Hokkaido Rail and Drive

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The northernmost of the main islands, Hokkaido is Japan’s last frontier. It is a natural wonderland of mountain ranges, deep caldera lakes, active volcanoes, numerous thermally-heated mineral springs and virgin forests. The attitudes of the inhabitants are akin to those of the pioneers of the American West, but still unmistakably Japanese.

Destinations

Tokyo, Sapporo, Furano, Sounkyo Onsen, Genseikaen, Shiretoko, Lake Akan, Kushiro, Noboribetsu Onsen, Shiraoi, Lake Toya, Hakodate

Among the Japanese, Hokkaido has become synonymous with sensational food, stunning scenery and some of the best onsens in Japan.  Because of this, Hokkaido has become popular vacation destination for the Japanese. We slow the pace down on this tour to allow you to relax and to really enjoy and appreciate Hokkaido to its fullest.

You’ll enjoy Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city and host to the 1972 Winter Olympics, with its many fine restaurants and the secluded beauty of the Shiretoko National Park. You will tour Sounkyo Gorge in the middle of the beautiful Daisetsuzan National Park with its soaring mountain ranges, visit Noboribetsu Onsen, one of Japan’s largest and most popular hot springs resorts and walk along the rim of an active volcano at Lake Toya. You will explore the morning market of Hakodate, where you can have the local specialties of crab, sea urchin or squid prepared for you for breakfast, and learn about Hokkaido’s original inhabitants, the Ainu, whose culture almost disappeared until recent efforts of restoration. You will visit the Akan International Crane Center where research is being done to bring the cranes back from the brink of extinction.

Rail and Drive Tours

The Japan public transportation system in Japan is one of the best, if not the best in the world. However, if you want to travel to the remote areas of Japan, public transportation is sometimes either non-existent, too infrequent or too slow to be practical. Automobiles are the best way to access these remote areas. Our Rail and Drive tours are a convenient combination of public transportation and 8-seater vans, allowing us to really get “off the beaten path”. (Because of seat limitations, these tours are limited to a maximum of 6 people.)

DAY 1Arrive Tokyo

You lose a day flying to Japan due to crossing the International Dateline, and gain the day back when you fly home. You will be met at Tokyo’s Narita airport by a Samurai Tours guide, who will escort you to the hotel near the airport where we will be staying for the evening. After checking into the hotel we will have our welcome/orientation dinner. Dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 1/4 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 2Fly to Sapporo

After breakfast we fly to Sapporo’s Chitose Airport, and then take an express train into Sapporo, the largest city on Hokkaido and the host of the 1972 Winter Olympics. After checking in, we will visit the Sapporo Botanical Garden, established in 1886 by Hokkaido University. In the garden, we will find a small, preserved virgin forest that shows how Sapporo once looked, as well as an alpine garden, greenhouse and a small Ainu museum. Afterwards, we visit the JR Sapporo Tower where you will be able to get a bird’s eye view of Sapporo, while getting your bearings at the same time. In the evening, we will have dinner at the Sapporo Beer Garden, located next to the original Sapporo Beer brewery, where you can try the local specialty of grilled lamb, cooked yourself at the table. Before leaving in the morning, you will need to prepare your luggage to be transferred to Sapporo, and you will be traveling to Sapporo with your overnight bag only. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 3Sapporo

We start the day at the Nijo Fish Market where locals visit to shop for fresh local produce and seafood such as crabs, salmon eggs, sea urchin and various fresh and prepared fish. On our way to the market, we will walk along Odori Park, the venue for the world famous Sapporo Snow Festival held annually in early February. We will also walk along the Tanuki Shopping Arcade. The unique aspect of this mall is that you will find traditional merchants selling kimonos, tea or incense side-by-side with modern stores specializing in computers, software or state-of-the-art electronics. Next we will visit Susukino. Susukino is Japan’s largest entertainment district north of Tokyo. It is packed with stores, bars, restaurants, karaoke shops and pachinko parlors. We will end the tour with lunch at Ramen Yokocho, a narrow lane lined with shops serving Sapporo’s famous miso ramen. The afternoon and evening is free. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: Medium

DAY 4Lavender Farm Tomita, Travel to Sounkyo Onsen

Before leaving in the morning, you will need to prepare your main luggage to send ahead to Abashiri. We will travel by express train and local to the city of Furano, where we will visit the Lavender Farm Tomita. Tadao Tomita started growing lavender here in 1958. However, when synthetic perfumes became available in the 1970′s, there was no longer a demand for lavender and the farm almost went out of business. In 1976, a photo of his lavender fields was featured in a JR calendar, and people started to visit his farm. “The rest is history” as they say. Today, the farm hosts thousands of people from all over the world all year-round. In the afternoon, we will travel by local train and bus to Sounkyo Onsen. We will enjoy a kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan in the evening. Breakfast and dinner at the ryokan are included.

Travel: 5 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 5Sounkyo Onsen

The entire day is free to enjoy the natural beauty of Sounkyo. Rent bicycles and ride to the nearby waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. Ride the nearby gondola and chairlift to the top where you will get an excellent view of Kurodake, an old volcano, and the surrounding mountain peaks and ranges. If you have the energy, you can climb Kurodake and other nearby mountain peaks. In the treeless areas between the peaks, you will find many alpine flowers. Enjoy the village that feels like a Swiss village and enjoy the Ashi-yu (foot bath) with naturally-heated mineral water located in the center of the village. Or just walk along the river and enjoy the solitude and beauty of the area. Breakfast and dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: TBD

DAY 6Genseikaen, Shiretoko

We travel by bus and express train with overnight bags only to the city of Abashiri on the northeastern coast of Hokkaido. After making a short stop for lunch, we will rent a van and drive to Genseikaen. The Genseikaen natural flower garden with its carpet of colorful flowers is located in the sand hills facing the Sea of Okhotsk, and is part of the Abashiri National Park. Here you will be able to stroll among the sand hills and flowers, and even along the beach. Next we will drive to Utoro Onsen, the gateway to Shiretoko National Park, where we will be staying for the next two nights. Breakfast at the ryokan and buffet dinner at the hotel included.

Travel: 5-1/2 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 7Shiretoko National Park

Today we will explore the remote and beautiful Shiretoko National Park. Shiretoko is an ancient Ainu word meaning ‘edge of the world’. Shiretoko National Park is famous in Japan for its beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife including deer, bear and foxes. We will take several easy hikes around Lake Rausu, the Shiretoko-go-ko area and to Furepe Waterfall. At the Furepe Waterfall, ground water cascades over a steep cliff into the ocean on the spectacular western coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula. Buffet breakfast and buffet dinner at the hotel included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 8Travel to Lake Akan

After breakfast, we will drive to Lake Akan. Along the way we stop at a number of different places. First we will stop at Oshinkoshin Waterfalls, designated as one of Japan’s 100 best waterfalls. Next, we will stop at the Gottoro Overlook where you can get a bird’s eye view of a large caldera lake (weather permitting, of course). We also stop at Lake Kussharo, where you can dig down into the sandy beach to find thermally-heated sand, or just relax in one of the hot, mineral water foot baths. After that, we visit Iozan, with its many sulfur vents coated yellow from the many years of exposure to the steam. We will also stop at Lake Masshu, considered by many to be one of Japan’s most beautiful lakes because of its clear, deep blue water. After arriving at Akan-ko and checking-in, the evening is free. Buffet breakfast and buffet-style dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: 4 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 9Lake Akan, Akan International Crane Center, Kushiro

The morning is free to enjoy scenic Akan-ko. Take a sightseeing boat cruise around Akan-ko where you will stop to see Marimo, the unique globe-shaped algae that only grows in Lake Akan. Visit the Ainu Village with its many souvenir shops and restaurant selling authentic Ainu cuisine, and attend an authentic Ainu Dance Demonstration at the Ainu Village. Go hiking in the medieval forests surrounding the lake, or climb one of the nearby dormant volcanoes. In the afternoon, we will drive to the nearby Akan International Crane Center. Here we will learn about the Red-Crowned Crane, indigenous to this area of Japan. It was once thought the cranes were extinct. However, about 50 years ago, a few cranes were found, and extensive efforts were made to bring them back from the brink of extinction. While much work remains to be done, the crane population has stabilized and is even growing. We will continue to Kushiro where we will drop off our van. In the evening, we will enjoy a lamb shabu-shabu dinner. Buffet breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 10Travel to Noboribetsu, Poroto Kotan Ainu Village and Museum

In the morning, we travel by train and bus to Noboribetsu Onsen, one of the most popular and famous hot spring resorts in Japan. On our way to Noboribetsu Onsen, we will stop at Shiraoi, where the Poroto Kotan Ainu Village and Museum is located. Here you will see a traditional Ainu dance demonstration, as well as a demonstration of traditional Ainu musical instruments. In the museum, you will learn about the history of the original inhabitants of Hokkaido, as well as their every-day life and how they lived. Before leaving Kushiro, you will need to prepare your main luggage to send ahead to Noboribetsu. We will travel to Noboribetsu with overnight bags only. Breakfast and buffet-style dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: 6 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 11Noboribetsu Onsen

The day is free to explore the Noboribetsu area. Enjoy the many hot springs or walk around the Jigokudani (Hell Valley) where you will find many steam vents and thermally heated pools and small geysers. Visit the nearby Jidai Mura, a touristy, but fun village built to look like an Edo period village. Or just enjoy one of the 17 separate baths at the ryokan. Buffet-style breakfast and buffet-style dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: TBD

DAY 12Lake Toya

After sending our luggage ahead to our hotel at Narita Airport, we travel by train to Lake Toya, one of the largest and deepest volcanic caldera lakes in Japan. After checking in, we will visit Usu-zan and Showa-shin-zan, both active volcanoes located at Lake Toya. We will take a cable car to the top of Usu-zan, which last erupted in 2000. Here you can walk around the rim of the volcano through the barren, moon-like landscape. Afterwards, we visit Showa-shin-zan. In 1944, a surprised wheat farmer found Showa-shin-zan growing out of his field instead of wheat, and it has been growing larger ever since then. We will also visit the nearby Lake Toya Volcanic Museum. Amazingly, when Usu-zan last erupted in 2000, no one was killed. But there was a lot of damage from the eruption, and much of it is preserved at the museum, and illustrates the sheer power of geo-thermal activity and documents the volcano’s turbulent history. Buffet syle breakfast and kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 13Travel to Hakodate

After breakfast, we travel to Hakodate. Hakodate was one of the first cities in Japan open to foreigners after the Meiji Restoration. After arriving in Hakodate, we will visit the Goryo-Kaku, Japan’s first western-style fort. Built in 1864 by the Tokugawa Shogunate in the shape of a five-pointed star, it was designed to trap attackers in a deadly crossfire. We will go to top of the Goryo-kaku tower next door to the fort, providing a view of the fort and the surrounding city. We will also visit the Moto-machi historic area. Overlooking the western bay at the foot of Mount Hakodate, there are numerous sloping streets lined with 19th century churches, consulates, shops and homes of the foreigners who first opened this area of Japan to commerce. In the evening, we take a cable car to the top of Mt. Hakodate, where we will enjoy a panoramic view of Hakodate’s night lights. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 14Travel to Tokyo

In the morning, we visit the Hakodate Morning Market, where the sellers can prepare the specialties of Hakodate (crab, sea urchin and squid) fresh from their stalls for breakfast. Later in the morning, we take the bus to Hakodate’s Airport to fly to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, where we will board a bus to take us to Narita Airport. In the evening, we will have our Sayonara dinner. Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at the hotel included.

Travel: 4 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 15Home

It’s time to say Sayonara (Goodbye). Breakfast at the hotel included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: Light

Inclusions

Travel Guard Gold Policy from Travel Guard, one of the world’s largest travel insurance providers, will be provided to everyone from the United States and Canada (except for Quebec). All others will receive a $100 per person credit and will be responsible for obtaining their own travel insurance in their own home country. (The insurance provided by Samurai Tours will cover the land portion only. Insurance to cover airfare and other additional expenses is the tour member’s responsibility.)

Download a PDF of the Travel Guard Gold Policy

The provided insurance coverage includes:

  • Trip Cancellation (up to trip cost)
  • Trip Interruption (up to 150% of trip cost)
  • Trip Delay (up to $750)
  • Missed Connection (up to $250)
  • Baggage and Personal Effects Loss (up to $1,000)
  • Baggage Delay (up to $300)
  • Medical Expense (up to $25,000)
  • Medical Evacuation and Repatriation of Remains (up to $500,000)
  • Accidental Death or Dismemberment (up to $10,000)
  • Coverage for financial default of tour operator
  • Cancel for Work Reasons
  • A waiver of any pre-existing medical conditions that could eventually cause you to interrupt your trip

Insurance Surcharge: Depending on your age at the time the insurance is purchased, you may be subject to the following surcharge for your insurance. insurance surcharges will be due at the same time as your tour deposits.

  • 70-74 – $79
  • 75-79 – $155
  • 80-84 – $306
  • 85+ – $495

Travel Insurance Opt-Out: If you would prefer to opt out of the travel insurance, please note this at the time of registration. You will receive a $100 credit per person, which will be reflected on your invoice. In the event that you would need to cancel your tour, cancellation penalties may apply. See the Terms and Conditions page for the Cancellation Fees Schedule.

JR Hokkaido 4-Day Flex Rail Pass

Airport transfer from Tokyo’s Narita Airport and airport transfer to Tokyo’s Narita Airport.
Meeting service at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. (For those requiring meeting or sending services on other than the scheduled arrival/departure dates, there will be a $100 fee for the meeting service from the airport into Tokyo.)

Lodging for 11 nights in Japanese-style ryokans and 3 nights in western-style hotels

Meals:

  • Japanese-style or Western-style breakfast every morning (Please Note: Some ryokans offer Japanese breakfasts only.)
  • Two Japanese-style lunches
  • Thirteen Japanese-style or Western-style Dinners (including four gourmet kaiseki dinners at the ryokans)

All transportation costs when traveling with the group. (Transportation costs during scheduled free times are the tour member’s responsibility.)

Admission fees to the destinations and activities listed in the Tour Highlights column on the right, during non-free times. (Itinerary specifics subject to change.)

Sayonara dinner at the end of the tour

Luggage delivery from the hotel in Tokyo to the ryokan in Sounkyo Onsen
Luggage delivery from the ryokan in Sounkyo Onsen to the ryokan in Abashiri
Luggage delivery from the ryokan in Kushiro to the ryokan in Noboribetsu
Luggage delivery from the ryokan in Noboribetsu to the hotel in Tokyo

Each tour member receives a tour handbook. This handbook is full of tips and suggestions taken from our Japan experiences that allow you to better plan and prepare for your trip, and therefore enjoy your trip even more. The tips and suggestions included cover everything from how to save while exchanging money, what to pack, some basic Japanese-language tips, general etiquette do’s-and-don’ts, ryokan customs, etc.

Exclusions

Airfare is NOT included

Alcoholic beverages are NOT included – except at the dinner the first evening, the sayonara dinner and the Genghis Khan grilled lamb dinner at the Sapporo Beer Garden

Tour Map

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Overall Customer Ratings

Individual Customer Reviews

Tessa Corkill – Jun 09, 2012 to Jun 23, 2012

Ed & Jackie Linn – Jun 14, 2008 to Jun 28, 2008

Larry and Yoshie Eto – Jun 14, 2008 to Jun 28, 2008