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Tohoku and Hokkaido with the JRPass

Tohoku and Hokkaido with the JRPass
Explore north of Tokyo using the JR Pass. Visiting Tohoku and Hokkaido.

This suggested 14 day itinerary is for those wishing to explore the north of Japan, visiting Tohoku and Hokkaido. The north of Japan is a lot less populated than elsewhere in Japan, the result an abundance of picturesque landscapes and amazing national parks.

Traveling straight from Tokyo – Sapporo takes a bit over 9 hours by train, even with the super fast Shinkansen. It makes sense to plan stops in between to both make the most of Japan and the JR Pass.

In order to make most of the JR Pass, travel up north starts at day one. Though adding a couple of days at the begin or end of the itinerary is recommend in order to enjoy Tokyo as well.

Going up north to Hakodate with a stopover in Tohoku.

Tohoku – the way up north.
We recommended 1 to 4 days to travel up to Hokkaido.

It’s time to get on the Shinkansen from Tokyo. Going all the way up to Hakodate it the longest distance in the itinerary. Doing so is a good way to get most travel out of the way, at the same time it makes for a great excuse to plan in a break.

There are different stopovers to make. Here are our suggested ones.

This is an easy stop over to make, about 3 hours away from Tokyo it is directly on the route to Hokkaido. The local fish market is a great for getting the freshest Sushi possible. The city itself is small and can be explored in a couple of hours. It also makes for a good base to explore Lake Towada from.

Lake Towada
This is the greatest is caldera lake on mainland Japan and is part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. There is a JR Bus service from Hachihone station to lake Towada, this bus is covered by the JR Pass and takes about 135 minutes. We recommend hiking around the lake or enjoying a cruise. The JR Bus timetable can be found here

Hirosaki is an old castle town. The castle and it’s main attraction. Surrounding the castle various points of interest are found, including the old Samurai district and Botanical Gardens. Also not to be missed are the Fujita Memorial Japanese Garden, one of the largest Japanese gardens in Japan and was build to both enjoy the garden and surrounding landscapes.

We recommended taking 7 to 10 days to enjoy Hokkaido.

After Tohoku we arrive in Hokkaido. It is white and cold in winter but very mild in summer. Visiting Hokkaido in summer is a great way to avoid the humid summer elsewhere in Japan. Hokkaido is home to different national parks and its main city is Sapporo. Here are our recommended visits in Hokkaido.

The 2nd largest city in Hokkaido and main city in the south of Hokkaido. As of March 2016, Hakodate will be connect Hokkaido to Tokyo using the Shinkansen and form the gateway city between Hokkaido and Tohoku.

The main attraction is the marvelous view of Hakodate city from Mount Hakodate, both during the day or in the evening when the city lights up. Other recommend visits in Hakodate are Fort Goryokaku and Hakodate park, Morning Market. Also consider making half a day trip from Hakodate to Matsumae. This small castle town is very pretty during the Cherry Blossom.

On to Sapporo
The main city of Hokkaido. Sapporo has many smaller attractions, that all together make for a great time. Our recommended visits are: Sapporo beer museum, Shiroi Koibito, Hokkaido Governor’s Mansion, Moerenuma park and Shopping.

Ideal as a day trip from Sapporo. This beautiful small chanel town was a trade town and fishing port in the past. The channel ways make for a pleasant stroll and some of the best freshly caught Sashimi can be had in Otaru. The town’s atmosphere is mostly that of time past and the feel of old Japan lingers.

Furano flower fields
Famous for its lavender fields in summer and Ski resort in Winter. The Furano flower fields are a wonderful sight of endless color and the most famous place to visit them is Farm Tomita. Visitors can also enjoy freshly made lavender ice cream here. The area is also nice bicycle riding during summer.

This is the largest national park in Hokkaido and a must visit. The untouched wilderness is amazing for hiking and outdoor activities. This is the place that makes you fall in love with Hokkaido. It’s highly recommended to spend at night at one of the remote local onsen.

Fancy an Onsen visit? Nobori-Betsu is the most famous onsen town in Hokkaido and directly on the route between Sapporo and Hakodate. It makes for an ideal stop to blow off some steam. There’s also a local museum about the native Ainu.

Onuma Park. Also a great stop over between Sapporo and Hakodate. The best area of the park is between the two main lakes. The area is perfect work hiking and bicycling, or to enjoy spending the afternoon on one of the local boat tours.

The way back – Tohoku.
We recommend reserving 2-4 days to make the trip back to Tokyo.

As the trip draws to a close, it’s time to slowly travel back to Tokyo. It is long trip back and we recommend making a couple of stopovers to split up the travel time. For instance at Hakodate or the earlier mentioned Tohoku stops. Below are some stops we especially recommend for the way back.

Directly on the route from Tokyo, it is the largest city in the Tohoku region. Sendai is especially great for shopping, so save it for the way back. There are also some cultural sights such as the old Aoba Castle ruin and Rinnoji Temple.
Sendai makes also for a great base to visit the beautiful bay of Matsushima from and the scenic mountain range of Yamadera.

Nikko is the temple town of Tohoku. Most famous for the Toshogu Shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the most powerful man in Japanese history. Rinnoji temple and the Futarasan Shrine are other highlights.

Some great tips for along the way.
-The JNTO website is a great resource for travel in Hokkaido.
-Try the local food in Sendai, the most famous is cow tongue.
-Consider traveling Green Class for this itinerary. The Green Cars in Tohoku are the best in Japan and complimentary drinks are served.
-This itinerary is only a start, do some research of your own, to find more amazing places.

Lastly, the itinerary is best traveled between mid March and the end of October, as some places may close due to heavy snowfall. In winter you probably will want to head to Hokkaido as soon as possible in order to enjoy winter sports and the Sapporo snow festival anyway.

Photo ©
Towada by Joka2000
Sapporo by cegoh
Flower Farm bij DeltaWorks
Nikko – (unknown)

Written by: Daniel-san

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