Traveling to Hokkaido has been made relatively easy now with the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen since March 2016. It now takes about four and a half hours from Tokyo to Hakodate which is south of Hokkaido. Easy! No scanning of baggage and waiting around for planes.
I have yet to try this out but this is something I am gonna do next time. I took a plane this time because the bullet train is still more costly and also the plane ride takes less than 2 hours.
We bought the JR Hokkaido Pass this time but I definitely felt it was very underused. At 24,000 yen, we probably only used this for 4 or 5 days and wasted 2 days of it. To be honest, Hokkaido is really vast and this pass only allows us to take JR trains and not the bullet trains. We only had 7 days and it really isn’t enough because we spend half the time traveling. Due to my biasness to Biei and Furano, we stayed in Biei for the first 3 nights. We made new friends there and they ended up driving us for Day 2 and Day 3! (Note: we arrived on Day 1 evening) They also drove us all the way to Abashiri which was like about 4-5 hrs away by train. If they hadn’t drove us, we couldn’t have reached there earlier. The amount of JR trains we took probably didn’t cover the cost of the Pass as well. To go to Utoro, you have to take a bus from Shiretoko which wasn’t cheap but not covered under JR. Boo.
And so, my advice is – don’t buy the 7 days Hokkaido Pass. Instead, the flexible 4-day pass would be a better choice. Why? The reason is because you will end up getting so tired of just moving everyday with your luggage and the places are so pretty and there are so much to see and do in one place that you would want to stay longer than 1 night in 1 place! Really. After discussing with my buddy, we really should’ve bought the flexible 4-day pass instead.
But wait – there’s an even better option if you are traveling to Tokyo after that.
It covers the Hokkaido Shinkansen all the way to Tokyo at just 2000 yen more than the normal Hokkaido Rail Pass!! PLUS it is flexible 6 days use in a 14-day period!! Like wow.
Seriously. I should have gotten this. I wonder why I didn’t know about it then.
1 – If you can rent a car and drive around, that’s the best – because the best places in Hokkaido are inaccessible by train. If we hadn’t had the ojisans to drive us around, we probably wouldn’t have seen the best parts.
2- Get the JR Hokkaido Pass flexible 4-day if you only have 1 week to spend in Hokkaido. Or get the JR East-South Hokkaido Pass if you have 2 weeks to spend in Hokkaido and you are heading down south all the way to Tokyo after that.