If you are starting out your snow holiday in Niseko or anywhere else on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, and will then be joining us in the Hakuba Valley, you should be prepared for at least one day of traveling. I have been asked many times ” What’s the best way to get to Hakuba from Niseko “, and although I have done the journey several times I have never taken the easiest or the fastest route because for me, the best way to travel is the most adventurous way. I have once taken an overnight sleeper train from Tokyo to Sapporo and and I have now taken quite a few overnight ferries between Hokkaido and the main island, Honshu. I will try to provide as much information on as many possible routes as I can, and leave you to decide what is the best way.
The Most Direct Route
BUS: Hirafu Welcome Center – New Chitose airport (2-3 hours ¥2300)
FUJI DREAMS FLIGHT: New Chitose Airport – Matsumoto Airport (1hr 45 min ¥26,800)
ALPICO BUS: Matsumoto Airport – Matsumoto Station (25 minutes ¥540)
JR OITO LINE TRAIN: Matsumoto Station – Kamishiro Station* (96 minutes ¥1110 )
*You may need to transfer once in Shinano Oomachi. This may just be a quick change from one track to the next. Some transfers may only give you 2 minutes to switch trains. *
The easiest way to get to the New Chitose Airport is to take a bus from Hirafu’s Welcome Center. There are several bus companies offering this service. It is possible to buy a return bus ticket (to/from the airport) for about ¥4000, or ¥2300 one way. The one way journey usually takes between 2 to 3 hours but I would give yourself at least an extra hour in case of delays due to road conditions.
Fuji Dream Airlines has a once daily direct flight between the New Chitose Airport in Sapporo and the Matsumoto Airport in Nagano Prefecture departing at 14:15 and arriving at 16:00. If you book more than 1 month in advance the adult fare is ¥26,800 one way, while the regular rate is ¥35,600. It is possible to book this flight through JAL’s English website.
Plan ahead and you may be able to get some major discounts. Foreign tourists can get domestic flights for around 10,000 yen if you purchase the tickets before leaving your country. So plan ahead and save. More about special flight deals for foreign visitors here:
The Alpico Bus Company provides buses from Matsumoto’s Airport to the train station. Bus departure times are scheduled according the flight arrivals. The journey takes about 25 minutes and costs ¥540.
There is a 16:47 train bound for Hakuba (with a quick change in Shinano Oomachi) that arrives at Kamishiro (the closest station to Lodge tabi-tabi), and at 18:15 and Hakuba’s main station at 18:22. If you miss that one the next departure is about an hour later at 17:59, arriving at Kamishiro station at 19:28.
NOTE: If you are joining us at Lodge tabi-tabi please get off at Kamishiro Station NOT Minami Kamishiro Station which is one station prior. From Kamishiro Station you can walk Lodge tabi-tabi in about 10 minutes, here is a map. Or order a taxi by calling: 0261-72-2221
The Most Adventurous Way
So I was going to write here about taking the slow boat from Otaru, Hokkaido to Niigata and taking the train from there onward to Hakuba. However, it seems the ferry service will be stopped (hopefully temporarily) on January 6, 2014. If you are travelling before this time, you should know ferries depart at 10:30 a.m. from Otaru and arrive 18 hours later in Niigata. For trains schedule to/from the Otaru and Niigata, please check hyperdia. UPDATE: It seems every year the ferries between Otaru and Niigata stop sailing the first week of January. This winter, January 4th, 2017 will be the last ferry on this route until spring. However, you can still catch a ferry between Tomakomai in the south of Hokkaido and Niigata for the rest of the winter. More about ferry services in Japan, here.
And the overnight train I mentioned? Well unfortunately, it stopped running in March 2016 but they are now working on a shinkansen line connecting Hokkaido to Honshu. Kutchan is expected to be connected in 20123!
The Most Common Way
Most people catch a flight from Chitose, Hokkaido to Tokyo. Try Jetstar, Vanilla and Peach airlines for some of the best deals. Or book your domestic ANA or JAL flight before you leave home and you may get similar rates. Check the transportation section of this blog for information on how to get to Hakuba from Tokyo.