Getting from Tokyo to Sapporo

There are a number of ways leading to Sapporo, so let me tell you about a couple of them, and what you can expect to spend for your trip.

First method one would think of would probably be to fly there. On the plus side it’s quick, you will get there in around one and a half hours, however with many airlines a one-way ticket can fetch around 40000¥ (ca 305€ / 330$). But there are some cheaper options. JetstarSkymark Airlines, Peach Aviation and Vanilla Air all have relatively cheap flights available. If you’re not picky about Departure Date/Time you can get away with spending 6000¥ (ca 45€ /  50$) or less. With a bit of luck you might be able to take advantage of some manner of Discount. Off-Season flying is always a good idea. Keep in mind though, that you might have to pay additional service/baggage fees or something like that, so check with the airline of your choice beforehand.

The second option is taking the train. Using Hyperdia you can easily figure out how to reach Sapporo by train. It will involve some transfers and take around 10 Hours and 24000¥ (ca 180€ / 200$). The trip should be fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. There are also some night trains, which take longer and are more expensive (JR pass user will have to pay an additional charge). From the 26th of March 2016 a new Shinkansen line, the Hokkaido Shinkansen will be open. It is expected to make the trip to Shin-Hakodate in only 4 hours, reducing the total travel time between Tokyo and Sapporo to ca. 8 hours.

If those two aren’t your cup of tea, take a look at MOL Ferry. There is a Night and an Evening Ferry delivering Passengers (and vehicles) from Oarai to Tomakomai and vice versa. The ferry ride takes about 19 hours. The Price depends on the time of year and the type of cabin you want, but you can easily spend less than 10000¥ (ca 75€ / 83$). Of course you will have to arrange for transfer from Tokyo to Oarai and from Tomakomai to Sapporo. Luckily there are Package deals available, that take care of that for you.

Of course you could also rent a car and drive there yourself, most rental cars come with a navigation system, so finding the way shouldn’t be a problem. Considering the cost of renting a car, gasoline, highway tolls, ferry between Honshu and Hokkaido etc, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a group with which to split the cost and driving time. (Also driving alone for extended periods of time can get pretty boring).

How to: The Tokyo Metro System

For Newcomers Tokyo’s metro system can be quite overwhelming. You have to figure out which line you have to take, possibly involving transfers, by looking at a map, that is an utter mess of train lines.


Then you have figure out how much that is going to cost, by looking at a large table and then get said ticket by using one of the ticket vending machines.

Of course with time I figured out how to stop being a massive scrub and do all of that the easy way.

First of: Figuring out which line you need to take is much easier when you employ the help of one of the various websites and apps dedicated to precisely this task. Hyperdia offers service in English, Chinese and Japanese. You just put in the name of the station you want to start and end your trip at, and Hyperdia does the rest. Results can be sorted by Time, Cost and number of Transfers and you can even exclude certain types of trains from the results. Google maps can be used even if you don’t know which station to use, but offers little in the ways of customization. The Tokyo Subway Navigation App functions offline and you can search by landmarks, but is limited to the lines of the Tokyo subway. With several Companies making up the entirety of the Tokyo Train system, you might find that to be insufficient, also the other two mentioned here function in Japan as a whole.

Now that we know what route we are taking and what that is going to cost, we can get a ticket at one of the vending machines. So far I haven’t come across any that didn’t have an english option, so you should be able to figure out how to get a ticket fairly easily. If you are still unsure how much your trip is going to cost, just get the cheapest ticket there is and head to one of the fare adjustment machines at your destination.

Or you could just avoid the hassle of tickets altogether and get an IC-Card. The Pasmo/Suica cards can be used for most public transportation systems in the Tokyo area and throughout Japan and even to pay at some convenience stores and vending machines. They used to have different coverage areas, but efforts were made to make them interchangeable, so now it doesn’t really matter which one you get (I just threw a coin and ended up with Pasmo. Three months of use and no complains). You just hold them over the scanner at the gate and go trough, a little display will tell you how much money is left on the card and (when leaving a station) how much your trip cost. Getting a card is done at the  Ticket vending machines (english instructions are available. Usually the button is in the lower left corner). You have to pay 500¥ and however much you want to charge the card with initially to get it. Charging is done at a seperate machine. When you don’t need your card anymore you can return it to get leftover charge and those initial 500¥ back, possibly minus a small service fee.More detailed info on getting and using the cards here.

Hope this helps you on your trips. Have a nice day


Arrival in Tokyo

Good day, my name is Joel. At this point in time I am living abroad in Japan. On this Blog I intend to share my stories and travel experiences. And what better way to start this, than to tell you of my arrival and why I am an idiot.

After a 16 hour flight I landed at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, jumped some bureaucratic hoops and proceeded to the Baggage claim, where to my surprise I found my bag vibrating. Paranoid Bastard that I am, I immediately thought someone planted a bomb on my bag at a transfer stop. The likelihood of that actually happening was, of course pretty low, after all what kind of idiot would build a vibrating bomb? So I convinced myself to continue to Customs. This being the first time I had flown anywhere on my own, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was allowed to dig through my bag before clearing Customs to find out what the hell was vibrating in there, so I lined up with my creepily oscillating bag, while completely freaking out about how I was going to explain that to the Customs-guy. I don’t know whether he didn’t notice, or he thought I had some manner of adult toy in there and decided not to ask questions that would be awkward for both of us, either way he didn’t lose a single word about it. After I got through I found out it was just my electric razor that somehow got turned on in transportation. Having that behind me I found myself immediately faced with the next problem: The Tokyo metro system.

20160103_165940What? How the hell do I get to Shinjuku?

So after a couple of minutes of confused staring at that map, I figured out a route that might work and went to the ticket counter, where I was informed that they don’t sell tickets for the route I wanted at that particular counter. They did however point me in the direction of the Ticket Vending machine. Turns out Tokyo’s metro system works by zones and train lines, so you have to look up the stations you want to go to on a big table and buy a ticket with the price indicated on it. Of course, since I had to make multiple transfers to get to my destination, this meant a couple more minutes of confused staring. However all my staring turned out to be in vain, because the Ticket Vending Machine only takes cash and I hadn’t exchanged any money yet. So out of the train station and back to the airport I went, to a currency exchange counter I had seen there. Once I had exchanged all the cash I was carrying (which wasn’t a lot, I was really counting on my credit card for the first couple of days), I tried my luck with a different ticket counter. For a minor service fee the lady at this counter handed me a ticket that would take me to my destination. So back to the train station I went and hopped on the train, asking if I was in the right place every opportunity I got, because at this point I was highly doubtful of my ability to navigate the metro system. Turns out though, once you know which trains you need to take where, it’s relatively easy to figure out the transfers, because there are plenty of english signs, telling you where you need to go.

So I got to my destination Shinjuku without too many problems, and followed the directions I had gotten beforehand to the Office where I would sign the contract and pay the rent for my accommodation. Very glad I had those directions, because I highly doubt I would have found it with just the address to go on. They had plenty of english speaking staff, so signing the Contract was no problem at all. You’d think from here on it would be smooth sailing, I thought the same. I was wrong.

When it came to paying the first months rent, both cards I had with me refused to work. I had exchanged some money at the airport but of course that was nowhere near enough to pay a month’s rent. The office staff informed me, that sometimes cards that didn’t work with them worked just fine with the local ATM’s, so I tried my cards with the ATM at the post office and a Convenience store. Neither worked. Faced with the possibility of being stranded in a foreign country without any money, I called my bank back home to find out what was going on. They informed me that one card had always had problems with foreign use and the other one had failed to work, because paying the safety deposit and then the rent with it would send it just above the limit I had set for it. As for why it didn’t work at the ATM, turns out I’m some sort of massive Idiot. Because the two cards are attached to the same Account, I had sort of assumed, they used the same PIN. Since I had never before used that card for anything that would require using its PIN, I only found out that was wrong, when I was already in Japan.Head in Hands

The phone operator couldn’t help me over the phone, for safety reasons, when changing the PIN or such I needed to show up in person, which was slightly problematic, considering I was on the other side of the planet. Since the plan was to stay in Japan for at least a year, I had given up my old apartment back home and stored all my stuff with my family, so I called them, hoping they could look at my documents and tell me the Code. Of course with different time zones, they were at work, so getting my rent paid that way was going to take time. However time was a bit short, because the office was nearing closing time. They weren’t accepting a regular remittance, saying a foreign transfer was going to be too slow. I made a couple of other calls and the issue was going to be resolved one way or another, but whether or not it would be resolved before the office closed, was unknown and completely out of my hands. While I had enough cash available to buy some food, it would not be enough to get a hotel room, so if the office closed before I had paid my rent I would have no place to spend the night.

With my fate being handled somewhere else I had enough time on my hands to:

  1. Freak out a bit
  2. Calm down
  3. get comfortable with the inevitable
  4. look up a nice nearby Park in which I could nap on a park bench
  5. get bored

With me being pretty calm by then and able to take it all with a bit of gallows humour, it was half an hour before closing time, when finally the call came: my rent was paid. I didn’t have to spend my first night in Japan on a park bench. I think at that point the office workers were cheering for me as well. With that behind me all that was left to do was to get to my apartment. Which of course involved another train ride.

20160103_165940God damn it.

Because this ride didn’t involve any transfers, getting the right ticket was much easier than last time so after being awake for roughly 32 hours I finally arrived at my new home and was able to sleep. At least with staying awake so long I went to bed in the evening and woke up fresh as a daisy around 10 a.m no Jet-lag at all.

So to summarize:

If you are going to Japan, or anywhere really

  • Make sure your appliances aren’t going to turn on randomly. Maybe take out the batteries
  • Figure out how you are going to get where you need to be before you arrive
  • Make sure your cash cards will actually work. Might wanna exchange some money back home as well. Most banks will charge a fee for withdrawals in foreign countries.

I hope reading about my personal failures amused you or reminded you of things you need to check before you travel somewhere yourself.

Next time I will probably write about properly navigating the metro system.

Have A Nice Day