Sunday, July 23, 2017

Planes, Trains, and no I'm not driving from Tokyo to Sapporo

I'm not sure that it is possible to drive from Tokyo to Sapporo.

Anyway, for our next holiday to Japan, we thought we would like to return to Hokkaido, because the last time (end 2016), we decided to skip Hokkaido so that I could try Kobe beef. Considering I had been to Japan 3 times, and have not had Kobe beef.

So to save time, I thought we could fly straight to Sapporo.

The first thing I found was that there were NO direct flights from SG to Sapporo.

Other airlines (like Thai) would have a stopover in another city. Even Japanese Airlines like JAL & ANA would have a stopover in Narita or Haneda before going on to Sapporo. And if you do choose to fly JAL (maybe ANA, too), note that there are some SG to Tokyo flights that land in Narita, and then 3 hours later your "connecting" flight to Sapporo (Chitose) takes off from HANEDA - the OTHER airport.

I do not know if the airline (JAL) would provide a transfer from Narita to Haneda, but the train journey is 90 minutes to 120 minutes. Which seems just adequate when you have a 3 hr transfer time. Except that I would probably feel rather stressed. Also, do I need to lug my bags over from Narita to Haneda? I think so. I suspect the landing at Narita is considered an international flight, and you go through customs and immigration, and then you take a domestic flight to Sapporo. From HANEDA!

So do be aware of the additional hassles of trying to fly direct to Sapporo. Especially on JAL.

ANA seems to keep their connecting flights at the same airport.

There are some Chinese airlines flying to Shanghai or Beijing for a 2 hours or longer stopover before you continue onto Sapporo.

But let's just say, I have little faith in Chinese airlines, and would (probably) never choose a Chinese airline. Or choose to stopover in a Chinese city.

So there was no direct flight to Sapporo.

We decided to fly to Tokyo (Narita or Haneda) and the take the train up to Sapporo at a leisurely pace.

But first a stop at Sendai, which we had been to before when we hiked Omoshiroyama-kogen.

We liked Sendai.

It's about 3 hours from Narita according to Hyperdia.

And costs about Y13,700 per person (S$170). Which if you are getting the Japan Rail Pass would be covered by the pass.

After a few days in Sendai, we would go up to Hakodate, or Sapporo, or even Asahikawa by train.

Ignorance is bliss.

Planning a trip is educational.

Using the Rail pass, you would get up to Aomori, just after 11 pm, and catch the first train the next morning at 5:42 to take you to connecting trains to get you to Hakodate. For Y19,200 per person (S$240) and 1 night of your life waiting at a cold train station. Assuming they don't close the station and chase you out into the cold.

Because the rail pass does not allow you use of the Super Shinkansen. Only the standard (or older) Shinkansen.

If you are willing to pay extra for the Hayabusa, which I assumed was a Super Shinkansen (note: it's not called the "super shinkansen". That's just my term for the Noisome and Mizuho shinkansen which are NOT covered under the Rail Pass), you can get to Hakodate in about 3 hours. Then it's 4 more hours to Sapporo, and then another 90 minutes to Asahikawa.

The Hayabusa will costs about Y18,000. I am assuming once you get over to Shin-Hakodate, all the other trains will be covered by the Rail Pass.

That's about S$220. Per person. On top of what you paid for the Rail Pass (S$548 as of writing).

[Note: I had assumed that the Hayabusa is a "super shinkansen" because on HyperDia, you get to "de-select" Nozomi, Mizuho and Hayabusa trains. Why? Well, the Nozomi & Mizuho are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. So does it follow that the Hayabusa is also not? My assumption. Then I checked (for writing this blogpiece). The Hayabusa is covered by the JR Pass. Boy am I red-faced! ]

So we booked a flight from Sendai (they have an airport) to Chitose (Sapporo).

Best part? The tickets were only S$75 (Y6100). Flight time is just over an hour.

Train from Chitose to Asahikawa is about 2 hours long and costs Y6100.

Then I planned to take the train back to Tokyo.

Same problem, in reverse. Again you will need to spend about 8 hours waiting for a train, this time in a town called Morioka. (Which I hear is a nice place. Not sure how much of its charm you will be able to experience between 11 pm and 7 am. In November. )

Unless you take the Hayabusa. (which IS included with the JR Pass!)

I'm choosing to fly again!

Except that to fly from Chitose to Tokyo direct will cost over S$300 per person.

There are cheaper flights but with stopovers in Niigata or Akita.

(And there is Jetstar which can do it for S$79, direct. However, budget airlines tend to be sold out and for the dates I wanted, there were no budget air flights. And the $79 does not include extra charges for check-in luggage.)

The stopovers at Niigata or Akita adds hours to a 2 hour flight. The fastest (including stopovers) was 4 hours 40 minutes.

Other combinations took the total travel time to as much as 20 hours. Which is ridiculous!

The best was a 3 hour 25 minute ANA flight with a 50 minute transit in Niigata. And that was still $193 per passenger.

What if I flew BACK to Sendai?


Per person.

Train from Sendai to Ueno (in Tokyo), less than 2 hours, costs Y11,000 (S$135), but covered by the Rail Pass.

Then I found the Japan Explorer Pass that offered a Sapporo to Sendai airfare of just  Y5400 or about S$66. But I had already booked my flights by then. But I should check it out in future. It may still be of use - for a side trip to Abashiri from Sapporo. But we shall see.

I should also remember to check the Japan Explorer Pass site for the other place in Japan I have also wanted to visit: Okinawa.

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