Travelling to the beautiful northern Japanese island Hokkaido? You made an excellent decision and it is a wonderful place that is definitely worth a visit! The island has very different feels and attractions throughout the seasons, ranging from the snowy white winter, colorful spring flowers, warm and lavender filled summer, and red fall foliage.
Why Drive in Hokkaido?
Hokkaido is a large place with cities scattered around. For a size comparisons, Sapporo to Kushiro is around 350 km, which is the same distance as Tokyo to Nagoya, or from Toronto to Detroit.
However, contrary to Honshu (main island of Japan), there is no Shinkansen (high-speed rail) in Hokkaido, making travelling between cities much more time consuming. On top of that, due to its lower population (5 million in 2019), trains in Hokkaido do not run that frequently.
Therefore, driving in Hokkaido should strongly be considered, since it has the following adventage:
- Freedom to go anywhere whenever you want, no need to stick to train schedules
- Save time as train and bus connection can easily take 2x or 3x times longer than driving
- Can visit places that are just not possible with public transport
Booking Car Through Tabirai
While there are numerous sites offering car rental in Japan, we have alway go with Tabirai has the following three main features which aren’t offered by the other:
- Guarantee Installation of English car navigation system
- Tabirai only posts cars from major rental companies welcoming users from overseas at reasonable prices compared to regular prices (maximum 50% off from fixed prices)
- In addition to rental car charges, basic insurance, collision damage waiver (CDW), English car navigation (GPS), consumption tax are also included in a price that is easy to understand and secure. Insurance from individual car rental companies (NOC compensation insurance) is optional and can be added on the date of car rental as needed.
Booking a car through Tabirai is easy. Just go the their website, type in your date, and it will show you rates and availability for all six major car rental companies in Japan, including Orix, Nissan, Times, Toyota, Nippon, and Budget. No need to go to six different sites and you can pick the company with the best price and closest to your hotel!
Furthermore, Tabarai offers the following three advantage with their websites:
- Once the reservation is completed online, the specified rental is guaranteed. After that, simply go to the rental car company office on the pick and date and you are good to go!
- Member registration and credit card information are unnecessary at the time of reservation. This is especially important as some Japanese website will only accept Japan issued credit cards. Payment should be made at the car rental office on the departure date.
- You can cancel your reservation and send a message to the rental car company by logging in Tabirai’s website and using the Reservation Information Box
Rental Car Pickup
Finally after months of planning, we have arrived in Hokkaido and ready for our rental car! We arrived to the Nippon Rent-A-Car branch near Susukino in Sapporo, and were greeted by the friendly staff. After some paperwork, we are ready for our car, which is a Nissan Note Hybrid! The car is very new with only less than 2,000 km driven!
Since there are lots of toll expressways in Hokkaido, we have also purchased the Hokkaido Expressway Pass, which is only available for foreign visitors. The pass has two big advantage, one is that it is much more cost effective, and can go through the ETC instead of finding cash everytime. We bought the 4 day pass which costs 6,200 JPY. Just for reference, regular one-way toll from New Chitose Airport to Asahikawa is already 4,730 JPY, so the pass is definitely saved us a lot of money!
Driving in Hokkaido
Overall driving in Hokkaido is a breeze and a joy itself. While we are from Canada, which has right hand traffic, we did not have much trouble adapting to Japan which has wheel on the other side.
All roads in Hokkaido are well maintained, clean, and not too busy. On expressway especially we encountered no traffic at all, which is a big contrast to the contant highway traffic jams in Toronto.
All of the rental car comes with a GPS, with English option for voice and navigation. Locations can be entered easily either through phone number (from Google Map), or using Mapcode. The GPS itself is also much more informative than the North American ones, with clear advanced instruction on turns and routes, toll and highway infos, and even estimated time until the next service stops.
Hokkaido Driving 4 Day Itinerary
For this trip we rented car to drive around Hokkaido for 4 days. Here is where we drove to and the driving itinerary!
Day 1: Otaru
After picking up the rental car in Sapporo, we drove the Otaru, which takes around 1 hour on express way.
Otaru Canal is the famous tourist attraction for the city. It is lined with historical warehouses, which now are converted to museums, shops, and restaurants.
Otaru is also famous with glasswork and sweets. Sweets shop LeTAO is based in Otaru, and their delicious chocolate and cheese sweets are found all over Hokkaido and is great gifts for friends and family back home.
Another place we visited is the Otaru Music Box Museum. While they have several branches in Hokkaido, the main building in Otaru is especially impressive as there are exhibit of over 25,000 music boxes in various shapes and tunes. The museum is also a large store itself, and you can easily spend hours just marvelling all the music box designs, and listening to all the classical, Pop, and movie tunes in music box forms.
Day 2: Furano / Asahikawa
On the second day, we drove north from Sapporo to Furano, which is known for their picturesque landscapes. The drive from Sapporo to Furano takes around 2 hours; it is recommended to leave early as Furano gets busy with tourists in the afternoon, especially during peak travel seasons.
We visited several flower farms, including Farm Tomita and Flower Land Kamifurano. These flower farms are famous for lavender in summer seasons, but they also have other colorful flowers during all times. We visited in early June and campanula, poppies, and lupine were blooming.
There is an Alpaca farm in Shikisai No Oka! Alpaca originated from South America, and it is very similar to llama. It is our first time to see these cute creatures in real life. The farm also offer grass and food, so you can feed the cute alpacas.
We also visited the Shirogane Blue Pond which is in the Biei close to Furano. The pond has a beautiful deep blue color, resulting from natural minerals dissolved in the water.
We also visited Asahikawa, which is the northernmost large city in Japan. Hokkaido is famous for Genghis Khan, which is tabletop lamb BBQ. We dined at Daikokuya, which is nationally famous and one of the top Genghis Khan shop in Japan. It was very delicious with fresh lamb and a very tasty dipping sauce. We also love that the vegetable are unlimited free refill!
Day 3: Noboribetsu
On the third day, we drove from Asahikawa south to Noboribetsu, which takes 3 hours and is the longest drive of our trip.
Noboribetsu is a famous hot spring resort, with lots of onsen hotels in the area. The main tourist attractive in the area is Jigokudani, which is a natural valley with sulfurous hot steams. It is a natural wonder to see all these volcanic activity up close.
While in Hokkaido, we definitely recommend visiting Seicomart. Seicomart is a convenience store chain that is mainly in Hokkaido, you won’t find them in Tokyo or Osaka!
What makes them stand out is that they have a Hot Chef section, where hot food such as rice bowls, noodles, and origini are prepared fresh in store, versus centrally from a factory! The katsudon we had there is definitely restaurant quality!
Day 4: Sapporo
On the last day, we drove from Lake Toya back to Sapporo. We visited Shiroi Koibito Park while in Sapporo. Shiroi Koibito is a famous chocolate cookies that is popular with tourist as souvenir. The theme park is European themed since a colorful flower garden and also a factory area where you can learn how the delicious cookies were made. Unfortunately, the factory area was under renovation while we are visiting, so we are only limited to the restaurant and shop area. We would definitely love to come back again for the factory tour in the future!
Finally road trip of Hokkaido has come to an end, and we have to say goodbye to our hybrid car. Prior to returning, we have to fill up the car. Overall we are very impressed with the fuel economy of the Nissan Note Hybrid. We drove almost 900 km over 4 days, but only need to filled up the car one. Nippon Rent-A-Car provided a map with the gas station closest to the car rental office. So just remember to fill up prior to returning, and also provide the car rental company with the receipt too.
We returned the car to the Nippon Rent-A-Car branch near Sapporo station. Returning is easy, just park the car and unload everything. Staff will check the car to make sure it is fine, sign some paper work, and it is all finished! Overall the return process takes less than 5 minutes.
Overall we enjoyed our trip to Hokkaido and the driving experience there. Thank to Tabirai, the rental car booking process is very smooth and easy. Tabirai’s website was easy to use and navigate, and having a car makes the trip much easier and enjoyable. We will definitely use Tabirai again next time when we are looking for a rental car in Japan, perhaps in Okinawa!
- Experts teach us! Secret Tips for Renting a Car in Japan!
- Japan rental car TOP
- OKINAWA TOP
- HOKKAIDO TOP
Hope you enjoy this review of travel tips blog on Mokolate! In the meantime, be sure to visit my Instagram – Mizzmok for more fashion and lifestyle idea!