Hokkaido Shinkansen – It is a good alternative for domestic flights?

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.


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.


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!


 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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  • Supermum says:

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

  • 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…

  • 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?)

  • 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)


    • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?


  • 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:

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum & April,

    Thank you both for your advice on the planning


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