Hokkaido is truly vast with boundless nature and a rich diverse history. While the island is fairly well outfitted in terms of trains and buses, these two modes of transportation do of course limit your freedom of exploration.

Driving around Hokkaido on your own is a great experience that, unlike what you may expect, is very cheapo-friendly. Not only is getting around slightly cheaper but you can also reach unique places, villages and sites for activities that are very difficult to reach otherwise.

So let’s take a look at what you need to prepare for your Hokkaido road trip, as well as some itineraries to spark your enthusiasm!

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Getting prepared

The most important thing you need to prepare even before you leave for Japan is to get yourself an international driving permit. The procedure for obtaining this addition to your regular driving license differs per country but it is generally issued by the ministry for transport or one of its agencies.

It is possible to book your car in advance through ToCoo! Travel, Japan Experience, Toyota Rentacar, Nissan Rentacar and Ekiren which all have an English online reservation form and phone number to contact. The most cheapo-friendly international companies such as Hertz and Avis also operate in Japan but not independently, so their rates are actually not as cheap as you may have hoped.

When you pick up your car make sure to get: an insurance coverage; Electronic Toll Collection System (ETC) Card; and a Hokkaido Expressway Pass. The ETC Card is generally optional to be used on toll roads, but it is required for the Hokkaido Expressway Pass that offers a fixed discounted price per day (from ¥3,600 for 2 days to ¥11,300 for 14 days).

All-in-all a 4-day road trip through Hokkaido will cost around ¥5,000 per day (including petrol and parking). By comparison, the JR Hokkaido Pass sets you back ¥5,500 per day without the added freedom of stopping wherever you like.

Suggested itineraries

Essential southern Hokkaido

Taking you from New Chitose Airport, this little itinerary introduces you to the natural beauty of Lake Toya as well as Hokkaido’s rich history.

Otaru Canal summertime
Photo by iStock.com/Biscut

Day 1: New Chitose Airport – Lake Toya – Mt. Showa Shinzan
Day 2: Hakodate – Shakotan
Day 3: Otaru – Sapporo
Day 4: Sapporo – New Chitose Airport

To the heart of the island

Again starting out from the airport, we now head north to the heart of Hokkaido and witness its vast nature.

Hokkaido flower fields
Tomita farm, Furano, Japan. | Photo by iStock.com/littlewormy

Day 1: New Chitose Airport – Sapporo
Day 2: Asahikawa – Biei Shirahige
Day 3: Furano
Day 4: Sapporo – New Chitose Airport

Further reading: Hokkaido Lavender Fields and Other Summer Blossoms

The long way around

While not truly taking you around Hokkaido, it does start on the southern tip of the island at Hakkodate and takes you all the way to the northeastern tip.

Shiretoko National Park
Shiretoko National Park | Photo by iStock.com/azuki25

Day 1: Hakodate Station / Airport – Lake Toya
Day 2: Sapporo – Asahikawa
Day 3: Biei Shirahige – Kamikawa
Day 4: Kitami – Shiretoko
Day 5: Nosappu-misaki – Kushiro
Day 6: New Chitose Airport

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Filed under: Travel

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