questions & answers: using the japan rail pass

tokyo > hokkaido > tokyo

Tokyo > Hokkaido > Tokyo

I'll be visiting Japan between 24 March to 18 April 2013.
Between this period, I've allocated 4 days to visit Hokkaido.
The 2 primary cities I'll be going to are Sapporo (2 days) and Hakodate (2 days).
The dates are 7 April to 12 April.
I will be in Tokyo before and after visiting Hokkaido.

1) Which one should I visit first so that travelling will be smoother? Sapporo or Hokkaido?

2) What will be the best possible method to travel to travel from Tokyo to Hokkaido?
Via Hamanasu on the 7 April night?
And via Hamanasu back to Tokyo on the 13 April night?

3) How do you go about Hamanasu?

Plan A - Assuming I manage to get the Nobi Nobi seats upon touching down in Japan.
I heard that you can use the Hayabusa train to Shin-Aomori.
Then from there transfer to the local train to Aomori.
After that take Hamanasu to Sapporo.
BUT there's a risk.
I'll only have 6 minutes to transfer to Hayabusa to Hamanasu.
Is transfer at this station difficult???

Is this the 6 minutes transfer plan?
References to

From Tokyo to Sapporo
Tokyo 18:56 Dep
(Tohoku Shinkansen Hayate 39) Shin-Aomori 22:24 Arr
Shin-Aomori 22:33 Dep
(Local train) Aomori 22:39 Arr
Aomori 22:42 Dep
(Overnight express train Hamanasu) Sapporo 06:07+1 Arr

Plan B - Assuming I didn't get Nobi Nobi seats.
What is the next best possible method?
Should I just go for the non-reserved seats?
There's also a dream seat for the Hamanasu right? Is it covered by the JR Pass?

4) How do I travel between Sapporo and Hakodate?


Hi there,

Really nice itinerary you are making there! Seems you plan you travelling a lot.

1, 2 & 4) The trip from Tokyo to Sapporo is about 10 hours if you do it straight, this is a really long period to be in a train, even with all the comfort that trains in Japan offer. I have made a similar trip in the past and the night train really is the way to go if you want to have some time in Hokkaido. In your case I would take the Hamanasu and go to Sapporo first because the arrival time in Hakodate would be really early (around 1 am). After Sapporo you can take a day train to Hakodate, it is about a 200minute ride, the view is very pleasant and you can order a delicious bento box for in the train.
The trip from Hakodate back to Tokyo might be a bit more tricky if you want to take the Hamanasu again, because it leaves Hakodate at 3.22 a.m. Instead of this, consider taking a late noon train from Hakodate to Aomori on your last day there and stay the night in Aomori, you can resume your journey to Tokyo the next day by Shinkansen, which takes about 4 hours.

3.) About the Hamanasu, I am not sure where you get the 6 minutes from. Do you mean the transfer time you will have when you take the Hayate 39? The 6 minute transfer is certainly possible but if you are worried about missing your connection you can always take an earlier train from Tokyo. The Hayate 37 leaves Tokyo at 17:56 and arriving in Shin-Aomori at 21:28 giving you ample time to transfer. See here for the timetable.

If you are worried about reserving your Nobi Nobi seat on the Hamanasu, the best thing to do is exchange your rail pass the first day in Japan and make reservations at the same time even if you set your first day of use on a later day. In your case this is about two weeks in advance of your travels and is more than enough time.

Just in case plan A does not work out for you, you can always use plan B and go for the Non-reserved seat. This is just a regular seat and may be harder to sleep in but you would not have to change your itinerary or pay more. If you can sleep in the air plane you then you should be able to sleep in the normal seat as well. I have seen many Japanese do it themselves.

The Hamanasu has both Nobi Nobi and Dream seats, both can be reserved for free with a JR-Pass.

Hope this helps with your planning and let me know if you have more questions!

Expert button 2

Hi Daniel-san,

About the trip from Hakodate back to Tokyo, because accommodation in Aomori is quite expensive, I have decide to take a morning train back to Tokyo instead.


16 Minutes to change train.

TOKYO 13:08

Is this feasible? Is 16 minutes more than enough to move from one platform to the other?
(I have no idea how big SHIN-AOMORI station will be, so I'll like to seek some advice on this)



Hi ifgma,

The transfer at Shin-Aomori is a rather smooth transfer. When you leave your train go to the Shinkansen transfer gate, show your rail-pass and proceed to the next leg of your trip. I have only done it once but it is nothing to worry about.I think 5 minutes is enough so with 16 you have nothing to worry about (and you can grab a coffee or Eki-bento while you are at it).

Enjoy your trip!

Expert button 2

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