Sapporo. A great* beer. Also, the capital city of Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan’s far-flung north-eastern region. Famous for the aforementioned beer, an impressive snow festival, and being a jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the large island. Okay, so how does one get there? Well, we know you’re into value, but we doubt you’re so skint you’d rather undertake an arduous overland trek and ocean swim instead of opting for one of these more convenient means of transportation from Tokyo to Sapporo. So read on.
Flights from Tokyo to Sapporo
Air is by far the easiest way to get from Tokyo to Sapporo, and if you book early enough or during a sale, you can snap up return tickets for as little as ¥9,500 (or, fellow cheapos tell us, even less). The standard range is ¥15,000 to ¥45,000, with the higher fares coming in during peak periods such as Obon, New Year and Golden Week.
There are around 80 flights a day to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo from Haneda and Narita airports Tokyo-side, making it one of the busiest air routes in the world. The flight time is reasonable—you’ll roll in about an hour and a half after takeoff.
Cheap air tickets to Sapporo
It’s best to look at LCCs (low-cost carriers) for good deals. You can start by checking budget airlines like Peach, Jetstar and Skymark. See more on scoring cheap domestic flights in Japan.
Pro tip: Not all days are equal. Check which day of the week is cheapest for your trip. Weekends are more expensive because there’s more demand.
Air Do deals
Of special note is Air Do (rhymes with hairdo), Hokkaido’s own carrier that’s headquartered in Sapporo. Air Do has flights not only between Sapporo and other major cities in Japan, but also between Sapporo and smaller Hokkaido destinations like Memanbetsu.
For travelers living outside of Japan, Air Do offers a Welcome to Hokkaido fare that can be purchased as little as one day in advance. The fare varies, but a one-way flight is often ¥8,800 or less, going up to ¥9,600 in peak seasons. Users must present a non-Japanese passport and evidence of a ticket to and from Japan upon check-in.
Pro tip: Traveling with lots of luggage? Consider porting it from the airport to your accommodation so you can get right into the sightseeing.
Bullet train plus express train to Sapporo
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It is closer than Shin-Aomori though, which is still on Honshu, the main island of Japan—until 2016 that was as far as you could go by bullet train. The Hakodate leg is the first section of the Hokkaido Shinkansen, which will gradually be expanded to Sapporo and beyond. However, that’s more than a decade away. This bottom bit took more than 10 years of development as it is.
Travel time and cost
It takes approximately 4-4.5 hours from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, and then at least another 3.5 hours on express trains to get to Sapporo, with a combined total travel cost of about ¥29,520 one way. The Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate is about ¥23,230. You can book Tokyo to Hakodate Shinkansen tickets in advance, for an extra fee, or buy them at the station.
Getting a Japan Rail Pass for travel to Hokkaido
A one-way train ride from Tokyo to Sapporo costs about the same as the 7-day Japan Rail (JR) Pass (¥29,650), which gives you virtually unlimited rides on bullet trains and other JR trains countrywide. So if you have any further rail travel on your itinerary, you should seriously consider buying a JR Pass.
Taking the ferry to Tomakomai, Hokkaido
For roughly ¥11,000 each way, you can also take a ferry from Oarai in Ibaraki Prefecture (an hour and a bit from Tokyo) to Tomakomai, an hour south of Sapporo by train. There are early evening and late night departures, and the whole trip takes about 19 hours. You can book combo overnight ferry and Sapporo hotel packages (just click through to “Ferry Trip to Sapporo”).
When booking on your own, you can rent a cabin—economy or something slightly fancier, depending on your budget. The cheapest option involves a bit of floor space in a communal room. There is a kind of boat restaurant, so you’ll be well-fed, in addition to well-bored by the time you arrive. Unless you’re moving large objects or trying to tap into your inner pirate, we have to ask, why not just take the bullet train or fly? But we salute you, seafarer. Each to their own.
Things to do in Sapporo and the rest of Hokkaido
Once you’re there, you won’t be short of things to do. Sapporo is a fun place for foodies, and there are heaps of things to do and see in the city. Venturing out of the prefectural capital, the slopes of Niseko await powderhounds, and Hokkaido road trips can be arranged for people keen to see other parts of the landscape.
While we do our best to ensure that everything is correct, information is subject to change. Originally published in July, 2016. Last updated in November, 2019.
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