We are going to Japan in September, and would like to explore around Tokyo, Kyoto, etc. using a Japan rail pass, and then we would like to travel to Hokkaido (Yoichi) towards the end of the pass. Is this possible?
over 4 years ago
Yes! This is totally possible - here's a (very basic) sample itinerary for you:
Yes, that sounds good if you're starting from Kyoto. If you're starting from Tokyo, I think I'd go to Hokkaido first, and then visit Kyoto on the way back (there's really not that much in it either way).
In theory yes you can (at least most of the way), but there are several things to be aware of:
The sleepers are focussed on getting you to Aomori or Sapporo. This means you'll have to do the final travel to Yoichi via normal daytime train.
The trip is only 100% free by using the Akebono/Hamanasu sleepers. These offer carpeted areas with simple sheets/pillow that are free for holders of the JR Pass. These trains also have normal berths that you can use for an upgrade price. For this option you must use the Akebono from Tokyo to Aomori, and then the Hamanasu up to Sapporo (on separate nights). A route you could look into is using the sleeper to Aomori and then travelling onto Yoichi by normal train.
If you are prepared to pay for berths, the JR Pass will cover the basic fare for the Cassiopea and Hokutosei sleepers that go direct from Tokyo to Sapporo. In these cases you will have to pay for a berth (starting from ¥14,500 on the Hokutosei), but will save the basic fare of ¥12,500.
If you do decide to use the sleepers, there is no way to book before you get to Japan and can present your JR Pass. This means that you will run the risk of finding there is no availability on the day you want to travel. I recommend that you try and book as soon as you arrive in Japan, and also have a backup plan just in case you are unable to make a reservation.
One thing to note is that though geographically further, the trip from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori by train is actually very fast at around 3 hrs via the Hayabusa shinkansen. However, once you get into Hokkaido travel can take more time as there are currently no shinkansen bullets on the island.