The Hokkaidō Shinkansen is short — it only has four stations when you disconnect it from the Tōhoku Shinkansen. But what makes it special? And why do people use it when there are cheaper and quicker options to Japan’s northernmost region?

It could be the picturesque views from the window, the longest undersea tunnel in the world, or the quaint stations along the way. But the Hokkaidō Shinkansen will get even better when it is finally extended to reach Sapporo Station in the 2030s. Read on for where you can go and what you can do along the current route, from Shin-Aomori to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto.

Pro tip: You may be heading to Hokkaidō for the Sapporo Snow Festival, to ski, or to check out the lavender fields of Furano. If that’s the case, it might be easier to fly from Tokyo to Hokkaidō.

Suggested Activity
Learn the Way of the Samurai in Kyoto
Want to learn the ways of the samurai? In this special 2-hour lesson, you'll practice authentic techniques used by real-life samurai masters!

Highlights along the Hokkaidō Shinkansen

Here are some fun things you can do by taking the Hokkaidō Shinkansen from the mainland to Hokkaidō:

  • 1. Go under the ocean via the Seikan Tunnel, currently the longest undersea tunnel in the world.
  • 2. Grab an A-side window seat on the short-but-sweet trip for views of the Tsugaru Strait and mountains.
  • 3. Watch colorful floats dance in the annual Aomori Nebuta Festival.
  • 4. See one of the top-rated night views in Japan, from the top of Hakodate Mountain (once you’ve made it to Hakodate).
Hakodate City view from Hakodate Mountain, winter season, Hokkaido
The famous night view over Hakodate. | Photo by iStock.com/kanuman

Services on the Hokkaidō Shinkansen

shinkansen
The Hokkaidō Shinkansen uses the distinctive green E5 and H5 Shinkansen series. | Photo by iStock.com/ColobusYeti

There are two services on the Hokkaidō Shinkansen: the Hayabusa and the Hayate. The Hayate only runs one round-trip a day between Shin-Aomori and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. The Hayabusa runs more frequently. All seats are reserved on both services.

ServiceStationsTime est. (Shin-Aomori to Hakodate)Train typeJR Pass
HayabusaShin-Aomori and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto*57 minsE5 (10 cars: all seats reserved)
HayateAll stations: Shin-Aomori, Okutsugaru-Imabetsu, Kikonai, and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto 1 hr 2 minsE5 (10 cars: all seats reserved)

*Some trains also stop at Okutsugaru-Imabetsu and Kikonai, making the journey time equal to the Hayate.

Luggage restrictions

Unlike many other Shinkansen, you will not need to reserve luggage space on the Tōhoku or Hokkaidō Shinkansen; there are luggage racks available on board. But if you are traveling further afield, you may want to take a look at our guide to Japanese Shinkansen luggage rules.

How to buy tickets for the Hokkaidō Shinkansen

The basic fare price from Shin-Aomori Station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station is ¥7,520 one way. All seats are reserved, but limited express tickets without seat assignments are sold — just sit in any vacant seat.

The price from Tokyo all the way to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto is ¥23,230, combining different Shinkansen lines.

There are several ways to buy Shinkansen tickets, including booking in advance via Klook, at the station, or on other websites.

Discounts and promotions

Your best bet for getting the cheapest price on the Hokkaidō Shinkansen is to book directly through the website Ekinet — though it’s all in Japanese, and can be confusing even for locals.

There are usually discounts of up to 50% throughout the year with “Tokudane” tickets if you make a reservation between 28 to 20 days before the boarding date. More information here.

Note: These discounts are not available if you book in person. All tickets include a reserved seat. There is an English-language website for Eki-net, but it tends to miss out the discounts offered on the Japanese-language site.

Discount ticket shops

When walking around the streets near a busy station (Shinjuku, Tokyo, Osaka), you may find a few ragtag stalls with cheap ticket prices plastered on their fronts. They are called kinken shops and are a good choice for last-minute train discounts.

If you haven’t already bought a discounted ticket online, it’s worth turning up to see what they have. Discounts range from anywhere between ¥80 and ¥2,500.

Note: There are also online versions of kinken shops, but they tend to be difficult websites to navigate and are all in Japanese.

Discount rail passes

Of course, the Japan Rail Pass covers the Hokkaidō Shinkansen, but there are also various JR East Passes that apply.

Important: Most of the JR Hokkaidō Rail Passes do not include the Hokkaidō Shinkansen.

What rail passes are good for the Hokkaidō Shinkansen?

man waiting for hokkaido shinkansen
Which pass do you need to jump on the Hayabusa? | Photo by Alex Ziminski

The following passes are available to tourists entering Japan on a temporary visa:

  • East–South Hokkaidō Pass: If you are starting in Tokyo, this one’s for you. It covers travel all the way from Tokyo to Hakodate. Get it here.
  • JR Tōhoku–South Hokkaidō Pass: This one does not cover Kanto (incl. Tokyo), but does cover the Shinkansen from Shin-Shirakawa Station in Fukushima Prefecture to Hakodate. Get it here.

Other discount schemes

Shinkansen and hotel packages

There are several websites that offer discounted rates when you book a hotel and Shinkansen ticket together. However, it can be hard to determine how much of a discount you are getting — usually not much — and they tend to be in Japanese.

Stations on the Hokkaidō Shinkansen

There are currently only four stations on the Hokkaidō Shinkansen:

  • Shin-Aomori
  • Okutsugaru-Imabetsu
  • Kikonai
  • Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto

Let’s talk about them all.

Shin-Aomori Station

Hirosaki Castle
See spring flowers at Hirosaki Castle. | Photo by iStock.com/ntrirata

You’ll need to catch a train into the center of Aomori from this station, but that only takes six minutes on the Ou Line, and the main sights are all within walking distance. The city itself doesn’t have many iconic landmarks, but the annual Nebuta Festival in August sees the area fill with people, so book ahead. If you miss out, you can always go to the year-round Nebuta Museum instead.

Along with the museum, you can visit the memorial ship Hakkōda-maru, promenade, lighthouse, and marina for some sea views. And don’t forget to make your own special seafood rice bowl (nokkedon) at the Aomori Gyosai Center’s fish market.

Where can I go from Shin-Aomori?

Shin-Aomori is a great jumping off point for Tōhoku’s expansive nature. The entrance to Lake Towada (Yasumiya) can be reached by car in around 90 minutes from Shin-Aomori Station. You can also hop on a direct bus that takes around 2.5 hours. Timetable here.

Hirosaki Castle, the crowning jewel of Hirosaki, is 45 minutes away on the local Ou Line. It hosts lots of seasonal events throughout the year.

If you’ve had enough of the Shinkansen, you can also catch a boat from Aomori Ferry Terminal to Hakodate.

Okutsugaru-Imabetsu Station

imabetsu
The old Tsugaru-imabetsu station board | Photo by Getty Images

The area around Okutsugaru-Imabetsu seems like an odd place to have a Shinkansen station, but they built one anyway. It is the southernmost JR Hokkaidō station, despite not actually being on the island itself. Getting to the closest town — Imabetsu — takes around six minutes by bus. Here, you can visit the famous coastal area of Takanosaki (20-minute bus ride), and walk out onto the sea across floating bridges.

Where can I go from Okutsugaru-Imabetsu?

Choose Okutsugaru-Imabetsu Station or Kikonai Station if you want to see the Seikan Tunnel entrance (where the Shinkansen goes into the deep). It is a 50-minute bus journey away from Okutsugaru-Imabetsu, but the area also boasts many hiking routes, such as a path up to Cape Tappi for panoramic views, a tourist center, and the Seikan Tunnel Museum.

Kikonai Station

This quaint Hokkaidō town is the first stop after you exit the depths of the underwater Shinkansen tunnel. Kikonai is said to be the place where Hakodate wagyu beef was born, and so their mascot is a cute, bright red cow called Kiko.

Nearby Cape Saraki is a popular tourist spot due to a carpet of multi-colored tulips in spring, as well as a giant ship and windmill. You could even mistake it for Holland if it weren’t for the views of the Tsugaru Strait and Mount Hakodate in the distance. It will take you around 30 minutes by bus or train to get there from Kinonai Station.

Where can I go from Kikonai?

Many people get off at this penultimate stop to get to Hakodate a different way — by using the tranquil South Hokkaidō Railway’s Donan Isaribi Tetsudo Line. It takes around an hour from Kikonai Station to Goryōkaku Station in Hakodate, and awes with beautiful coastal views.

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station

The 19th-cenutry Goryōkaku Fort in Hakodate is beautiful throughout the seasons. | Photo by Getty Images

The Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Shinkansen station is not in the center of Hakodate, but it is only a 15-minute local train journey to the main Hakodate Station. If you jump off a stop earlier at Goryōkaku Station, you can get to the enormous five-point fort (where the station gets its name). The best way to see Goryōkaku Fort is with a birds’-eye view from the nearby tower.

Hakodate has an internal tram system that is connected to the main landmarks. From Goryōkaku, it takes 25 minutes on a tram to the starting point of Hakodate Bay, where you can see the morning market, famous red brick warehouses, and a Christmas tree with fireworks during winter.

Looming over everything is the modest Hakodate Mountain. You can hike, use the cable car, or go on a bus tour to see the incredible night views for which Hakodate is famous.

Where can I go from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto?

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station is only a 10-minute limited train ride from Hakodate’s top day trip: Onuma Quasi-National Park, the land of bridge-connected islands, walking paths, and the impressive Mt. Komagatake.

After taking the Shinkansen to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, most move on to Sapporo. It takes 3.5 hours on a limited express train from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. You can also use this line to get to Niseko by transferring at Oshamambe Station (for a whole journey of around 2.5 hours).

Hokkaidō Shinkansen FAQs

How many stops are on the Hokkaidō Shinkansen?

The Hokkaidō Shinkansen is not exactly lengthy; there are only four stops in total. Blasting off from Shin-Aomori Station near Aomori City, it ends around 1 hour and 148.8 km later at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station, near Hakodate City.

Will they extend the Hokkaidō Shinkansen?

In the 2030s, the Hokkaidō Shinkansen route will be extended to Sapporo (the main city and one of the top destinations of Hokkaidō). The plan is that once the bullet train leaves Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station, it will also stop at four other places in Hokkaidō: Yakumo, Oshamambe, Kutchan, and Otaru, before arriving at Sapporo.

What lines connect to the Hokkaidō Shinkansen?

The Hokkaidō Shinkansen wouldn’t be much without help from another, more prominent line — the Tōhoku Shinkansen. Running from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori, it allows direct access from Tokyo to Hokkaidō in 3 hours 57 minutes to 4 hours 27 minutes, depending on the service. You get some beautiful, winter-wonderland sights on the way up.

Does the Hokkaidō Shinkansen go under the sea?

The line is most famous for going under the sea in what is currently the world’s longest undersea tunnel. Unfortunately, the tunnel walls aren’t transparent, so this is less exciting than it sounds.

Does snow ever stop the Hokkaidō Shinkansen?

The line isn’t without its weather-related problems, especially in winter when Tōhoku and Hokkaidō often see record-breaking amounts of snow — Japan is the snowiest country in the world, you know. Check the official Hokkaidō Shinkansen website for timetable changes.

Also read:

Wondering what to do while you are in the chilly north? You can rent a car and get to a whole host of hiking trails, attend traditional festivals, or — if you are still out of ideas — go through our top ten things to do in Hokkaidō.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.

Get the best Japan Cheapo hacks direct to your inbox