In between Japan’s sakura season and me planning for my Bali trip in March, my parents suddenly wanted to act on their urge to watch sakuras this year (2017).

And so a trip to Hokkaido blossomed. Sakuras start blooming from the south of Japan, and they bloom last at the north. Hence, early May is the prime time for visiting Hokkaido. We also wanted to keep our tradition of celebrating Dad’s birthday, on 5 May, overseas, hence coincided our dates to Japan from end April to early May.

Read: What to Do, See and Eat in Busan, South Korea in 3 Days

Best Time to Visit Hokkaido, Japan

Depending on what you want to catch, there really is no best time to visit Hokkaido.

Hokkaido in winter – Many come to Hokkaido during winter season to ski and snowboard, as Hokkaido is well known for its ski resorts and powdery snow up in the north of Japan.

japan cherry blossom sakura forecast 2019

Japan Cherry Blossom Forecast Map 2019


Hokkaido in spring – Spring time is the busiest time of the year for Japan. Hokkaido in May teems with people because not only is it sakura season, but Golden Week also falls in the beginning of May, which means even the local Japanese are playing tourist around Japan!

Getting Around Japan

We flew in to Tokyo as we wanted to experience Japan’s capital city. Mind you, it’s our first time to Japan! From Tokyo, we took a train with our JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass from Tokyo to Hakodate, the southernmost point of Hokkaido.

Speaking of train travel, getting around Japan by rail is one of the most convenient and efficient ways of getting around this 378,000 square kilometre island nation if you don’t want to trouble yourself with navigation by driving.

Hokkaido by train, I must say is fast and convenient as long as your hotels you booked are near to the stations.

There are several rail passes available in Japan that cater to different regions of Japan and different rail companies throughout the whole of Japan, that it can be quite confusing as to which to use and where it can be used at.

Here is a breakdown of the available rail passes in Japan:

Name of PassRegion IncludesDuration
1. JR Pass Ordinary / JR Pass Green– Almost all JR trains nationwide
(Bullet trains, limited express trains, etc.)
– 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days
2. Hokkaido Pass– Sapporo, Hakodate, Furano, Kushiro, Abashiri– 3 or 5 consecutive days
3. JR Takayama Pass– Kyoto, Osaka, Fukui, Kanazawa, Toyama, Takayama, Gero, Nagoya, Shinano Omachi, Matsumoto– 7 consecutive days
4. JR East-South Hokkaido Pass– Tokyo, Koriyama, Aomori, Sendai, Hakodate, Sapporo– Flexible 6 days in 14-days period
5. JR West Pass– Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Hakata (depending on which specific pass)– 1 day to 7 days options depending on which specific pass

What does “7 consecutive days” mean?

This means that for a fixed period of 7 days e.g. 1 June to 7 June, you are free to use the JR trains on any of these 7 days. You can take it as many times as you want from 1 June to 7 June.

What does “Flexible 6 days in 14-days period” mean?

This means that for a fixed period of 14 days, e.g. 1 June to 14 June, you can pick 6 of the 14 days to use the JR trains, e.g. 1, 4, 6, 8, 10, 14 June. Within those days that you are taking the train, you can take unlimited number of train rides.

You get ¥1000/ SGD12.50 off when you purchase the JR East-South Hokkaido Pass outside of Japan. Upon collection of the voucher, there will be instructions that state the different stations around Japan where you can redeem the actual pass from.

Depending on your start and end point, the duration and timetable differs. Speak to the staff at the train stations and better yet, book your train seats in advance for a comfortable train travel experience.

All the cities that are mentioned in our South Hokkaido Itinerary are directly accessible from the JR train stations. We need not have to take additional bus transfers from the train stations.

What to Do in Hokkaido, Japan

Sample all the famous Hokkaido food is number 1 on the list of things to do in Hokkaido! These include:

1. Crab

otaru canal Sankaku Fish Market crab, best time to visit hokkaido, south hokkaido itinerary, what to do in hokkaido

Selecting crabs!

otaru canal Sankaku Fish Market hairy crab, best time to visit hokkaido, south hokkaido itinerary, what to do in hokkaido

Hairy crab

Hokkaido has 4 types of crabs:

  • Kegani or horse hair crab – Most commonly found in Hokkaido, the best season is from April to August and November to December.
  • King crab (Tarabagani) – This is one of the most expensive crabs in all of Japan. The best season is from September to January.
  • Snow crab (Zuwaigani) – Considered as one of the best tasting crab in Japan, the best season is from November to March.
  • Hanasaki Crab (Hanasakigani) – The best season is from August to October.

2. Donburi

This essential means a bowl of rice topped with fresh, raw seafood. It could be salmon, prawn, sea urchin, hotate (scallop), ika (squid) or crab meat.

3. Ice cream

otaru canal macha shop, best time to visit hokkaido, south hokkaido itinerary, what to do in hokkaido

Matcha craze!

If you don’t already know, Hokkaido is famous for its dairy products, thanks to its vast countryside and fertile farmland. Thus when you are in Hokkaido, taste the uniqueness of their milk, yogurt, cheese, and most notably, their soft serve ice creams.

Made from raw milk and pure fresh cream, they are smooth and creamy. There are ice cream stalls scattered everywhere in Hokkaido, regardless of the season.

4. Hokkaido cheese tart

Speaking of cheese, you can’t live Sapporo station without eating the Hokkaido cheese tart. I promise you, you can smell it before you spot it.

5. Yubari king melon

yubari king melon, what to eat in sapporo, best food in sapporo, sapporo must eat, hokkaido famous food, best time to visit hokkaido, south hokkaido itinerary, what to do in hokkaido

Hokkaido is blessed with extensive farmland, fertile soil and a favourable climate. As such, Hokkaido’s agricultural products are considered one of the best. A product of these factors is the Yubari king melon.

One of the sweetest and juiciest melons you will ever taste, this is what Hokkaido is synonymous for. It’s no wonder it is one of the most expensive fruits in Japan. a slice of melon can cost up to ¥400/ SGD5.

6. Beer

Did you know, Japan’s beer origin traces all the way to Hokkaido? Sapporo Beer is the oldest and most popular beer brand in Japan. It was first introduced and brewed during the Meiji period in 1877.

Read: What to eat in Sapporo? These Glorious Food!

What's the best time to visit Hokkaido? What to do in Hokkaido? Where to go in Hokkaido? Get the Hokkaido itinerary right here on my travel blog!

Where to Go in Hokkaido? 6-Day South Hokkaido Itinerary

6-Day South Hokkaido Itinerary

In case you were wondering where Hokkaido is, above shows a snapshot of Hokkaido map on Google Maps and an overview of the route we took.

Clearly, there were more places in Hokkaido I would love to visit but due to the brevity of time and accessibility by our JR East-South Hokkaido Pass, we were limited to 5 cities: Hakodate, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, Sapporo and Otaru.

I first plotted my route according to the attractions we want to visit on Google Maps. When I’m done with the final bookmarking, I export it to a phone app,, through this method, which allows me to transfer all my bookmarks into the app and use it offline on the go!

With chasing sakuras and excellent Japanese cuisines in mind, we set off to places that offered the best of these! Read on for ideas on for things to do, what to eat and places to visit in Hokkaido.

Next post: Hakodate & Lake Toya

Special thanks to KKday for the JR East-South Hokkaido pass! All opinions remain my own.

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Isabel Leong

Isabel Leong

An explorer at heart, the world is Isabel's playground. She enjoys seizing every moment exploring every hideout and doing the unimaginable, like bungee jumping in Phuket and couchsurfing in Europe. If she had wings, she’d definitely be soaring right now. Also a fitness trainer, if she’s not at the gym, you can find her doing yoga or rock climbing! Read more about her on


  • Sharon says:

    Hello Isabel, I enjoyed reading ur blog on Hokkaido…very nicely done!

    Would like to seek ur advice for the below:
    1. we will fly to CTS airport and then I will get the Hokkaido Rail pass to Hakodate. Can we do a seat reservation if we buy the tickets via online?
    2. Is it easy to move around in Hakodate? Should I get the 2-day streetcar pass?
    3. We will be going in end Nov. Sky turns dark early so Jigokudani better to go in the morning or?

    Appreciate ur kind help and advice.

  • Jane M says:

    Hey Isabel,
    That food looks crazy fabulous – worth the trip to Hakkaido alone. Are the trains expensive? Is there a more budget friendly way to get around or is the train the best deal?

    Thanks, J

  • Your parents had a wonderful idea to travel Japan to see the blossoms of the sakuras. Traveling by train must be the best way to encounter locals and to experience the culture of the Japanese.

  • Marvi says:

    I love how your parents decided to experience the bloom of Sakura in Japan.. 🙂 How was the experience for them? Great tips on the Japan Rail Passes by the way.. 🙂

  • Ah I’ve always wanted to see the bloom of the Sakura in Japan!!

  • Ah! Japan is such alien territory for me, at this point in time. Its time I started reading more about it. The food and the orchids and the culture..everything seems so appealing. The Sakura flowering map will prove really helpful.

  • So far we have taken 3 trips to Japan and we are still longing for the next trip. Hokkaido is on our shortlist, depending on what time of year we decide to visit. The train passes are great value, especially if you pick the right one for your itinerary, so great to see them compared like this.

  • Kate Rebel says:

    Aw, I really enjoyed reading this post. I haven’t been to Japan yet but I would love to go. I used to be interested in Japanese culture a lot when I was a teen so it would be amazing going there one day.

  • I loved your post, its so bright and cheerful. Japan on my mind too. You have wriiten so beautifully.

  • Bec says:

    Japan is one of the places I am desperate to visit one day. It seems like a beautiful place. Thank you for including the information about the rail pass as that is the way we would be getting around and we would be able to budget and know where we were going.
    I love the sound of the ice cream. I think my daughters would be living on that if we visit but I think I would go for some of that melon. It sounds very interesting and delicious!

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