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Hokkaido Shinkansen - Is it a good alternative to domestic flights -Bumble Bee Mum

Last weekend, Hokkaido Shinkansen began operation, bringing travellers from Tokyo to Hakodate in 4 hours.  Many readers have been asking me if it a good idea to use the shinkansen to get to Hokkaido in place of domestic flights.  If you know me, every time I get asked the same question more than twice, I end up writing a long-winded post to address the question.  So here is my long-winded answer to their seemingly simple question.

 

What you need to know about Hokkaido Shinkansen

Typically, travellers to Hokkaido arrive via New Chitose Airport which is near Sapporo.   This is pretty much in the centre of Hokkaido, which makes it a good base for exploring just about any other part of Hokkaido.

Right now, the shinkansen from Tokyo only brings you as far as Hakodate, which is in Southern Hokkaido.

Hokkaido-Shinkansen-Is-it-a-good-alternative-to-domestic-01Image Source: JR Hokkaido

Why is this important to note?

Beyond Hakodate, there is no shinkansen in Hokkaido.  So let’s say you want to go to Sapporo.  From Hakodate, it will take another 4 hours to get from Hakodate to Sapporo by train.

Hokkaido-Shinkansen-Is-it-a-good-alternative-to-domestic-03

Which means if your aim is to get to Sapporo, it will take you 8 hours by rail from Tokyo: 4 hours from Tokyo to Hakodate, 4 hours from Hakodate to Sapporo.   That doesn’t sound very appealing to me versus a 1.5 hours domestic flight.

How about cost?

If it doesn’t save you any time, does it then save you money?

Sadly, NO.

Domestic flights between Tokyo and Chitose are very competitive.  There are a bunch of low cost carriers like Jetstar, Air Asia, Peach and Vanilla Air offering very cheap flights between Narita and CTS.  Even for ANA, if you fly from your home country to Tokyo via ANA, you can get a domestic flight for just 10,800yen one-way via their ANA Experience Japan Fare.

Hokkaido-Shinkansen---Is-it-a-good-alternative-to-domestic-flight---domestic-air-fare

How about the shinkansen? The ride from Tokyo station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station using Shinkansen Hayabusa with reserved seat cost 22,890yen one-way.   That’s double the price of a domestic flight!

Hokkaido-Shinkansen---Is-it-a-good-alternative-to-domestic-flight---cost-and-ticket-price

 So what’s the point of the shinkansen?

Using the shinkansen will make sense if you were planning to do the following:

  1. Visit Hakodate
  2. Use the 5-Days or 7-Days Hokkaido Rail Pass
  3. Want to spend time in Tokyo

Suppose you already had plans to purchase a 5-Days Hokkaido Rail Pass which costs 22,000yen or the 7-Days pass which cost 24,000yen.  What you can consider doing now is to top up a few thousand yen for the 7-Days Japan Rail Pass which cost 29,110yen.   The Japan Rail Pass will cover your shinkansen ride between Tokyo and Hakodate and you do not need to take domestic flights.  i.e. you are topping up less than 10,000yen for the return ride between Tokyo and Hakodate.

By using the shinkansen, you also have the freedom to spend some time in Tokyo before / after the Hokkaido trip.  Sure, you can also spend time in Tokyo when you take domestic flights.  But it is a bit of a hassle imo to keep moving to and fro between Narita / Haneda Airport and Central Tokyo.  Whereas the shinkansen brings you right smack into central Tokyo.

So ideally, this is what I would do:

  1. Fly to Tokyo, spend a few days at say, Tokyo Disney Resort.
  2. Activate my Japan Rail Pass, take shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakodate, begin my 7 days tour of Hokkaido by rail.
  3. On Day 7 of my rail pass, take the shinkansen back to Tokyo.  Spend another 3 days shopping, eating and sightseeing in Tokyo.
  4. Fly home from Tokyo.

This is an especially favourable option if your kids have a big problem with ear-popping on planes as it takes away the need for an extra flight.

The biggest disadvantage of this plan is that you are restricted to 7 days in Hokkaido, inclusive of the time required to get between Tokyo and Hakodate.  This is not a very long time for a Hokkaido trip and you will only be touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Hokkaido offers.  I typically spend 2 weeks in Hokkaido each time I’m there.  But oh well, give and take.  If you just want to experience a bit of Hokkaido as part of a Tokyo + Hokkaido trip, the shinkansen is a good option for you.

But it’ll still be much slower than taking domestic flights, wouldn’t it?

Remember my first point is that you want to go to Hakodate.  If you don’t want to go to Hakodate, I would recommend sticking to domestic flights.  However, if you want to go to Hakodate, let’s look at the time required to get between Tokyo and Hakodate.

By shinkansen:

You can reserve your seat on the shinkansen beforehand.  When you reach Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station, you can just hop onto the shinkansen, 4 hours later, you will arrive at Tokyo station.

By domestic flight:

You need to be at the airport at least 1 hour before your flight to check-in.   The flight time is about 1 hour 30 min.  After you arrive at Haneda or Narita, you still have to wait for your luggage.  Then from Haneda Airport, it is a 30 minutes train ride to Tokyo station.  From Narita Airport, you are looking at a 1 hour train ride.

So if you ask me, if you are trying to get between Hakodate and Tokyo, there is little time difference between using the train and flying.

(Update) JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass

There is now a new rail pass called the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass.

How does this pass compare to the Japan Rail Pass?

In terms of pricing, compared to the 7-days Japan Rail Pass, it is about 3000yen cheaper.

In terms of coverage, Japan Rail Pass covers the WHOLE of Japan’s JR network.  However, JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass only covers the shinkansen between Tokyo and Hakodate and the region of Eastern Japan in between and within Hokkaido, it only covers Southern Hokkaido – from Hakodate to Chitose / Sapporo / Otaru.

In terms of duration, unlike Japan Rail Pass that covers 7 consecutive days, the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass is a flexi pass that covers 6 days within a 14 days period.

What is it good for?

As I mentioned above, the biggest disadvantage of using the Japan Rail Pass is having to complete the travel with 7 days.  The flexibility of the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass to allow you to stretch the travel up to 14 days is a HUGE plus! With this pass, it actually makes sense to consider replacing domestic flights with the shinkansen if Hakodate is part of my itinerary.

However, it is important to note that the pass does not cover Eastern Hokkaido.  But I always say in the blog that self-drive is the best way to explore Eastern Hokkaido.  So I actually like the idea of this pass a lot.  I can do without domestic flight and use the shinkansen to get to Hakodate.  From there, I would train to Sapporo.  Then from Sapporo, I can rent a car to explore Central (Furano / Biei) or Eastern Hokkaido.

Have I answered your question?

If you have any other questions about using the Hokkaido shinkansen, leave a comment and I’ll try my best to help you.  Please note that I have never actually taken the new shinkansen before and I can only base my answers on my experience with Japan rail travel in general.

Information on Hokkaido Shinkansen:

For more information regarding the Hokkaido shinkansen, visit JR Hokkaido’s Official Website.

Find more tips on Hokkaido Travel:

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Hokkaido Shinkansen - Is it a good alternative to domestic flights -Bumble Bee Mum

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Supposed to be a stay-home mom, but hates staying home. Definition of parenting is bringing the boys out for 'experiential learning' in Singapore, Japan and wherever else in the world her husband can afford to pay for.

73Comments

  1. Supermum says:

    Thanks for the write up on the Shinkansen. Very informative.

  2. Rachael says:

    Great post! My son LOVES the shinkansen, and I would love to catch one north from Tokyo, and we’re thinking about going to Hokkaido for some snow around Christmas/New Years this year…
    Rachael recently posted…Asakusa, Tokyo – Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Shopping StreetMy Profile

  3. Joanne says:

    Hi if we plan that 12 December to 1 January wanting to go Tokyo and hokkaido.This is our itenary

    17 -19dec-Sapporo
    20dec-otaru
    21dec-Sapporo
    22Dec-asahikawa
    23-24dec-tomamu
    25 Dec -noboribetsu
    26 dec-toya
    27-28 dec-hokadate
    29 dec-1 January-Tokyo

    Actually we are considering stay at hokadate but travel to noboribetsu and toya.Is it suitable or you will suggest us to stay at toya for 2 days.We plan to buy Hokkaido flexible 4-day pass.Help us look at this itenary and give us some suggestion.Thanks.

    • Joanne says:

      Sorry 17 December reach Sapporo.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      If you are up for changing hotels, I would recommend 1 night at Noboribetsu and 1 night at Lake Toya. These are onsen towns and generally, I like to ‘resort hop’ at onsen towns. This allows me to try our different onsen and different cuisine (especially if you book the stay with half-board). If you stay in the same hotel at Lake Toya / Noboribetsu for 2 nights, you will be using the same onsen and eating the same food for 2 days.

      Other than that, your itinerary looks fine. Otaru and Asahikawa are day-trips from Sapporo yah?

      • Joanne says:

        Yes,if we use JR Hokkaido flexible 4 days pass can or need use other JR pass ?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hmm.. You got to do the sums. Go to Hyperdia to add up the cost of all your train rides and compare them to the price of the rail pass. If you rearrange your itinerary by shifting Otaru down 1 day, you can consider the 7-Day Rail pass to be used from 21-27 December.

          21dec (Start rail Pass): Otaru day trip from Sapporo *
          22Dec: Asahikawa day trip from Sapporo *
          23Dec: Sapporo – Tomamu *
          24 Dec: Tomamu
          25 Dec: Tomamu – Noboribetsu *
          26 Dec: Noboribestu – Toya *
          27 Dec: Toya – Hakodate*

          But I am really not sure if it’ll be worth it, you need to add up all your train fares I have indicated with * and compare the total to the price of the Hokkaido Rail Pass.

  4. Esther ER says:

    Hi bubblebeemum,

    I will be heading to Hokkaido this june from 1/6 to 12/6. Is there any kimono rental for male and females to reccommend? I would like to dress up and take a mini photo shoot.

    Will be heading to otaru, lake toya, sapporo, niseko, hakodate and biei.

    thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I haven’t tried any before.. Just google? I did a quick google search and found the following:
      https://www.facebook.com/kimonootaru/
      http://risaikurukimono.com/%E7%9D%80%E4%BB%98%E3%81%91/rental-kimono-in-otaru/

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Okay, I checked with my friend from Otaru who runs a hostel there. He says there are two kimono rental shops on Otaru, one of which is the one I found on Google:
      http://risaikurukimono.com/%E7%9D%80%E4%BB%98%E3%81%91/rental-kimono-in-otaru/

      His Taiwanese guest rented from them and says they are good and they have English speaking staff. But you MUST make reservation because they will not open if there are no reservations.

      The other one he knows is along Sakaimachi:
      http://tsuji.on.omisenomikata.jp/

      • Esther ER says:

        Hi bubblebeemum,

        Thanks for your reply. really appreciated it. will check it out and take a look at it.

        I do have another question that i need your help. I will be heading to hokkaido from 1/6-12/6.
        Day 1 – New chitose to furano
        Day 2 – Furano to biei
        Day 3 – biei to otaru
        day 4 – otaru to niseko ( will be going to cape shakotan)
        day 5 – niseko to hakodate
        day 6 – hakodate to lake toya
        day 7-10 – sapporo

        do you recommend using ETC pass or hokkaido expressway pass?

        thanks

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yes, I would recommend getting an ETC card or HEP for your route if you are not using the car in Sapporo. As in you will return the car the moment you return to Sapporo on Day 7.

          • Esther says:

            Thanks for your reply! Yes I’ll not be driving in Sapporo. But I’m not sure what’s is the difference between an ETC card and HEP. I went to HEP website but they state ETC so I’m a little confused. Will definitely need your advices! Thanks so so so much!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              The HEP comes in the form of an ETC card. You’re from Singapore yah? Imagine HEP and ETC to be like our EZ-link card for taking MRT. ETC card is basically like a normal EZ link card where the fee is deducted each time you ride the train. The HEP is like a concession pass where we pay a fixed fee for a month and are entitled to unlimited rides. But both of them essentially use the same card. So both HEP and ETC uses the same kind of card, very similar to our cashcard which is to be inserted into the car’s ETC unit which is just like our IU. ETC will deduct the toll fee each time you pass through, whereas HEP charges based on number of days regardless of how much you use the toll roads.

              • Esther ER says:

                Thanks thanks for your reply! totally understand the difference after reading your explanation!

                is it possible for you to recommend whether HEP or ETC is better for my itinerary? i would not be driving ard in sapporo!

                thanks! your blog posts are all so helpful!

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  If you are returning the car on day 7, yes, you can consider getting the HEP. Problem is if you are picking up the car from CTS and returning it to Sapporo, you cannot get the HEP. One of the conditions for the HEP is that the car needs to be returned to the outlet you picked it up from. So for one-way, you would have to make do with an ETC card.

  5. Joanne says:

    Based on my itinerary, what is the best option I can use:

    1) 7 day JR pass Tokyo to Hakodate , back to Tokyo from Sapporo by flight

    2) take flight from Tokyo to Sopporo , back to Tokyo from Hakodate by flight

    We may give up visiting tomamu. Instead we’ll go to kiroro or niseko to ski. Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmmm… If you want to use the 7-day Rail pass for the Tokyo – Hakodate stretch, this is what I would recommend:

      17 Dec (Day 1 of JR Rail Pass): Tokyo – Hakodate
      18 Dec: Hakodate
      19 Dec: Hakodate – Toya
      20 Dec: Toya – Tomamu
      21 Dec: Tomamu
      22 Dec: Tomamu – Sapporo
      23 Dec (Day 7 of Japan Rail Pass): Sapporo (Day trip to Asahikawa)
      24 Dec: Sapporo
      25 Dec: Sapporo
      26 Dec: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
      27 Dec: Sapporo
      28 Dec: Sapporo – Noboribetsu (find a hotel that provides free shuttle bus from Sapporo)
      29 Dec: Noboribetsu – CTS (flight back to Tokyo)

      If you are using the rail pass, it makes more sense to go to Tomamu instead of Kiroro or Niseko because Tomamu is directly accessible by train.

      • Joanne says:

        Hi,we have change our itinerery ,can you please advice us.thanks

        17 Dec Tokyo – Hakodate
        18 Dec: Hakodate
        19 Dec: Hakodate – noberibetsu
        20 Dec: Noberibetsu – Tomamu
        21 Dec: Tomamu
        22 Dec: Tomamu–Sapporo
        23 Dec Sapporo (day trip to Staru)
        24 Dec: Sapporo ( day trip to Asahikawa
        25 Dec: Sapporo
        26 Dec: Sapporo
        27 Dec:Sapporo–CTS (flight to tokyo)

        which pass do you think more suitable 7 day rail pass or JR East South Hokkaido Rail Pass,because i saw this JR east south hokkaido rail passmore cheaper .Thanks

        • Joanne says:

          Hi,we have change our itinerery ,can you please advice us.thanks

          17 Dec Tokyo – Hakodate
          18 Dec: Hakodate
          19 Dec: Hakodate – noberibetsu
          20 Dec: Noberibetsu – Tomamu
          21 Dec: Tomamu
          22 Dec: Tomamu–Sapporo
          23 Dec Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
          24 Dec: Sapporo ( day trip to Asahikawa
          25 Dec: Sapporo
          26 Dec: Sapporo
          27 Dec:Sapporo–CTS (flight to tokyo)

          which pass do you think more suitable 7 day rail pass or JR East South Hokkaido Rail Pass,because i saw this JR east south hokkaido rail pass more cheaper .Thanks

        • bumblebeemum says:

          The JR East South Hokkaido Rail Pass does not cover the whole of Hokkaiod, only Southern Hokkaido – so it does NOT cover Tomamu and Asahikawa. Hence for your purpose, the 7-day Japan Rail Pass makes more sense. And you should move Asahikawa up to 23 Dec so that you can use the rail pass for Asahiakwa.

          17 Dec (Day 1 of rail pass): Tokyo – Hakodate
          18 Dec: Hakodate
          19 Dec: Hakodate – noberibetsu
          20 Dec: Noberibetsu – Tomamu
          21 Dec: Tomamu
          22 Dec: Tomamu–Sapporo
          23 Dec (Day 7 of rail pass): Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa)

  6. Apple says:

    Hi Bumblebee,

    Can you help me with below? Intend to do in mid-Dec and since I have limited time in Hokkaido I will do a 7 days using JR Pass. I have budget so cannot do very long this time. (Next time after I strike TOTO then I do longer LOL.) Have to return to SIN before 20 Dec coz son need to report Sec school

    Is JR Pass same as JR Hokkaido Pass?

    The reason I am using JR pass & Shinkansen because
    * We want to experience the new train, hub and children never try any other bullet train in JPN before.
    * We have budget can’t fly direct as the fee to pay for 3A2C is too steep. * Don’t want to risk not able to get domestic budget airline in JPN when I am there, duno how to book in SIN, very stressful.
    * We want to spent few days in Tokyo for some day trips (Nikko in Tochigi – miss it so many times when in Tokyo).
    * Hub has phobia in domestic flight we have a real bad experience once from Osaka to Tokyo…He thok it was end of life.

    Could you help with the below iteniery?

    Day 1 SIN – TOKYO (stay 1N)
    Day 2 (Start of JR Pass day 1) Move fm Tokyo to Hakodate (Shinkansen)
    Day 3 Hakodate
    Day 4 Move from Hakodate to Sapporo (spent time in Sapporo)
    Day 5 Otaru & night in Sapporo
    Day 6 Akashikawa zoo and Biei (&/or Furano) –> have enough time?
    Day 7 Move fm Sapporo to Noboribetsu
    Day 8 (End of JR Pass) Noboribetsu to Tokyo (Night Disney?)
    Day 9 Day trip Nikko
    Day 10 Day Trip (somewhere not far Tokyo, don’t want to spend too much)
    Day 11 Tokyo Narita to SIN

    Do you think it’s feasible to do like above as in making full use of the JR pass because we want to save as much as we could by not spending too much on transport.
    Day 6, can you help me? How to go to see the “trees” from JR Biei, do you think I can go blue pond as well? How about Furano? Is there anything to do there in winter? I don’t intend to do any ski or money spending activities, just want a relax walk. For seeing the “Tree” from Biei, can we walk? Or need to take bus?

    For Noboribetsu, can you recommend a reasonable onsen Inn to stay which is not too expensive and accessible via JR train?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You made me very curious what happened on your Osaka to Tokyo flight. But I shall not make you relieve the nightmare.

      Japan Rail Pass and Hokkaido Rail Pass are different. Japan Rail Pass covers the whole of Japan while Hokkaido Rail Pass can only be used in Hokkaido.

      For Day 6, you will only have time to visit Asahiyama Zoo because of short daylight hours. In winter there is definitely not enough time to go to Biei. And to see the trees in Biei, you definitely need a car.

      If you want to visit Nikko, I think you should visit it on your way back from Hokkaido since Nikko is to the North of Tokyo. Doing that will also save on train fare. Because with your current plan, you will need to pay for return train tickets to Nikko on top of the 7-Days Japan Rail Pass. But if you go to Nikko on Day 7 of your rail pass, subsequently you only need to pay for one way Nikko – Tokyo train ride.

      Noboribetsu onsen town is not near the train station. However, some resorts (e.g. Hotel Mahoroba where we stayed) offers free shuttle bus from Sapporo to the resort. I would use the free shuttle.

      This is what I would do:

      Day 1 SIN – TOKYO (stay 1N)
      Day 2 (Start of JR Pass day 1) Move fm Tokyo to Hakodate (Shinkansen)
      Day 3 Hakodate
      Day 4 Move from Hakodate to Sapporo (spent time in Sapporo)
      Day 5 Otaru & night in Sapporo
      Day 6 Akashikawa zoo (day trip from Sapporo)
      Day 7 Move fm Sapporo to Noboribetsu (use shuttle bus)
      Day 8 (End of JR Pass) Noboribetsu to Nikko
      Day 9 Nikko to Tokyo
      Day 10 Tokyo
      Day 11 Tokyo Narita to SIN

      • Apple says:

        Hi Bumblebee Mum

        Thank you very much for your kind assistance. I am confuse with Day 8. You mentioned Nobo to Nikko, does the Hokkaido Shinkansen stop at Nikko?

        I am unsure with Nobo since there is only JR train, so I need probably 2hrs to Hakodate to take Hokkaido Shinkansen (4hrs) back to Tokyo area?
        Is there Hokkaido Shinkansen / any other shinkansen / JR train going to reach somewhere in Nikko? (Stay 1N in Nikko is ok though).

        Probably depart Nobo at 10am
        ETA Hakodate 12pm
        Shinkansen to XXX near Nikko (half dist so 2+Hrs?) –> 2 or 3PM

        Do you have any idea on the “XXX”?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Okay, it’s a bit of a hassle to use the train. There is no shinkansen to Nikko, the nearest shinkansen stop from Nikko is Utsunomiya (this is the XXX you are referring to). From there, you need to take another JR train (JR Nikko line) to Utsunomiya. Unfortunately, the Hakodate-Tokyo shinkansen doesn’t stop at Utsunomiya. You need to transfer to another shinkansen at Sendai station. i.e This is what you need to do to get from Noboribetsu to Nikko:

          1) Noboribetsu to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (LTD. EXP SUPER HOKUTO) 134 min
          2) Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Sendai (SHINKANSEN HAYABUSA) 165 min
          3) Sendai to Utsunomiya (SHINKANSEN YAMABIKO) 74 min
          4) Utsunomiya to Nikko (JR Nikko Line) 43 min

          If you go back to Tokyo, you will need to take the following:

          1) Noboribetsu to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (LTD. EXP SUPER HOKUTO) 134 min
          2) Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Tokyo (SHINKANSEN HAYABUSA) 260 min

          And from Tokyo, to get to Nikko, you will need to take the following:

          1) Tokyo to Utsunomiya (SHINKANSEN YAMABIKO) 50 min
          2) Utsunomiya to Nikko (JR Nikko Line) 43 min

          So in terms of the number of transfers you need to make, it is the same. But distance and price wise, going to Nikko from Noboribetsu will be shorter and cheaper.

          • Apple says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum

            TQ very much I think I’ll take your advice on First option, ie to get to Nikko with transfer from Sendai on Day 7 of JR Pass. No point going all the way to Tokyo to get to Nikko next day without the JR Pass.

            I will return to Tokyo next day from Nikko with the Tobu Line instead, guess I will also try to find hotel nearby Asakusa area or Ueno since I need Keisei Liner to AP few days later.

            Do you have any recommendation on the hotels which is below $100 per night? I used to stay in Candeo near Uguisudani Stn and we moved to Nippori for Keisei Liner, but we want to try other hotels.

            I have another spare day in Tokyo, could you suggest a day trip which you feel is nice and suitable for family too? I have 2 kids as well.

            Sorry for so many questions but I see that you travel alot to Japan and I think you are the most suitable persons i could rely, no other help 🙁

            TQ once again.

  7. Evelyn Han says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum

    We are 2 middle aged couples planning our Hokkaido trip from 29 Sep to 7 October 2016. Is 8 days enough to visit Hokodate, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, Sapporo and Otaru. We plan to take the Shinkansen to Hokodate and then pick up our rental car and drive the rest of the trip before we fly back to Tokyo on 7 October.

    Rgds / Evelyn

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, 8 days is enough to cover the region if you are driving. Though for your dates, I would recommend going to Daisetsuzan region for autumn foliage. But it may be a bit too far if you are coming from Hakodate and only have 8 days. If you stick to the central – southern region, I recommend going to Niseko and Jozankei for autumn foliage instead of Noboribetsu.

      Day 1: Hakodate
      Day 2: Hakodate – Lake Toya
      Day 3: Lake Toya – Niseko
      Day 4: Niseko – Otaru
      Day 5: Otaru – Jozankei Onsen
      Day 6: Jozankei Onsen – Sapporo
      Day 7: Sapporo
      Day 8: Flight back

      • Evelyn Han says:

        Hi Bumblebeemum

        Sorry we have now booked our tickets. We will fly and arrive in Sapporo Chitose on 1 October and then leave Hakodate on 10 October for Tokyo by Shinkansen. So we now have 10 days in Hokkaido instead of 8 days. Can you revise your suggested itinerary as the route is now reversed? Also can you advise how many nights we should spend in each place considering the attractions to visit.

        Appreciate your kind suggestions. Thanks you.

        Rgds / Evelyn

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I would do something like this:

          1 Oct: Sapporo
          2 Oct: Sapporo – Sounkyo Onsen
          3 Oct: Sounkyo / Daisetsuzan region
          4 Oct: Sounkyo Onsen – Otaru
          5 Oct: Otaru – Jozankei Onsen
          6 Oct: Jozankei Onsen – Niseko
          7 Oct: Niseko – Lake Toya
          8 Oct: Lake Toya – Hakodate
          9 Oct: Hakodate
          10 Oct: Hakodate – Tokyo

          • Evelyn Han says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum

            Thanks for your proposed itinerary. We have booked 2 nights in Mercure Sapporo – thought there were alot to see there. If this is the case, how should we proceed from Sapporo?

            What are your suggested places to visit in Sounkyo and Daisetsuzan region? Can you recommend where we can stay in these places?

            Also are there any realy good traditional ryokan onsen with kaiseki dinner 7 breakfast along our route?

            Appreciate your sharing your experience with us as we have never been to Hokkaido.

            Rgds / Evelyn

            • bumblebeemum says:

              If you have booked 2 nights in Sapporo, then reduce 1 night in Hakodate.

              1 Oct: Sapporo
              2 Oct: Sapporo
              3 Oct: Sapporo – Sounkyo Onsen
              4 Oct: Sounkyo / Daisetsuzan region
              5 Oct: Sounkyo Onsen – Otaru
              6 Oct: Otaru – Jozankei Onsen
              7 Oct: Jozankei Onsen – Niseko
              8 Oct: Niseko – Lake Toya
              9 Oct: Lake Toya – Hakodate
              10 Oct: Hakodate – Tokyo

              At Sounkyo, you can try Choyo Tei. I stayed there back in 2010 and liked it a lot. But it’s been 6 years so I’m not too sure if it is still good.
              http://en.choyotei.com/

              I recommended going to Daisetsuzan because it is autumn foliage season and Daisetsuzan is Hokkaido’s most famous autumn foliage spot. There is a momijidani (momiji walkway) at Sounkyo onsen town. And you can take the ropeway too.
              http://www.sounkyo.net/english/tourism/

              You can also drive around the rest of Daisetsuzan region and visit Asahidake.
              http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/koyo15/150917_daisetsuzan.html

              At Lake Toya, you can try Nonokaze. I have never stayed there as it is out of my budget but the reviews look good.
              http://nonokaze-resort.com/

              • Evelyn Han says:

                Hi Bumblebeemum

                Thanks for your proposal. Below my proposed itinerary, can you see if need to make any changes or any to add (especially in Niseko, what to visit?) :

                1 Oct: Sapporo
                Sapporo Autumn Festival @ Odori Park,
                Clock Tower,
                Government Building,
                Susukino – Ramen Alley
                Mt Moiwa

                2 Oct: Sapporo
                Nijo or Curb Fish Market
                Sapporo Beer Brewery
                Ishiya Chocolate Factory
                Tanukikojii

                3 Oct: Sapporo to Sounkyo
                Daisetsuzan Sounkyo Kurodake Ropeway
                Walkway of Momijidani
                Waterfall of Ginga No Taki

                4 Oct: Sounkyo to Otaru
                Otaru Canal
                Music Box Museum
                Sakaimachi Street
                Nikka Whisky Distillery

                5 Oct: Otaru to Josaneki
                Hoheikyo Dam
                Futami Suspension Bridge
                Pool of Maizuru

                6 Oct: Jozankei to Niseko

                7 Oct: Niseko to Lake Toya
                Cable Car up Mt Usu
                Fireworks on Lake

                8 Oct: Lake Toya to Hakodate
                Asahichi Morning Market,
                Mamemori Redbrick Warehouse
                Goryokaku Park & Tower

                9 Oct: Hakodate
                Motomachi Church
                Konbu Museum
                Mt Hakodate Ropeway
                Bay Area

                10 Oct: Hakodate – Tokyo

                Thank you for your time.

                Rgds / Evelyn

                • Evelyn Han says:

                  Hi Bumblebeemum

                  Can you help to reply my message? Thank you.

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  4 Oct looks too rushed. By the time you drive from Sounkyo to Otaru, you only have like half the day left (the sun will be starting to set quite early in Oct). You probably won’t have time for Nikka whiskey distillery.

                  6 Oct: In Niseko you can do a scenic drive of Route 66 and visit Shinsen-numa. You can also visit Milk Kobo and Fukidashi Park.

                  8 Oct: I will move the morning market to 9 Oct.

                  The rest looks good. 🙂

                  • Evelyn Han says:

                    Hi Bumblebeemum

                    Thanks for your suggestions. Thanks for recommendations for Niseko and Hakodate.

                    For Otaru, Is it possible to visit Nikka Whisky Distillery before we drive to Jozankei and still be able to cover the rest of the places in Jozankei?

                    Rgds / Evelyn

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Ah.. That’s possible. It it not along the way and kind of a detour though, but I think you should have enough time if you set off early.

                    • Evelyn Han says:

                      Hi Bumblebeemum

                      Note that Sounkyo is a bit way out of my original route. Is it really worth it if we only have one night at Sounkyo? Will we be spending most of the time on the road instead?

                      Also for Niseko, can you recommend any accomodation? What about Shiki Niseko? Is it located near the places of interests?

                      Thank you for your advice.

                      Rgds / Evelyn

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      The purpose of going Sounkyo is really for the autumn foliage. Depends on how much you love autumn foliage – I personally love seasonal sights like autumn foliage so I would go all out for them. But if you are okay okay, don’t mind giving it a miss, then you can skip Sounkyo. There will also be autumn foliage in Jozankei so if you are happy with just one autumn foliage spot, skipping Sounkyo will reduce your time on the road definitely.

                      Shiki Niseko is in Hirafu, which is supposed to be the hub of Niseko. I have never been to Hirafu in autumn before, but when I was there in Summer, it was a dead town. Most of the shops are closed as they only open during winter (ski season). Outside ski season, I would rather take my chances with, say, Hilton Niseko. When I stayed at one of the apartments at Hirafu during summer, it was frankly quite scary because we were like the only people in the entire building.

                    • Evelyn Han says:

                      Hi Bumblebee Mum

                      I have more or less completed my itinerary for our 10 day hokkaido trip. Just a few more questions:

                      1) Re car rental – note it is quote expensive. Besides Toyota Rent a Car, can you suggest any other reliable but cheaper companies?

                      2) We have 2 nights in Sapporo which is our starting point of our trip and 2 nights in Hakodate at the end. Do we need a car for these 2 places?

                      3) How can we get from Chitose Airport to Mercure Sapporo without a car?

                      4) Also from Hakodate Kokusai Hotel to Hakodate Airport?

                      Thank you.

                      Regards / Evelyn

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      1) Maybe you can try using a comparison website like Tabirai:
                      http://en.tabirai.net/car/index.aspx

                      2) You won’t need the car within Sapporo and Hakodate.

                      3) You can use the airport limousine bus.

                      4) The Hakodate Airport Shuttle Bus makes a stop at Hakodate Kokusai Hotel:
                      http://www.hakonavi.ne.jp/howto/time.html

                    • Evelyn Han says:

                      Hi Bumblebee Mum
                      Thank you for your reply.

                      We plan to visit the following places in Sapporo and Hakodate :
                      o Hokkaido’s Former Government Building
                      o Sapporo TV’s Tower; e Clock Tower
                      o Susukino
                      o The Ramen Yokocho Street !
                      o Mt Moiwa
                      o Nijo or Curb Fish Market
                      o Sapporo Beer Brewery
                      o Ishiya Chocolate Factory
                      o Moerenuma Park
                      o Tanukikoji

                      Hakodate:
                      o Hakodate Bay – Kanemori Redbrick Warehouse
                      o Fort Goryokaku Park & Tower
                      o Asahichi Morning Market
                      o Motomachi Church
                      o Konbukan (Kelp Museum)
                      o Mt Hakodate Ropeway

                      Can we manage these places without a car?

                      Rgds / Evelyn

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Sapporo you’ll be fine without a car. As for Hakodate, Konbukan looks a bit inaccessible. Maybe you can just cab from the nearest train station (Niyama station) for that.

                    • Evelyn Han says:

                      Hi Bumblebeemum

                      Thank you again.

                      Ok we will try to book Hilton Niseko.

                      Can you advise if we should drop Niseko and visit Noribetsu instead? The Hell valley sounds interesting.

                      Also does the Shinkansen travel from Hakodate to Tokyo? We plan to return to Tokyo by Shinkansen from Hakodate. How much does it cost for the green class?

                      Thank you.

                      Rgds / Evelyn

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      If you want to visit Hell Valley, then go to Noboribetsu. Maybe because I have too many similar ‘sulphuric’ sites like Iozan at Akan National Park, Owakudani near Mount Fuji and Yangmingshan in Taiwan, I wasn’t that big a fan of Hell Valley. But if you have never been to one before, it would be an interesting sight.

                      To check the cost of the shinkansen, you can use hyperdia and key in the stations you are boarding and alighting to get the exact cost:
                      http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

  8. Tates says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    We will be travelling to Hokkaido next month

    Day 1 – arrive Haneda airport 2:00pm then travel to Hakodate by train ( JR East- South Hokkaido 6 days flexi pass)
    Day 2 – explore Hakodate
    Day 3 – train (JR ES Hokkaido Pass) to Sapporo
    Day 4 – Day trip to Otaru
    Day 5 – Rent car then explore Furano, Beie then drive to Asahikawaya
    Day 6 – Explore Daisetsuzan Park
    Day 7 – Return car to Sapporo
    Day 8 – Train from Sapporo to Yamagata for Ginza Onsen
    Day 9 – Train back to Tokyo
    Day 10-12 Explore Tokyo

    Do you think my itinerary is flexible. i opted to use the pass rather than take the domestic flight because it comes out cheaper.

    Thanks,
    Tates

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 5 looks a bit rushed, but other than that it sounds like a great idea, using the JR East-South Hokkaido Pass. I am thinking if there is a way to maximise the usage of your pass by taking the train between Sapporo and Asahikawa and renting a car from Asahikawa since you have a rail pass. This way you can drive less and save on toll fees. The drive between Sapporo and Asahikawa / Furano is not that exciting frankly.

      Day 1* – Haneda Airport to Hakodate
      Day 2 – explore Hakodate
      Day 3* – Hakodate – Sapporo
      Day 4 – Day trip to Otaru
      Day 5* – Sapporo – Asahikawa, Rent a car to explore Biei and Furano
      Day 6 – Explore Daisetsuzan Park, Return car
      Day 7* – Asahikawa – Sapporo
      Day 8* – Train from Sapporo to Yamagata for Ginza Onsen
      Day 9* – Train back to Tokyo
      Day 10-12 Explore Tokyo

      * = 6 days rail pass

  9. Andrew says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    I am planning to travel to Hokkaido in the 3rd week of November for a period of 5-6 days.

    Day 1 – arrive Narita airport 2:55pm then travel to Hakodate by train and then to Sapporo (JR Hokkaido Rail Pass S$288) or alternative a flight from Tokyo to Sapporo
    Day 2 – Explore Sapporo (Nijo Market, Sapporo Beer Museum, Shiroi Koibito Park
    Day 3 – Explore Sapporo (Odori Park, Tanuki Koji Shopping, Susukino)
    Day 4 – Day trip to Biei (Blue Pond and Shirahige Waterfall) and back to Sapporo
    Day 5 – Day trip to Otaru (Otaru Canal, Sakaimachi Street) and back to Sapporo
    Day 6 – Trip to Noboribetsu and Lake Toya (not sure where to stay yet)
    Day 7 – Travel to Hakodate and explore
    Day 8 – Leave Hakodate and back to Tokyo

    I plan to explore Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka etc after my Hokkaido trip

    How do you think of my itinerary? I have asked for the Nationwide 14 days pass and it costs around S$608

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 1: If you are using rail, there is no way you can reach Sapporo within the same day. I did a quick search on Hyperdia. If you leave Narita Airport at 3.30pm, you will only arrive in Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto at about 10pm. There is no direct train from Narita to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. You need to use the Narita Express to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo first, then use the shinkansen to get from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. From Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, the last train to Sapporo departs at 8.14pm. So there is no way you can catch the train all the way to Sapporo within the day. Looking at the time required, I would opt for taking a domestic flight.

      Day 4: It is a bit too rushed to do a day trip to Biei from Sapporo in winter I feel.

  10. Shella says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    Thank you so much for this informative post, very helpful for me. I’m planning an itinerary for Tokyo-Hokkaido from 21Dec-6Jan
    21-23Dec Tokyo
    24-30Dec Hokkaido
    31-6Jan Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka
    Can you give me a feedback whether do you think this is a good plan?

    I’m still looking on how I can travel from Tokyo-Sapporo by JR Pass overnight so I can save on accommodation and sleep in the train, but according to my research on Hyperdia it’s seem that there’s no overnight train by JR for Tokyo-Shin Hakodate Hokuto-Sapporo. So, I just read your post, and I decided to spend 1 night at Hakodate as you suggest and continue to Sapporo the next day.

    But a bit confused, so can you please help to explain again what do you mean with this? – “As I mentioned above, the biggest disadvantage of using the Japan Rail Pass is having to complete the travel with 7 days. The flexibility of the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass to allow you to stretch the travel up to 14 days is a HUGE plus!”

    So for my plan, I will need to buy 14days JR Pass and 7 days JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass right?

    Thank you very much!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yeah, I don’t think you can sleep on the train.

      If you buy the 14 days Japan Rail Pass, that’s the only pass you need. Alternatively you buy 7 day Japan Rail Pass (for 31 Dec to 6 Jan) + JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass (to cover the shinkansen between Tokyo and Hakodate and within Hokkaido).
      Note that JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass only covers southern Hokkaido (up to Sapporo / Otaru), not the whole of Hokkaido. Whereas the Japan Rail Pass covers the whole of Japan’s JR network, which includes whole of Hokkaido. I would probably go for the 14 days Japan Rail Pass.

  11. Velvetyblue says:

    Hi I am looking into travelling with my family (of 6) from 10 May 2017 – 21 May 2017 to Hokkaido/Tokyo. Main purpose of trip is for the activities, hoping for some fruit picking & sight-seeing whilst in the cool weather (about 10 degrees Celcius?). However I’ve researched in blogs that it seems like the season for flower blooming and fruits picking hasn’t arrived yet. Kindly advice what can be done during the period then?

    Also I’m thinking of spending about 9 days in Hokkaido, then Tokyo. Hoping to see cherry blossoms so please advice on my direction of travel in Hokkaido (Hakodate up, i.e. to land in Hakodate airport instead of Sapporo airport or?)

  12. Susan says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum!

    I love your posts, especially about whether to take the Shinkansen vs. domestic flights. I’m heading up to Sapporo-Tokyo, and wondering if you could take a look at the itinerary and let me know if it makes sense.

    Context – i can’t drive! So there’s a limit as to where i can go around Hokkaido.

    24 Dec – SIN to CTS (overnight in Chitose as there’s no accomm in Sapporo available!)
    25 Dec – Chitose to Sapporo (day trip to Otaru as i intend to reach Sapporo in the morning)
    26 Dec – Takino snow park (with my sister and her kids who will be in Sapporo in the same time period)
    27 Dec – Exploring Sapporo (Chocolate factory + Beer museum + clock tower)
    28 Dec – heading to the Asahikawa Zoo for the penguin parade before heading to Noboribetsu for 1 night stay in a ryokan
    29 Dec – Side trip to Lake Toya in the morning then onwards to Hakodate
    30 Dec- Exploring Hakodate in the morning then onwards to Nikko in the afternoon
    31 Dec – Hiking in Nikko in the morning then onwards to Tokyo
    31 Dec – 5 Jan – exploring around Tokyo

    Should i be getting the Japan wide 14-day pass in this case? Or should i skip Hakodate and fly direct from CTS to HND? Appreciate whatever tips/advice you could provide as this is my first time to Hokkaido (but 3rd time to Tokyo heh)

    Cheers,
    Susan

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I suggest you swap 25 and 27 Dec. Stay within Sapporo on 25 and go to Otaru on 27.

      It’s going to be very late when you reach Noboribetsu on 28 Dec. I would suggest you do Asahiyama Zoo as a day trip from Sapporo.

      And I would suggest skipping Hakodate and fly from CTS to HND with the time you have.

      You can do something like this:

      24 Dec – SIN to CTS (overnight in Chitose)
      25 Dec – Chitose to Sapporo (go around Sapporo)
      26 Dec – Sapporo (Takino snow park)
      27 Dec – Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
      28 Dec – Sapporo (day trip to Asahiyama Zoo)
      29 Dec – Sapporo – Noboribetsu
      30 Dec – Noboribetsu – CTS

  13. Vivienne says:

    Hi Bumbleee Mum,

    I will be traveling to Japan for 3 weeks and my itinerary is as follows:

    12 Dec to 20 Dec – Osaka
    21 Dec to 25 Dec – Tokyo
    26 Dec to 27 Dec – Hakodate
    28 Dec to 2 Jan – Sapporo, Otaru, Mt Moiwa
    3 Jan – Fly back home from Chitose airport

    Looking at my itinerary, do you advise buying a 6-day JR East South flexi pass? According to Google map a one way Hokuto from Hakodate to Sapporo costs 8800yen, i wonder if this 6-day pass includes this mentioned route?
    I will be flying from Tokyo to Hakodate, but just for my own knowledge does the 6-day pass enable the pass holder to travel from Tokyo to Hakodate OR Sapporo? I would also love to visit Mt Moiwa, can the pass bring me there too?
    Is the flexi-pass means non-consecutive 6-days ticket?
    As a first time traveller to Japan i could use all the help i can get 😀

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass only makes sense if you are planning to use the shinkansen between Tokyo and Hakodate. If you are flying between Tokyo and Hakodate, the pass would not suit your needs.

      But to answer your question, yes the pass covers the shinkansen Tokyo to Hakodate and also from Hakodate to Sapporo. And yes, flexi-pass means you can use it on any 6 days (need not be consecutive) within a 14-days period.

      As for Mount Moiwa, you need to use the Sapporo street car – which is not covered by any JR rail pass. But the street car is not expensive.

  14. cyloh says:

    I’m JR Pass Holder. Could i still get in the Shinkansen Hayabusa from SHIN-HAKODATE-HOKUTO to Tokyo without seat reservation since the seat all were fully booked. Please advise.

  15. Juliana says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum, would like some suggestion fromantic you regarding a rough itinerary for Tokyo-Hokkaido in Dec 2017.

    Day 1: Sin-Tokyo
    Day 2: Tokyo
    Day 3: Tokyo
    Day 4: Tokyo-Hakodate by shinkansen
    Day 5: Hakodate
    Day 6: Hakodate-Lake Toya
    Day 7: Lake Toya-Noorberibetsu
    Day 8: Noorberibetsu-Tomamu
    Day 9: Tomamu
    Day 10: Tomamu-Sapporo
    Day 11: Sapporo (Otaru)
    Day 12: Sapporo (Asahikawa)
    Day 13: Sapporo
    Day 14: Sapporo-Sing

    I am thinking of getting the 7 days flexible JR pass and use for the Tokyo to hakodate shinkansen and fly domestic from Sapporo to Tokyo.

    U think the above is fine?

    Thanks

  16. Madeline Teo says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    I would like to seek some advice from you.

    If I am using JR pass from Tokyo to Hakodate, can you guide me how to do the planning if i Just want to go Hadodate and back to Tokyo,

    Thereafter I would like to go Takayama or Hakone.

    Thank you

    • Apple says:

      Hi Madeline,

      I am not Bumblebeemum, but I am doing a trip to Hokkaido end of this year so maybe I could be of help.

      For me I am going to buy a JR east South pass because I could not get direct tix to Chitose, so I go via Tokyo and will be using Shinkansen Hayabusa to Hakodate (& hokkaido area) & back. Thereafter I will proceed a week in Hokkaido area (within JRES-pass usage)+ Asahikawa (addn payment). As I have no budget I will not go place like Tomamu/Furano/East/North Hokkaido. Perhaps next time.

      I will be going from Tokyo -Hakodate -Noboribetsu -Sapporo – Asahikawa – Otaru – Hakodate – Tokyo.

      When back in Tokyo I will reserve my 1 day of 6-days flexi JRES pass to Nikko and back.

      If I am you, I will fully utilise the JRES pass as it’s not cheap. I will not just use for going to Hakodate and back but will spend few days in Hokkaido area.

      For trip to Hakone, I would have just buy the Hakone free pass and ride the 1 way Romancecar. I will do the round course using the Hakone free pass. (I don’t know JRES-pass can ride ropeway/train/boat or not, that’s why I suggest you to get 1 day freepass. Ride starts from Shinjuku Stn.

      Hope I give you some idea.

      • bumblebeemum says:

        Thank you for sharing!

        Yeap, using the JR East – South Hokkaido Rail Pass + a separate Hakone Free Pass would work if you want to visit Hakone. It is usually not very worth it to use Japan Rail Pass for visiting Hakone.

        Just to clarify, the JR East – South Hokkaido Rail Pass (JRES) that Apple is mentioning is different from the Japan Rail Pass – in case you’re confused. Japan Rail Pass covers the WHOLE of Japan’s JR network, whereas JRES only covers the region from Tokyo to Southern Hokkaido (up to Sapporo / Otaru).

        So if you want to visit Takayama and also Hakodate, then a Japan Rail Pass would suit your needs. But to fit it into 7 days, you will really just be going Hakodate and back and not exploring the rest of Hokkaido. Which is actually fine imo if you just want to go to Hakodate to eat. (Coz I’ve contemplated doing that before.. LOL!!) Plus the fact that the rest of Hokkaido is not connected by shinkansen but only by slower rail, I can understand why travelers would not want to go anywhere beyond Hakodate with a Japan Rail Pass.

        Hope the inputs from both Apple and I would help you in your planning! First thing first you need to decide whether it’s Hakone or Takayama you want to visit. Because for Hakone, like Apple and I have said, it’s a bit wasted to use a rail pass for it. But for Takayama, then a rail pass would serve you well.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmm… You can try the following with a 7-days Japan rail pass:

      Day 1: Tokyo – Hakodate
      Day 2: Hakodate
      Day 3: Hakodate – Sendai
      Day 4: Sendai – Toyama
      Day 5: Toyama (day trip to Kanazawa)
      Day 6: Toyama (day trip to Takayama)
      Day 7: Toyama – Tokyo

      You can use hyperdia to check for train schedule:
      http://www.hyperdia.com

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum & April,

    Thank you both for your advice on the planning

    Madeline

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