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.
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, other than driving.
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 Pass||Region Includes||Duration|
|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, Kanazama, 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’s Famous in Hokkaido, Japan
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.
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
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. Yubari king melon
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.
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.
6-Day South Hokkaido Itinerary
Above shows a snapshot of Hokkaido 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, Maps.me, 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!
Next post: Hakodate & Lake Toya
Special thanks to KKday for the JR East-South Hokkaido pass! All opinions remain my own.