Every year, groups of tourist from all over the world visit Hokkaido (北海道), one of the most scenic prefectures in Japan. From ski trips to hot springs and seafood binge to dessert overload, there is every reason to visit this picturesque destination.
You probably had your itinerary down, noting every restaurant to eat, how to get from point A to point B, but there are still stuff you need to get done, preferably once you land at New Chitose Airport. So, before you scoot off New Chitose Airport at Sapporo to head into the city, here are some important items to check off your list and ensure an amazing holiday in the country.
1. Buy your train tickets – Hokkaido Rail Pass
You probably have a pretty good idea about where you want to go and what you want to do when in Hokkaido, so all you need to do is in what order you want to visit the various locations. Once you sort that out, you can better decide which Hokkaido Rail Pass to buy, that is if you are not driving of course. The Hokkaido Rail Pass is a multi-trip discount pass that allows you to travel from Naka-Oguni to as far as Wakkanai, thanks to an well connected JR Hokkaido lines. There are basically 4 types pf passes, 3 days, 4-day Flexi, 5 days and 7 days passes. Here are their prices:
JR Hokkaido Rail Pass prices
|Adult tickets – 12 years and older||Child tickets – 6 to 11 years old|
Although a 5-day pass might seem more value-for-money, we find that a flexible 4-day rail pass that allows you to decide which days to take the rail over a 10-day period gives you a lot more control. After all, you may not travel consecutively everyday without stopping overnight at a place like Hakodate or Noboribetsu.
Bonus tip: Book your reserved seats
An important thing to remember when travelling on the JR Hokkaido Rail is to book your reserved seats that comes with the pass. You don’t have to pay additional fees and it guarantees you a seat in the the reserved section of the train you want to take. To reserve your seats, all you need to do is to go to the booking office at the train station and tell them the train and the date you are taking the train. If you can plan ahead, it is better to reserve the seat once you reach a new city or prefecture. This will save you a trip to the train station.
When taking the train, show your ticket and passport to the staff in the glass booth next to the gates. The staff will stamp the date on your flexible 4-day pass before letting you through.
Children under the age of 5 travels for free.
2. Get the Otaru – Sapporo 1-day pass with free subway rides
Take advantage of the Otaru – Sapporo 1-day pass that is available only to tourists to Hokkaido. It cost roughly around S$21 (1700 Yen) and allows you to take unlimited rides on JR Hokkaido trains between Sapporo and Otaru. You will probably only take the train twice, once to Otaru from Sapporo and another time back to Sapporo if you are on a day trip. The pass also comes with a free 1-day pass for all subway lines in Sapporo. You don’t have to use the free subway pass on the same day as the Otaru – Sapporo JR train pass. We recommend reserving it and using it for the day in your itinerary that you are traveling to multiple locations in Sapporo, like Maruyama Zoo and Shiroi Koibito Park.
3. Check Asahiyama Zoo dates and buy tickets
At the counter where you buy your train tickets, you can also find out about Asahiyama Zoo’s opening schedule and buy your tickets at the same time. Located in central Hokkaido in the Asahikawa (旭川) prefecture, the zoo that is home to about 700 animals allows visitors to interact and see many of the animals up close. While taking pictures of penguins, our phones were so close that we were shoo-ed away by the zoo keepers. Asahiyama Zoo is closed for maintenance on certain days in Summer (typically around early April) and Winter (normally around early November) to prepare for the seasons. The dates vary from year to year, so it’s best to check the zoo website and validate it again with the counter staff when you are at Sapporo airport.
Check out our full guide on Asahiyama Zoo.
4. Get the free WIFI pass
If you are not going to subscribe to a data plan or don’t intend to get one of those MIFI devices to surf the internet, get the free WIFI pass. The pass is valid for 14 days and is a lifesaver when you need to check your emails or post images to Instagram.
5. Get a pocket WIFI
For those that can’t live without connectivity and is more generous with their travel budget, you may want to consider renting a pocket wifi. It is basically a small device that allows you to create your personal hotspot. Although most times you can get by with the WIFI at the hotels, renting a pocket wifi will give you unlimited access to high-speed internet wherever you are in Japan.
You need to rent if for a minimum of 5 days for approximately S$68 and up to a maximum of 30 days. There are a lot of companies offering this service and as well as promotions for the device, so shop around first before your trip. You can request for the device to be delivered to your hotel if you decide to rent one later, if not, you can ask for the pick up to be at New Chitose Airport.
We hope that these tips will make your Hokkaido trip an enjoyable one. And oh, don’t forget to get a map too while you are at the airport.