We travelled from Honshu to Hokkaido by train during what we expected to be the busiest time of the year. We were travelling for the Sapporo Snow Festival, mid-way through the event, and would return again the same route just two days later. So we were literally there for less than a weekend. But we never expected to find tickets when arriving in Japan, being unable to book them outside at the time, and not only did we miraculously find tickets for the route, we found that the crossing from Honshu to Hokkaido by train was almost completely empty. As apparently people prefer to fly this route, because trains are expensive, although this is irrelevant when travelling on the JR Pass, as every JR journey is covered on the pass. So very rarely is the train fully booked (although I wouldn’t take this as a guarantee), and turns out we would be the only passengers in our entire carriage (below right), which was somewhat bizarre having not expected to find a seat in the first place. So our journey north, from Honshu to Hokkaido by train, was a long-haul stretch starting from down at Takayama, through magical snow blanketed forest landscapes, with 9 hours on the JR train lines. And for timetables and scheduling we used Hyperdia which is one of our essentials for all rail travel in Japan.
Honshu to Hokkaido
And the coming nine hours was then split into three journeys, from Takayama to Toyama (1:30mins), from Toyama to Omiya (2:10mins), and then from Omiya to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (4:05mins). So the journey from Honshu to Hokkaido can be completed from pretty much anywhere on the island. While we do not change train for the crossing from Honshu to Hokkaido by train, we do travel on two different lines, the Tohoku Shinkansen which leads north from Tokyo ending at Shin-Aomori Station, and this is the beginning of the Hokkaido Shinkansen which takes us through the Seikan Tunnel, the world’s longest undersea tunnel, to finally reach Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (a distance of 148.9 km (92.5 mi). There are also two trains, the Hayabusa and the Hayate, which cover this route. So I really do love train travel in Japan, where the scenery along the lines means it’s like sightseeing, only from the comfort of your own chair. And it’s otherwise cold and uncomfortable outside in winter. But the train route from Honshu to Hokkaido isn’t overly exciting given it’s mostly through underwater and underground tunnels. And our wifi keeps dropping intermittently throughout.
Overnight in Hakodate
It is late when we arrive to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto so we decide on a stopover in Hakodate before starting again the next day. So we transferred to the local JR lines and continued to the main Hakodate train station where our hotel sits pretty much opposite. We then tour the post city of Hakodate the next day (our Hakodate guide here) before continuing to Sapporo and the Sapporo Snow Festival the next day. As expected it’s freezing in Hakodate, which is Hokkaido’s third largest city, but I was also surprised at how little snow there was. And while backstreets and footpaths were still inches thick with compressed ice, there seems to have otherwise been no new snow in a while, and it’s like an ice city. So we continue to Sapporo, before returning in the coming days, this time following the daytime journey from Hokkaido to Honshu. And again it is long-haul route following two stretches to Tokyo. The first stretch leaves from Sapporo (10:44AM) to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (14:10PM) before changing trains at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (14:44PM) for the Seikan Tunnel crossing and continuing straight through to Tokyo (19:04PM).