lake Toya- Otaru ( Visiting friend and staying in Smile Hotel)

    05-Dec-15 Sat Otaru – Sapporo ( staying in Airbnb)

    06-Dec-15 Sun Sapporo ( may visit Asahiyama zoo) (Staying in Airbnb)

    07-Dec-15 Mon Sapporo – Tomamu ( staying in Hoshino Resort)

    08-Dec-15 Tue Tomamu Tomamu

    09-Dec-15 Wed Tomamu -Tsurui, Kushiro (staying in Green Park Tsurui

    10-Dec-15 Thu Kushiro -Kushiro ( specifically for birdwatching) Returning car

    11-Dec-15 Fri Kushiro -Chitose ( staying in Airport Terminal Hotel) Flying back

    12 Dec-15 Sat Chitose – Narita – Singapore

    Do you think the itinerary is workable?

    Thanks.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I think HEP would work for your itinerary as it seems you will be using the toll roads quite a bit – especially if you are planning to do the day trip to Asahikawa.

      2 Dec: Not sure what time you are arriving at Hakodate. If it’s morning, then that’s fine. But if you are arriving late, it seems you have too little time for Hakodate.

      6 Dec: Doing a day trip to Asahikawa means driving in the dark back from Asahikawa to Sapporo. It is not something I usually encourage, but if your husband is experienced in driving in snow after dark, then I guess it’s okay.

      10 Dec: It looks like you have too much time for just birdwatching. I would recommend driving up to Lake Akan and the rest of Akan National Park as well.

      11 Dec: Why are you returning the car at Kushiro and not CTS?

      Your itinerary is workable, but for the last few days, I would do this instead:

      09-Dec-15 Wed Tomamu -Tsurui (bird watching around Tsurui), staying in Green Park Tsurui
      10-Dec-15 Thu Day trip around Lake Akan / Akan National Park, continue stay in Green Park Tsurui.
      11-Dec-15 Fri Kushiro (visit Washo Market in the morning) -Chitose (I would keep the car to drive back to CTS)

      • sera says:

        Thanks Bumble Bee Mum for your advice. Overlooked your reply.

        As we will be arriving in late afternoon in Hakodate, should we skip Lake Toya overnight stay and stay 2 nights in Hakodate? Is it feasible to drive from Hakodate to Otaru ? We can stop by Lake Toya to visit on the way I guess.

        What do you think?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yup, it is possible to stop over at Lake Toya for a day trip between Hakodate to Lake Toya, but you need to leave early and check your timing to ensure you reach Otaru before 4pm. It also means you will need to do your Otaru sightseeing the following day, which leaves not much time for Sapporo. But given that you have flown all the way to Hakodate, I would just spend more time in Hakodate. Sapporo and Lake Toya can be easily covered in another trip to Hokkaido since they are much nearer to CTS. But frankly, I would just skip Otaru and spend a day at Lake Toya. Maybe you can ask your friend to meet you in Sapporo? It looks like too much driving in too little time especially for winter.

          • sera says:

            Thanks for your advice. After much thought, I think I will just change my air ticket to arrive at Sapporo instead of Hakodate.
            Here’s my itinerary :
            2 Dec Haneda Airport – Sapporo
            3 Dec Sapporo
            4 Dec Sapporo – Lake Toya
            5 Dec Lake Toya to Otaru
            6 Dec Otaru to Ashikawa
            7 Dec Ashikawa to Tomamu
            9 Dec Tomamu to Tsurui, Kushiro
            10 Dec Lake Akan, Birdwatching
            11 Dec Fly back from Kushiro to Chitose ( I have already bought the Experience Japan Fare and not worthwhile to cancel. sigh!)

            Any advice on this itinerary and is it still worthwhile to get HEP?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Your itinerary looks good. Just be careful during the Asahikawa – Tomamu drive and allocate a lot of time to do that drive slowly. It is a very snowy region and I would expect visibility to be pretty bad in the region.

              And nope, I wouldn’t get the HEP for this itinerary.

              • Sera says:

                Thanks. You have been such a great help. God bless :)

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  You’re welcome. Have a great trip and drive safe!

                  • sera says:

                    Hello Bumblebee Mum

                    We have been back for a week and our family wants to visit Hokkaido especially Tomamu again.

                    We took your advice and did not get the HEP. Indeed the charges from ETC is still cheaper as compared to HEP.

                    Just some highlights to share with all :

                    Sapporo
                    Brought my six year old son to Ario Mall next to Sapporo Beer Garden. My kid was getting bored and cranky and the front desk lady at Mercure Hotel suggested this place for children entertainment. We took train and then bus to reach there. Mamasmile is an indoor play centre located within the shopping mall. Not costly. I think I paid 800 yen for full day and 400 for my hubby to accompany him. Although there are not a lot of indoor activities but enough to keep the kid happy. There are bouncing castle, zorb ball which my kid got himself in it and roll down, freeflow amusement games without payment, freeflow drinks without payment. While both of them are at play, I walked around the shopping mall. Really value for money.

                    JR Inn at Asahikawa is a great place to stay. It is located within Aeon shopping mall and if you are driving, park your car in the shopping mall covered carpark. Present your parking ticket to the reception. The charges is about 600 yen. JR Inn feels spanking new. Great lounge area with free coffee and tea. Lounge area overlook the bus station. Great indoor bath. By the way, guest can choose the type of pillow to sleep in. Also you can buy the pillow if you fancy it. JR Inn ties up with St Marc for breakfast. 1 Breakfast coupon includes salad, one pastry and a drink. We did last minute shopping for winter spikes as our hiking shoes ( although waterproof) but not slip proof. Glad we did cos’ it was extremely useful in Tomamu.

                    Tomamu – Try Carbonara in Bravo restaurant. I ordered that but my son took most of it. He loves it more than the tomato based pasta. Book ski courses or snowboard courses before going to Tomamu. I did not anticipate my son will be keen to ski and so did not booked. When there, was told all fully booked. Checked with them later and found out there is one hour slot for snowboard and we took it without hesitation. Glad we did cos’ my son had great fun snowboarding. We rented outfit and gear for 5 hours. Hubby coached him before his formal lessons. As they had to close certain section in the learning area, the coach took my son via chairlft to higher ground so that he can continue to teach my son. My boy has the opportunity to take the chairlift twice and snowboard a bit along the way.

                    Otaru
                    Smile Hotel – although small hotel but decent breakfast. They served individual portion of one sunny side up, 2 sausages and salad and free flow of bread and drinks and pasta salad. Cost 7200 yen. Cheap and good.
                    Parking separately charge about 600 yen. Next to smile hotel, there is an ramen shop called Ramen Toya within 5 minutes walk. Great food and owner can speak english. Previously he was from Okinawa. He shared that the missionary taught him english. He gave free yoghurt to my son.

                    We sighted Uniqlo while looking for a place to park to visit Otaru Music Box Museum. We parked at Uniqlo since it was free and walked to the museum. Of course we did shopped at Uniqlo too.:)

                    Toyako
                    Went to Lake Hill Farm on our way to Toyako. Great place to chill out. Hubby and son had fun with the sledge and they had snow ball fights as well. This place is popular with tour buses as well.

                    Driving ( as advised by hubby)- when driving, drive on the 2 lines left by previous driver to get more grip in snow. Look out for black ice. Aircon should not be on recirculating. Should allow outside air to prevent misting.
                    To keep awake while driving, my hubby load up on Doutor Royce – coffee with chocolate easily available from 7/11 and Lawsons. He loved the drink so much.

                    Once again thanks Bumbleemum for sharing so freely with all of us. Indeed it has been most helpful. Keep up the good work. :)

              • Dorothy Cheong says:

                Hi, for everyone’s info. ANA has started flights from Kuala Lumpur to Japan from September 2015. I booked my flight few months ago for my trip to Hokkaido, KL to Sapporo via Tokyo for this coming December 2015 and it only cost RM2,056. ANA has a 5-star award winning. With the ringgit fluctuation, the airfare has gone up but it will still be much cheaper for those travelling from Singapore. Just sharing!

                • Cecilia says:

                  Hi Dorothy. The amount that you have mentioned is for how many people? So you are travelling from SIN to Sapporo? If so, how long does it take from SIN-CTS including transit time?

                  • Dorothy Cheong says:

                    It’s a new route from KL-Japan by ANA. The fare is per person in Ringgit Malaysia. Round trip is estimated to be 11 hours 30 mins for KL-Sapporo. You can choose various flights. Better to choose the KL-Tokyo (Narita) and transit Tokyo(Narita) to Sapporo. I have accidentally chosen KL-Tokyo(Narita)-transit Tokyo(Haneda) to Sapporo.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      OMG.. that’s my reaction every time I hear people accidentally choosing Narita in and Haneda out (or vice versa)… That’s like 3000 yen more per person per way you need to factor in for the airport limousine. >_<

                    • Cecilia says:

                      Actually, after some calculations, it’s not really worth the price based on per person from KL to Sapporo. After conversion, it’s $600++ almost $700. After you add the airfare for SIN-KL, factor in the transit time, you need to pick up luggage and check-in again as different airlines, that’s more expensive than travelling on TG from SIN-CTS.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      It’s true that currently TG offers probably the cheapest flight deal from Singapore to Chitose. But nevertheless, it’s always good to keep options open, because we never know when TG may up their price, or the people decide to protest and Bangkok Airport closes (happened before during one of my Japan trip, thank goodness they decide to end their protest before my flight). :p

                      Anyway I think this deal would definitely benefit Malaysians more than Singaporeans. :)

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Thank you for sharing! With the current exchange rate, that price is really cheap for a flight from Malaysia to Hokkaido! But I guess for Singaporeans, we still have to factor in the transport from Singapore to KL. Always good to keep our options open! :)

  27. Serene says:

    Hi BumbleBee Mum,

    wow… Great blog and generous and very useful info. :) :)

    My family (2 adults, 2 teens and a 5 yo) has probably only 6 days 5 nights in Hokkaido. We will be going there from Tokyo (9 Dec) and back to Tokyo (14 Dec). Very short, I know! :(

    After reading all the comments, probably would prefer the Eastern Hokkaido.

    Interest in : Tomamu ( to experience snow play), onsen, Fisherman’s wharf, lake,
    chocolate factory, any other suggestion.

    May you pls help to suggest a itinerary? Most probably by public transport as we have not
    driven on winter roads before and we do not speak Japanese.

    Thanks a lot!!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It is very hard to get around Eastern Hokkaido by public transport solely. If you don’t drive, you will be missing out on the cranes and the beautiful scenery around Akan National Park, which I personally think is a highlight of Eastern Hokkaido in early December.

      If you really don’t want to drive, I suggest you not go all the way to Kushiro. Just stay around Tomamu and Sapporo which has good public transport. Anyway you don’t have much time. So here are two possible itineraries for a short trip:

      9 Dec: CTS – Tomamu
      10 Dec: Tomamu
      11 Dec: Tomamu – Sapporo
      12 Dec: Sapporo
      13 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
      14 Dec: Sapporo – CTS

      Alternatively if you think you are willing to try driving, you can do the following:

      9 Dec: CTS – Tomamu
      10 Dec: Tomamu
      11 Dec: Tomamu – Kushiro
      12 Dec (rent car): Kushiro – Tsurui (crane area) – Lake Akan
      13 Dec: Drive around Akan National Park – return car to Kushiro.
      14 Dec: Kushiro – CTS (depending on your flight timing – if your flight is early, you may have to return to CTS on 13 Dec and stay at Air Terminal Hotel for your final night.)

  28. HG says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,
    I enjoyed reading your blog about your Winter holiday in Hokkaido. I am planning a trip for end Nov/early Dec for my family.
    I will like to seek your advice regarding driving in Hokkaido during winter.
    My family has driven in Hokkaido before but not during winter.
    1) What is the requirement for driving in winter?
    2) Do you need tire chains for the car?
    Look forward to your advice.
    Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) Requirement? An international driving license + your local driving license. Plus lots of patience to drive slowly. It helps that you have driven in Hokkaido before and are familiar with their roads and traffic rules. In winter, just bear in mind to allocate twice the time required for driving compared to summer, and to always reach your accommodation by 4pm. Which means your itinerary must be planned loosely as compared to other times of the year, visiting just 1 or 2 places a day.

      2) Nope, snow tyres are good enough. :)

  29. Linda says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,
    I love reading your blog. My family of 5 (me, my husband, my 9 years old daughter, my 5 years old son and my mom) are going to go to Sapporo on 1 to 7 Jan.

    I am interested in going to Rusutsu Resort so that the kids can experience some skiing but dont want to spend the night there because of the pricey hotel. So we are planning to go there by shuttle bus in the morning and go back to Sapporo at night. Is there any night shuttle bus that goes back to Sapporo?
    I’ve read that Rusutsu Resort provides free shuttle bus from and to Sapporo. Is it only for guests that staying at the hotel?

    Look forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I have never used the shuttle service for Rusutsu before since I always self-drive, so my reply is going to be based on what I see on their website and I can’t guarantee how accurate it will be.

      The timing for the winter shuttle buses for Rusutsu Resort is not out yet. But looking at the summer schedule, it doesn’t look like there are night buses. The bus back to Sapporo departs at 4+pm in summer. But then again, in winter, 4+pm is almost night time. :p
      http://en.rusutsu.co.jp/getting-here/sapporo/

      I went to take a look at their shuttle bus booking form, there is an option that allows you to select ‘Day Trip’, so I guess day trippers can take the bus too.
      http://bigruns.com/bussystem/en-rusutsugou-summer.php

      • Linda says:

        Tx for your reply! I will be arriving at New Chitose Airport on Jan 1 at 17.50. Leaving on Jan 7 at 16.00. Can you pls help me for my itinerary in Japan?
        This will be our first time in Sapporo and we would like to visit Rusutsu, Otaru & Asahiyama Zoo. We havent booked the hotel yet but we plan to stay at the same hotel in Sapporo throughout the trip since we dont want any hassle to move around with the luggage.

        Thanks in advance.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          If you are planning to stay at Sapporo, your itinerary should be pretty straightforward. You essentially only have 5 full days in Sapporo, so for those 5 days, you will go Rusutsu on 1 day, Otaru on 1 day and Asahiyama Zoo on 1 day. That only leaves you with 2 days in Sapporo, where you can visit the usual sights in Sapporo such as:
          – Shiroi Koibito Park
          – Odori Park and Sapporo TV Tower
          – Sapporo Beer Factory
          – Mount Moiwa Ropeway
          – Nijo Market
          – Sapporo Central Wholesale Market

          etc.

          • Linda says:

            Thanks for your advice, BBM. I have booked Mercure for our hotel. I’ve read that the most convenience way to go there from the airport is by bus. How much is the cost and are children pay the same price? Where do we buy the ticket?
            And also regarding bus from Mercure to Airport, where do we buy the ticket? Will we also alight the bus at the same busstop when we arrive from the airport?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              The price for the airport bus from CTS to Susukino is about 1000 yen (it’s a funny number due to taxes so I don’t remember the exact number, but it’s basically 1000 + tax). Children pay half-price, I THINK they start charging children from 6 years old. (When I took with my 2 boys, they asked me for their ages which was then 1 and 3 and they did not have to pay.) In general, children pay half price for public transport in Japan.

              You just pay the fare to the driver on the bus after you board (he will come around and ask you for money). The bus stop to catch the return bus is NOT the same as the one you get off. Ask the staff at the front desk of Mercure when you are checking out for directions to the bus stop to catch the bus back. They gave us a map with very clear directions (basically the bus stop is just diagonally across the road from Mercure, in front of the big sushi shop).

              • Linda says:

                Do the buses leaving from Susukino to CTS come frequently? Is there any timetable that I can see because I’m worried of the winter weather if we have to wait for too long at the bus stop.

                And also we are 3 adults and 2 children (9 & 5 years old). Compared to the bus fare that we have to pay, do you think it will be cheaper if we just take a taxi?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  The buses come quite frequently during daytime, but less frequently in the early morning and evenings. There are two companies running the buses and you can hop on either one, which improves the frequency. You can see the timetables for the two companies here:
                  http://www.new-chitose-airport.jp/en/access/bus/timebusc/
                  http://www.new-chitose-airport.jp/en/access/bus/timebush/

                  It is unlikely that taxi will be cheaper. Taxis in Japan are generally very expensive.

                  • Linda says:

                    Thanks for your reply, BBM.
                    After reading your blog, we are interested to visit Tomamu for a day trip. We plan to play some ski there & visit The Tomamu Ice Village. I think the kids will love to play the slide at the ice village.
                    Do they have free shuttle bus from Sapporo to Tomamu for day trip customer? If not, do you know how much is the cost for the train ride from Sapporo to Tomamu? And also since the Ice Village is open at 5 pm, do you think we have enough time to catch the train back to Sapporo? Is there any shuttle bus that goes at night time from the resort to Tomamu train station?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Yes, there is shuttle bus between Sapporo and Tomamu, but it is not free. The shuttle bus costs 3980 yen per way and you need to make a reservation here:
                      http://www.snowtomamu.jp/bus/

                      As for train, it costs 4930 yen per way. No reservation required, you can just purchase the ticket at the station. (And if I’m not mistaken, for the ride from Tomamu back to Sapporo, there is no ticket counter at Tomamu station, so you just pay to the conductor on the train after boarding.)

                      The last bus shuttle bus leaves Tomamu at 5pm, so you won’t be able to catch the bus back if you want to stay for the Ice Village. The last train leaves Tomamu station at 9.29pm, so catching a train back shouldn’t be a problem.

                      You can double-check train schedule using Hyperdia for your exact dates:
                      http://www.hyperdia.com/

                  • Linda says:

                    Hi BBM, its me again.
                    Have finalized my itinerary and would like to check with you whether its ok.
                    Jan 1: arrive at new chitose airport at 17.50. Check in Mercure Sapporo Hotel.
                    Jan 2: Mitsui Outlet & Mount Moiwa Ropeway.
                    Jan 3: Otaru.
                    Jan 4: Rusutsu.
                    Jan 5: Asahimaya zoo.
                    Jan 6: Tanukikoji, Shiroi Koibito Park, Sapporo underground shopping. Is the Sapporo Factory shopping complex worth going?
                    Jan 7: Former hokkaido goverment office building. Take bus to New Chitose Airport at 12.00 for 16.00 flight. Will have lunch at the airport, buy souvenirs, & take the kids to Doraemon Waku Waku Park. Is it enough time if we go to the airport at 12.00?

                    You mentioned that you bought your winter shoes after you arrived at Sapporo. Where did you buy them and how much is the price? Did you also buy the children’s winter shoes there?
                    Are there any inexpensive boots at Mitsui Outlet? I will go there on day 2. But I dont want to spend too much on the winter boots.

                    Looking at my itinerary, is the Hokkaido Premium Ticket useable at the places I will visit? Will not buy too much of the ticket if I cannot use them.

                    Thanks in advance!

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Sapporo Factory is just a very normal shopping centre and not very big. They have some beer brewery facilities there, but if that’s what you are interested in, I recommend going to Sapporo Beer Factory instead. So neh, I would skip Sapporo Factory and go to Sapporo Beer Factory if I have time. If you want to shop, you can go to ARIO shopping complex next to Sapporo Beer Factory.

                      If you ask me about New Chitose Airport, I can easily spend the whole day there. There is plenty to do at CTS, which you can read more about here:
                      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/02/21/hokkaido-new-chitose-airport-with-kids/
                      If you have 2 hours, just work with 2 hours. Taking the 12noon bus means you will reach CTS about 1pm. And you probably need to start going to the departure gates at 3pm. That only leaves you 2 hours, and you still need to complete check-in procedures (and i find check-in counters at CTS very slow in general). It looks like you will only have enough time to grab lunch and buy some last-minute souvenirs.

                      Yes, I bought my kids’ winter boots at Mitsui Outlet Park. I can’t remember the shop, but it’s just a normal shoe shop, not one of those branded shops. The kids’ boots cost 3000+yen per pair. I managed to get my own on sale at 1000+ yen. We did see kids’ boots on sale at 1000+yen but they didn’t have sizes for my kids and we were desperate so we just bought the normal priced ones for them.

                      I have never used the Hokkaido Premium Ticket. It can be used at Rusutsu Resort. However, since I am not sure of the terms & conditions, I wouldn’t buy too much. I would buy maybe 2 sets to be used at Rusutsu, and in case I can’t use it for the activities I want to do there, 20,000yen is still a reasonable amount I would spend on souvenir shopping at CTS.

                    • Linda says:

                      Tx for your reply BBM.
                      I think I will skip the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building and leave for the airport earlier to spend more time there. Would like to check with you, are the Doraemon Waku Waku Park, restaurants & souvenir stores before or after the immigration?

                      Maybe I would buy more of the Hokkaido Premium Ticket coz I read that it can be used at the Mitsui Outlet.

                      Tx so much BBM. :)

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      All the fun stuff at CTS are before immigration.

                    • Linda says:

                      Noted. Tx BBM!

  30. Yuan says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,
    your blog has a lot of information on self-drive. However are you able to advise the winter clothing/ boots for a 6 yo and 9 yo.
    we have bought uniqlo innerwear and outwear for them. However i find that its may be too thin for such a winter climate in japan. Do you have any recommended winter shop?
    thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Uniqlo’s heat-tech will work well as inner wear, but their outer wear is too thin for Hokkaido. For Hokkaido, you would need to look at the more ‘hardcore’ brands like Northern Face and Columbia.

      This is how I dress my kids up for Hokkaido’s winter:

      For winter clothing, stock up on heat-tech inner wear from Uniqlo.

      Head: Wear a beanie that can cover the ears.
      Body: Wear a heat-tech long sleeve, followed by a layer of vest (something to keep the chest warm), followed by a thick sweater / cardigan and finally a waterproof winter jacket meant for sub-zero temperatures.
      Bottom: Wear a heat-tech leggings, followed by thick waterproof pants.
      Feet: Wear a pair of long socks, layered by a pair of thick short socks and high waterproof boots.
      Hands: Waterproof winter gloves

      It is important that the outermost layers are waterproof, because you really do not want to get wet in winter. Do not neglect the shoes. They must be absolutely waterproof and high enough so that snow will drop into the shoes.

      Additional stuff: You can buy heat packs from Daiso. I especially like the sticky ones that can be stuck to clothes / under the socks. You can stick them to the your clothes to keep yourself warm. The ones to be stuck to the bottom of the socks are a life-saver, because the feet which is in constant contact with the ice and snow on the floor always gets cold very quickly.

  31. Jesslyn Lim says:

    Hi there!

    Both my husband and I plan to visit Hokkaido free and easy with our 14 year old son in early December this year for a 8 days trip. As I read that driving in winter is tough, we will be taking the public transportation.

    Planning to Sapporo, Otaru, Niseko, Lake Toya & Noboribetsu in 8 days. Is that too rush? And is the route well connected with transportation? I read that Grand Hirafu is more happening than Niseko. Would like to do snowmobile but is the activity available in early December and available in Grand Hirafu? I am not sure if I should give Lake Toya a miss since fireworks is not available in December.

    Appreciate if you can help us with an 8 day itinerary?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, Lake Toya and Noboribetsu are not so well connected by public transport. Noboribetsu can be done as a side trip from Sapporo via direct bus and the onsen town is compact enough to get around by foot. But for Lake Toya, I generally recommend a rental car. If you are not driving, it is unlike you can complete all these places in 8 days, especially if you intend to ski.

      Grand Hirafu is a part of Niseko. Unless you are asking me Grand Hirafu VS Niseko VILLAGE? Then yes, in a way Grand Hirafu is more happening than Niseko Village in terms of dining options and pubs.

      Early December is too early for snow mobile. In early Dec, it is mostly just skiing and snowboarding. The only place I know with the snow park (ice slide and tubing) up by early Dec is Tomamu.

      Considering you are using public transport, yes, I would recommend you give Lake Toya a miss.

      A possible itinerary would be as follows:

      Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
      Day 2: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
      Day 3: Sapporo – Noboribetsu
      Day 4: Noboribetsu – Sapporo
      Day 5: Sapporo
      Day 6: Sapporo -Niseko
      Day 7: Niseko
      Day 8: Niseko – CTS

      For Noboribetsu, you can check if the accommodation you are staying in has free shuttle service to and fro Sapporo and use that if available. You can leave your big luggage in the Sapporo hotel and just pack a small bag for the 1 night side trip.

  32. Jay says:

    Hi bumblebeemum…

    Hope you can help to advise the following:
    1) Do I need to get the HEP for (Chitose to Nororibetsu to Lake Toya to Sapporo),then Kushiro to Lake Akan and back to Kushiro)
    If no, how can I lower the cost of toll charges?
    2) What is worth checking out in Kushiro…I’m staying at MOO. Will be visiting Washo & the bridge. Is it possible to WALK in winter from MOO to Kushiro station? Carrying backpacks.
    3) How can I book ski class for kids in Tomamu? I’ll be staying for 2 nights. Do you know the price and Where to book?
    4) For the 7 days rail passes, is it better to purchase while in Sg? And change the ticket on the 1st day of use? Where to change it?
    5) I understand that route 53 from Kushiro can go to Lake Akan and see the cranes on the way. May I know roughly how long to drive before taking note? I’m driving in Dec (winter roads). And Will I be able to see these within 4 hours drive or I need longer :
    • Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary
    • Tsurumidai
    • Lake Kussharo
    • Mt lo
    • Lake Mashu
    Pls advise which is too far or not worth going. :)
    Is there a sand onsen along the route?

    Thank you in advance for your valuable advise.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) It depends on how many days you are going since HEP cost goes by day. The best way to reduce toll fee is to rent an ETC card from the rental company or from Tocoo if you book a rental car through them.

      2) Yes, it is possible to walk from Kushiro station to MOO. It is a 1 km walk – so if you don’t feel like walking so far, just grab a cab. It won’t be too expensive since it’s pretty near. Kushiro itself is not so interesting other than the morning market. It is the cranes at Tsurui near Kushiro that are interesting.

      3) You can book the classes at the resort itself. You can find more information here:
      http://www.snowtomamu.jp.e.vc.hp.transer.com/winter/ski/academy/

      4) Which 7 days rail pass are you referring to? Hokkaido rail pass or Japan rail pass? For Hokkaido rail pass you can purchase it when you need to use it and exchange on the spot. For Japan Rail Pass, you must purchase it in Singapore first and exchange it there. You can exchange it at JR stations. Look for the ‘green window’ at the JR train stations to do the exchange or reserve your seats.

      5) You definitely need more than 4 hours for all the listed locations. The route is definitely worth going, but I suggest doing it over 2 days with a stay at a onsen resort in Lake Akan. This area is the most scenic part of Hokkaido during winter imo, so I wouldn’t miss it. You will expect to spend approximately 4 hours on the road (which means excluding sightseeing time – pure driving time), more if you encounter heavy snow or maybe less if it hasn’t started snowing yet when you are there. I don’t know of any sand onsen along the route.

  33. Fiona says:

    Thank you for your reply!

  34. Anonymous says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum! Thanks for the detailed information! It helps me a lot when I was planning for my trip in Nov.

    Could I check with you if my plan is feasible for self drive? Will it be too rush?

    18 Nov: Sapporo
    19 Nov: Otaru – Sapporo
    20 Nov: Pick up car at Sapporo to Asahikawa (Ramen Village) -Shiro Choco Factory- Daisetsuzan region – Sounkyo (stay 1 night at Sounkyo onsen)
    21 Nov: Daisetsuzan region – Lake Akan (stay 1 night at lake akan)
    23 Nov: Lake Akan – Kushiro (Visiting Lake Mashu / Iozan / Lake Kussharo along the way) (stay 1 night at Kushiro)
    24 Nov: Kushiro(Washo Market) – Obihiro – Chitose (stay 1 night at Chitose)
    25 Nov: Drop Car at Chitose Airport

    Thank you for your time!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      20 Nov: Not sure where is Shiro Choco Factory. If you are referring to Shiroi Koibito Factory, that is in Sapporo, not Asahikawa / Daisetsuzan region?

      24 Nov: You can drop your car off on 24 Nov and spend your last night at Air Terminal Hotel in CTS.

      Your itinerary looks fine, except for the Shiro Choco Factory part. If you skip that, the rest of the route looks nicely planned. :)

  35. June says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum! Thanks for all the information. It has been a great help while planning for my trip in Nov.

    Could you advise me if this plan is feasible for self drive? Is it too rush? Especially the drive in Daisetsuzan region? Will it be dangerous to drive?

    18 Nov: Sapporo
    19 Nov: Otaru – Sapporo
    20 Nov: Pick up car at Sapporo to Noboribetsu – Lake Toya (stay 1 night at Noboribetsu)
    21 Nov: Noboribetsu – Asahikawa (Ramen Village) – Daisetsuzan region – Sounkyo (stay 1 night at Sounkyo onsen)
    22 Nov: Daisetsuzan region – Lake Akan (stay 1 night at lake akan)
    23 Nov: Lake Akan – Kushiro (Visiting Lake Mashu / Iozan / Lake Kussharo along the way) Drop Car (stay 1 night at Kushiro)
    24 Nov: Kushiro(Washo Market) – Drop Car – Take train back to Sapporo
    25 Nov: Chitose Airport

    Thank you for your time!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      21 Nov is definitely too rushed. And I really see no point in paying drop off fees to drop off the car at Kushiro and taking a train back to Sapporo and later on back to CTS, since CTS is in between Kushiro and Sapporo. If you want to visit Noboribetsu & Lake Toya, I advise you to book a car for the entire trip, starting and ending at CTS. And this is how you can move to avoid going back and forth (and hence wasting time on the road):

      18 Nov: CTS – Noboribetsu
      19 Nov: Noboribetsu – Lake Toya – Otaru
      20 Nov: Otaru – Sapporo
      21 Nov: Sapporo – Asahikawa (Ramen Village) – Sounkyo
      22 Nov: Sounkyo – Lake Akan
      23 Nov: Lake Akan – Kushiro
      24 Nov: Kushiro – CTS (Stay at Air Terminal Hotel)
      25 Nov: Flight home

      • June says:

        Thanks for your help.
        While doing my research, I was a bit skeptical about the road condition especially the asahikawa, sounkyo region. Is it advisable or worth driving up to sounkyo during winter? I have a alternative plan which is to skip asahikawa entirely and stop by tokachigawa for a night then move on to lake akan.

        First 2 days, I was thinking to reduce driving in cities or it will be more effective to follow your plan to drive right from the start?)

        My plan would be:
        18 Nov: CTS- Sapporo
        19 Nov: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
        20 Nov: Collect car from Sapporo – Drive to Noboribetsu – Lake Toya
        21 Nov: Lake Toya – Lake Shikotsu – Tokachigawa Onsen
        22 Nov: Tokachigawa – Lake Akan
        23 Nov: Lake Akan – Kushiro
        24 Nov: Kushiro to CTS (drop car)
        25 Nov: Flight back

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Lake Toya – Lake Shikotsu – Tokachigawa Onsen looks like a terribly long drive to me. Your itinerary looks very rushed and I feel you are going to spend more time on the road than doing any proper sightseeing. For e.g. it looks like you are not going have much time for Lake Toya. By the time you reach there after Noboribetsu, it’s probably getting dark. If you are planning to drive Tokachigawa Onsen the next day, it means you need to leave pretty early the next morning. In November, it is going to be dark by 5pm.

          What you can do perhaps is to drop Noboribetsu. At least you will have the whole day on 20 Nov for Lake Toya then, and you can leave early on 21 Nov to complete the long drive before sunset. The drive from Lake Shikotsu to Tokachigawa will bring you past Shimukappu, and I recall there was snow even on the expressway around there in December. I am not sure if there will be snow in Nov, but I am guessing there would be. I would say to leave Lake Shikotsu and start your drive to Tokachigawa Onsen by 12noon latest to give yourself ample driving time in case there is snow and poor visibility along the way.

          • June says:

            Thank you for such a detailed explanation. Much appreciated.

            Actually my friend is very keen to visit sounkyo region.
            If we were to go back to original plan which is from Lake Toya-> Asahikawa – Sounkyo onsen, do you think it is feasible? I understand Asahikawa already start snowing in November, will it be safe to drive along the mountainous road to the sounkyo region? I am worried that there is heavy snow, icy road etc, will it be dangerous to drive up.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              It was very snowy with poor visibility when I was in the region in eary Dec. You can read my winter driving tips to know what to expect:
              http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

              There will always be some danger when driving in winter. No matter what happens, just remember to drive slow (no faster than 50 km/h when there is snow), allow for ample braking distance (apply breaks early), slow down when approaching curves and you should reach your destination safely.

              And given that you will be driving very slowly, please do not attempt to cover too much distance in a day. E.g. the original plan to go from Noboribetsu all the way to Sounkyo in one day is highly unwise. Break up your drive and try to keep to a maximum distance of about 200km a day. Imagine if you are driving at 50km/h max, 200km means at least 4 hours on the road. And you may drive even slower than 50 if the snow is really bad (when I drove in Niseko, I was driving at 20-30 because I really couldn’t see anything in front of me).

              In winter, the sun sets at 4+pm and is pitch dark by 5pm. So if you think about it, typically you would have breakfast before heading out. By the time you’re done eating, it will be 9am. From 9am to 4pm (the latest time I advise you to reach your next hotel), you only have 7 hours. Minus 1 hour lunch break, and spending 4 hours on the road, you essentially only have 2 hours for sightseeing. This is why I always tell readers, for winter self-drive trips, don’t be ambitious. Plan only 1 or 2 nearby sights per day and don’t attempt to cover too many towns or too much distance. Otherwise you will be spending more time on the road than sightseeing.

  36. Dinobots says:

    Hi Mdm,

    Very informative blog that you have. Really appreciate your write up.

    We are planning for a week in Dec and with 7 or 8 days. I read from your blog that we can’t cover too much places.

    I intend to self drive with our 3 kids and was thinking which 3 places would be the must go with 1 week. We do hope to stay 2 days in Tomamu.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Cheers!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      If you are headed to Tomamu, I recommend visiting Eastern Hokkaido (Kushiro and Lake Akan area) with it. Something along this line:

      Day 1: CTS – Tomamu
      Day 2: Tomamu
      Day 3: Tomamu – Kushiro
      Day 4: Kushiro – Lake Akan
      Day 5: Lake Akan – Tokachigawa Onsen
      Day 6: Tokachigawa Onsen – CTS
      Day 7: Flight back

      • Dinobots says:

        Hi,

        Thanks for your reply. Have been researching on google map and this is what i have in mind.
        1st Day CTS to Sapporo for 2 nights.
        Then to Tomamu for 2 nights.
        from there then

        Tomamu – Kushiro
        Kushiro – Lake Akan
        Lake Akan – Tokachigawa Onsen
        Tokachigawa Onsen – CTS
        Flight back
        Ur suggestion means 1 night each at Kushiro, Lake Akan and Obihiro?
        With 3 kids a daily hotel change seems troublesome but the places seems a bit far though. Would there be a place you will recommend in the middle of the the eastern part?

        Thanks man!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hokkaido is HUGE and for winter travel, given the very short daylight hours and increased driving time in event of snow, it is hard to not change hotels along the way.

          If you want to reduce the change of hotels, I suggest you skip Kushiro and just go to Lake Akan for 2 nights. And you can drive to Tsurui (where the cranes are) and Kushiro as a day trip from Lake Akan. Alternatively stay at Kushiro for 2 nights and do a day trip to Akan National Park from there. Staying at Kushiro would be cheaper though less of an experience.

          But I do recommend you spend a night at Tokachigawa Onsen to break up the drive from Kushiro / Lake Akan to CTS.

          • Dinobots says:

            Very Insightful. Taking your advice. Does the below sounds ok?
            Day 1 CTS to Sapporo
            Day 2 Sapporo
            Day 3 Tomamu
            Day 4 Tomamu
            Day 5 Akan
            Day 6 Akan
            Day 7 Tokachigawa
            Day 8 CTS Sing.

            Thanks!

            • Dinobots says:

              Hi,

              Made some changes and wanted to ask your advice.

              You should get some referral fee from those you refer man.

              Just book Mecure for 3 nights at Sapporo.

              Here is the Plan.

              Was thinking to stay 3 nights at Tomamu or 2 nights and go Akan. Thinking whether to stay 1 night or 2 night at Akan. If 1 night maybe skip Kushiro and just see the cranes. What other things can see at Akan or Kushiro area?

              Day 1 Sapporo (Explore town plus settle down after night flight with 3 kids)
              Day 2 Sapporo (Explore town and Outlet shopping)
              Day 3 Sapporo (Maybe go Otaru Canal)
              Day 4 Tomamu
              Day 5 Tomamu
              Day 6 Tomamu or Akan
              Day 7 Akan
              Day 8 Tokachigawa Onsen (Which hotel would you recommend?)
              Day 9 Air Terminal Hotel
              Day 10 (Early flight back to Sing)

              Thanks man!

              • bumblebeemum says:

                Between Tomamu and Akan, the question is simply do you want to ski / snowboard? If you are not really into skiing or snowboarding, there is no point in staying at Tomamu for 3 nights. So if you are more interested in sightseeing than skiing, you should do 2 nights Tomamu and 2 nights Akan.

                At Lake Akan, there is an Ainu village. I’m not a fan of Ainu culture, but if you interested you can spend a bit of time there. Kushiro itself is mostly just Washo Market. Generally Akan National Park is a scenic area, so just drive around slowly, hopefully spot some wild foxes, take your time to soak in the scenery at each lake, grab the mandatory snacks and soft serve ice-cream at the souvenir shops. Okay, I am all about food, so if you ask me, this is how I would spend the last few days:

                Day 6: Upon reaching Lake Akan, go to Pan de Pan to enjoy their yummy bread and desserts. After that, stroll around the souvenir shops and Ainu Village, then go back to the hotel and soak in the onsen and look forward to dinner at the hotel.

                Day 7: After breakfast at hotel, drive around Akan National Park (Lake Mashu, Iozan, Lake Kussharo). Just take my time, sit around the lakes and soak in the scenery, pop into the souvenir shops to see if there are any interesting snacks to munch on, along the way go to Cream Douwa to sit around to enjoy the gelato while gazing out at the fumes of Iozan. Then go back to hotel to enjoy the onsen and dinner again.

                Day 8: After breakfast, drive to Tsurui to see the cranes, then to Kushiro to have lunch at Washo market. After that, drive to Tokachigawa onsen to, you know, enjoy the onsen and have dinner.

                Day 9: After breakfast, drive up to the viewpoint of Tokachigawa onsen to soak in the scenery, drive to the swan gathering ground (if you haven’t gotten enough of them at Kussharo), then drive to Obihiro to eat buta don for lunch. After lunch, go around the famous sweets shops in Obihiro such as Rokkatei, Ryugetsu Sweetpia Garden, Masuya Pan etc. until you are absolutely too full to eat anymore and drive back to CTS.

              • bumblebeemum says:

                Oops, I was so busy wanderlusting about the food in Hokkaido that I forgot to answer your question on hotel in Tokachigawa onsen. I have never stayed there (because I was too cheapo and decided to stay at Obihiro city to save money), but I used the onsen at Tokachigawa Kokusai Hotel Tsutsui and it was AWESOME. Their open air onsen looks out into pure wilderness. But one thing to note about the hotel is that it is located in a more remote part of Tokachigawa onsen. But I guess that’s how they can have an open air onsen facing the forest. I would choose to stay there if I had more money.

                • Dinobots says:

                  Trip all set and booked thanks to your recommendations.

                  Are there any nice onsen near Sapporo that is not too far and family friendly?

                  Thinking of going relax first few days.

                  Thanks!

                  • bumblebeemum says:

                    The most family friendly ones i have been to are Toya Sunpalace at Lake Toya and Hotel Mahoroba at Noboribetsu.

                    • Dinobots says:

                      Hi,

                      Hope you can comment on my itinery. Starts 29th Nov.

                      Day 1 Sapporo
                      Day 2 Sapporo
                      Day 3 Sapporo
                      Day 4 Tomamu
                      Day 5 Tomamu
                      Day 6 Lake Akan
                      Day 7 Lake Akan
                      Day 8 Obihiro, Richmond Hotel
                      Day 9 Chitose, Crown Plaza Hotel

                      Since I have 3 days in Sapporo, Was thinking one of the day to otaru canel. Any other nice place to go that is not too far from Sapporo for a day trip?

                      Lake toya seems a bit far?

                      Thanks!

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Your itinerary looks good. :)

                      Lake Toya is doable as a day trip from Sapporo if you drive and set off early.

                    • Dinobots says:

                      Many asking about winter clothing. I bought quite a few items from Qoo10. Good quality and cheaper.

                      Vacuum Bag for Packing
                      http://list.qoo10.sg/item/HIGH-QUALITY-VACUUM-STORAGE-BAG/412304312?selectedOptions=

                      Anti Slip Soles
                      http://list.qoo10.sg/item/MADE-IN-KOREA-EISEN-MOUNTAINEERING/405026810?selectedOptions=

                      Winter Jacket
                      http://list.qoo10.sg/item/CHILDRENS-KIDS-BOY-GIRL-RAINCOAT/426719785?selectedOptions=

                      Many other items like leggings and stuff and water proof shoes. Go check it out.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Thanks for sharing! :)

                    • Dinobots says:

                      Just an update. Back from the wonderful trip.
                      The athletic park in chitose airport is not there anymore.

                      Stayed in the better onsen in akan yuku no sato like u mentioned and its a class of its own. From check in, its all done at the lounge. But jan may be a better time to go with the lake frozen and all the activites happening. Breakfast was great!

                      Tomamu was fantastic and it was so good we went back the last day just to ski. How would u compare niseko to tomamu?

                      Driving was smooth. snow at times but not an issue. but when more snow comes may be tougher.

                      With kids, self drive is definately needed.

                      Thanks again for your planning and will be looking at other parts of hokkaido soon.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Awww… What did they do to the athletic park??? Any idea what was in its place on level 4? It was so new when I was there last year, didn’t expect it to close down so quickly.

                      How I wish I had to budget to go stay at Yuku no Sato for once. Haha… Yes, Lake Akan is gorgeous when it is frozen. Hope you get a chance to visit during Jan / Feb some time.

                      Niseko is more vibrant (crowded) with more dining options and ski / snow play areas scattered over numerous resort. Whereas Tomamu is a single resort. If it’s just for a day or two, I prefer Tomamu for its serenity and Japanese hospitality. But if I’m going for a longer ski trip, I would probably opt for Niseko coz I will probably get bored of the food at Tomamu. :p But Niseko doesn’t feel like Japan – that’s my biggest gripe about the place.

                    • Dinobots says:

                      Hi there again. Planning to go again this winter and my kids enjoyed Tomamu so much. This time I was thinking of trying Niseko. Did some research but wanted some advice from you.
                      From what I understand from http://www.niseko-village.com/en/ this is the expensive place to stay right? I then went to http://www.powderlife.com/explore/niseko-accommodation/ and realise there is so many resorts or apartments in that area. Question is how far off are the places to stay to the slope? Coz we are planning to be serious about skiing this time. Tomamu was like a 1 resort settle all kind. The accomodations in the site seems to be all around the slope kind. Just wondering how far off are they.

                      Thanks as always!

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Yes, Niseko Village is slightly more upmarket. Hirafu is a bigger village so some apartments are close to the ski slopes while some will require a bit of a walk to go there. You may want to check the exact location of the apartment you’re interested in and ask how far it is from the slopes before you book. The hotel that is right next to the slopes at Hirafu is Hotel Niseko Alpen:
                      http://www.grand-hirafu.jp/hotel_niseko-alpen/en/

                    • Dinobots says:

                      Bit difficult to plan. So many chalets and apartments that are already fully booked at this time. The link u gave looks good. Whats the price difference compared to Hilton? Coz we will be driving and that should make travelling easier.

                      Also waiting for Thai airways promo that is not available now.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Hmm.. Not sure what’s the price difference because prices fluctuate like crazy. You got to search when you have the exact dates to see what’s the price like. I suspect Hilton is cheaper. Hotel Niseko Alpen is extremely popular during ski season because of its location right next to the ski area at Hirafu.

                      Thai Airways promo comes on and off. Oh well… Hope it comes back soon! :)

                    • BC says:

                      Thai Airways promo ON NOW !!!

    • Dinobots says:

      Hi,

      Planning year end trip again and wanted some advice from you,

      My dates are 17th Dec to 26th Dec

      18th Dec will reach Chitose. The plan is to ski at Niseko 21st to 24th Dec and last night 25th at Sapporo before heading to airport for early flight on 26th.

      Was planning Hakodate 18 to 20th. But it seems a bit too far to drive to. What do you think? Any area thats not too far to drive to?

      Thanks again!

      • bumblebeemum says:

        I think it’s possible to go to Hakodate followed by Niseko. Use the train instead of driving. If you do Hakodate + Niseko, you won’t even need to drive at all.

        • Dinobots says:

          Hi, Anyone knows of any place to get some winter wear at Chitose itself?

          I rem going to AEON at Chitose but the stuff seems pretty old school.

          • bumblebeemum says:

            Hmm.. When you went there, was it in winter? They tend to only sell clothes that are in season, so if you went in Summer, winter clothing would be extremely limited. But if you go in winter, there should be more choices.

  37. Wesley Oh says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum

    I just want to say that your blog is awesome with so many useful information. I am thinking of self drive trip between 28 Jan 2016 to 9 Feb 2016.

    Day 1 Arrive at Chitose Airport and proceed to Sapporo
    Day 2 Sapporo and a day trip to Otaru
    Day 3 Sapporo -> Asahikawa
    Day 4 Asahikawa -> Abashiri (Ice breaker cruise)
    Day 5 Abashiri -> Akan national park
    Day 6 Akan national park
    Day 7 Akan to Kushiro
    Day 8 Kushiro to Tomamu
    Day 9 Tomamu
    Day 10 Tomamu to Lake Toya
    Day 11 Lake Toya to Sapporo for snow festival
    Day 12 Sapporo
    Day 13 Sapporo to Singapore

    • Wesley Oh says:

      Opps accidentally pressed the submit button. I just have a few questions. Is the drive too long for a single driver based on the schedule above?

      Is the petrol expensive at Hokkaido? Would you have a better recommendation? Im travelling with my wife and this is for our Honeymoon. :)

      • bumblebeemum says:

        I think the drive is okay – if you are used to long drives. You are looking at 2-3 hours on the road per day. More if it is snowing heavily. There are many stops along the expressways you can pull over and grab a coffee from the vending machine if you are tired.

        Petrol is not that expensive in Hokkaido. Maybe even cheaper than Singapore with current exchange rate.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The order of your itinerary looks good! Only thing are the dates – you look like you are going to miss the festivals at Otaru and Asahikawa this way, which is a real pity! Rearrange to put Otaru and Asahikawa at the end of the trip so that you can catch the festivals. The dates for the 2016 festivals are:
      Asahikawa Winter Festival 2016 – 6 to 11 February
      Otaru Snow Light Path 2016 – 5 to 14 Februrary

      So I would recommend doing everything in reverse:

      28 Jan CTS – Tomamu
      29 Jan Tomamu
      30 Jan Tomamu – Kushiro
      31 Jan Kushiro – Akan
      1 Feb Akan National Park
      2 Feb Akan – Abashiri
      3 Feb Abashiri – Sounkyo
      4 Feb Sounkyo – Asahikawa
      5 Feb Asahikawa
      6 Feb Asahikawa – Sapporo
      7 Feb Sapporo
      8 Feb Otaru (day trip from Sapporo)
      9 Feb Sapporo to Singapore

      You will notice I took out Lake Toya and put in Sounkyo. This is because there is an ice festival at Sounkyo that I highly recommend. The dates for Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival 2016 are 23 Jan to 27 March, which is right smack in your travel dates and totally along your route.

      • Wesley Oh says:

        Hi Bumblebeemum,

        I have finally settled my itinerary. Not too sure if I will be spending too many days in Sapporo city. Intended to head down straight to Tomamu on the first day but the hotel was fully booked until Day 4.

        The first 3 days in Sapporo will be to explore the city and also to make day trips to Noboribetsu to explore the Samurai village, bear farm and the lake.

        Should I skip Otaru totally in the first 3 days and only go there during my return trip back to Sapporo for the snow festival? Or I should go Otaru twice for a normal visit and for snow festival?

        I hope my itinerary is good as I don’t really want to spend most of the time driving. My wife can drive too but I feel safer driving instead especially during winter.

        1/28/2016 Day 1 Sapporo (reach Chitose Airport at 7am)
        1/29/2016 Day 2 Sapporo
        1/30/2016 Day 3 Sapporo
        1/31/2016 Day 4 Sapporo -> Tomamu (Driving)
        2/1/2016 Day 5 Tomamu (Driving)
        2/2/2016 Day 6 Tomamu -> Kushiro (Driving)
        2/3/2016 Day 7 Kushiro -> Lake Akan (Driving)
        2/4/2016 Day 8 Lake Akan (Driving)
        2/5/2016 Day 9 Lake Akan -> Sounkyo Gorge (Driving)
        2/6/2016 Day 10 Sounkyo Gorge -> Asahikawa (Driving)
        2/7/2016 Day 11 Asahikawa -> Sapporo (Driving and return car)
        2/8/2016 Day 12 Sapporo & Otaru
        2/9/2016 Day 13 Sapporo -> Singapore (Leaving hotel at 10am)

        • bumblebeemum says:

          It looks like this is the best you can do, considering Asahikawa winter festival starts on 6 Dec. I would just go to Otaru once while the snow light path is taking place, and that will have to be on the 8th. For the first few days in Sapporo, you can actually walk around Odori Park and see the people working on the snow sculptures. The big snow sculptures will be up by then and they will just be doing final touch-ups, but it is still fun to go around to take photos at that time (without the crowd when the festival actually starts).

          I don’t think you have too much time in Sapporo. In fact I think your itinerary is pretty tight. On 7 Feb, by the time you reach back to Sapporo, you only have half a day left. So you may want to visit the main festival site (Odori Park) and Susukino site which is nearby. On the 8th, what I would advise you to do is to visit the Tsudome site in the morning, then go to Otaru in the afternoon / evening for the snow light path. So whatever sightseeing you want to do in Sapporo (the markets, shiroi koibito park, beer factory, Mount Moiwa etc.), you are left with 28-30 Jan. But you wanted to go Noboribetsu as well? Frankly, I wouldn’t bother with Noboribetsu. I would, however, go to Lake Shikotsu on 30 Jan for the festival. But if you do not wish to drive in the dark (something i always advise against in winter), you should spend the night of 30 Jan at Lake Shikotsu. i.e.

          1/30/2016 Day 3 Sapporo -> Lake Shikotsu (driving)
          1/31/2016 Day 4 Lake Shikotsu -> Tomamu (Driving)

  38. Serene says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum,
    You have mentioned about Ghibli Studio in Tokyo.
    I have problem getting tickets on line.
    How do you get them since there is no official agent in Singapore?
    Planning to go visit on 2nd week Dec.

    Thanks a lot! Really appreciate all the info in this blog.

    Serene

  39. Duncan says:

    Hi,

    Do you know of minshukus or accommodation near ski resorts around Sapporo, Chitose, Asahikawa, from which tourists can rent ski equipment / ski site at a discount, compared to getting them from the commercial ski companies?

    My wife and I are travelling to Hokkaido for the first time

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The only places I know that rent out ski equipment are at the ski resorts. It seems like a real hassle to rent from the cities and bring them all the way to the ski resorts, together with all the luggage. Even if there are cheaper rentals in the cities (which I doubt), it is unlikely to be worth the hassle. I actually think it should be cheaper to rent from the ski resorts because they have economies of scale?

  40. Dear Bumblebeemum,

    do u advise renting an ETC card for visit to hokkaido? How much are the tolls ranging if we do not have the ETC card? i know its definitely cheaper with the ETC card, however, i’m concerned about the deposit required to rent an ETC card. Through Tocoo, the deposit is 60000 yen which seems ridiculous for renting a card. Looking forward for your advise.

    Many thanks in advance

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You mean the deposit that Tocoo asks for? I heard about it, but so far haven’t heard anyone having complaints over getting back their deposits. Just an administrative inconvenience. If it really bothers you, then I guess you can just pay cash. To give you a very rough gauge, toll fee from Sapporo to Asahikawa is about 3000+yen one way, and toll fee from Sapporo to Hakodate is 5000+yen one way.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks, how much savings is there with an ETC card btw? I

        • bumblebeemum says:

          It varies depending on time of travel and is pretty complicated because there are many different types of discounts. Some examples as given on Tocoo website are:
          * Weekend,Holiday Special Discount
          * Holiday Night Time Special Discount
          * Late Night Discount
          * Day Time Discount
          * Weekday Night Discount

          So for e.g. when I drove to Asahikawa (can’t remember what day / time), the fee using ETC was about 1800 yen vs about 3000 yen for cash payment.

  41. BC says:

    hi
    Your blog has given us a lot of info for our Hokkaido trip.
    Hope you can provide some comments on our planned itin below :

    Day 1 Sapporo
    Day 2 Sapporo to Abashiri (by train)
    Day 3 Abashiri (explore Shiretoko pass if open)
    Day 4 Abashiri
    Day 5 Drive from Abashiri to Lake Akan
    Day 6 Lake Akan
    Day 7 Drive to Tokachi
    Day 8 Take train back to Sapporo
    Day 9 Sapporo
    Day 10 Home

    We are there from 18 Nov & are unsure of the driving conditions during this time of year.

    Rgds
    BC

    • bumblebeemum says:

      There is always a chance you may encounter snow in November. Just drive slow in you encounter snow. You can read my tips on driving in winter on this post:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

      Is there any reason you are staying at Abashiri for so long? The only reason I would go to Abashiri in winter would be for drift ice, but November is too early for drift ice. Not sure what’s there to do at Abashiri in November. Even for Shiretoko, it looks like the sightseeing cruises would have ended their season by the time you are there. Imo, Shiretoko is more of a summer / autumn place. Otherwise the only reason to go there in winter is again for drift ice, but that’s Jan – March.

      If I were to visit Hokkaido in November, I will just stay around the major cities (Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate and the onsen towns along the route at Noboribetsu and Lake Toya). It is kind of in-between seasons, so i would stick to these places that are pretty much the same regardless of seasons. A classic route would be CTS – Noboribetsu (onsen) – Hakodate – Lake Toya (onsen) – Sapporo + side trip to Otaru trip – CTS

      • BC says:

        We’ve been to Abashiri previously on a packaged tour (around late Oct) & really liked the onsen resort there but spent less than 24hrs then. Initially it was just 2 nights there, then we cancelled going to Sounkyo (bcos in inaccessibility using public buses) & thus resulted in 3 nights at Abashiri.
        We are aware of the short day this time of year. This is kind of a last minute trip as suddenly we found time to travel together … will certainly visit again in early Autumn.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I see.. Never considered trying other onsen resorts? There are so many in Hokkaido! Anyway I’m sure you would have a great time just soaking in the onsen and relaxing away. :)

          • BC says:

            We will be visiting onsen resorts in Abashiri, Lake Akan & Kangetseun.

            Back in Sapporo, are there public transport passes to travel around using bus & subway ? We plan to visit Curb Market, Nisio Market, Beer Museum, Hokkaido Uni & Mitsui Outlet over 3 days.

  42. S.H. says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Your blog is really cool and informative!

    I planning to go Hokkaido in December, from 12th to 18th. A family trip of 9 ppl, including an elderly and 2 kids. Basically we will be staying in Sapporo, having day trip to few places like Asahikawa, Noboribetsu and Otaru.We will rent a minibus with driver hired to go to Asahikawa and Noboribetsu.

    For day trip to Asahikiwa, initially I plan to go to Biei (perhaps to Shirahige waterfall or Mild Seven Hill) then to Asahiyama Zoo. Then we will have a walk in Asahikawa city before going back to Sapporo. Do you think this will be too pack? Is Biei worth going or I should opt out for that? The minibus we hired most probably would be 12 hrs.

    For day trip to Noboribetsu, I’m not very sure about must-visit-places over there and I cannot estimate how much time we should spend there. Should I visit to Lake Toya on the same day, before going back to Sapporo again? We are not staying at Noboribetsu, is there any onsen that we can go? Which would you recommend?

    Hope that you can provide some comments.

    Thank you very much!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For Asahikawa, you won’t have enough time to go to Biei. When we visited Asahiyama Zoo, leaving Sapporo in the morning, we didn’t even have time to finish walking the whole zoo. We drove very slowly because of heavy snow. Your private bus should be able to go faster. But even then, opening hours for the zoo are pretty short in winter, plus you still need time for lunch. I suggest you go straight to the zoo from Sapporo, and after the zoo closes, go for a walk around Asahikawa City (though I’m not sure what’s there to walk – it’s pretty boring imo) and then to Asahikawa Ramen Village for dinner.

      Noboribetsu is just Hell’s Valley and the bear village (which I find very sad so I have never been there). Unless you plan to go to NIXE marine park, you will not need the whole day. So yes, you can go to Noboribetsu (Hell’s valley and a quick day use of onsen) and Lake Toya in the same day.

      For onsen at Noboribetsu, I have only tried Hotel Mahoroba. But I stayed there, and there’s no information on day usage of their onsen on their website. You can probably pop into the hotel to ask them if you can use their onsen. If not, I recommend you go to the tourist information desk at Hell’s Valley to ask them which hotels allows day use of their onsen and just choose one from the list.

  43. Joel says:

    Hello Bumblebeemum,

    I chanced upon your blog while planning for my trip. Your blog is really interesting. A big thank you in advance for replying to all of us here. Really appreciate your patience!

    After reading all the comments several times, this is what I am planning for myself and my hubby from 11 to 20 Dec. pls give me some comments. Thanks again.

    11 Dec : Take bus from CTS to Niseko
    12 Dec: Niseko
    13 Dec : Rent car from Niseko, drive to Lake Toya.
    14 Dec : Lake Toya – Noboribetsu (drive thru Orofure Pass)
    15 Dec: Noboribetsu – Tomamu
    16 Dec: Tomamu – Obihiro (Tokachigawa onsen) -Kushiro (Cranes, Kushiro market, Fisherman Wharf MOO)
    17 Dec: Kushiro – Akan National Park (Lake Mashu, Iozan, Lake Kussharo) – Lake Akan
    18 Dec: Lake Akan – Sounkyo
    19 Dec: Sounkyo – Asahikawa
    20 Dec: Asahikawa – CTS (return car)

    Jo

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your itinerary looks good. But you may want to compare the price of a round-trip rental from CTS, versus one-way rental from Niseko to CTS. Although you rent the car for 2 days less by doing one-way, it may not be cheaper because round-trip rentals from CTS are generally cheaper. So you can try adding up the cost of the bus ride from CTS – Niseko and one-way car rental from 13 to 20 Dec, and compare it to round-trip rental from CTS from 11-20 Dec. If you’re not saving much money, I suggest you just rent a car all the way for convenience.

  44. BC says:

    We are back after our 11 day free & easy Hokkaido trip. would like to share some of our experience on your blog :

    1) for hotels, I compared prices using Expedia / Agoda (via Shopback), Rakuten JP, JAPANiCan & Jalan.net. Have booked hotels via each of these sites without issues for hotels/resorts in Abashiri, Akan, Tokachi & Sapporo. Some of the onsen resorts provide complimentary pick-up service (unadvertised) from nearest JR station so do ask about it.

    2) for car hire, I compared Toyota, Toocoo, Nippon Car, Rakuten & Jalan.net. I booked with Times Car Rental (Mazda Demio 2) via Jalan.net. Look out for the discount coupons from Jalan.net. There are many ongoing promos for car rentals. We got free 4WD, comprehensive insurance, snow tires & JPY2k discount. Extras were ETC card rental (standard Y324 a day) & NOC insurance (Y1080 a day). All in, our 5 day rental cost around JPY29,000, inclusive of a JPY 7560 1-way return charge.

    3) Times Car Rental (previously Mazda Car Rental) has many outlets across Hokkaido close to JR stations. Their service is friendly & very good. The car is in good condition. We arrived 90 mins early on pick-up & the staff allowed us to take the car as goodwill … this allowed us to make the 2 hour drive to Shiretoko 5 Lakes on a beautiful day. Dropping off was a quick 10 min process & they allowed us 15 mins grace to drop off our luggage at JR before returning.

    4) Driving in snowing condition for the first time

    Besides allowing longer braking distance, other things to note when driving while snowing / in snow that are not apparent in SG :
    1) cannot see the snow covered curb – as traffic is light, we kept closer to the middle instead
    2) cannot see the bends in the road ahead clearly
    3) traffic lights are located after the stop line (unlike SG) – brake early, way ahead of the traffic light
    4) interior windscreen tends to fog up – learn to use the warm AC controls to blast WS. Best to ask front seat pax to do it, while u concentrate on the road ahead

    We drove 100km in snow for 2 hours 15mins from Akan to Obihiro during daytime. On highway 241, we could still manage 50 kmh to 60 kmh. It was a little undulating with some gentle bends .. not too difficult.

    Fortunately there was a car in front of us that was going the same way & driving at a comfortable speed for us to follow.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Thank you for sharing! I have never used jalan.net before, but I think I should give it a try next time! :)

      • BC says:

        A correction about ETC card rental rates.

        ETC card rental by Times Car rental is JPY 324 per rental for up to 7 days. I rented the card directly with Times after booking on Jalan.net. Times responded promptly in English.

        Honda charges JPY 500 per rental for 7 days, JPY 500 per rental for 8 or more days.

        ToCoo charges JPY 324 per day for ETC Card rental if you select this option !

        This makes a big difference for long trips.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Tocoo charges 324yen per day? Wow.. I haven’t rented from Tocoo for quite some time already. Not since the implemented their compulsory roadside support or insurance or something like that. They used to be my default go-to for car rentals but they are going to start losing their competitiveness at this rate.

          • BC says:

            2nd Correction :
            Honda charges JPY 500 per rental for 7 days & JPY 1000 (not 500) per rental for 8 or more days.

  45. Keok Soon says:

    Hi Bubblebeemum

    We will be going to Tomamu in 2 weeks time. We plan to take bus from New Chitose Airport to Tomamu and JR from Tomamu to Sapporo
    I read in JR Hokkaido website http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/ttable/02.pdf that they don’t sell train tickets in Tomamu Station!

    I emailed Tomamu resort staff, they said you can buy them on the train. There will be a train staff that walks around checking tickets. When she/he meets you, tell them that you plan to go to Sapporo and they will sell you a ticket.

    Is that true? Do you have any experience in JR?

    Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, sorry for the late reply as I have been overseas. Think you should be back from your trip by now? Hope you didn’t run into any problem with the train tickets. But yes, in smaller train stations, there is no staff or ticketing counter, so commuters will just hop on the train and the conductor will come to them on the train. I did encounter that before though I can’t remember where. This is not uncommon in the quieter regions in Hokkaido.

    • Cecilia says:

      I am back from my trip a week ago. Thanks Bumblebeemum for the itinerary.

      Keok Soon, you are right, they don’t sell the train tickets at the Tomamu station. So if you want reserved seats, better to buy return tickets. Just a piece of advice, don’t bring too heavy luggage to Tomamu coz when you depart from Tomamu station, you have carry them up flights of stairs and down again to the opposite site to take the train back to Sapporo.

  46. Rachel says:

    Hi,

    I enjoy reading your blog on hokkaido self-drive holidays. This is my first trip to Hokkaido, not the first time driving in japan but its our 1st time driving in winter. We enjoy winter holidays and hope Hokkaido will not disappoint us! Hope you can take a look at my plan and advise if its too rush for me.

    Day 1 – Arrive in CTS 930am. Pick up car and head to sapporo. Shopping/Eating, etc
    Day 2 – Sapporo
    Day 3 – Leave Sapporo and head to Tomamu (1 Night)
    Day 4 – Leave Tomamu and head to Lake Akan (1Night, do you think I have time for this? My Hub and I would like to try some ice fishing)
    Day 5 – Leave Lake Akan and Head to Asahiyama Zoo ( Prolly going to stay 1 night else i foresee I won’t have enough daylight to drive out after visiting Zoo)
    Day 6 – Leave Asaihiyama and head to Noboribetsu (1Night)
    Day 7 – Leave Noboribetsu and Niseko
    Day 8 – Niseko (Ski)
    Day 9 – Niseko (ski)
    Day 10 – Leave Niseko and head to Otaru. (Might stay a night in Otaru or will head back to sapporo for a night.
    Day 11 – Sapporo (Eating and some late min shopping) Leaving for airport for a 8pm flight.

    This wasn’t my initially plan, as 2 of my friends had some issue and had to abort their travel plans, i had to revamp the whole trip with a short notice. The only problem is our ski resort is already paid in full and we can’t change the dates for Niseko as its almost impossible to find vacancy anymore. wanted to do Lake Toya after Noboribetsu, but if we were to head to tomamu, lake akan and zoo, we prolly don’t have much time left.

    My initial plan was:
    Sapporo 3N
    Noboribetsu 1N
    Lake Toya 2N
    Niseko 3N
    Sapporo 1N

    But i tot i might be able to do more. So please advise if the 11 day itinerary is feasible? Rest of the hotel reservations are still cancellable.

    Thanks a lot for the help. :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, sorry for the late reply as I have been overseas.

      Your plan looks extremely pack to me. I don’t think Days 5 – 6 look very feasible because of the distance you need to cover. In winter, driving time needs to be doubled because of the snow. You will be spending all your time on the roads and not doing any sightseeing at all. E.g. You definitely will not have time to visit the zoo – the drive from Lake Akan to Asahikawa will take up half the day in winter.

      When are you going btw? If you are going in Feb, you may not have to go to Lake Akan to do ice fishing. There is ice fishing at Onuma Koen. I recommend you travel by train rather than drive because it is much faster to use the train in winter. Furthermore you don’t need a car for Niseko if you are going there to ski. At from Niseko (Kutchan), there is a direct train to Otaru. For train travel, I recommend you go South towards Onuma Koen and Hakodate rather than East to Tomamu and Lake Akan.

      Day 1 – Arrive in CTS 930am. Sapporo
      Day 2 – Sapporo
      Day 3 – Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa by train)
      Day 4 – Sapporo – Noboribetsu
      Day 5 – Noboribetsu – Onuma Koen (ice fishing) – Hakodate
      Day 6 – Hakodate
      Day 7 – Hakodate – Niseko
      Day 8 – Niseko (Ski)
      Day 9 – Niseko (ski)
      Day 10 – Niseko – Otaru
      Day 11 – Otaru – CTS

  47. Anonymous says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, would like to thank you again for the advice u have provided earlier on. We had an enjoyable trip :)
    There was a road closure on our day back, thank god we didnt miss our flight :p

    Cheers!
    Chermaine

  48. EL says:

    Hi,
    I would like to know if you know where we could do the laundry in bulky in Hokkaido.
    When I go Tokyo, I choose to stay @ airbnb apartment just for the washer n dryer.
    I am travelling with 2 kids too.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      When I stayed at Mercure, they didn’t have a coin laundry within the hotel but they directed me to a capsule inn across the road where I could use the laundry there. For convenience, you may want to find a hotel or apartment that has laundry. For e.g. Toyoko Inn at Susukino has coin laundry.

  49. Es says:

    Hi, really appreciate your blog and amazing advice. I am going to Hokkaido in mid May with my 4 year old. It’s cherry blossom season . Will be there for 8 days. I am wondering whether I should do the eastern Hokkaido route or the route towards hokadate? What would be your advice?

  50. NT says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,
    I had finally booked my flight to Hokkaido on 27th May for 16 days trip as I hope to c the tulips and moss. May I ask u to take a look at the itinerary whether it is feasible and any suggestions are most welcome. Guess I should also get the HEP? The later part of my itinerary are mainly following your ruote.
    Day 1: Spore – Chitose Airport. Reaching at noon.
    Day 2: Chitose – Asahikawa
    Day 3: Asahikawa – Abashiri
    Day 4:Abashiri – Lake Akan
    Day 5: Lake Akan – Tomamu
    Day 6: Tomamu – Lake Toya
    Day 7: Lake Toya – Hakodate
    Day 8: Hakodate
    Day 9: Hakodate – Niseko
    Day 10: Niseko – Otaru
    Day 11: Otaru – Sapporo
    Day 12:Sapporo
    Day 13: Sapporo
    Day 14: Sapporo to Furano
    Day 15 :Furano – Chitose Airport
    Day 16: Home sweet Home.

    Tks so much for sharing.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yup, you can get the 14 days Hokkaido Expressway Pass for Day 2 to 15. The itinerary looks good.. I’m so envious! I would love to see the tulips and pink moss too! Send me some photos of the pink moss and tulips on Facebook when you’re there. :p

      • NT says:

        Tks both anonymous & bumblebeemum. Will seriously consider adding the Shiretoko and might drop Hakodate. The suggestions are truly helpful. Btw anonymous, which part would u be going?

        • BC says:

          hi NT
          We are looking to visit Abashiri, 5 Lakes & to drive up Shiretoko Pass to Mt Rausu (we dint get the chance in Nov as the road was closed for winter, the day before we reached), headd back to Tokachi/Obihiro, back to Sapporo & consider exploring the NW coast as BBM suggested. It will be 7 – 9 day trip.
          Near Abashiri, shld drive up to Cape Notoro nearby for nice scenery with lighthouse, ocean & massive cliffs.
          In Akan, the New Akan Hotel has a new-ish rooftop modern communal onsen – would be fun with family & dont have to be separated. This hotel’s buffet meals are also well-known for its massive spread, is popular with group tours & can get crowded. However, we dint thot much about the Ainu village though. Check out AirBnb … I recall seeing some nice cottages in that area !
          Cheers

          • NT says:

            Tks BC for your suggestion. Its very informative. Yes , we will follow BBM route when going to Otaru.

          • bumblebeemum says:

            Argh… You got me so tempted to book New Akan Hotel!! We are basing ourselves in Kitami for 3 nights to explore Abashiri, Shiretoko and Akan region. Because my in-laws are joining us this round, we cut back on accommodation spending (since we have to book 2 rooms) and decided on Super Hotel Kitami. But now I’m thinking whether to shift 1 night to New Akan Hotel after reading about the massive buffet spread.. Haha! I just went to their website and it looks like they have a kids buffet bar! I love those! Okok… Gotta go do some sums and consult with the husband to see if I should change my accommodation…

            • BC says:

              hahaha … just be prepared for the crowd at buffet times, especially dinner, if there happens to be a large tour group or local holiday. we went back to New Akan bcos they served free-flow ikura at breakfast ! I just eat ikura with rice & I am happy. Also, check out the “tornado beer” thingy during dinner – its beer filled from the bottom of the glass. The dining area staff are very patient & efficient. They let you eat & dont bother you even though its near closing time. Go early for breakfast to get a seat near the big glass window, enjoy the view while you eat – great way to start the day. I would say the spread is mind-boggling, quality of food is above average, deserts/cakes are nice, free flow Hokkaido soft ice cream too ! Ikura is seasonal I believe. We just had a small issue with one front desk staff who seemed to have an attitude & not helpful.

              You have to be in swimming attire for the rooftop communal onsen. If you dont have, the hotel provides attire for guests to change into within the male/female onsen areas. To access the rooftop onsen, go to the respective onsen, change, then look for a sliding door & staircase leading upstairs.

              Warning: During winter, access to the rooftop onsen, the stairs & decking, are very very slippery & dangerous bcos of the frozen ice.

              • bumblebeemum says:

                Thanks for the tips! That means I need to pack swimwear if I stay there. I’m going in summer, think the kids will enjoy the rooftop onsen. Only drawback is that one night there cost 3 times the price of Super Hotel Kitami. But I guess if I factor in breakfast and dinner, it is not that much more expensive. ^^ Was the beer included in the dinner? Or need to top up?

                • BC says:

                  Beer needs to top up.
                  Forgot to mention, New Akan has rooms in the “Annex building”. From what I read, think these rooms are not as nice as rooms in the main building.

                  • bumblebeemum says:

                    Yeah.. Usually it’s like that. I tend to go for the cheapest room and they aren’t usually the nicest. But I don’t mind because for a cheaper price, I am using the same onsen and eating the same meals staying in the nicer rooms. Hehe… Okay, I am more interested in the food than anything.

  51. Anonymous says:

    hi NT
    If I may provide some comments :
    1) Kind of a long drive to Abashiri just to stay 1 night.
    2) From Abashiri, I would recommend driving to 5 Lakes & Shiretoko Pass (a Unesco World Heritage site) about 1.5 hrs easy drive away. This would be a day trip with plenty to see & explore en-route … the drive & views are amazing, we saw wild deers & foxes, deep valley, ocean, snow cap mountains (in Nov).
    3) Abashiri has the cheapest King Crab in Hokkaido at around JPY 7k – 8k a kg, including shabu shabu preparations. There’s one near the town’s michi-no-eki to have the crab, near the seaside.
    4) From Akan to Tomamu, if time permits, you could make a stop at Tokachi. Its famous for its agricultural products eg) Tokachi wagyu & its the origination place for Buta-don (豚井) done the traditional way. Tokachi is quite a big town, with many onsen resorts on its outskirts.

    We are also looking to visit Hokkaido again in late May !

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      Yes, the drive to Abashiri is very long and definitely I would recommend driving all the way up to Shiretoko too to make the drive more worthwhile. But with the time he has, if he wants to go to Shiretoko, he will probably have to give up going to Hakodate. To try to cover both Shiretoko and Hakodate in a single trip, even with 16 days, is a bit too much time spent on the road imo. I am actually planning a similar trip and like you, I think it makes sense to go all the way to Shiretoko. Hence for my trip, I will not be going Hakodate.

      But that being said, I get what NT is thinking of. His purpose of going to Abashiri is purely to see the pink moss and tulips. And one day is enough for those.

      Gah.. Butadon. My favourite food in Hokkaido!!

  52. Jade says:

    Thank you very much for writing such a informative blog. I am travelling with my hubby and 2 kids ( 3 year old and 1 year old girls) to Hokkaido 1-15 July. This is my first time travelling with 2 kids. May I know what type of room we should book? Is twin room good enough? Are hotels in Japan very strict on number of kids/ occupant in a room? Saw you post you are spending $60-80 per night in city hotel. Is this still achievable in summer? How much should I budget for onsen stay? Any tips to save accommodation cost in city and onsen ?
    This is a self drive trip and I understand that kids below 6 need child seats. Is it expensive to rent child seats from the car rental company or should we just check in our car seats if we are picking up our car from airport? We need 2.
    Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      If you are okay with the kids sharing the existing bedding with you and your husband, then twin room is enough. For kids as young as yours, they can usually bunk in at city hotels for free if using the existing bedding. The resorts and onsen ryokans are more iffy and they may charge a fee even if your kids are not using any extra bedding. What I usually do is to book a room for 2 adults and during check-in, I will pay for the kids if the hotel requires it.

      $60-$80 may not be achievable in July because it is peak season. If you want to save money, you can stay at Asahikawa instead of Furano / Biei to explore the Furano / Biei region. The best tip to save on accommodation during peak season is to book early while you have choices.

      The fee for car seat fluctuates quite a bit between car rental companies. I prefer renting car seats from the companies. From CTS, you will still need to take shuttle bus to the car rental outlet so it may be a hassle bringing your own car seat. You can just include the cost of car seat rental into the price comparison and see which rental company totals up to be the cheapest. Some rental companies provide car seats for free.

  53. Jan says:

    Hello Bumblebee Mum

    I really love your blog! you write so clearly with such detailed information. Thank you for that!

    We are planning a trip to Hokkaido from 25 Dec 16 – 3 Jan 17 and have a few questions.

    Some background: We are planning the trip to be as far back in Dec as possible as we hope to maximise the chance of snow activities and penguin parade. We intend to take public transport and not drive. There are 5 of us (3 adults and 2 children 5 and 8 years old)

    My draft itinerary

    Day 1: Arrival in Sapporo
    Day 2: Sapporo
    Day 3: Sapporo and Chocolate factory
    Day 4: Asahiyama Zoo for penguin parade (day trip)
    Day 5: Otaru (day trip)
    Day 6 – 9: Tomamu, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya
    Day 10: Return

    Questions:
    1. How shall i plan days 6-9 in a way that makes sense in terms of public transportation links? Do i need to return to Sapporo on the last day to go to Chitose for the flight on day 10?
    2. Do you think there are airbnb types of lodging in Tomamu? There are 5 of us and we will need 2 rooms so i am worried about the cost of the accommodation at the ski resort, especially over New Year period.
    3. Also i tried to book the ski resort but i think they are not available for booking yet. Do you know when they would be open for Dec bookings?
    4. Another concern that weighs heavily on my mind is that it will be during the New Year period. I am worried that a lot of shops/ places of interest/ public transport may not be available during this period.
    5. What would be good and affordable onsen options in Noboribetsu and Lake Toya?
    6. Alternatively, would it be wise to base the entire trip in Sapporo and do day trips? Is it feasible?

    Would love to hear your thoughts!

    Thank you in advance

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. If you are using public transport, I would advise you to choose either Noboribetsu or Lake Toya, not both. Moving around via public transport in winter with luggage and kids is extremely tiring. I would minimise my change of hotel if I am using public transport.

      Sapporo – Tomamu (by train)
      Tommau – Noboribetsu or Toya (train with 1 transfer at Minami-Chitose, followed by taxi to hotel)
      Noboribetsu or Toya – CTS (check with hotel for best way to go back – there may be direct buses available.)

      I would not go back to Sapporo after that. I would head straight back to CTS Noboribetsu / Lake Toya.

      2. There is a homestay called Pension ING near Tomamu. I stayed there when I visited in a group of 5, but we had our own rental car. I think the host can drive you up to Hoshino Resort, but I’m not sure if they are flexible in their timings or you need to abide by their timing. On their website, it says they will pick you up at 4pm, but if that’s the case you will miss the Ice Village. You may want to check with them regarding their shuttle timings.
      http://ingtomamu.com/english/

      I frankly recommend staying at Hoshino Resort. But if it is really out of your budget, you may just want to go to Tomamu as a day-trip from Sapporo. The advantage of doing so is that from Sapporo, when you want to go to Noboribetsu or Lake Toya later, some hotels in the region provide complimentary shuttle bus from Sapporo to the hotel.

      3. Try again some time in October?

      4. Public transport will continue to operate. The ryokans will definitely still be open too. If you are just going to relax in the onsen and enjoy the meals provided by the ryokan, then you have nothing to worry about. That being said, you should book your ryokan stay with half-board during that period since restaurants may be closed.

      5. At Noboribetsu, try Hotel Mahoroba. At Lake Toya, try Toya Sunpalace.

      6. I would advise you to base in Sapporo all the way until you go to Noboribetsu or Lake Toya. For these two onsen towns, I recommend spending at least a night to experience a hot spring ryokan stay.

      • Jan says:

        Hi Bumblebee mum,

        Thanks for the reply!

        I have a few follow up question.

        1. For your answer for point 2 above, just so that i understand correctly, this is in order of recommendation?
        1. stay in Tomamu resort
        2. day trip to Tomamu from Sapporo
        3. stay in the Pension ING

        2. If i only have money to splurge of either one of this: 1) Tomamu resort or 2) Noboribetsu

        3. Which train pass should i opt for if my itinerary is as follows:

        Sapporo City
        Sapporo City and Chocolate Factory
        Day trip Otaru
        Day trip Ashiyama Zoo
        Day trip to Rusutsu / Teine ski resort
        Sapporo – Tomamu
        Tomamu – Noribetsu
        Noboribetsu – Sapporo / airport

        Thank so much!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1. Nope. What I recommend is that you either stay at Hoshino Tomamu Resort, or you don’t stay at Tomamu at all and just go to Tomamu for one day as a day trip from Sappporo.

          If you don’t want to stay at Hoshino Resort Tomamu, this is what you can do:

          Day 1: Arrival in Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo and Chocolate factory
          Day 4: Asahiyama Zoo for penguin parade (day trip)
          Day 5: Otaru (day trip)
          Day 6: Tomamu (day trip – take train there in the morning, take train back at night)
          Day 7: Rusutsu / Teine Ski Resort day trip
          Day 8: Sapporo – Noboribetsu (look for direct shuttle bus provided by hotel)
          Day 9: Noboribetsu – CTS
          Day 10: Return

          If you don’t mind paying to stay at Hoshino Resort Tomamu for a night, this is what you can do:

          Day 1: Arrival in Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo and Chocolate factory
          Day 4: Asahiyama Zoo for penguin parade (day trip)
          Day 5: Otaru (day trip)
          Day 6: Rusutsu / Teine Ski Resort day trip
          Day 7: Sapporo – Tomamu (stay at Hoshin Resort Tomamu)
          Day 8: Tomamu – Noboribetsu (train and cab to hotel from Noboribetsu station)
          Day 9: Noboribetsu – CTS
          Day 10: Return

          2. Between Tomamu and Noboribetsu, since you are going in winter, I recommend Tomamu.

          3. You can consider either getting the 4-day flexi Hokkaido Rail Pass or 5-days Hokkaido Rail Pass. But I am not sure if it will be worth it. Use hyperdia to check the train fares, add them up and see if it cost more or less than the cost of the rail pass (which is 22000yen).
          http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

          • Jan says:

            This sounds great! Thank you so much!!

          • Cecilia says:

            Hihi. Just a suggestion. I think 1 night at Tomamu is not enough if you are bringing kids along. We stayed 2 nights there last December and my kids who were 9 and 7 did not have enough of fun! Come on, how frequently do we go skiing? If you are taking public transport and by the time you arrive there, it’s quite late for the skiing lessons and no time for you to ski on your own after that. Just a reminder. If you intend to book for the ski lessons, do book in advance online. We didn’t do that previously and only managed to book the last slot. By the time it ended, the sky was dark and we can’t ski anymore.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Yeah, you’re right. If you want to ski or snowboard, you definitely need to stay more than 1 night at any ski resort. But for people who do not like to ski (like me.. haha..), I will run out of things to do at the resort after 2 days.

          • Jan says:

            Hi Bumblebee Mum,

            I wrote to ask for your advice several months ago with the intention of staying 1 night in Tomamu and another night in Noboribetsu.

            But the cost of staying in Tomamu and ryokan is too prohibitive over the new year period and so i will be staying in the airbnb near Sapporo station throughout.

            Would you be able to suggest an itinerary for 10 days (25 Dec – 3 Jan) all based in Sapporo and traveling using public transport?

            Thank you!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Hmmm….. This is frankly a very tough one. It is possible to make day trips to Otaru, Asahikawa, Tomamu and Noboribetsu by public transport from Sapporo. For Lake Toya, I would recommend you drive if you want to do it as a day trip from Sapporo. Hakodate would be too far to do as a day trip. So I guess the rest of the time would just be in Sapporo – which means lots of time for shopping and eating.

  54. NT says:

    Hi BBM, can I check with you , if I were to buy an HEP card, do I still need an ETC card?
    Thanks.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Nope. The HEP card is an ETC card itself.

      • NT says:

        Tks. So basically I will insert the HEP card into the ETC device and can use the ETC gantry at the Toll. Am I correct?

        • BC says:

          hi NT, if I may ask … have u checked whether HEP is cost effective ?

          Reason being, I find that the tolled expressways arent that extensive in Hokkaido & non-toll highways are viable alternatives (at least on Google map).

          This is the site to check the toll fares :
          http://www.c-nexco.co.jp/navi/

          Similarly for ETC, the discounts are mostly for early mornings before 8am, late night or weekends/PH driving. Normal weekdays, no discount.

          For your itin, Days 3 & 4 has no toll. Days 2, 7 to 11, probably can avoid toll roads.

          • NT says:

            Tks BC but I find it difficult to check the specific toll charges. Guess I would just stick with HEP pass for a peace of mind.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yup, that’s right. :)

  55. NT says:

    Hi BBM, I intend to get the 14 days HEP cost Jpy11,300 Frankly I didn’t calculate whet it is cost effective? Think I will do it before the trip in end of May. Btw, if I get the HEP card, can it go thru the toll gantry specially for ETC device?

  56. Rachel says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Very informative blog with detailed replies.

    I am intending to travel to Hokkaido in Nov/Dec with a 2yo.
    Do you think it is advisable? As i’m afraid it might be too cold for toddlers and elders.

    Do we need to obtain an international driving license or is our SG one good enough?

    Also thought of taking the Senmo Rail Line to see some scenaries at leisure pace. Any advise on this?

    TIA!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It will be very cold in Hokkaido at the end of the year. It is frankly quite tiring having to dress the toddler up in layers every time you want to go out and there’s a high chance your toddler will catch a cold. Nov is not exactly the best time for visiting Hokkaido either. So I don’t exactly recommend it.

      Senmo Rail Line means you’re thinking of visiting Shiretoko? Shiretoko is kind of boring in Nov / Dec and super far North. I wouldn’t go there during that time of the year. I will go Shiretoko only in summer, autumn or during drift ice season.

      As for driving in Japan, you will need an international driving licence.

  57. Yong says:

    2 adults and 2 children ( 10 and 6 years old ) – public transportation

    I plan to spend 12 days in Hokkaido early December. I want to explore southern part first (Sapporo, Otaru, Lake Toya, Nobo, Hakdoate, Niseko, Kiroro) , but 12 days seem to be too much. I have extra 3 days 2 nights ..hope you can give me some advise ?

    1 – Skiing Resort ? how do you feel about Niseko, Rusutu and Kiroro ? or Tomamu ? any advise ?

    2 – If I travel up to Asahiyama Zoo, any more places to recommend nearby area ? worth the trips ? (northern and eastern trip I hope to cover my next trip)

    3 – any southern region that I miss up ? can suggest any places ?

    Regards

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. I have written about the various ski resorts (pros and cons of each) in this post:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/
      I won’t go Kiroro in early December.

      2. Asahikawa is just the zoo. And ramen village – which is not so easy to get to by public transport I think.

      12 days doesn’t seem too much to me, especially if you are travelling in winter and via public transport. It looks just nice for the places you want to go.

      Day 1: Sapporo
      Day 2: Sapporo
      Day 3: Otaru day trip from Sapporo
      Day 4: Sapporo – Niseko
      Day 5: Niseko
      Day 6: Niseko
      Day 7: Niseko – Lake Toya
      Day 8: Lake Toya – Hakodate
      Day 9: Hakodate
      Day 10: Hakodate – Noboribetsu
      Day 12: Noboribetsu – CTS

      • Yong says:

        i made some changes after reading your blog.

        Day 01 – Chitose Airport – Tomamu – by bus or train
        Day 02 – Tomamu
        Day 03 – Tomamu – Sapporo – maybe direct bus
        Day 04 – Sapporo – Noboribetsu – direct bus -500yen each only
        Day 05 – Noboribetsu –
        Day 06 – Lake Toya – Hakodate
        Day 07 – Hakodate
        Day 08 – Hakodate – Niseko
        Day 09 – Niseko
        Day 10 – Niseko – Kiroro (Sheraton) –
        Day 11 – Kiroro – Otaru
        Day 12 – Otaru – Sapporo
        Day 13 – Sapporo

        hope you can give me some advise. I am worried about transportation.
        1 – I choose to return from Tamamu to sapporo because they got direct bus to reach hotel in Noboribetsu and i can leave some baggages at the hotel, but travel time would be longer ard 1hr. what do you think ? else i need to carry a lot of luggages with me

        2 – which hotel do you recommend in Noboribetsu and Lake Toya ? any free shuttle bus provided at the nearest station ?

        3 – Mercure Hotel near susukino station. how do you find susukino station vs sapporo station ? any hotels near sapporo station got airport limo stop by ?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1. Yes, bus is slower but more convenient. I would opt for the direct bus.

          2. The hotel shuttle services are usually between Sapporo and the hotel. If you want to get to the nearest train station, you probably need to catch the local bus. Hotel Mahoroba at Noboribetsu provides free shuttle for guests between Sapporo and the hotel.

          3. If you are using public transport, a hotel near Sapporo station would probably suit you better. I always self-drive so I like to stay Susukino area because it is more happening at night, since we usually only return to the hotel at night. If you stay near Sapporo station, you can use the train to return to the airport instead of bus.

  58. CeciliaChia says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, I really enjoy reading your blog, very informative. I am planing a trip from 29/11 – 06/12/2016 (7N8D) with two kids age 5 & 10 years old. The main activities for my kids will be snowboard and onsen for adults. This is my first time to Hokkaido. The followings are the places in my list, can you advise me on how to plan my stay? Thanks.

    Sapporo
    Otaru
    Niseko
    Tomamu

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You can do the following (2 nights Niseko, 3 nights Sapporo, 2 nights Tomamu):

      29/11: CTS – Niseko
      30/11: Niseko
      1/12: Niseko – Sapporo
      2/12: Sapporo
      3/12: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
      4/12: Sapporo – Tomamu
      5/12: Tomamu
      6/12: Tomamu – CTS

      • Chris says:

        Hi, you stayed around early Dec at Hilton Niseko.
        Wondering if they are very strict towards children policy or not ?

        Did you enter 2 adults only or 2 adults with children for a room?
        would you mind sharing your room rate per night at that time ?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          My children were pretty young so they could bunk in with us for free. What you can do is to book for 2 adults first and see if they charge for your kids when you check-in. If they do, then just top up cash for the kids there. I cannot remember exactly how much I paid. iirc it was about SGD150 without meals.

      • CeciliaChia says:

        Hi Bumblebeemum, thanks for your reply.
        I arrive CTS on 29/11 at 16.55, travel by train to Niseko will arrive at about 8-9pm. Is it ok to arrive at this hour and how far away from the station to Hilton Niseko? Thanks in advance for your advise.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hmmm… I won’t use the train, I would use the direct bus instead. Hilton Niseko is not near the train station. This shuttle bus can drop you can the door of Hilton Niseko:
          http://www.nisekoshuttlebus.com/

          However, I would compare cost of staying at Hilton Niseko vs Air Terminal Hotel. If Hilton Niseko cost a lot more, plus there is additional night surcharge for the bus, I may just spend my first night at Air Terminal Hotel and catch the bus to Niseko the next morning.

          • CeciliaChia says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum, “The Tower” could you advise me which Tower is more convenient to stay?
            Thank you.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              The two towers are the same, just side by side. You will be given a room in either Towers when you check in.

              • CeciliaChia says:

                Hi Bumblebeemum, is me again. Hope I find you well here. My itinerary has been set and waiting for the time to come, really looking forward to…except for the train from sapporo to tomamu, i am still not so sure how to purchase the train ticket, so have to trouble you again for your advise. Do I need to book in advance? Will I have any issue if I purchase in Sapporo on the day I arrived? Understand that I have to reserve seats, any chance that I may not get a seat if I do not have reservation? Thank you in advance for your help.

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Nope, you don’t need to purchase the ticket to Tomamu in advance. You can purchase it from JR Sapporo station when you are there. There is always a risk of not getting a seat if you choose not to reserve seats. It’s whether or not you think the money you save is worth the risk.

                  By the way, please check if the train has resumed operation yet when you are there. It has been down for the past few weeks due to typhoon damage and currently on JR Hokkaido website, the suspension notice is still there.
                  http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/
                  If the train service hasn’t resumed, you need to find out how to get to Tomamu by bus instead.

  59. Grace says:

    I chanced upon your blog while researching for my upcoming trip to Hokkaido this Dec 10-26. Very informative and so so helpful! We’re bringing our 10yo boy and 6 yo girl along for the ride. Reading your blog again and again… Feeling less blur already. Haha!

  60. Grace Chin says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,

    It’s me again. I need your advise/input for the itinerary I’ve drawn up. This is our first time going to Hokkaido and it’s been more than 10 years since we’ve driven in snowy weather. Really appreciate your help! Thank you!

    Day 1 Night flight to Sapporo
    Day 2 Arrive morning, check in hotel (go Sapporo Underground Pedestrian Space)
    Day 3 Sapporo (Beer factory, chocolate factory, etc)
    Day 4 Day trip to Otaru (train)
    Day 5 Day trip to Asahiyama Zoo (train)
    Day 6 Kiroro (self drive)
    Day 7 Day trip to Niseko
    Day 8 Noboribetsu / Hell’s Valley
    Day 9 Lake Toya
    Day 10 Tomamu
    Day 11 Tomamu
    Day 12 Obihiro
    Day 13 Akan
    Day 14 Kushiro
    Day 15 (very lost! Need your advise)
    Day 16 Sapporo (check in Air Terminal Hotel)
    Day 17 Evening flight back to Singapore

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Are you driving from Day 6 onwards? From Kiroro, I would continue on to Niseko instead of going back to Sapporo.

      Swap Day 8 and 9. Go Niseko -> Lake Toya -> Noboribetsu -> Tomamu, it is more ‘along the way’.

      Kushiro to CTS is a long way back. I would use Obihiro to split the drive.

      Day 1 Night flight to Sapporo
      Day 2 Arrive morning, check in hotel (go Sapporo Underground Pedestrian Space)
      Day 3 Sapporo (Beer factory, chocolate factory, etc)
      Day 4 Day trip to Otaru (train)
      Day 5 Day trip to Asahiyama Zoo (train)
      Day 6 Sapporo – Kiroro (day visit) – Niseko
      Day 7 Niseko
      Day 8 Niseko – Lake Toya
      Day 9 Lake Toya – Noboribetsu
      Day 10: Noboribetsu – Tomamu
      Day 11 Tomamu
      Day 12 Tomamu
      Day 13 Tomamu – Lake Akan
      Day 14 Lake Akan – Kushiro
      Day 15 Kushiro – Obihiro
      Day 16 Obihiro – CTS
      Day 17 Evening flight back to Singapore

      • chris says:

        Hi Bubblebee mum,

        There are two towers and one Ice Hotel Tomamu. May I know there different between these two towers ? any recommendation ?

        How about Ice Hotel ? I saw from the map from Ice village but could not find way to book it ? what is the ice hotel about ?

        last, how about Ski Lift Ticket package ? is it compulsory ?
        if my take the lift up, do we have to skiing down ? any other option ?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          The Tower is a typical hotel. There is no difference between the two towers:
          http://www.snowtomamu.jp/summer/en/reserve/#tower

          If you are asking about difference between The Tower and Risionare, Risionare is more upmarket.

          As for Ice Hotel, it is basically an igloo I think? You can pay to spend a night in the igloo at the Ice Village. It’s not open for booking yet. It is only available sometime Jan to Feb.

          Ski lift ticket package is not compulsory. It’s for people who want to ski. If you don’t want to ski, then you can just book the accommodation without ski lift ticket. I think if you take the lift up, you need to ski down. Not sure if you are allowed to take the lift up and down for fun. :p

          • Chris says:

            1 – people who are not going to stay at Tomamu need to purchase ticket to enter or not ?

            2 – if I do not buy lift ticket and just book accommodation only, are there enough activities for my children to play around there ? we are just beginner and I double it would be waste to buy lift ticket, what do you think ?

            3 – if I book accommodation without lift ticket, any surcharge for the rest of activities in Tomamu Ice Village ?
            Do hotel guests need to pay any fees for activities in Tomamu ?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              1) You mean the Ice Village? There was no admission fee when I was there. Anybody could go in to visit the Ice Village, not just hotel guests.

              2) When are you going? From late Dec onwards, there should be a full range of snow activities besides skiing that do not require a lift ticket:
              http://www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/activity/category/01/

              3) Yes, there are fees for activities in Tomamu. Accommodation prices do not include activities.

              • chris says:

                i will be there around 2nd – 4th December….
                plan to book room without lift ticket ? which is the basic plan only, correct ?

                the different between basic plan and winter season is only lift ticket, isnt it?

                i just want to let them play around the snow and probably skiing a bit for fun only. should I take lift ticket plan ?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Yup, I booked the basic plan too when I was there. I don’t think you need the lift ticket plan if you just want to play in the snow and take a short skiing class.

  61. Annie says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,

    We are a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 teenagers) travelling to Japan next March.

    Can I have your comments on my draft itinerary.

    Day 1 – CTS – Tomamu – Hoshino Resorts Tomamu
    Day 2 – Tomamu
    Day 3 – Tomamu
    Day 4 – Tomamu – Kushiro – lunch at Washo Market – dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf
    Day 5 – Kushiro (rent a car) – Lake Akan – Lake Mashu – Iozan – Lake Kussharo
    Day 6 – See cranes (return car) – train back to Sapporo
    Day 7 – Sapporo – Asahikawa (day trip)
    Day 8 – Sapporo – Otaru (day trip)
    Day 9 – Sapporo
    Day 10 – CTS – Osaka
    Day 11 – Osaka – Kobe – Osaka
    Day 12 – Osaka – Universal Studio Japan
    Day 13 – Osaka – Odawara (rent a car)
    Day 14 – Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise – Hokone Ropeway – Fuji Safari Park
    Day 15 – Fuji Q highland – Sagamiko – Lake Shoji
    Day 16 – Lake Shoji – Asagiri Highland – Odawara – Tokyo
    Day 17 – Tokyo
    Day 18 – Tokyo
    Day 19 – Flight back to SIN at 9pm

    Day 13 to 16 – I adopted your Hakone itinerary from one of your trip.

    We have never done any self-drive trip before. Will rent a car in Kushiro and Odawara. Can we arrange for the rental car when we are there or have to do it in advance.

    Many thanks in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your itinerary looks good. It is best to book your rental car in advance from an English website like Tocoo or japan-experience.com.

      • Annie says:

        You are truly a Japan expert!

        Based on my itinerary, how many days of car rental do I have to book for Kushiro (1/2 days) and Odawara (3/4 days)?

        Day 5 – staying at Lake Akan. Do you think I can see cranes and visit those lakes on Day 5?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          At Kushiro, you are probably looking at a 2 days rental because it is unlikely that you will get back to Kushiro on Day 5 before the time you pick up the car on Day 4. If you pick up the car at say, 9am on Day 4 and return it before 9am on Day 5, it is considered a one-day rental. If you return it after 9am, they will have overtime charge. I would just book for 2 days instead of booking 1 day and paying overtime charge – which can be quite expensive. Take your time to drive and don’t try to rush in winter.

          At Odawara, you can arrange your itinerary such that you visit places that do not require a car on Day 13. Then you pick up the car in the morning of Day 14 and return it in the evening of Day 16, that will be 3 days rental. Alternatively, you can also pick up the car in the afternoon / evening of Day 13 and return it on Day 16 before the time you pick-up and it will still be considered 3 days. Know what I mean?

          For the drive around Akan National Park, you can just play by ear if you have the car for 2 days. Driving times can vary quite a bit depending on the weather condition. If you reach Akan National Park early, you should be able to complete Lake Mashu, Iozan and Lake Kussharo on Day 4. But let’s say you encounter snow and end up reaching Akan National Park too late. Maybe you can visit just Lake Kussharo first and leave Iozan and Lake Mashu for Day 5. Wherever you are in Akan National Park, I would start heading back to the accommodation by 3pm latest so that I can reach the accommodation before it gets dark (4+pm).

          • Annie says:

            Hi Bumble Bee Mum,

            I get what you mean. Will probably pick up the car in the afternoon on Day 13.

            Was using Hyperdia to estimate the train fare. OMG, the train fare is going to cost me a bomb. Do you think I can buy the flexi 4 day JR pass and use it on Day 4, 6, 7 and 13? These 4 days already cost 38k yen per pax (fare + seat fee). Did I search correctly? I don’t think I should buy the 7 day pass cos it will not cover day 13.

            Couldn’t find Tsurumidai on google map. Is there another name?

            Thank you! Happy Holiday! Look forward to your post after your June trip.

  62. BC says:

    if i may contribute :
    – for car rental, the Japanese sites (Jalan.net & Rakuten) are much cheaper (than English sites), & always have promo … 1.5k, 5k or 7k discount coupon.
    – If renting ETC toll card, ToCoo charges by the day while others is per rental. Granted ToCoo car rental website is comprehensive & easy to navigate
    – some rental companies charge per 24hr block & some charge by hours. when booking, play around with the return times to see if any difference in cost.
    – try to search 3 months in advance for cars. i notice usual rental promos with 45, 60 days advance booking for example
    – book early & choose to pay on site. Then check back occassionally to see if other deals come up. You can cancel & rebook for a better deal – I have done so on Jalan & Rakuten. I booked with 5k discount, then BBM said there’s 7k coupon, & so I rebooked. Usually no penalty for canceling more than 7days in advance (do check)

    • Annie says:

      Thanks DC!
      Will take note of your comments when I book in December.

      • bumblebeemum says:

        Yup, booking through Japanese websites does save a lot of money. But if you don’t know Japanese, best if you find a friend who knows Japanese to look through the website with you when you do your booking. :)

  63. Serin Chng says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    This will be my first time to Japan and see snows. I have tried to read many of your blogs, but it is still quite difficult to figure out what should I do.
    can you kindly advise me in details.

    I am travelling in Dec 23 to 7 Jan 2016 with 9 pax. They are all adults except 1 three year old child.

    We intend to have 3 nights at Tokyo before begin our journey to Hakodate.

    Day 1 (25 Dec, chk out on 26 Dec)
    – Hakodate (issue is not many domestic flight. as far as I know is Ado)
    Can we go to Hakodate airport and fly out using other airports?
    and I have already booked accommodation.
    so will still prefer to begin with Hakodate (I saw yr website that the train from Tokyo to Hakodate. But it is very expensive)

    2 -3 places a must visit for Hakodate

    Day 2-3, (in 26, out 28) – pick up car from Hakodate and start driving (can again give me advise on the car package, cos we are going to make reservation on next week)
    Ashahikwa (stay there)
    places of interest and long the way?

    Day 3 – Day 5
    28 Dec – 31st (out): Kushiro
    places of interest?

    Day 6 – 9
    31st Dec – 3rd Sapporo
    places of interest.
    should we return car in Sapporo and what kind of transport to move around?

    Day 10 – Day 14
    3rd Jan – 7th Jan (out)
    Niseko Freeman Inn
    how to travel from niseko to kutchan train station?

    how is the travel route? possible? too crowded or could include more?
    so far we only know bits and there.

    Hope that you can guide us for more details. Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hakodate has far fewer flight options compared to CTS. And hence more likely to be more expensive. A round-trip Tokyo-CTS flight is usually much cheaper.

      If you want to go via Hakodate, I would opt for rail travel using the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass:
      http://www.jreasthokkaido.com/e/

      This covers train travel between Tokyo and Hakodate, as well as within Hokkaido for 6 days over a 14-day period. Hence, it can totally replace your domestic flights and you do not need to drive the long distances in Hokkaido (which can be painful in winter).

      Correct me if I am wrong, you booked Hakodate on 25th night and Asahikawa on 26th night? These 2 cities are extremely far apart. And after Asahikawa you are moving to Kushiro? Again that’s another very long travel. Is there any way you can change your accommodation bookings?

      This is what I would recommend:
      Day 1 (rail pass): Tokyo – Hakodate
      Day 2: Hakodate
      Day 3 (rail pass): Hakodate – Tomamu (transit at Minami-Chitose)
      Day 4 (rail pass): Tomamu – Kushiro
      Day 5 (rent car): Drive around Akan National Park
      Day 6 (rail pass): Kushiro – Sapporo
      Day 7: Sapporo
      Day 8 (rail pass): Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa)
      Day 9: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
      Day 10: Sapporo – Niseko (bus – please contact your hotel to check if there is any direct bus there from Sapporo.)
      Day 11: Niseko
      Day 12: Niseko
      Day 13: Niseko
      Day 14 (rail pass): Niseko – Tokyo (requires 2 transits at OSHAMAMBE and SHIN-HAKODATE-HOKUTO)

      • Serin Chng says:

        Thank you for going through our itineraries.
        After going through your suggestions and also further reading,
        I would like to amend as follow. Is it more feasible on our itineraries and travel distance?
        Because I am travelling with 9 people, hence we prefer to drive as much as possible.
        Day1
        Tokyo to Hakodate (rail pass)
        sleeps at Hakodate

        Day 2 (drive)
        Hakodate to Lake Toya (worth to go??)
        sleep at Noberibetsu

        Day 3 (drive)
        Noberibetsu (go to hell valley)
        drive to Asahikawa (sleep)

        Day 4 (drive)
        Asahikawa (zoo)
        drive to Shiretoko (sleep)

        Day 5 (drive)
        Shiretoko (1.5 cruise tour)
        drive to Kushiro (sleep)

        Day 6 (drive)
        Seafood market (am)
        check in to Akan Yuku (enjoy onsen and walk around)
        Kushiro (sleep)

        Day 7 (drive)
        Akan national park and crane visit
        sleep at Kushiro

        Day 8 (drive)
        from Kushiro to Sapporo
        sleep at Sapporo

        Day 9 (drive)
        Sapporo
        day trip to Otaru
        Mt. Okura Observatory?

        Day 10 (rail)
        Sapporo to Kutchan station
        sleeps at Niseko Freeman Inn

        Day 11 – 13
        Niseko

        Day 14
        Kutchan to Tokyo (thank you for alerting me about the transit)

        with our itineraries, is it still necessary to buy ETC card?

        Really appreciate your reply.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Day 4: Asahikawa to Shiretoko is a looooong drive…. Especially after spending the day at the zoo! I suggest only driving as far as Kitami or Abashiri and spending a night there bfore driving on to Shiretoko the next morning.

          It doesn’t make sense to me to drive from Shiretoko to Kushiro then back to Lake Akan then back to Kushiro again. I would use Lake Akan to break up the drive from Shiretoko to Kushiro.

          Day 5: Kitami / Abashiri – Shiretoko (cruise) – Lake Akan
          Day 6: Drive around Akan National Park
          Day 7: Lake Akan – Kushiro

          If you can get an ETC card for a nominal fee, you should try getting one. You have long stretches of toll roads to cover, though not frequently. Just at 3 stretches: Hakodate – Toya, Noboribetsu – Asahikawa, Kushiro – Sapporo. So even if you cannot get one, it’s not that much of a hassle to pay cash.

          • Serin Chng says:

            Your prompt reply was a great help.
            I shall follow your suggestion.

            May I know the place to see the crane is it Akan National Park?
            Is there any place that we will be able to see more cranes?
            I saw some reading that some of them joined tour and get to see many cranes not listed from the normal site.
            are you aware?

            thank you for helping me to plot my driving journey.

            thanks

            • bumblebeemum says:

              In winter the cranes gather at the feedings grounds at Tsurumidai and Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary. You can read more about places to see the cranes here:
              http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6792.html

              I felt Tsurumidai and Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary were good enough for pretty good observations of the cranes because so many of them gather around there in winter. And just driving along route 53, we got to see flocks of cranes flying across the sky towards and away from the feeding grounds.

  64. Felicia Chua says:

    Goodday Bumblebeemum

    I am planning to have my Hokkaido trip somewhere 26th November 2016 (say 12 days trip), as i am not sure if it will have heavy snow during that time, will it be recommend to have self drive or public (transport). We have 5 pax, 3 adult and 2 kids (age 10, 7). Do you have any recommended itinerary to share.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, there will be snow by late November. How heavy really depends on the weather. Whether to use public transport or drive depends on which region you are visiting. If you are visiting the major cities (Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate), public transport should suffice. If you want to hit the rural regions, particularly Akan National Park, you may have to drive at some point.

      You can start with this post and see where you want to go first:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

      • Felicia ChuA says:

        Thanks for your quick response. Basically is mainly for my kids to have a ,”touch,”of ice. , I notice the village that have ice slide is not bad. I dun mind to have a bit of driving as well to rural region.

        I hope to have a relax trip not rushing. Is it possible you can have some start point for me and what is the interest place over that area. I can either arrange the trip say from beginning of Dec about 2 week. I can combine the travel by both driving or rail . Hope can have a starting point from you. Thanks

        • bumblebeemum says:

          For a relaxing trip with a combination or rail + drive, you can do something like this:

          Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
          Day 4: Sapporo (day trip to Asahiyama Zoo)
          Day 5: Sapporo
          Day 6: Sapporo – Tomamu (train)
          Day 7: Tomamu
          Day 8: Tomamu – Kushiro (train)
          Day 9: Rent a car from Kushiro, drive to Lake Akan. Stay Lake Akan.
          Day 10: Drive around Akan National Park. Stay Lake Akan.
          Day 11: Drive back to Kushiro, return car. Train to Obihiro
          Day 12: Obihiro – CTS (train)
          Day 13: Flight back

  65. Felicia says:

    Haven’t check my msg these few day. Thanks for your quick response.
    How about if I do multiple entry. For example in CTS (point) and out another point (can be any city). As it can save time not need to go back origin destination.
    Any suggestion if I wish to do so.

  66. Wenny Yip says:

    Hello again! i’ve been reading your blog over and over again! haha!
    Anyway, need to trouble you for your expertise please :)
    Is it possible to cover both the Otaru aquarium and also the Sekimachi shops in 1 day during winter time?
    And if i only have time for either Nijio market or Sapporo Wholesale market, which one should i go to?
    Any good recommendations for BBQ yakiniku? or nice restaurants for Xmas eve dinner? Thank you very much in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I have never been to Otaru Aquarium before so I’m not sure how much time it requires. They open at 9am so if you reach there early and limit yourself to say 3 hours at the aquarium and leave the aquarium by say 12noon, you should still have enough time to explore Sakaimachi.

      Personally I prefer Sapporo wholesale market. But Nijo market is a lot more accessible since it is right smack in town so if you want to save time, you should go to Nijo market.

      Hmmm.. I don’t have any particular recommendation for yakiniku restaurants. I searched Tabelog for yakiniku restaurants in Sapporo and this is the top-ranked restaurant:
      http://tabelog.com/hokkaido/A0101/A010103/1037834/
      It is at Susukino, looks easily accessible.

  67. felicia Chua says:

    I presume the itinerary will be as such
    Day 1 – Day7 remain the same
    Day 8 Tomamu – Obihiro (Train)
    Day 8 Obihiro
    Day 9 Obihiro – Kushiro (Train)
    Day 10 Kushiro
    Day 10 Drive around Akan National Park. Stay Lake Akan.
    Day 10 Lake Akan
    Day 11 Drive back to Kushiro
    Day 12 Kushiro
    Day 13 Flight back

    It seem like will stay at Obihiro and Kushiro for few days. Is there any particular to do in those places? Or you have some other suggestion (as i can combine both Train and driving).

    Many thanks in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You don’t really have that much time, considering the short daylight hours actually. In winter, I usually start making my way back to the hotel by like 3pm. On day 8, after you arrive in Obihiro, you can visit the buta don and confectionery shops near Obihiro station. That’s probably all the time you have for.

      You can consider renting a car from Obihiro instead of Kushiro. If you rent a car from Obihiro, in between Obihiro and Kushiro, you can visit Ikeda and visit Happiness Dairy and Ikeda Wine Castle. Then from Lake Akan, drive back to Obihiro.

      Day 8: Tomamu – Obihiro. Explore area near Obihiro station.
      Day 9: Obihiro (rent a car). Drive to Mugioto for breakfast. Then drive to Ikeda Wine Castle and Happiness Dairy. Then drive to Kushiro. Visit Fisherman wharf MOO.
      Day 10: Visit Washo market in the morning. Drive to the crane area (Tsurui). Then drive to Lake Akan. Explore Lake Akan area.
      Day 11: Drive around Akan National Park.
      Day 12: Drive from Lake Akan to Obihiro. Return car, train back to CTS.
      Day 13: Flight back

      • BC says:

        Many hotels within walking distance from Obihiro Station. We stayed at APA Hotel Obihro, great value, nice modern hotel, 3 minutes from station. Onsite parking is JPY1000, 3pm to 11am next day, around 20 lots.
        You can walk 100m to Panchou Buta-don with the Times Car Rental office next to it.
        For Breakfast, Walk 400m north, away from station, to the local traditional bakery. Opens 8am. Seicomart has very good coffee for Y100.
        On way to Ikeda, can consider having a meal at Matsuriya conveyor belt sushi (about 20mins drive from Obihiro). One of the best chain sushi restaurants in Hokkaido. They can “aburi” the sushi if you dont eat raw stuff.
        Driving from Obihiro to Kushiro is definitely doable even if snowing, using the Doto Expressway. Most of it after Ikeda is toll-free.
        At Akan, do take note if u r driving to Lake Mashu as Highway 241 is winding paved mountain road, no lights. some parts can be steep & beware of black ice if snowing. 双岳台 on 241 has great view of snow cap Mt Oakan. Last Nov, the road going up to Mashu was closed.
        Around Mashu, can try visiting Kotan free Outdoor hotspring, on the shore of Kussharo & beef stew / cafe at Kawayu Onsen station.
        Near Akan, Lake Onneto is quite pretty in the afternoon light (during early summer).
        As BBM said, the day is really short in Nov & can turn dark very quickly. Snowy road conditions can also be a bummer (slippery for cars & humans). Pulling luggage thru snow is no joke !
        Last Nov, we got a lot of snow in Obihiro & Akan due to unexpected snow storm. Our car was almost buried in Akan. Quite an experience for first timer.

      • Felicia says:

        I have changed my itinerary as a circle as such, need your advise:-
        No of day to stay, place to go and mode of transport (combine train and self drive):

        CTS (reach)
        Sapporo (no of day to stay, place to go. self drive or tain)
        Tomamu (no of day to stay, self drive or train fr Sapporo to Tomamu)
        Kushiro (no of day to stay, place to go, self drive or train fr Sapporo to Kushiro)
        Lake Akan (visite Lake Mashu / Iozan /Lake Kussharo along the way, self drive?)
        Daisetsuzan (no of day to stay, place to go, self drive or train fr Lake Akan to Daisetsuzan, any onsen around)
        Sounkyo – Asahikawa (no of day to stay, place to go, self drive or train
        Back to CTS

        Need your to have further advise on that. If i plan to go beginning of Dec16 (may be 13-14 days, will it be too long?)

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Let’s stay I have 13 days. I would probably do the following:

          Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo
          Day 4: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
          Day 5: Sapporo – Asahikawa
          Day 6: Asahikawa
          Day 7: Asahikawa – Sounkyo
          Day 8: Sounkyo – Lake Akan
          Day 9: Lake Akan
          Day 10: Lake Akan – Kushiro
          Day 11: Kushiro – Tomamu
          Day 12: Tomamu
          Day 13: Tomamu – CTS

          You probably need to self drive between Asahikawa to Kushiro. So you can rent a car from Asahikawa on Day 7 and return it to Kushiro on day 10.

          • Felicia says:

            Seem like will stick to this route (will add 1 day at Tomamu). My next question will be lodging and railway.
            First of all, any recommended place to stay :
            1) Sapporo
            2) Asahikawa
            3) Sounkyo
            4) Lake Akan
            5) Kushiro
            6) Tomamu
            Possible to keep the price about S$100

            Next, will be the railway
            Is that any recommended railway or pass that i could use for the following place:
            1) Sapporo – Asahikawa
            2) Kushiro -Tomamu
            3) Tomamu – CTS

            THanks
            Regards

            • bumblebeemum says:

              With a budget of S$100, in the cities (Sapporo, Asahikawa, Kushiro), I usually just search hotel booking sites like Agoda, Hotels.com, Booking.com etc. to find a hotel within my budget. I also like to stay at the hotel chain, Super Hotel, when I am on a budget:
              http://www.superhoteljapan.com/en/

              Other budget hotel chains you can try are Toyoko Inn:
              https://www.toyoko-inn.com/eng/

              At the onsen towns (Sounkyo and Lake Akan), the ryokans will be more expensive and more than SGD100 per night. If you want to save money, you can stay at Asahikawa to visit Sounkyo or stay at Kitami to visit Lake Akan.

              As for Tomamu, there isn’t much of a choice. You can either stay at Hoshino Resort Tomamu, or this BnB:
              https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/8532167

              There is a Pension, but it is not at the resort and requires a car ride to get to the resort:
              http://ingtomamu.com/english/

              You can use hyperdia to check the train fares for the 3 rides + return trip to Otaru and see if it is worth getting the 4-day flexi Hokkaido Rail Pass.

  68. Fion says:

    Hi Hi your blog is so interesting i cant stop reading!

    We are planning a trip to Japan to cover Tokyo (may be 3 days) and Hokkaido (7 days) and we would also want to try the new Shinkansen. For a start, i am already lost in booking flights. Should I do (1) Sin – Sap via Scoot, (2) hokadake – tokyo via Shinkansen and (3) tokyo to Sin via scoot?

    Thank you

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I don’t know if you can book open jaw (fly into CTS and out of Tokyo) with Scoot frankly. You need to explore their website. But if I want to try the shinkansen, I would probably find a direct SIN – Tokyo flight on the cheap when there is a promo. Then I would take shinkansen to Hakodate and take a budget flight from CTS to Tokyo. There are many budget airlines operating CTS to Tokyo flights such as Peach, Vanilla, Jetstar etc.

  69. Laine says:

    Hi,

    Really enjoyed reading your adventures in Japan and found them very informative. I am planning a free and easy 10 day trip (8 -18 Dec) with my parents (in their 60s and mobile). We will visit mostly the touristy places.

    Did a calculation to see whether we needed the JR passes- actually considered training all the way up from Tokyo (the new bullet train to Hakkaido) but felt the journey too long- not sure if it is worth the time (we have not tried the Shinkansen before and would like to try it one day). What do you think?

    On whether to get the Hokkaido Pass- do you think based on the plan, a 7 day one is necessary? If so, are we maximising it or will a 5 day one be enough?

    We are not into skiing but would like to try the snow mobile- of the places we visit, will we have a chance to try it? During this period, will there be a lot of snow in sapporo and the places mentioned?

    Thanks for taking the time to read, would really like to know what you think of the itinerary and are there any recommendations to improve?

    Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Whether or not to get the Hokkaido Rail Pass really depends on your itinerary. You can use hyperdia to add up your train fares to see if it is worth getting the Hokkaido Rail pass.

      You can read this post on my thoughts on using the Hokkaido Shinkansen:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2016/03/30/hokkaido-shinkansen-good-alternative-domestic-flights/

      Your dates may be a bit early for snow mobile. Usually in early-mid December, snow resort activities are limited to skiing and snowboarding. The other activities start much later. Your best bet for snow activities like snow mobile and dog sledding would be Rusutsu Resort – and I suggest you go there at the end of your trip to increase your chances of the activities being available.

      Btw, I’m not sure why but I don’t see your itinerary on your comment?

      • Laine says:

        Hi There!

        Silly me….I forgot to attach my itinerary!

        Anyway here is my initial plan:

        8 Dec: Sin- Sapporo
        9 Dec: Sapporo
        10 Dec: Sapporo
        11 Dec: Sapporo-Otaru-Sapporo
        12 Dec: Sapporo-Noboribetsu
        13 Dec: Noboribetsu
        14 Dec: Noboribetsu-Lake Toya- Hakodate
        15 Dec: Hakodate
        16 Dec: Sapporo
        17 Dec: Sapporo
        !8 Dec Sapporo- Sin

        Thanks for your advice about the snow mobile- will plan for it later in the trip.
        Do you think there are too many days in Sapporo? If I were to add in a 1 Day ski resort stay at Furano – to enjoy the snow and perhaps try snow mobiling/skiing as well to visit Ningle Terrance, when do you advise I go? Is Furano out of the way?

        Thank you once again for your time.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Furano is pretty out of the way. Rusutsu resorts is actually in the region. If you really want to visit a snow resort, I would recommend going to Rusutsu on the way back from Hakodate to Sapporo. It helps to break up the long journey too.

  70. CG says:

    Hi,

    Really enjoy reading your holidays in Hokkaido. We are planning to visit Hokkaido in December and will like to seek your advice on car rental.

    Do we need to reserve the car online few weeks before our trip or we can just go to the car rental office in Hokkaido and book a car from there?

    Does the car comes with snow tyres or snow chains in December?

    Thank you :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      You should reserve your car online beforehand. Try about 3 months in advance – sometimes there are early bird deals. But not too early because some companies don’t open up for booking until like 2 or 3 months before.

      In December, the cars should come with snow tyres. If there is an option to click to include it during booking, you should include it just in case.

      • BC says:

        My TimesCar Mazda 2 rental came with snow tires in Nov, without charge.
        The condition of the tires were like new.

      • Cheaj says:

        Bumblebeemum,

        Thanks for sharing your trips. It really a great help for we are planning a family from Nov28-Dec8’16. My children are 14-25. We just wonder if we were to get a car, do we need that with snow tyres in early dec. we probably limit ourselves around Sapporo, Lake Toya, Otaru, and perhaps Lake akan, Kushiro. Would snow has come in at this early Dec. I prefer not to drive in the snowing time. But that seem to be more economical than taking a train.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yes you would need snow tyres. By default, rental cars in Hokkaido should come with snow tyres in winter. But if there’s an option for you to tick for snow tyres during booking, just tick it.

          There is definitely a chance of snow in early December. Though the regions you mentioned are the ones where the snow fall is much more manageable. When we were there in December, it was snowing in Sapporo and Otaru, but not yet in Lake Toya, Lake Akan and Kushiro. But when it comes to weather, nobody can say for sure and Hokkaido’s weather is mad erratic. You should be prepared to drive in the snow. You can read more about winter driving on this post:
          http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

          Many of our readers have gone, drove and came back to say it wasn’t that bad. Just drive slow and make sure you allow yourself ample driving time to reach your accommodation by 4pm so that you don’t drive in the dark.

    • CG says:

      Thank you for the reply. In the end, we may not choose to drive as my friend is not comfortable with the idea of driving in winter. Do you come to know of any chartered mini bus company for hire? I cannot imagine pushing 3 luggage with 2 elderly, 1 young kid and 1 infant :(

      By the way, is it that bad to drive during December? I read your blog on winter driving and I assume that if we drive below 50 km/hr, we should be safe.

      Thank you :)

      • bumblebeemum says:

        The pushing luggage with elderly and kids part is exactly why I always end up self-driving. There are private vans for hire in Hokkaido though I have never used them. Just google for ‘Hokkaido Private Driver’ or something like that and ask for quotes. I would expect them to be extremely expensive though.

        Well, I have had many readers gone for winter drives and came back safe and sound. But it really requires a bit of guts and a lot of patience.

  71. Dorothy Cheong says:

    Hi CG, I am one of the many readers of BBM and who took the courage to drive with caution during my last winter trip to Hokkaido in mid-December. It’s easy-peasy.

    • CG says:

      Hi Dorothy,

      Thank you for the reassurance. May I know which rental company did you go to?

      • Dorothy Cheong says:

        I have been to Japan 5 times. Like BBM, once you go, you just miss Japan. I will be going again to Hokkaido in end-Oct for 13 days. I always use timescarrental in all my trips. Learnt from BBM to go to their Japan website and enjoy discounted rate.

        • BC Woo says:

          CG
          Look into Jalan.net & Rakuten JP, these are the travel aggregators. Enrol as member. Search for car rentals using these sites. They always have discount coupons for cars & hotels.
          From the search results, you can choose to rent from any of the car rental companies such as Toyota, Times Car (Mazda), Honda etc
          30-40km inside city. Expressways are cleared of snow, so 50-70km is manageable. Be more careful inside city, many traffic light & start/stops.
          Dealing with windscreen that constantly fog up was more of an issue for me.

        • CG says:

          Thank you for the tip :)

  72. Dave says:

    Hi hi😊,
    I had booked my flight to Hokkaido from 20th to 31st Dec. Kids 8&7. I have yet to decide whether to self drive or buy the JR Hokkaido rail pass. My plan is as such:

    20: reach and rest
    21: Sapporo
    22: Asahikawa Zoo
    23: Sapporo
    24: Sapporo
    25: is there any ski resort where we can go n be back within the day?
    26: Otaru
    27:
    28:
    29:
    30:

    Now tat is !y problem. Not sure where to go for the 4days. Return flight is 31st 9pm.

    So could you advise:
    1. Should we stay at Sapporo for all the nites?
    2. Any suggestions to go for the 4 days (if no car)
    3. Or should I been renting car for the 4days to travel further away?

    Regards
    Dave😸

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Do you know how to ski already? If you don’t need ski lessons, the folks from the Sapporo hostel I stayed in usually went Teine for skiing.
      http://www.sapporo-teine.com/snow/lang/

      You can also go to Tomamu as a day trip. Tomamu has English lessons and also Ice Village at night.

      You go to either Noboribetsu or Lake Toya for onsen and spend a night there. Some of the ryokans there offer free return transfers from Sapporo.

      Hakodate can also be visited by train, but you should also spend at least a night there. It is too far from Sapporo to be done as a day trip.

  73. Avelynn Chen says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum…

    Thank you for your insights on Hokkaido trip! It was really kind of you to share the details!

    I have booked my flight 8th Dec landing at Chitose at 5pm… Returning flight to SG from Chitose at 730pm…

    Will need your advise on how should I plan my route as I intend to cover the following areas: –

    Sapporo
    Otaru
    Niseko (Ski for a day)
    Noboribetsu (onsen)
    Hakodate (market food)
    Asahikawa (Ramen Village)
    Kushiro (Crane watching)
    Ice Village

    Also, do you advise self drive (just me & my hubby) or should we just get JR pass to get around? Its our 1st time in Hokkaido…

    Many thanks in advance for your advise!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The places you want to visit shouldn’t require a car all the way. You will only need the car to go crane watching. So you can just rent a car from Kushiro for 1 day for crane watching. How many days do you have in total?

      • Avelynn Chen says:

        Thank you bumblebee mum.. Total abt 9 days… If i were to visit Furano, how should i plan my route?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          9 days is pretty short for all the places you want to visit. If you have 9 days, I imagine this is all you can do:

          Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
          Day 4: Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa)
          Day 5: Sapporo – Niseko
          Day 6: Niseko
          Day 7: Niseko – Hakodate
          Day 8: Hakodate
          Day 9: Hakodate – CTS

          Daylight hours are extremely short in winter so your itinerary cannot be too packed in winter.

  74. ros says:

    Hi Bumble Bee.

    we are a family of 3 with a 8 year old kid and is planning to go Hokkaido from 13th to 25th dec.

    we intend to self drive with the following itinerary :-
    hakodate
    niseko
    drive straight to Sapporo (not going to Otaru)
    furano
    biei
    asahikawa

    this is our first time driving in winter. is it better to drive to these places in winter? Will the road condition will be difficult and dangerous for us who has not driven in winter? Google map shows that the drive will be small winding and mountainous roads. Or is it better to take public transport (trains and taxi)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Furano and Biei is quite difficult to drive in winter because the roads there are pretty windy. Niseko also has very heavy snowfall because it is a ski resort. Is there any particular reason you want to visit Furano and Biei in December? Usually I don’t recommend visiting the region in winter as it is more of a summer place.

      If you are just visiting Hakodate, Niseko, Sapporo and Asahikawa, there is no need to drive. You can just use public transport.

  75. Sem says:

    Hi,
    We are family of 5 going to hokkaido from 29/11/2016 -13/12/2016. This is our plan:
    29/11- 5/12 Sapporo
    Stay in Saporo but take day trips to :Odori park, Maruyama Zoo , Mt Moiwa, Otaru, Shiroi Koibito Park.
    5/12- 8/12 Tomamu
    Ski
    8/12 – 11/12 Kushiro : Lake Akan
    11/12-13/12 Chitose
    Our enquiries :
    1) What to do at Kushiro besides going to lake Akan?
    2) What to do at Chitose?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Kushiro itself is known for its market (Washo market). Other than that the city itself is not that interesting frankly. But actually the time is have is just nice. This is what I would do:

      8th: Tomamu – Kushiro, lunch at Washo market. AFter that either go back to hotel to rest, or you can do a bit of shopping at the supermarket / drug stores in the building next to Washo market:
      https://goo.gl/maps/rqbTGMFKjwD2

      Evening time, you can go to Fisherman Wharf MOO for dinner and stroll along Nusamai bridge.

      9th: Drive from Kushiro to Tsurui first to check out the cranes. Then from there, drive to Lake Akan. Visit Ainu Kotan and the shopping streets in front of it. Spend the rest of the day enjoying the ryokan facilities.

      10th: Drive around Akan National Park. Then back to Kushiro for the night.

      11th: Drive from Kushiro – Obihiro

      12th: Obihiro – Chitose

      13th: Flight back

      Chitose Airport itself is super fun. I can easily spend a whole day there. Otherwise, you can also go to Chitose Rera Outlet which is very near to the airport.

  76. crazyMOM says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, we booked a trip 22 Nov to 8 Dec. Seems like I booked too many days!!! Family of 5 (three kids aged 6, 4 and 1.5 infant). Could you recommend an itinerary for us? From your comments above – you don’t recommend bringing a stroller?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your dates are still a bit early in winter so I would bring a stroller if I were you. If there is no accumulated snow on the paths yet, I would push the stroller. In Sapporo, if you use the underground shopping arcade, the stroller would still be very handy. But if you go to cities with thick snow on the ground or snow resorts, then just leave the stroller in the hotel because they are seriously a pain to push in snow.

  77. Piyo88 says:

    Hi, I am planning to go to Sapporo from 23-27 Nov. Is it likely to have first snow fall by then? Would you recommend driving there at that time since we have 4 pple, (would like to drive for convenience but we have no experience driving in winter)? I would really love to go Tomamu resort for the ice village. Can I do a day trip there (prefer driving) and leave by night? Would like to stay there or nearby but am a bit worried if can make it back to Sapporo for flight the next day. Any kind advice is appreciated.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, there is a high chance that there will be snow by then. So you can expect the usual inconvenience of driving in snow. You can read more about winter driving on this post:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips

      I think your dates are a bit early for Tomamu Ice Village. While it is possible to do Tomamu as a day trip from Sapporo, the Ice Village may not be ready yet in November.

      • Piyo88 says:

        Thanks for your reply with the link. Actually, I have read those tips before posting the question but I am still quite keen to drive. I am thinking to go this route :
        Day 1 : New Chitose -> Sapporo (stay a night)
        Day 2 : Pick up rental car -> Otaru -> Niseko
        Day 3 : Niseko -> Lake Toya -> Noboribetsu
        Day 4 : Noboribetsu -> Tomamu
        Day 5 : Tomamu -> New Chitose (return car)

        Is this advisable? I also thought of reversing the route from day 1 to 4, to start with picking up rental car from airport and drive straight to Noboribetsu before returning to Sapporo on day 4 (ie. Airport -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya -> Niseko -> Otaru -> Sapporo -> Tomamu -> Airport). Is it too ambitious?

        I would prefer driving though I know it’s dangerous in winter without experience (but there is always a first time right?). There is more flexibility and can see more. Is it actually more economical to drive than to buy the Hokkaido 3 day pass, given that we have 3 adults and 1 child? It seemed that the car rental is quite reasonable there compared to public transport. Is the petrol cost and highway toll there going to cost a lot for my route?

        DH is not so keen to drive, but what alternative do I have? What would you recommend?

        From Tomamu Resort’s website, they start taking in room reservation from 26 Nov, which is why I am trying to leave Hokkaido as late as possible. Does that mean that the ice village is going to be ready by then? Is Niseko likely to start snowing by then? If it will, I can maybe skip Tomamu and go Hakodate instead, since I just want to see snow.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          It depends on your arrival time? If you arrive early in the morning, then you can go to Noboribetsu first. But if you arrive in the afternoon or later, then it’s better to go to Sapporo first and drive from Day 2 onwards.

          Yes, driving in Hokkaido is much more flexible than taking public transport and usually cheaper if you have anything more than 2 adults. Driving is really the easiest way to move around Hokkaido as their public transport is not great. You just have to be daring and patient enough to do it. Drive slowly and you should be fine.

          Niseko would definitely be snowing by end November but activities are limited to skiing and snowboarding. For Tomamu Ice Village, your dates are a tad early and you may or may not get to go to the Ice Village. Some years they open late Nov, some years early Dec. It really depends on the snow condition. If you just want to see snow, both Niseko and Tomamu will have snow by then, but I would go with Niseko if you are visiting Lake Toya and Noboribetsu as they are in the same region. Tomamu is kind of a detour.

          • Piyo88 says:

            Thanks for your super quick reply. It’s really a blessing to have you being able to answer our queries.

            Looks like I have to drop Tomamu, and maybe Hakodate also. Too little time to cover, right?

            I will arrive at CTS at 14:10. I am thinking of taking the airport limo bus to Noboribetsu onsen, which I think will take slightly more than 1 hour. From there, I am thinking of renting a car to the next destination, but not sure if there is car rental available. Any idea where is the bus stop for the airport limo bus?

            Any comments or advice for this route below?

            Day 1 : New Chitose Airport -> Noboribetsu (Limo Bus)
            Day 2 : Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya -> Niseko (Hirafu)
            Day 3 : Niseko -> Otaru -> Sapporo
            Day 4 : Sapporo
            Day 5 : Sapporo -> New Chitose Airport

            On day 5, I will be flying from CTS to Narita before connecting to SG. It’s 7 hr transit time at NRT from domestic arrival to depart on next flight. Any suggestions what I can do during this period? My kids will be bored and tired. Will it likely to be a delay at end Nov due to weather condition?

            • Piyo88 says:

              Hi, any idea how long does it take to clear immigration and collect checked in luggage after domestic flight has landed in Narita? I have 4.5 hrs from domestic flight landing time to my connecting international flight. Is it sufficient?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Car rental is pretty limited at Noboribetsu. I would rent the car from CTS and just drive to Noboribetsu rather than take bus to Noboribetsu and try to rent a car from there.

              7 hours is a long time at Narita Airport. I suggest you leave your luggage in a locker and either go shopping at AEON, or go visit Narita city (there’s a famous shrine there walkable from the station). The shrine is not so interesting for kids, so if your main concern is to keep the kids occupied, I suggest you go to AEON where there is a small kids playground:
              http://narita-aeonmall.com.e.vd.hp.transer.com/special/lists/kidsspace

              • Piyo88 says:

                Thanks for your quick reply and your advice and recommendations. I would prefer to rent a car from CTS and drive to Noboribetsu but my DH isn’t very comfortable to drive in winter as we have no experience. Also, I worry that it might be a bit rush since our flight will arrive at 2.10pm and by the time we collect our rental car, it might be a bit too dark to drive. You don’t advise to drive after 4pm as it might get too dark, right? Anyway, I just found out that the daily limo bus for Noboribetsu onsen would have left by the time I arrive at CTS. So, I am not sure how to plan if we don’t want to drive. Should we stay in Sapporo for the first night and take bus to Noboribetsu on the second day instead? Is there any direct bus to the onsen town from Sapporo? All the bus schedule is in Japanese. OMG! From onsen town, is there any bus to go to Lake Toya and then to Niseko?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Hmmm yeah.. arriving at 2.10pm is tricky.

                  Some ryokans in Noboribetsu offer free shuttle service from Sapporo, so going to Sapporo first when you arrive could be an idea.

                  I don’t think there is direct bus from Lake Toya to Niseko. That’s the thing about buses in Hokkaido. They usually go between Sapporo and each destination, but they don’t have buses to join up destination to destination. Like you have bus from Sapporo to Lake Toya, Sapporo to Niseko, but no bus from Lake Toya to Niseko when they are so near each other. It’s for this reason I always end up driving in Hokkaido.

                  Looking at the time you have and the places you want to visit, I would ask you to seriously consider driving. But if you really don’t want to, I suggest you skip either Lake Toya or Noboribetsu – choose just one. Then what you do is:

                  Day 1: Sapporo
                  Day 2: Sapporo – Noboribetsu / Lake Toya
                  Day 3: Noboribetsu / Lake Toya – Sapporo
                  Day 4: Sapporo – Niseko
                  Day 5: Niseko – CTS

                  • Piyo88 says:

                    Thanks for your suggestions on the route. Today, I found one hotel that has shuttle bus from CTS and Sapporo to Noboribetsu. So that is a blessing for me, one more option on top of driving.

                    For the route that I am driving, would it be advisable to get the HEP or just ETC?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Neh.. You won’t need HEP / ETC for the Noboribetsu / Lake Toya / Niseko region. From Noboribetsu to Lake Toya, you can use the Orofure Pass which is toll free:
                      https://goo.gl/maps/HYvbi8bvxh32

                      Lake Toya to Niseko is also toll free.
                      https://goo.gl/maps/UZDQoh1Pmy22

                      Niseko to Sapporo, it is also possible to avoid tolls by using this route:
                      https://goo.gl/maps/YjRqBofRD4F2

                    • Piyo88 says:

                      Thanks for your great effort to find the route. How about driving from Sapporo to Niseko? is it toll free? How to check the toll rate? Need the HEP? Another thing I don’t understand is the ETC card. Why does the Toyota website say they don’t provide the ETC card at other outlets except the CTS one? Do you mean we must buy the ETC card ourselves? If we book a car from Toyota through the ToCoo website, is there anything different from getting direct from Toyota? Any concerns to look out for? They are a lot cheaper than getting direct from Toyota website but I worry also about the language barrier.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Sapporo to Niseko is toll-free if you use the route I gave you above. However your GPS may ask you to take the route via Otaru and there will be a toll fee if you use that route. You can ask the car rental company if their GPS has the option to view 5 routes and choose the non-toll route from there. Most GPS I have used in Japan have this 5 routes option:
                      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/07/07/how-to-use-japanese-gps-to-avoid-tollways/

                      Many car rental offices do not offer ETC cards because of administrative difficulties. Unfortunately if the office you are renting from does not offer an ETC card, you will have to find an ETC card elsewhere, for e.g. from Tocoo if you book through them.

                      Booking through Tocoo may or may not be cheaper. Usually Tocoo may display a good rate on car rental, but they will slap on their own compulsory fees later on. If you are going to book through Tocoo just for the sake of getting an ETC card from them, my advise is don’t bother and just do without an ETC card and pay tolls in cash. Because you are not using toll roads much.

                      You can try using Tabirai instead to see if it’s cheaper than booking direct from Toyota. Ever since Tocoo started imposing their own (confusing) fees, I stopped using them. I haven’t had the chance to use Tabirai myself, but it was recommended to me by another reader and it looks very straightforward and their rates look very competitive:
                      http://en.tabirai.net/car/

                    • BC says:

                      if i may add …

                      When booking thru ToCoo (or other agents), the rental agreement is still between u & Toyota. It’s like u book a hotel via expedia.

                      Agree with BBM u dont need the ETC for your itin.

                      ToCoo’s additional compulsory charges (ie TAS ToCoo Additional Support charges) r confusing but rest assured they are not hidden charges. You will see this item clearly listed in the cost breakdown.

                      I recently realised this TAS charge actually includes NOC insurance cover, which is usually an option with other car rental agencies. However, it operates differently. Under ToCoo TAS, in event of accident, you pay the NOC amount first then get reimbursement from ToCoo. Whereas other car firms, if u bought NOC Insurance, you dont have to pay first.

                      Secondly, ETC Card rental on ToCoo is per day (regardless of which car company). Other rental agencies or companies is per ETC rental which will be cheaper.

                      My bookings have been on japanese sites Jalan.net & Japanican. Have searched extensively with ToCoo & Tabirai, but always find better deals on Jalan & Japanican.

                    • Piyo88 says:

                      Thanks BBM and BC for your great help. Will need to go do more reading up and research. It’s such a blessing to have this site!

  78. CrazyMOM says:

    Dear Bumblebee Mom, here’s my planned itinerary from 22/nov to 8/dec. Could you help me take a look and advise if it looks ok?

    22/11 arrive evening > head to Sapporo > lodging 1 Sapporo
    23/11 sususukio Sapporo > lodging 1
    24/11 Otaru, Mt Yotel > lodging 1
    25/11 Asahiyama zoo > lodging 2 Furano
    26/11 Biei
    27/11 Furano
    28/11 Akan > lodging 3
    29/11 Shiretokogo
    30/11 Lake Mashu
    1/12 to 8/12 Tomamu (chillax/ head back to Furano attractions that we may have missed) >lodging = Tomamu for the 7 nights

    • BC says:

      Furano to Akan (3hrs), Akan to Shiretoko (est 3hrs 1 way) & Akan to Tomamu (est 2.5hrs) are pretty long drives.

      Day trip to Shiretoko from Akan probably not a good idea … too far away.

      If snowing, Road 241 from Akan to Teshikaga (enroute to Mashu & Shiretoko) must be careful – steep, winding & sharp turns, icy, no lights … but comes with amazing scenery. Also, late Nov, the access road to Mashu may be closed due to snow/ice (as it was the case Nov15 when we were there).

      Late Nov/Dec, daylight hours are short. It gets dark very quickly. Dont get caught out on long drives in remote areas without lights.

      Given your dates, I would try to get to Shiretoko, Akan, Mashu earlier on the trip before snowy conditions make these places more inaccessible. Try Shiretoko Pass if still opened.

      • bumblebeemum says:

        Lake Mashu is not always inaccessible, it really depends on weather. I have been to Lake Mashu twice in winter when I was lucky enough to have nice clear days. There are two ways to enter route 52 to get to Lake Mashu:
        https://goo.gl/maps/nSxtRyBnNDH2
        One entrance to route 52 is from the North near Kawayu. The other entrance is from the South near where ‘Dude Ranch’ is. The entrance from the North is permanently closed in winter regardless of weather. But the entrance from the South will be open when weather is good. So make sure you try the entrance from the South.

        Like BC said, do not be caught out in the dark in the remote areas during winter. You will be surprised how fast it gets dark – like you will go to one place in the morning, have lunch and after lunch you will start heading back to the accommodation already because the sun is starting to set. And if you encounter heavy snow, you may find yourself driving at an average speed of 20km/h because you simply cannot see what is ahead of you.

        If need be, remove places like Shiretoko from your itinerary which requires long drives. Or take out Biei and Furano to spend more time in the Akan – Shiretoko region so that you can space out your driving (say by spending a night at Shiretoko).

    • bumblebeemum says:

      24/11: I would only go to Otaru and not Mount Yotei as well.
      25/11: I would end the day at Asahikawa, not Furano. There won’t be enough time to drive from Sapporo to Asahikawa, visit the zoo and drive to Furano before it gets dark.

      In November, daylight hours will be very short and you may encounter snow along the way. So don’t try to rush many places in a day. Always plan to reach your accommodation by 4pm latest to be safe. You really do not want to be driving in the pitch dark rural roads when it is snowing.

  79. CrazyMOM says:

    Thank you BC and also Bumblebee mom! Really appreciate your feedback. In view of your suggestions and the Xmas light in Hakodate, can you take a look at my revised itinerary again?

    1) do you think i could use Tomamu as a base to check out Furano area?
    2) What do you think of the trip from Hakodate to the airport at the end?

    a) 22 Nov – 25 Nov : Sapporo
    b) 26 Nov : Asahikawa (rent car on 25 Nov from Sapporo)
    c) 27, 28 Nov : Abashiri
    d) 29 Nov : Tsurui
    e) 30 Nov : Obihiro
    f) 1-5 Dec : Tomamu/ Furano (return car near Tomamu?)
    g) 6-8 Dec : Hakodate > Chitose airport

    • BC says:

      From Asahikawa to Abashiri, can consider a lunch stop at the Yubetsu Michi no Eki. The Yubetsu wagyu beef set (only JPY1700) & diy BBQ scallops ! Awsome.

      Near Abashiri, Cape Notoro has nice lighthouse scenery. Nov is a good time for King Crab … check out the prices at Banya House in Abashiri. JPY8k a kg is reasonable. Dont pay more than 10k a kg. Can negotiate.

      I recommend staying at Abashirikoso, a traditional ryokan with onsen. Late Nov is low season for them. Costs about SGD100 per pax per nite with BF & kaiseki dinner, cheaper to book via Japanican or Jalan.net. Best rooms are the lake-facing Jap style rooms & Jap/Western rooms. Rooms r big, good for family. Dont take those facing “mountain” rooms – cheapest, but old & small. More budget friendly is Toyoko Inn, close to JR station.

      Enroute to Shiretoko, there is a large Rausu supermart at Shari Town along main road. Can stock up local snacks & food, water, neccessities here. cheap.
      At Utoro, good live king crab prices here : https://www.google.com.sg/maps/@44.0710404,144.9936384,3a,75y,143.86h,93.53t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sS7FnH2DSaKSDLTFGQFbHnQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 They boil the whole crab, gave us some scissors & we ate at the benches outside (next to Police Post) ! Very nice people at this shop.

      Instead of returning car at Tomamu, u shld find out Tomamu’s parking charges & consider return car at Chitose ? Mayb cheaper than incurring the return charges. Rent car from Sap return at Chitose probably no additional charges & may have more choices.

      The drive from Tsurui to Tomamu, – most of it is on Doto Expressway where road conditions are good, even in snow. So may not need overnight at Obihiro, just a meal stop for Buta-don ! Try both versions of it at both shops. Just for your consideration, depends what time u leave Tsurui & what u hv in mind for Obihiro.

      Probably nothing much in Furano in Nov, I think.

      Never been to Hakodate myself, as previous trips all on eastern Hokkaido, thus Hakodate always too far to get to.

  80. CrazyMOM says:

    Thank you BC! I love to eat and your wagyu and crab suggestions are great!

    I researched abit more based on your latest feedback, and an airbnb place in Abashiri also gave some feedback, so in the end I decided to plan it this way instead:

    a) Nov 22 – Sapporo (3 days) pick up car at day 3
    b) Nov 25 – Asashikawa (1 night(
    c) Nov 26 – Abashiri (2 nights or Abashiri + Shiretoko) BUT Shiretoko park may be closed earlier if snow is heavy
    d) Nov 28 – Tsurui (1 night)- catch some cranes and take photos
    e) Nov 29 – Tomamu
    f) 5 Dec – Noboribetsu
    g) 6, 7, 8 Hakodate (return car here)
    h) Chitose Airport

    I wanted to leave c to h open (maybe book when i get to Sapporo) – but probably hotel prices may soar if I book everything last minute? What do you think?

    Should i still book everything but be prepared to be disappointed for c)? I don’t know yet how we should do Shiretoko yet with 3 young children. Imagine if we spot a bear and I get screams from my eldest boy….BEAR sees his next meal GULP lol..

    • BC says:

      Nov usually not heavy snow. Besides, Hokkaido’s heaviest Nov snowfall in 60yrs happened last year, so odds maybe in your favor.

      We were at Shiretoko on 20 Nov 2015. Weather was perfect but snowed the next day. Do check the weather forecast as it is accurate & ask locals for advice before going on a long day trip.

      You probably wont see bears in Nov, cos they r hibernating. Saw 2 bears in May. May see foxes & deers. The elevated boardwalk (about 2km to & fro) there is safe for kids, stroller friendly, provided they dont climb. Nice place to have a picnic & soak in the tranquility. We did not do the other 2 lakeside trails. Start early in the day. Much of the roads DO NOT have streetlights, although it’s not difficult to navigate.

      Also, bcos of the cold, the windscreen tends to fog up inside while driving. Make sure front seat pax knows how to blast warm air to de-fog.

      I faced similar dilemma when planning my first trip in Nov – road conditions was my biggest concern. Personally I still prefer to pre-book & secure best prices. Maybe popular places like Tomamu, is best to pre-book ?

      Since u r in the region, the buta-don at Obihiro is worth a slight detour, enroute to Tomamu. Am sure BBM will also approve.

      Lastly, your 1 trip is like my 2 trips combined. Hope all turns up well. Safe travels.

  81. Jaime Wong says:

    Hi bumblebee mum,
    Love your very detailed blog.
    Need your advise, I’ll be travelling in February 2017, with 3 children.

    As I was reading through the comments, I was wondering if it’s possible to drive up to Tomamu? As I’ll not be staying a night in the hotel, possible to drive down? Else, take a JR to Tomamu Station, any transport to the complex as the shuttle seemed to be only providing for the hotel guest.

    BTW, you meant, take JR till a station and only get a car rental after that? Say, If I’m planning to stay in Asahikawa, do I take a car from there and drive to Furano (day trip), then drive to Sounkyo (day trip) the next day? Possible? Initially, we planned to walk but like you say, too cold and luggage could be hazardous… So driving seemed to be the best option, but we have no experience driving in thick snow.

    Thanks.

    P.S. I was thinking to travel to drive to Lake Shikotsu from Sapporo too.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I believe guests who are not staying and just planning to visit the ski resort can also use the shuttle from Tomamu station to the resort. I wouldn’t drive for a day trip to Tomamu, especially if I want to visit the Ice Village. Because that would mean driving back in the dark – something I don’t encourage during winter.

      I wouldn’t go to Furano in winter actually. But for Sounkyo, yes, I would rent a car from Asahikawa to go to Sounkyo. But again, if your purpose of going to Sounkyo is to visit the Ice Fall festival, you will probably be coming back in the dark and driving at night is not safe. I suggest you skip Furano and spend a night at Sounkyo for the Ice Fall festival. Alternatively there are buses between Asahikawa and Sounkyo if you prefer not to drive:
      http://www.sounkyo.net/english/access/

      Same thing for Lake Shikotsu, it is possible to drive there from Sapporo. But if you stay to see the lit-up ice sculptures at the Chitose-Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival and fireworks, you will have to drive back at night. Okay, I did that (drive from Sapporo to Lake Shikotsu and drove back at night). But the drive back was really very scary because it was snowing and visibility was very bad. Plus most roads in Hokkaido outside the big cities have no street lights so it’s really driving in pitch dark. Somehow we made it back safely, but it’s really not something I would recommend. I would suggest you use the bus, but you will have to spend the night at Lake Shikotsu:
      http://www.shikotsuko.com/news/2016/08/shuttlebus_en.html

  82. CrazyMOM says:

    does anyone going at the same period want to share an airbnb around Lake Toya? The two places I shortlisted can fit about 8 adults, and there are 5 of us (2+3 little ones). Check in 5th December, check out 7 December 2016. There’s a minimum stay of 2 nights, and we can share the cooking/ BBQ too.

    • Angeline says:

      Hi there

      Really enjoyed reading your blog – very informative!
      My family (2 adults and 2 children, age 8 & 10) will be travelling to Hokkaido from 10-24 Dec. We will be taking Thai Airways as well! We are planning to drive but are concerned about the safety after reading your blog, esp. the journey to Asahikawa and Tomanu. Hence, I am thinking of doing half drive and half public transport.

      Need your advice on the itinerary below:
      Day 1 – Sapporo
      Day 2 – Sapporo
      Day 3 – Asahiyama Zoo
      Day 4 – Tomamu
      Day 5 – Tomamu
      Day 6 – Niseko
      Day 7 – Niseko
      Day 8 – Noboribetsu
      Day 9 – Noboribetsu
      Day 10 – Lake Toya
      Day 11 – Lake Toya
      Day 12 – Hakodate
      Day 13 – Otaru
      Day 14 – CTS

      We will take public transport from Day 1 to 5 and drive from Day 6 onwards. But I’m not sure how can I collect the car between Tomamu and Niseko.

      If we want to minimise driving, is it better to go to Tomanu or Rusutsu? Will the Ice village in Tomanu be opened by the second week of Dec?

      I actually wanted to go Lake Akan but a friend suggested that I stay within central Hokkaido if I want a more relaxed winter trip with less driving.

      For your advice please. Thanks.

      • bumblebeemum says:

        Hmmm…. I would go back to CTS from Tomamu by train / bus and rent a car from there for the later part of the trip.

        The Ice Village should be open by second week of December.

        Yeah, going to Lake Akan would make your trip much more rushed. You need to choose between Lake Toya / Noboribetsu OR Lake Akan, not both.

        Anyway on your itinerary, the last few days look very rushed. I would go to Otaru from Sapporo. And I would drop Hakodate from the itinerary. i.e.

        Day 1 – Sapporo
        Day 2 – Sapporo
        Day 3 – Asahiyama Zoo (day trip from Sapporo)
        Day 4 – Otaru (day trip from Sapporo)
        Day 5 – Sapporo – Tomamu
        Day 6 – Tomamu
        Day 7 – Tomamu – CTS (pick up car) – Noboribetsu
        Day 8 – Noboribetsu
        Day 9 – Noboribetsu – Lake Toya
        Day 10 – Lake Toya
        Day 11 – Lake Toya – Niseko
        Day 12 – Niseko
        Day 13 – Niseko
        Day 14 – Niseko – CTS

        • BC Woo says:

          BBM,
          What’s best means of getting from Niseko back to Chitose ?
          If driving, how’s the road condition in winter ?

          • bumblebeemum says:

            Driving in Niseko itself is pretty tricky in winter. It is a snow resort after all, so there is generally heavy snow which means poor visibility. And I didn’t enjoy having to clear the snow off the car in the morning while standing in the freezing cold. But once out of the ski region, the drive between Niseko and CTS is actually pretty okay.

  83. G says:

    Hi,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. It’s very informative!

    We (my husband, myself and 2 boys, aged 4 & 7) will be travelling to Hokkaido from 16-30 Dec. We are planning to drive during our later leg of the journey which will be from Day 6 to Day 10. We do not have i driving in the snow, and is quite nervous about it. On the other hand, driving will provide more convenience. Therefore, we are compromising by minimizing our driving time.

    I’ve planned a rough itinerary as below and would appreciate if you can let me know your thoughts on it.

    Day 1: Singapore ~ CTS ~ Niseko
    Day 2: Niseko
    Day 3: Niseko ~ CTS ~ Noboribetsu
    Day 4: Noboribetsu
    Day 5: Noboribetsu ~ Sapporo
    Day 6: Sapporo ~ Furano
    Day 7: Furano ~ Biei
    Day 8: Biei ~ Asahikawa
    Day 9: Asahikawa
    Day 10: Asahikawa ~ Sapporo
    Day 11: Sapporo ~ Otaru ~ Sapporo
    Day 12: Sapporo
    Day 13: Sapporo
    Day 14: Sapporo
    Day 15: Sapporo ~ Singapore

    I look forward to hearing back! Thanks in advance for your help :-)

    • BC Woo says:

      Probably can skip Furano & Biei, being Dec.
      I didnt enjoy the drive from Sapporo to Furano (I took roads 452 & 135). Road conditions there in Dec could be iffy, plus long stretches of no-overtaking roads iirc. It took us 3hrs … and that was in May !
      Maybe spend some time in Lake Toya instead ?
      Then, u may not need to drive at all ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For day 3, instead of going back to CTS to go to Noboribetsu from there, I would go back to Sapporo instead. This is because some hotels in Noboribetsu offer free transfer between Sapporo and the hotel. If you are staying at a hotel with free transfer from Sapporo, then you can take advantage of that free transfer.

      Personally, I don’t recommend visiting Furano and Biei in winter. I recommend visiting that region in Summer. You need to drive to get around Furano and Biei, and I find the Furano – Biei region very hard to drive in winter compared to, say, Akan National Park. For a December visit, I would recommend taking a train up to Obihiro or Kushiro and exploring Akan National Park (where cranes gather at the feeding grounds) instead.

  84. JASMIN says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, it was a pleasure reading your blog and it was really informative! I will be going to Hokkaido for the first time from 6 Dec to 17 Dec, just me and my partner. We are still considering whether to drive or public transport or both. We are both rather chillax and do not want to rush during the trip. I have just started doing some planning, (and considering my trip is less than 2 months away, I know I really need to step up on my planning and reservations soon!). Would hope to have your advice on the below rough itinery:

    6 Dec – Arrive at New Chitose Airport, travel to Sapporo
    7 Dec – Sapporo (day trip to Otaru – public transport or day tour)
    8 Dec – Sapporo (day trip to Asahiyama zoo – public transport or day tour)
    9 Dec – Sapporo (other attractions worth visiting such as Beer Factory, etc)
    10 Dec – Rent a car and travel to Lake Toya (should I spend a night here or travel to Noboribetsu straight?)
    11 Dec – Noboribetsu (Hell valley, bear park, onsen)
    12 Dec – Drive to Hakodate
    13 Dec – Hakodate (heard the market is good)
    14 Dec – Hakodate to Sapporo (considering returning car at Hakodate and take public transport or drive back to Sapporo)
    15 Dec – Day trip to ski resorts nearby (Sapporo Tein? Tomamu?)
    16 Dec – travel to New Chitose airport and stay a night there as flight back to SG is on 17 Dec at 10 am.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      7 & 8 Dec: You can just use the public transport
      10 Dec: I would spend a night at Lake Toya
      14 Dec: If you picked up the car in Sapporo, you might as well drive back to Sapporo to save on drop-off fee & train tickets.
      15 Dec: I would opt for Tomamu.

      Typically, for a drive between Sapporo and Hakodate, I would advise using Lake Toya and Noboribetsu to break up the drive. Use one of it to break-up the South-bound drive and the other to break up the North-bound drive. So what you can do is:

      10 Dec – Rent a car and travel to Lake Toya
      11 Dec – Lake Toya – Hakodate
      12 Dec – Hakodate
      13 Dec – Hakodate – Noboribetsu
      14 Dec – Noboribetsu to Sapporo

  85. June Oh says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    Great blog! I’d booked my flight to Hakkaido after reading your blog. This will be my first time to Hakkaido during winter for snow and ski.
    My gal friend and I will be there from 2/12 to 10/12 (8 full days)

    We don’t want to travel too many places so could you advise me if my initial itinerary works please? Thanks in advance!

    Day 1 – Chitose Airport to Niseko (airport bus departing at 1050am)

    Hotel: Hilton Niseko or Niseko Northern Resort AnNupuri

    * first timer so ski to door hotel preferred. Which hotel should I stay?

    Day 2 – Niseko

    Day 3 – Asarigawa Hot Spring – Onsen

    Day 4 – Sapporo

    Day 5- Sapporo

    Day 6 -Hoshino Resort Tomanu – The Tower
    Ice Village

    Day 7 – Kitahiroshima???
    outlet mall

    Day 8 – Stay near Chitose Airport
    * morning flight @ 1030 next morning

    Your feedback and suggestion will be greatly appreciated.
    We are okay to skip Hikahiroshima if it is not worth it or you might have somewhere better to recommend.

    Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I think Hilton Niseko is better for first timers.

      Day 6 – Is this a day trip?

      Your itinerary looks okay, not too rushed. You can probably fit in a day trip to Otaru from Sapporo.

      I am not big on shopping, but my friend who does likes the outlet mall. If you like shopping, you can visit. But if you prefer sightseeing, then just stay in town to do sightseeing.

  86. Cerlyn Loke says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum!

    I’ve been reading your blogs about your winter trip in Hokkaido for a couple of weeks, getting inspired by your posts. It’s been really helpful!

    I’ll be visiting Hokkaido, with my partner, in February for a total of 11-12 days, during the snow festivals period. We have a rough itinerary planned out, but we are still trying to decide if we should rent a car, or just get the JR pass and use public transport.

    Here’s our itinerary:

    Day 1: Arrive Sapporo in the evening
    Day 2: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
    Day 3: Sapporo
    Day 4: Asahikawa
    Day 5: Asahikawa – Biei – Asahikawa
    Day 6: Noboribetsu
    Day 7: Lake Toya
    Day 8: Niseko
    Day 9: Niseko
    Day 10: ??
    Day 11: Sapporo (not definite)
    Day 12: Sapporo (CTS) – Singapore (7:30pm flight)

    As you can see, we still have about a day more to plan. I’m very keen to admire the cranes at Kushiro. But will that fit into our itinerary? Otherwise, we were thinking about spending a day in Hakodate. However, it seems pretty out of the way. Which will you recommend?

    Also, do you recommend us to drive to these locations? Or is public transport more advisable?

    Thank you so much!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Going to see the cranes in Kushiro is going to increase your travelling time quite a bit because it’s pretty far East. Hakodate can be fit into the last few days. I don’t think Hakodate should be a day trip – you should at least spend 1 night there. You can go to Hakodate from Niseko, and then from Hakodate go straight back to CTS without going back to Sapporo again.

      • Cerlyn says:

        Is there a way we can accommodate time into our itinerary for Kushiro? Probably heading down to Lake Akan and Kushiro after Asahikawa?

        Which means:
        Day 6: Asahikawa – Lake Akan
        Day 7: Lake Akan – Kushiro
        Day 8: Kushiro – Tomamu
        Day 9: Tomamu – Noboribetsu
        Day 10: Noboribetsu – Niseko
        Day 11: Niseko
        Day 12: Niseko – Sapporo

        Is this doable? Self driving from day 6 to day 9?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          With this itinerary, you will be spending A LOT of time on the road. If you encounter heavy snow along the way, you will find yourself spending most of your daylight on the road.

          If you want to head East for the cranes, I will suggest you skip Noboribetsu / Lake Toya / Niseko completely. Instead, visit Sounkyo onsen in place of Noboribetsu, Lake Akan in place of Lake Toya, Tomamu in place of Niseko. It will be pretty much similar experiences but with much much lesser travelling time. Do not underestimate the driving time required in winter and the super short daylight hours.

          In fact, because you are travelling in Feb, there are winter festivals going on in Sounkyo, Lake Akan, Tokachigawa and Tomamu. You can read more on this post:
          http://bumblebeemum.net/2010/03/04/self-drive-trip-to-eastern-hokkaido-february-march-2010/

          This is what I would recommend:

          Day 1: Arrive Sapporo in the evening
          Day 2: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo
          Day 4: Sapporo – Asahikawa (Asahikawa Winter Festival)
          Day 5: Asahikawa (Asahiyama Zoo)
          Day 6: Asahikawa – Sounkyo (Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival)
          Day 7: Sounkyo – Lake Akan (Lake Akan Ice Festival)
          Day 8: Lake Akan – Kushiro
          Day 9: Kushiro – Tokachigawa onsen (Sairinka Festival)
          Day 10: Tokachigawa onsen – Tomamu (Tomamu Ice Village)
          Day 11: Tommau
          Day 12: Tomamu – CTS

          Btw, I’m not sure what your exact dates are, but I hope the first few days coincide with Sapporo snow festival, Otaru Snow Light path and Asahikawa Winter Festival.

          • Cerlyn Loke says:

            Hmm how is Tomamu as compared to Niseko? From what I know, Niseko is a better ski resort, but Tomamu will definitely be less crowded. Which is better for beginners, and just to play around in the snow?

            I guess it’s better if we decide which place is a must-go for us, either Kushiro or Niseko. Our main objectives for this trip is to check out one or two main winter festivals (yes! we are going to Sapporo’s snow fest!), check out the penguin parade at Asahikawa Zoo and try out an open air onsen. We will spend rest of the time sight-seeing while having an adventure driving through winter.

            Thank you so much for your help!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Actually Niseko Hilton where we stayed was great for beginners. Because they had this travellator thing to bring you up the slope, so you only need to focus on skiing down. But if your aim is not to ski but just touch the snow and try some winter activities, then Tomamu is much more along the way if you are headed East.

              • Cerlyn says:

                We have decided to give Niseko a miss, instead of missing the cranes at Kushiro.

                Will there be plenty of car rental options to choose from if we were to pick up our car from Asahikawa?
                From your blog, I read that driving to Tomamu wouldn’t be advisable? If so, we will probably return the car at Tokachigawa? Or when do you suggest a car rental would come in handy?

                We are looking forward to have a couple of drive days, so we can enjoy the scenic routes in between each stop overs too.

                Day 1: Arrive Sapporo in the evening
                Day 2: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
                Day 3: Sapporo
                Day 4: Sapporo – Asahikawa
                Day 5: Asahikawa
                Day 6: Asahikawa – Sounkyo (drive)
                Day 7: Sounkyo – Lake Akan (drive)
                Day 8: Lake Akan – Kushiro (drive)
                Day 9: Kushiro – Tokachigawa (drive)
                Day 10: Tokachigawa – Tomamu (train..?)
                Day 11: Tommau
                Day 12: Tomamu – CTS (7.30pm flight)

                Just to check, there should be affordable accommodation options around Lake Akan – Tokachigawa right? We haven’t started looking for accommodations yet.

                • BC Woo says:

                  hi Cerlyn

                  From Asahikawa, may I suggest a visit to Mt Asahidake. I find this to be more impressive than Mt Kurodake at Sounkyo.

                  At Lake Akan, can try New Akan Hotel. It has a new & modern rooftop outdoor communal hotspring pool which is a unique experience at night when snowing ! (just be careful, it’s very slippery). The buffet breakfast & dinner is popular. We spent 3hrs at Breakfast in front of the amazing view. Downside is this hotel caters to group tours & can get crowded. weekday stay better.

                  At Tokachigawa, a nice onsen resort is Kangetsuen. small & boutique like. More budget friendly, consider staying in Obihiro, plenty of hotel chains here (eg APA Obihiro, good value & location).

                  Sounkyo to Akan – looks like a long drive in winter .. which route u taking ? let me know how it goes ?

                  • Cerlyn says:

                    Oh that will be nice! Is Mt Asahidake just a short drive away from Asahikawa? Thanks for the tips!

                    Sounkyo to Akan – I haven’t started planning any of the drive routes actually. We don’t mind giving Sounkyo a miss, but it seems like its a good day to stop and rest for the night?

                    How would you suggest to break up the drive? We are totally flexible with the dates. We have only booked accomodations for Sapporo and Asahikawa as of now.

                    Day 1: Arrive Sapporo in the evening
                    Day 2: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
                    Day 3: Sapporo
                    Day 4: Sapporo – Asahikawa
                    Day 5: Asahikawa
                    Day 6: Asahikawa – Sounkyo (drive)
                    Day 7: Sounkyo – Lake Akan (drive)
                    Day 8: Lake Akan – Kushiro (drive)
                    Day 9: Kushiro – Tokachigawa (drive)
                    Day 10: Tokachigawa – Tomamu (train..?)
                    Day 11: Tommau
                    Day 12: Tomamu – CTS (7.30pm flight)

                    • BC Woo says:

                      hi Cerlyn
                      Asahikawa to Asahidake is about 1 hour’s drive (longer if snowing), 50km. Check the weather and if ropeway is opened. Best to go in morning, spend 1hr or so at top of ropeway, then make your way back. but if snowing, visibility may not be good. Can try on Day 5.

                      Day6, leave Asahikawa early if u want to go up to Kurodake at Sounkyo. The ropeway closes at around 430 or 5pm. Check that both the Kurodake ropeway AND the chairlifts are operational. The chairlift gets u much higher & is an interesting ride. If good weather, make the trip.

                      At Sounkyo, I have stayed at Choyo Resort Hotel. Choose the newly refurbished mix Jap/Western room, even smoking rooms are ok, just open the windows. These rooms are nicest.

                      I also stopped at Sounkyo enroute to Abashiri but have not taken Road #39 east from Sounkyo b4. Not sure of road conditions, especially in Feb & part of it in mountains. Guess the logical route is still #39 east, then #240 south to Akan. There r 2 michinoeki along the way. Driven #240 before, its flat & generally good.
                      http://www.michi-no-eki.jp/?s=&catnum%5B%5D=3&language=1

                      Also, think car rentals are located in Obihiro, not Tokachigawa onsen areas, which is 30-45mins drive away. Kangetsuen provides free public bus tickets to Obihiro but frequency is limited. If staying at onsen areas, just take note of travelling time, agreed time to return car & location. It’s quite a challenge moving luggage across snow covered pavement, so we asked for more time to drop off luggages at JR before returning the car. Obihiro was very cold even in Nov.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      I’m for spending a night at Sounkyo. Then cover Sounkyo to Lake Akan in a day. But you should leave Sounkyo after breakfast coz it’s a long drive. In between, you can take a break at Kitami.

                  • bumblebeemum says:

                    Yeah, staying in Obihiro would be much cheaper than staying in Tokachigawa. But it’s a different experience I guess? I kind of love the moor onsen at Tokachigawa. Supposed to make my skin smoother. Wahaha….

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  If you rent a car from Asahikawa and drop it off at Obihiro (near Tokachigawa), you car rental options will be limited to the bigger companies that will have rental outlets in both locations. Companies like Toyota, Nissan and Nippon would have outlets at both Asahikawa and Obihiro.

                  Your itinerary looks about right. You have pretty much identified the area where you would need a car. From Tokachigawa, you can return the car to Obihiro and continue by train to Tomamu.

                  Hmmmm… affordable is subjective. Lake Akan and Tokachigawa are onsen towns, so accommodation in these areas would be more expensive than in the cities like Sapporo, Asahikawa and Obihiro. But in each onsen town, there will usually be a range of higher-end to lower-end ryokan. I usually stay at the lower-end ones which I find rather affordable. Just that they may not offer Kaiseki meals and modern rooms like the higer-end ryokans do.

  87. Phoebequah says:

    wow….get a lot of information through ur blogs…thanks for sharing. My family with young chilldren10&13, 3 elderly 60,68& 70(stil energetic), my sister and her husband(total 7 adults 2 chidren), going to winter hokkaido self drive trip on 7/12-13/12.We will be renting 2 cars. Staying in an apartment at Sapporo.
    My questions:
    I found that Kokusai ski is cheaper than Niseko and Rusutsu. Can you help me to decide? We plan for just spend 3-4 hours fun ski. While the elderly can do hot spring bath there. After ski, drive to Lake Toya for overnight. What time should i reach Lake Toya is better? And which way to use from ski resort to Lake Toya? . Many thanks.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I have never been to Kokusai ski resort, so not sure how well catered they are for non-Japanese speaking visitors. It looks more like the kind of ski resort for locals who just want to find a slope near town to ski. Do they have a hot spring there? It doesn’t look like Kokusai ski resort has onsen there, unless you are referring to Jozankei onsen which is 20km away. Since I have never been to Kokusai ski resort, I really cannot comment on whether it is suitable for foreigners. Niseko and Rusutsu, while expensive, will definitely have English ski classes. But if you already know how to ski and just need to rent ski and buy lift tickets, then yeah, you can just go whichever resort that’s cheaper.

      If I want to ensure I get to Lake Toya before it gets dark, I would leave Kokusai ski resort by 1pm. Which doesn’t give you a lot of time there. This is the route to take:
      https://goo.gl/maps/SnkoHEsTfbM2

      I suggest you spend the night at Jozankei instead of Lake Toya if you are going to Kokusai ski resort. If you want to stay at Lake Toya, I suggest you go to Rusutsu instead. It is easier to manage your time because Rusutsu is much nearer to Lake Toya.
      https://goo.gl/maps/FvHenMnVEZr
      If you go to Rusutsu, you can stay there till about 2.30pm and still make it to Lake Toya before dark.

  88. Cheaj says:

    Hi, it has been very helpful and informative to read the blog. My family of 5 (3 children aged 14,22,24) planning to visit Hokkaido this year. This is our itinerary
    Nov 28 (8am) Arrive at CTS Air port
    Nov 28-30 Teshikaga ( Stay 2 nights) –plan to visit the 3 lakes
    ( Akan, Mashu & Kussharo)
    Nov 30-Dec 1 Obihiro (Stay 1 night) via Kushiro from Teshikaga.
    Plan to visit Tomamu along the way back to Chitose.
    Dec 1-2 Chitose (Stay 1 night)
    Dec 2-4 Otaru (Stay 2 nights).
    Plan to visit Rusutsu & Niseko Skiing resorts on the
    way to Lake Toya.
    Dec 4-5 Lake Toya (Stay 1 night)
    Dec 5-6 Hakodate (Stay 1 night)
    Dec 6-7 Lake Toya (Stay 1 night)
    Dec 7-8 Chitose (Stay 1 night)
    Dec 8 (9:20am) Depart from CTS Airport.

    We plan to self drive the whole trip with 2 possible drivers (my son and I). None of us have experience driving in winter or snowing conditions. To keep cost low, we plan as much as possible to avoid tolls. We would like to hear your inputs and advice on the itinerary & suggestion of places to visit around each destination. Your prompt response is much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your itinerary looks pretty rushed and some of the drives look too long to be done in a day for winter. The drive towards Lake Akan particularly should be broken up into two days. This is what I would suggest, without omitting the places you want to visit:

      Nov 28 (arrive 8am): CTS – Tomamu
      Nov 29: Tomamu – Tsurui – Lake Akan
      Nov 30: Lake Akan (explore Akan National Park) – Obihiro
      1 Dec: Obihiro – Sapporo
      2 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
      3 Dec: Sapporo – Niseko
      4 Dec: Niseko – Rusutsu
      5 Dec: Rusutsu – Lake Toya
      6 Dec: Lake Toya – Hakodate
      7 Dec: Hakodate – CTS
      8 Dec: morning flight back

      If you want a more relaxing trip, I suggest you skip Hakodate and just choose one between Niseko and Rusutsu.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks a lot for the advise. We did consider stopping at Tomamu, however there is no place to stay there on the date. Hence, we try to speed off to Lake Akan soonest possible. Thru high way, it will take 3 h 30min, would you think this is possible? We would consider cutting Hakodate as well. And perhaps cutting one of these, Niseko/Rutsutsu. For sight seeing , which would be better to visit?

        • BC Woo says:

          hi Cheaj, if I may add …

          3.5hrs from CTS to Akan is probably when road conditions r good. In late Nov, there’s probably snow & it will be slower.

          For reference, it took us 2hrs 15min to drive from Lake Akan to Obihiro in snow in late Nov. About 120km.

          if u do try, make sure to use the Doto Expressway toll road especially in winter.
          We took the non-toll road #241 & it was a pain due to slow traffic / non overtaking lanes.
          The last 50km to Akan is on Road #241, little traffic. closer to Akan, may see more snow covering as it is on lower ground.

          If u r going further to Teshikaga, do note that the part of road #241 after Lake Akan (east boound) is steep & winding. Can be tricky in snow. It took us 1.5hrs on a non-snowing day from Akan to Teshikaga. The view at 双岳台 is awesome in the morning light on Mt Oakan (but not in the afternoon).

          Lastly, on arrival day, tiredness can hit you fast. I was the only driver & my other pax all knocked out after 2hrs on the road.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hmmm.. No, I will not try to speed off to Lake Akan from CTS. Especially not in winter. If you encounter heavy snow, you need to double that timing – which puts you on the road the entire day and chances are that you will arrive after sunset. I really think you need to slot in a stop in between CTS and Lake Akan. If Tomamu is fully booked, try Tokachigawa onsen?

  89. Wendy Choong says:

    Dear Bumbklebee mum,
    Need your advice :
    Traveling with my family (2 adults and 4 kids :aged 15,12,9, and 5) to Furano and Sapporo in Dec. Can you suggest a rough itinerary for me? Would want to include skiing for the kids and if possible and cost allow, dog sledging as well in furano.

    Dates at Furano – 15-18 Dec 2016
    Dates at Saporro – 18-22 Dec 2016 (intending to do a day trip to Otaru. Possible to make a day trip to Nesiko as well ?)

    Thank you very much!

    WL

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Is there dog sledding in Furano? Usually I think of Rusutsu for dog sledding, also partly because Rusutsu is nearer to Sapporo and Rusutsu resort has direct shuttle service between the resort and Sapporo.

      I wouldn’t recommend a day trip to Niseko from Sapporo due to short daylight hours.

      A possible itinerary would be as follows:

      15 Dec: CTS – Sapporo
      16 Dec: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
      17 Dec: Sapporo – Rusutsu
      18 Dec: Rusutsu
      19 Dec: Rusutsu
      20 Dec: Rusutsu – Sapporo
      21 Dec: Sapporo (day trip to Asahiyama zoo if penguin parade has begun)
      22 Dec: Sapporo – CTS

  90. Yip says:

    Hi Bumblebeemee,

    Great blog. Have been reading your blog ever since we decided to do Hokkaido this December with our boys age 12 and 8. We plan to self-drive, hence will need a few tips from you.

    1. We plan to rent a car from Toyota. It is necessary to get a 4WD for winter driving?
    2. I read somewhere that some indoor carparks can pose problems for bigger cars. Is that true?
    3. For SIM cards, better to get from Singapore or when I reach Hokkaido? I saw this at Changi Recommends, https://www.changirecommends.com/deal.aspx?id=1819. Is this good value?

    One of main concern is of course to avoid driving after sunset as much as possible. And my wife and I have taken this into consideration when we plan out the following itinerary.

    6 Dec: CTS – Sapporo (Arriving at 15:55pm. Intend to take a bus into Susukino. Any other recommendation besides Mercure?)
    7 Dec: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo (Pickup car in Susukino and drive to Otaru and back to Sapporo)
    8 Dec: Sapporo – Asahikawa (Intend to start drive before 12pm. Enough time?)
    9 Dec: Visit Asahikawa Zoo and other attractions
    10 Dec: Asahikawa – Furano: (Intend to to start drive before 12pm. Enough time?)
    11 Dec: Enjoy Furano resort and doing skiiing
    12 Dec: Furano – Hoshino (To visit the Ice Village. Where will be a good place to stay in Hoshino apart from Tomamu Hotel? We have not found a good place yet.)
    13 Dec: Hoshino – CTS (Start drive before 12pm. Return car and catch flight at 17.25pm)

    Is the above workable?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. I’ve never rented a 4WD in Japan before. Their roads are very well paved. Snow tyres should suffice.

      2. Umm, yes. Some indoor carparks have height limits and 7/8 seaters would not be able to fit in. You will just have to find an open air carpark nearby when that happens. There are plenty of open air carparks around though, so not to worry.

      3. Getting from Changi Recommends saves you time going around the airport upon arrival to find a SIM card and grappling with language barrier. Personally I would go with Changi Recommends for convenience even if it is slightly more expensive.

      6 Dec: I have tried some other hotels in Susukino before but I still prefer Mercure. If you are using the airport limousine bus, you can also try Toyoko Inn Susukino Kosaten (don’t go to the wrong Toyoko Inn, there are a few in Sapporo) which is where the airport limousine from the airport stops. Super convenient.
      http://www.toyoko-inn.com/e_hotel/00100/

      7 Dec: Actually you don’t need a car for Otaru. You can just use the train? That way you don’t need to feel rushed to get back before it gets dark.

      8 Dec: We took more than 4 hours to do the drive from Sapporo to Asahikawa in heavy snow, so leaving at 12noon is cutting it a bit close. Try to leave by 11am.

      10 Dec: Depends on whether you plan to stop anywhere in between Asahikawa and Furano? I would probably stop by Biei and Tomita Farm (there’s a greenhouse there) as rest points for the drive. But if I do that, leaving at 12noon would be too late.

      12 Dec: At Tomamu, if you don’t want to stay at the resort, you can try the AirBnb. It usually works out cheaper for families:
      https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/8532167

      In general, in winter, always plan to leave as early as you can. Because the sun rises early and sets early. Don’t wait till 12 noon to start your day. By 2pm, you will already feel the sun is starting to do down. I would just wake up earlier everyday, reach my accommodation by 4pm and sleep early.

      • Yip says:

        Thanks for invaluable advice, Bumblebeemum. We are still undecided if we want to visit the Ice Village at Tomamu as there is a risk that 12 Dec might be too early for the right weather conditions though the website says it starts on 10 Dec. Are the dates on the website usually accurate?

        In case it doesn’t happen, then it will be time wasted for us. What would be a good alternative in your opinion if we were to skip Tomamu?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          The dates are not always accurate because it is all weather-dependent. If it doesn’t snow enough on a particular year, all the snow activities will be delayed.

          If there is no Ice Village, I guess you can either go back to CTS a bit earlier to do more shopping and eating there, or spend 1 more night at Furano.

    • BC says:

      hi Yip

      another option is to rent a wifi router

      u can look for dimitri_can here to rent one at very reasonable prices :

      http://forums.hardwarezone.com.sg/japan-271/data-mifi-renting-service-reopened-5046000.html

      I rented from him before.

  91. Prakash says:

    Hi bumblebeemum!

    Loved your posts. They are all so helpful. Hope you can help me a little. I am going to hokkaido from the 8th to the 15th. I was thinking of concentrating on western hokkaido only and leaving out hakodate. Objective of trip is to have a good mix of shopping, food and scenary and play abit of fun snow activities. We dont ski! 😀 Definitely thinking of otaru, lake toya, niseko/tomamu and noboribetsu. Your expert opinion is needed 😀

  92. KA TAN says:

    Hi there, thanks for the sharing. We are in a group of 6 adults going to Hokkaido in December for 9 days 8 nights. Our plan is
    Plan A
    10/12 New Chitose airport to Noboritbesu
    11/12 Niseko
    12/12 Niseko
    13/12 Sapporo
    14/12 Sapporo
    15/12 Sapporo to Otaru city tour
    16/12 Furano
    17/12 New Chitose

    At first, we plan for plan A to drive for the whole trip however we don’t have any winter driving experience and I find out that most snow fun park open after mid December so I try to adjust to plan b

    10/12 New Chitose airport to Sapporo (public transport)
    11/12 Sapporo city tour(public transport)
    12/12 Sapporo to Otaru day tour(public transport)
    13/12 Niseko(public transport)
    14/12 Noboribetsu (driving)
    15/12 Furano(driving)
    16/12 Furano(driving)
    17/12 New Chitose(driving)

    Do you think I have to drive for plan b or I can take public transport for the whole trip?

    Thanks for the advise.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I’m not too sure about going to Niseko for a day by public transport. I would usually recommend spending at least a night there. As for Furano, what do you plan to do that? Furano is not one of my favourite winter spots – I usually recommend it for summer trips. It is extremely hard to drive around Furano region in winter.

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