Getting Around Hokkaido
An introduction to some of the passes and tickets which travelers can take advantage of for cheaper and more sustainable travel!
2020 has been a year of great change, and for many travelers it has been an opportunity for us to reflect on our impact on the environment. Thanks to the work of Greta Thunberg and the thousands of young people across the world who have begun to campaign for increased awareness of the global environmental situation travelers are now looking for more sustainable methods of transportation, electing to use public transport in order to help reduce their own carbon footprint. Not only is making use of public transportation more environmentally friendly, by taking advantage of some of Hokkaido’s discount bus and train tickets it is also possible to save a significant amount of money, not to mention the stress of driving in an unfamiliar country. Today I would like to introduce some of the discount travel which I hope you may find useful when planning your trip to Hokkaido!
Take the Train!
Although train travel in Hokkaido is not quite as convenient as in other parts of Japan, with many non-major stations being served by small, three carriage trains, it is precisely for this reason that exploring Hokkaido by train can be such a pleasure! It is easy to travel between major cities in Hokkaido via highspeed special express trains, allowing you to easily visit different regions of the prefecture. Hokkaido also features many seasonal sightseeing trains, such as the “SL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen Train” which runs through Kushiro marsh offering views of incredible snowscapes which could not otherwise be accessed. For the ultimate off the beaten track experience, be sure to try taking a local train to enjoy the views of Hokkaido at a leisurely pace!
Japan Rail Pass
The most well-known rail pass used by many visitors to Japan who would like to visit many different regions across the country. 7 day, 14 day and 21 day passes are available, with separate fares for ordinary green cars. Holder of the pass are able to travel on any JR Train within Japan, as well as certain JR bus routes and shinkansen trains excluding Nozomi and Mizuho.
For those travelling to Hokkaido via other regions of Japan this pass is for many very good value for money. The Japan Rail Pass can also be used on several of the Shinkansen services, including the Hokkaido shinkansen, allowing travelers to reach Hakodate in the south of Hokkaido from Tokyo in around 4 hours. Hakodate it is easy to access Sapporo by changing onto the Super Hokuto Limited Express train.
Hokkaido Rail Pass
Also provided by JR, for those who plan to base their travels in Hokkaido the Hokkaido Rail Pass may be better value for money. Like the Japan Rail Pass, the Hokkaido Rail Pass allows visitors to board all JR Hokkaido trains (excluding Hokkaido Shinkansen)and some designated JR buses within Hokkaido.
When using ether of these rail passes it is important to note that if you would like to use a reserved seat you must make the reservation beforehand either at a JR ticket counter or online at the website address listed in the useful links below.
Both passes are only available for temporary visitors to Japan, and as such you must have a temporary visitor stamp in your passport in order to collect your pass. This stamp will not be issued if you pass through an automated gate at the airport so make sure that you go to a manned gate or ask a clerk to apply a stamp/sticker in your passport.
Hokkaido Free Pass
This pass is similar to the Hokkaido rail pass, however it is also available for use by residents of Japan. Although a bit more expensive, for those currently residing in Japan who are not eligible to purchase the Hokkaido rail pass this is another option which can prove to be good value for money if you plan to travel long distances in Hokkaido by train.
If you would like to explore Hokkaido at a more leisurely pace the Seishun 18 ticket which allows you to hop on and off any local JR train for five (non-consecutive) days for the set price of \12,050. This ticket can be particularly useful if you intend to base yourself in a larger city and make several long-distance day trips during your stay. For example, if you were staying in Sapporo you could use the Seishun-18 ticket to take day trips to Furano to the north, or Noboribetsu to the south. This ticket can be bought by residents of Japan also, and when I was a student studying abroad in Japan I found it a good way to travel Japan on the cheap. If you choose to use this ticket please make sure that you only use it on the local trains. I once accidentally boarded a special express train with this ticket, and had to buy a ticket on the train; please learn from my mistake! There are so many different type of trains that it may be a bit confusing to work out which train you are able to board, but as a rule of thumb any trains where the conductor does not check your ticket during the journey can be used with the Seishun-18 ticket.
This ticket is only valid for certain periods, in concurrence with Japanese holiday periods. You should check the period of validity before purchasing this ticket, however here are the 2020 dates for reference:
|Period of Use||Period on Sale|
|Spring||March 1st 2020-April 10th 2020||February 20th 2020-March 31st 2020|
|Summer||July 20th 2020- September 2020||July 1st 2020-August 31st 2020|
|Winter||December 10th 2020- January 10th 2021||December 1st 2020-December 31st 2020|
Catch a Bus!
Due to Hokkaido’s large area, a highway bus may sometimes be a faster and more direct method of travel than the train. Not only is bus the cheapest method of public transport, an overnight bus is a great option for those who don’t want to waste a moment of their trip!
The Hokkaido Bus Pass
Significantly cheaper than the JR Rail Pass, the Hokkaido Bus Pass could be a good option for backpackers on a tight budget who want to travel across the whole of Hokkaido. There are two types of pass available: the Inter City Bus Pass which allows for travel on the buses within central Hokkaido, and the Budget Bus Pass which covers buses across the whole of Hokkaido including highway bus routes. This pass can be bought by all foreign passport holders, including residents of Japan. To work out how best to use your pass, the website also has lots of example itineraries which you can refer to.
Japan Rail Pass: https://japanrailpass.net/en/
Hokkaido Rail Pass: https://www.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/ticket/railpass/index.html
JR Online reservation system:
Hokkaido Bus Pass: https://www.bus.hokkaidox.com/en/
Author: Phoenix Scotney, Coordinator of International Relations at Hokkaido Tourism Organization.