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Travel Hokkaido by Train! Ultimate Guide to the Hokkaido Rail Pass and Seasonal Sightseeing Trains

Travel Hokkaido by Train! Ultimate Guide to the Hokkaido Rail Pass and Seasonal Sightseeing Trains

Date published: 28 September 2019
Last updated: 19 October 2020

Traveling Hokkaido by train is a safe and efficient way to get around Japan's huge northern island. In fact, Hokkaido’s area accounts for roughly 22% of Japan, and has many sightseeing spots such as Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate, Furano, Biei, Shiretoko.

Here, we introduce the Hokkaido Rail Pass, plus discount tickets and seasonal sightseeing trains recommended for foreign visitors to Japan to go around on JR Hokkaido!

Table of Contents
  1. JR Hokkaido Rail Pass: A bargain ticket to travel Hokkaido by train
  2. Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train: See the magnificent Kushiro Shitsugen Wetlands! (Seasonal limited train)
  3. Furano/Biei Norokko Train: Feel the wind within the lavender fields! (Seasonal Railway)
  4. Furano Lavender Express: Direct seasonal train from Sapporo to Furano/Biei
  5. SL Winter Wetland Train: Steam train running through Hokkaido's winter wonderland! (Seasonal railway)
  6. Ryuhyo Monogatari Train: See drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk (Seasonal railway)
  7. Express Niseko: Direct trip between Sapporo and Hakodate via Niseko

JR Hokkaido Rail Pass: A bargain ticket to travel Hokkaido by train

JR Hokkaido Rail Pass: A bargain ticket to travel Hokkaido by train

The Hokkaido Rail Pass is recommended for foreign visitors who want to travel Hokkaido by train. You can use it for limited express trains and rapid trains with a reserved seat* on all the JR Hokkaido lines (except the Hokkaido Shinkansen), and also you can use it for some JR buses inside of Sapporo City.

Also, “JR Rent-A-Car” customers can get up to 30% off using this ticket. With the Hokkaido Rail Pass, you can get various benefits. If you just go back and forth between Hakodate and Sapporo within a 3-day ticket from “Hokkaido Rail Pass,” you’ll already save 1160 yen.

*You must reserve your seat on the official website, “JR-EAST Train Reservation”: https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx or at the JR ticket counter (Midori-no-madoguchi) or JR Travel Service Centre (Twinkle Plaza) in the major JR Hokkaido stations.

■3-days Pass: 17,400 yen for an adult, 8,700 yen for a child
Flexible 4-days Pass: 23,480 yen for an adult, 11,740 for a child
5-days Pass: 23,480 yen for an adult, 11,740 yen for a child
7-days Pass: 25,710 yen for an adult, 12,850 yen for a child
*Children between 6 and 12 years old
■Selling period
All year round

Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train: See the magnificent Kushiro Shitsugen Wetlands! (Seasonal limited train)

Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train: See the magnificent Kushiro Shitsugen Wetlands! (Seasonal limited train)

Kushiro Shitsugen Norroko Train” starts running from early summer to autumn through the Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland, allowing to appreciate its majestic natural scenery.

It takes about 50 minutes to go between Kushiro and Touro, and when the sightseeing spots approach, it gets slower, and a guide begins explaining about the area.

From the second to fourth, cars are all reserved seats and have large windows and wooden benches whereas in the first car, all seats are non-reserved. The floor of the trolley is designed with footprints of bears, deer, foxes, and various other animals that live in Hokkaido. Both adults and children can enjoy the trip by the trolley.

■Fare: Between Kushiro and Touro is 640 yen for a basic fare. Extra 840 yen to book a seat.
■Service term: From early June to the early October
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations
*The tickets will be selling one month before at 10 am to the first departure of the train and booking must be made at least three days before the departure date of your train.
*The basic fare and seat booking fare are included in the “Hokkaido Rail Pass”

Furano/Biei Norokko Train: Feel the wind within the lavender fields! (Seasonal Railway)

Furano/Biei Norokko Train: Feel the wind within the lavender fields! (Seasonal Railway)

From the "Furano/Biei Norokko Train," you can enjoy the magnificent scenery from the train running at 30 km/hour.

The seats are two-passenger wooden benches on one side so that you can see the beautiful scenery well, and when the weather is fine, you can open the windows completely to enjoy the view further.

From Asahikawa Station, the railway stops at Biei Station, Bibaushi Station, Kamifurano Station, a temporary-opened station "Lavender Field" Station, Nakafurano Station, and Furano Station.

Besides that, if you download the GPS Voice Guide app called "SkyDesk Media Trek" to your mobile phone or tablet, you can listen to the guide announcement in eight sightseeing spots near the lavender field in Furano and the Fairytale Hill in Biei.

Four languages, Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean, are available in the app.

■Fare: Furano ~ Lavender field 300 yen, Furano ~ Biei 750 yen,
Furano ~ Asahikawa 1,290 yen will be added for a reserved seat.
*You can take a non-reserved seat with Furano/Biei Ticket.
■Service term: From early June to the early September
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies, or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train. Since it gets crowded on the weekends, especially in July, it is recommended to buy the ticket as soon as it is out.
*The basic fare and seat booking fare are included in the "Hokkaido Rail Pass"

Furano Lavender Express: Direct seasonal train from Sapporo to Furano/Biei

Furano Lavender Express: Direct seasonal train from Sapporo to Furano/Biei

The Limited Express “Furano Lavender Express" runs between Sapporo and Furano directly in approximately two hours. It makes two round trips a day mainly in summer, which is the best time for lavender.

This train is a high decker with skylights allowing to fully appreciate the scenery. On the way to your destination, you can enjoy the magnificent views of Hokkaido like Mihara Ohashi Bridge in Ebetsu and the rural landscapes of Sorachi.

■Fare: Furano/Biei Free Ticket 7,110 yen for an adult, 3,550 for a child.
*This ticket includes the trip back and forth from Sapporo to Furano/Biei areas, and all-you-can-ride trains for free the Takigawa, Asahikawa, Ikutora and Furano areas.
*Selling term: From the late April to late October
■Service term: From the early June to late October
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train. Since it gets really crowded in the weekends, especially in July, it is recommended to purchase the ticket as soon as it is out.
*The basic fare and seat booking fare are included in the “Hokkaido Rail Pass”

SL Winter Wetland Train: Steam train running through Hokkaido's winter wonderland! (Seasonal railway)

SL Winter Wetland Train: Steam train running through Hokkaido's winter wonderland! (Seasonal railway)

The “SL Winter Wetland Train” runs from Kushiro Station to Shibecha Station from January to February. You can see the beautiful winter wonderland from the observation car.

The interior of the train is equipped with imposing varnished walls and potbelly stoves, and it is one of the best things to be able to go sightseeing while preparing on the net of the stove and eating dried squids (called “Surume" in Japanese), sold at the cabin catering.

■Fare: 1,290 yen and extra 840 yen will be added for seat reservation.
■Service term: From late January to late February
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies, or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train.

Ryuhyo Monogatari Train: See drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk (Seasonal railway)

Ryuhyo Monogatari Train: See drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk  (Seasonal railway)

The “Ryuhyo Monogatari Train,” runs between Abashiri and Shiretoko-Shari along the Sea of Okhotsk. You can see the Sea of Okhotsk covered with drift ice from the window.

On the train bound for Shiretoko-Shari, you can enjoy the view of the Sea of Okhotsk and Shiretoko mountain range from the observation deck while the train stops at Kitahama Station for about 10 minutes.

Also, you can buy souvenirs at Michi-no-Eki “Hanayaka Koshimizu” while the train bound for Abashiri stops at Hama-Koshimizu Station on the way for about 20 minutes. Its blue body was inspired by the Sea of Okhotsk and the sky of Hokkaido, and clione (‘sea angels’) are drawn on its seat covers.

■Fare: 970 yen
■Service term: From late January to late February
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies, or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train.

Express Niseko: Direct trip between Sapporo and Hakodate via Niseko

Express Niseko: Direct trip between Sapporo and Hakodate via Niseko

You’ll have a great time seeing the scenery of Mt. Yotei and Niseko Annupuri in Hakodate with the “Express Niseko”. It runs between Sapporo and Hakodate and stops at Otaru, Kutchan, Niseko, Oshamanbe Stations and so on. Normally, you need to transfer in Otaru Station between Sapporo and Niseko, but this express leads you to Niseko directly. If you’re lucky, local characters will welcome you at Yoichi Station or Oshamanbe Station. The local special products like yogurt and cookies are must-buy souvenirs.

■Fare:
Between Sapporo and Hakodate 5,400 for a basic fare and extra 2,420 yen will be added(530 yen) for seat reservation.
■Service term: In early September
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or the JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train. Since it runs only for particular days in September, it is better to purchase it as soon as it is out.
*The basic fare and seat booking fare are included in the “Hokkaido Rail Pass”

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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