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What is the Best Way to Travel from Tokyo to Hokkaido?

City Guide November 29, 2023

 

 

Traveling from Tokyo to Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, presents various options to cater to different needs and budgets. Whether you're searching for the fastest way to go from Tokyo to Hokkaido or the most cost-effective journey, there’s a method of travel to suit every preference.

This guide explores the best ways to make this iconic journey, including options like flying from Tokyo to Chitose Airport and then traveling from Chitose Airport to Sapporo, finding the cheapest bus for a budget-friendly trip, or embarking on a unique journey from Tomakomai Port to Sapporo. Each of these routes offers its own advantages, whether it's speed, cost, or the experience of the journey itself.

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The Fastest Route: Shinkansen to Hokkaido

Bullet Train to Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station

The Hokkaido Shinkansen epitomizes speed and efficiency, offering the fastest route from Tokyo to Hokkaido. Departing from the bustling Tokyo Station, the journey to Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station takes approximately four hours, a significant time saving compared to other modes of transportation. This bullet train, known for its punctuality and reliability, whisks passengers across the Japanese landscape at speeds exceeding 300 km/h (about 186 mph).

Upon arriving at Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station, passengers can transfer to local train services, which provide onward connections to various destinations across Hokkaido, including the region's capital, Sapporo. The transfer process is streamlined and user-friendly, designed to minimize wait times and ensure a smooth continuation of your journey.

 

Travel Time and Comfort

One of the highlights of the Shinkansen journey to Hokkaido is its unparalleled level of comfort and convenience. The trains have spacious seats, ample legroom, and large windows, allowing passengers to relax and enjoy the scenic vistas as they travel. Onboard amenities such as restrooms, power outlets, and Wi-Fi access add to the comfortable experience.

A remarkable feature of this route is the Seikan Tunnel, an engineering marvel that connects Honshu and Hokkaido. As one of the longest underwater tunnels in the world, it represents a significant achievement in modern railway engineering. Traveling through this tunnel, passengers experience a unique blend of technological prowess and the natural beauty of the surrounding sea.

 

 

The Cheapest Journey: Finding a Budget-Friendly Option

Cheap Bus Services

For budget-conscious travelers, a variety of bus companies offer affordable services from Tokyo to different areas in Hokkaido. These budget-friendly buses are an excellent alternative for those seeking the cheapest way to travel, balancing cost and comfort. While the journey is longer than the Shinkansen, these buses are significantly more economical, making them an ideal choice for students, backpackers, or anyone traveling on a tight budget.

These long-distance buses often come equipped with comfortable seating, and some even offer amenities like reclining seats, restrooms, and Wi-Fi, ensuring a relatively comfortable journey despite the longer duration. Many services operate overnight routes, allowing travelers to save on a night’s accommodation. The buses usually depart from major bus terminals in Tokyo and arrive at central bus stations in Hokkaido, providing convenient access to local transportation upon arrival.

 

Travel by Sea: Ferry Options

Traveling from Tokyo to Hokkaido by ferry presents an adventure of its own. Ferries depart from Oarai Port, which is easily accessible from Tokyo, and arrive at Tomakomai Port in Hokkaido. This sea journey offers a slower yet more scenic and relaxing alternative to land and air travel.

On boarding the ferry, passengers can enjoy various facilities, including comfortable lounges, dining options, and even recreational activities. The ferry trip can be particularly enjoyable during warmer weather when passengers can take in the sea air and views from the deck. Upon reaching Tomakomai Port, travelers can continue their journey to Sapporo or other Hokkaido destinations by bus or train, making this a viable option for those not pressed for time and wishing to savor the journey.

 

Tokyo to Sapporo: City-to-City Travel

Express Train and Air Travel

The two most popular options for traveling directly from Tokyo to Sapporo are the express train and flying. Direct flights from Tokyo to Chitose Airport near Sapporo are the fastest way to travel between these two cities, with the flight time being just over an hour. Upon landing at Chitose Airport, travelers can easily access Sapporo city center through a short train or bus ride.

 

Comparing Travel Options

Choosing between the express train and flying depends on various factors such as time, cost, and personal preference. The express train offers a scenic journey that allows travelers to witness the changing landscapes of Japan, an experience that can be particularly rewarding during different seasons.

On the other hand, flying is the quickest way to travel between Tokyo and Sapporo, making it an ideal option for those on a tight schedule, such as business travelers or visitors from the United States or North America who might have limited time to explore. While air travel lacks the scenic vistas of train travel, it provides efficiency and time-saving advantages.

Both modes of transportation offer unique experiences, with trains providing a more relaxed journey and flights offering speed and convenience. Ultimately, the choice depends on the traveler's priorities and the experience they seek from Tokyo to Sapporo.

 

 

Using the Japan Rail Pass

The Japan Rail Pass is an exceptionally cost-effective solution for tourists planning to travel extensively across Japan. This all-encompassing pass not only simplifies travel but also significantly reduces the cost of transportation.

Cost-Effective Travel

Designed specifically for international visitors, the Japan Rail Pass allows unlimited travel on most services operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group, including the Hokkaido Shinkansen and other JR train services across the country. The pass covers various trains, from local and rapid trains to high-speed Shinkansen, making it an invaluable asset for exploring Japan's urban and rural areas.

The pass is available in different durations, such as 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days, providing flexibility to fit various travel schedules. Using the Japan Rail Pass, tourists can save a significant amount compared to purchasing individual train tickets, especially when traveling long distances or making multiple trips.

 

Alternative Routes and Local Transfers

Traveling from Tokyo to Hokkaido and within Hokkaido can be an adventure, with multiple routes and transfer options available.

Journey from Tokyo to Hokkaido's Heart

For those who prefer a more scenic journey, limited express trains offer a captivating experience. These trains, traveling slower than the Shinkansen, wind through diverse landscapes, offering passengers picturesque views of Japan’s countryside, coastal areas, and mountains. The journey might take longer, but it provides an opportunity to see parts of Japan that are off the beaten path, making the travel a memorable part of your vacation.

 

Transfers within Hokkaido

Upon reaching Hokkaido, the adventure continues with a variety of local transportation options. From Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station, you can transfer to local or express trains to reach Sapporo, Hokkaido's vibrant capital, or other destinations within the island. The JR Hokkaido network covers major towns and scenic areas, offering convenient access to Hokkaido's natural and cultural attractions.

For places not accessible by train, an extensive network of buses is available. These buses connect various parts of Hokkaido, including remote areas where you can experience the region's pristine natural beauty. Whether heading to a national park, a ski resort, or a coastal town, the combination of trains and buses in Hokkaido ensures that all corners of the island are within reach.

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