Japan Travel

Hokkaido Travel Tips: Public Transport in Hokkaido

People often talk about their Hokkaido trip, but when they do, it isn’t always about useful travel tips or things you should know before traveling there such as public transport in Hokkaido. When I headed off to Hokkaido for the first-time, there were a few things I wish I had known before setting off. I spent a lot of time on itinerary planning, but I missed out on some important things like how to take a public transport in Hokkaido, what type of IC card to buy, etc. 🙄

Personally, I think it’s beneficial to research about the public transport in Hokkaido, or Japan in general, before your trip. It will save you a lot of time and money, and you’ll also be less likely to get lost in Japan’s complex public transportation system. Truth be told, when we first step into Hokkaido JR station, we felt so overwhelmed – so many machines, so many platforms, and so many commuters!

Thankfully, we met a very helpful customer service staff at Sapporo JR Information Desk who gave us a detailed briefing on how to take a JR in Hokkaido. She is very fluent in English and very helpful too! You’ll see them in red uniform with a hat walking around the ticketing stations to provide help to commuters. They are fluent in at least two foreign languages!

Today, I want to share what I’ve learnt about the public transport in Hokkaido so that you can prep yourself before your trip – especially if you’re a first-timer. 😃

Types of IC cards in Hokkaido

IC cards are prepaid cards that can be used to conveniently pay fares on public transportation and to make payments at most vending machines, shops and restaurants by simply touching the card on a reader. It’s like our EZ-Link card, having one will surely save you the hassle of buying a bus or train ticket every time you need it.

In Japan, there are about ten major IC cards that can be used in different regions. However, these cards can only be used within their own regions. IC cards that can used in Sapporo include SAPICA, Kitaca, Suica, PASMO, manaca, TOICA, PiTaPa, ICOCA, Hayakaken, nimoca and SUGOCA. The most common ones are:

1/ SAPICA

Issued by: Sapporo Municipal Transportation
Where can you use: Subways, buses and streetcars in the Sapporo area
Price: ¥2,000 (inclusive of ¥500 deposit)
Where to buy: Subway stations, bus terminals, office counters
More details: Official website for SAPICA

2/ Suica

Issued by: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)
Where can you use: Subways, buses and streetcars in the Sapporo area
Price: Starts from ¥1,000 (inclusive of ¥500 deposit)
Where to buy: Major JR EAST stations, JR Ticket Offices, Travel Service Centers
More details: Official website for Suica

3/ Kitaca

Issued by: Hokkaido Railway Company (JR Hokkaido)
Where can you use: JR Hokkaido smart card area, SAPICA area, supported areas across Japan
Price: ¥2,000 (inclusive of ¥500 deposit)
Where to buy: Stations in the Kitaca available area, JR Ticket Offices
More details: Official website for Kitaca

Which card to buy? 🤔 It depends on where you want to go. Kitaca is more useful if you intend to get on JR Lines around Sapporo and to cities outside of Hokkaido. SAPICA and Suica are suitable if you mostly travel around Sapporo and Sapporo suburbs.

If you’re wondering whether there’s any discount for using IC cards, the answer is NO. IC cards generally do not provide any discounts over regular tickets. SAPICA card, however, gives you points equivalent to 10% of your fare. Points will be automatically deducted for fare payment once you have accumulated enough points to cover the fare.

For a fuss-free travel in Hokkaido, you can also purchase Kitaca card before you fly-off. 😀 Purchase your Kitaca (JR Hokkaido IC Card) from Klook and pick-up at airport or Sapporo TV Tower. Very convenient and it’s valid for 10 years!

Sapporo Subway

Sapporo’s three subway lines are extremely easy to navigate. It’s like our MRT system. Hokkaido JR, however, is somewhat complicated for first timers (will explain later on).

Sapporo subway operates in three lines: the Namboku Line (green), Tozai Line (orange) and Toho Line (blue). All these lines can be boarded at Odori Station (this station has 37 exits!) that links the central part of Sapporo with the northern, southern, western and eastern areas. Major stations are also connected to streetcars, buses and JR lines. SAPICA, Kitaca and Suica cards can be used to purchase tickets.

What I loved most is the underground walkway that links the Sapporo and Odori Station. It takes about 10 – 15 mins to walk through, with plenty of resting space as well as free WIFI. There are plenty of shopping malls and eateries here too. 😍

Sapporo Subway fare begins at ¥200 (more expensive that Singapore). If you plan to take the subway for more than 5 times/day, it’s more economical to purchase the One-Day Ticket for Subway Use. Priced at ¥830 (for adult) and ¥420 (for children), this ticket can be used for unlimited rides on the subways for one day.

There is also another ticket called Donichika Ticket. This is a one-day subway pass for weekends and holidays. Priced at ¥520 (for adult) and ¥260 (for children), it can be used on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays and year-end/New Year holidays (Dec 29 – Jan 3).

Sapporo Streetcar

Sapporo Streetcar, similar to our shuttle bus, serves a loop in downtown area where there is no subway service. You can get a copy of the streetcar route map HERE.

The streetcar charge is ¥200 (for adult) and ¥100 (for children) per ride. You can also get a Dosanko Pass (1 Day Streetcar Pass for Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays and between Dec 29 and Jan 3) priced at ¥360 for one adult with one child.

One important thing to take note. You get on the streetcar from the rear door and alight from the front door (opposite direction from our bus). You can pay with an IC card or by inserting cash into the fare box next to the driver when leaving the streetcar. Dosanko Pass can be simply presented to the driver. Read HERE for more details. 

Public Transport in Hokkaido
Photo by Fred Rivett on Unsplash

Hokkaido Railway (JR)

JR is the most convenient way to travel from Sapporo to major cities in Hokkaido. If you’re new to Hokkaido JR, here are several terms that you should know:

1/ Limited Express Train

This train stops only at major station and it’s one of the fastest trains (besides Shinkansen). For example: Sapporo to Asahikawa (~1 hour 25 mins), Sapporo to Hakodate (~3 hours 30 mins), and Sapporo to Kushiro (~4 hours 10 mins). There are two types of car: Ordinary Car and First Class (Green Cars) – the latter offers more spacious seating.

2/ Rapid Train and Local Train

A Rapid Train stops at some stations, hence it’s slower than a Limited Express Train. A Local Train stops at almost all stations and it’s the slowest among all.

3/ Reserved and Non-Reserved Seat

As their names suggest, you have a guaranteed seating for Reserved Seat and there is no designated seat for Non-Reserved Seat. The date, car, time of departure and arrival, as well as seat number are arranged in advance for Reserved Seat. For Non-Reserved Seat, you have the flexibility to ride at any time (within the day of purchase) with seating depending on availability. That said, you might need to stand on crowded times.

Reserved Seat is available on Rapid and Limited Express Train. To book a reserved seat, a reserved seat ticket is required in addition to a basic fare ticket.

4/ Hokkaido Rail Pass

You may have heard Hokkaido Rail Pass before. It’s not exactly the same as Japan Rail Pass. Hokkaido Rail Pass covers only the Hokkaido area while the Japan Rail Pass has a national coverage.

Hokkaido Rail Pass gives you unlimited rides all JR Hokkaido trains (excluding Hokkaido Shinkansen) and some designated JR buses within Hokkaido. What’s more? It also gives you free seat reservation on Ordinary Cars (you need to top-up for Green Cars).

This pass is only available for foreign tourists with a non-Japanese passport under the entry status of “Temporary Visitor”. Your passport must bear the “Temporary Visitor” stamp/sticker in order to purchase the Hokkaido Rail Pass. Hence, please make sure you have it and bring along your passport when on train.

There are 4 types of Hokkaido Rail Pass:

3-Day: ¥16,500 (adult) | ¥8,250 (child)
Flexible 4-Day: ¥22,000 (adult) | ¥11,000 (child)
5-Day: ¥22,000 (adult) | ¥11,000 (child)
7-Day: ¥24,000 (adult) | ¥12,000 (child)

3-Day, 5-Day and 7-Day passes must be used on consecutive days. Flexible 4-Day pass can be used on any four days in a period of 10 days. Is Hokkaido Rail Pass really cheaper? To check, you’ll need to calculate the exact costs of regular JR tickets using Hyperdia, then compare it to the cost of Hokkaido Rail Pass.

Hokkaido Rail Pass can be purchase outside of Japan before your trip. Klook offers 3-Day, 5-Day, 7-Day and Flexible 4-Day Hokkaido Rail Passes with convenient deliveries by post to your accommodation or pick-up from selected destinations. If you purchase Hokkaido Rail Pass outside of Japan, you’ll be given a voucher. You’ll exchange the voucher with the actual pass when you arrive.

You can find all the information on Hokkaido JR on their website HERE.

If you have any questions on public transport in Hokkaido, feel free to ask me in the comment section below. All travel trips are welcomed too! 😃

* Information is accurate at publication time.

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