Introducing the Hokkaidō Love Pass! Perfect for a quick winter getaway to the snowy north, this pass is amazing value and only available for a limited time. Students, we think you’ll like this one — it coincidences perfectly with the semester break.
But you have to get in quick! The Hokkaidō Love Pass is only on sale from February 1 to 28, 2023. For ¥12,000 it gives you unlimited rides on a huge range of JR Hokkaidō trains and buses. You’ll be able to explore Hokkaidō for six days for a fraction of what it would normally cost you. Plus, the dates overlap with the world famous Sapporo Snow Festival.
The details: What you need to know¥12,000
Travel from February 2 to March 31
Official website (Japanese only)
The Hokkaidō Love Pass is available to everyone who might want to visit Hokkaidō, regardless of nationality or visa status. However, it’s only available for a limited time and there’s a limited number available too, so you need to get in quick, while it’s still available.
Note: There will be an announcement on the JR Hokkaidō homepage when the passes have sold out.
How to buy the pass
First, you’ll need to get yourself to Hokkaidō. Unfortunately, the pass can’t be bought online — or even in person — outside of Hokkaidō. If you’re not sure how to get to Hokkaidō, here’s a guide for getting from Tokyo to Sapporo (the capital city of Hokkaidō). It’s also possible to fly into Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport from other parts of Japan and even overseas. Domestic flights can also take you to other cities in Hokkaidō like Hakodate and Kushiro.
Once you’re in Hokkaidō you can buy a pass from a JR ticket office or ticket vending machine.
Validity period and services
Keep in mind that the pass is only available for purchase from February 1 to 28, but is valid for travel from February 2 to March 31. When you buy the pass you have to pre-select your six-day travel period. However, March 26 is the last day you can opt to start your pass. This is because if you start your pass after March 26 you won’t get the full six days of travel. Similarly, you need to buy the pass at least one day before you plan to use it.
The Hokkaidō Love Pass is valid for travel on non-reserved JR Limited Express trains and local trains. It’s not valid for the Hokkaidō Shinkansen. But, the Hokkaidō Shinkansen only reaches the southern end of Hokkaidō, so don’t worry, you’re not missing out on too much there. The pass can also be used on some bus services and up to four times to make seat reservations on ordinary trains (except for the SL Fuyu no Shitsugen/SL冬の湿原 train).
Can’t make the dates work? Other Hokkaidō rail passes are available (mostly) year-round.
Where can you go?
So you’ve got your pass, but where to go? Let’s talk about some Hokkaidō highlights you can visit. We’ve focused on wintery highlights because even though March is technically spring, Hokkaidō is so far north it’s still incredibly cold at that time of the year. We’ve also included information about how much it would normally cost you to get to each destination from Sapporo, so you can see what good value the Hokkaidō Love Pass is.
If you’re flying to Hokkaidō, you’ll probably fly into New Chitose Airport in Sapporo. Logically, Sapporo is home to both the Sapporo Snow Festival and the Sapporo Beer Museum. For more on Sapporo check out our full guide here. The Hokkaidō Love Pass can be used from travel on JR trains and buses within Sapporo.
This picturesque town is a popular day trip from Sapporo. In winter, snow lines the canal and dusts rooftops making for some truly lovely photo ops. Plus, there’s great seafood and if you time it right the Otaru Light Snow Path event is just plain magical. The trip from Sapporo is fully covered by the Hokkaidō Love Pass (regular price: ¥750 one-way).
For those arriving by Shinkansen, Hakodate is your gateway into Hokkaidō. This port city is known for its European-influenced architecture and the remarkable scenic views from nearby Mt. Hakodate. Star-shaped Fort Goryōkaku is another popular attraction in the city. It normally costs ¥8,910 one-way from Sapporo to Hakodate.
Noboribetsu Onsen Town
Noboribetsu is Hokkaidō’s most popular hot spring resort (and one of Japan’s top destination onsen). There are a range of hotels and ryokan (Japanese style inns) with onsen, some of which are open air. Don’t worry though, open air hot springs in the winter might sound cold, but they are still toasty and warm. A one-way limited express train from Sapporo normally costs ¥4,250 for a non-reserved seat.
Snowsports fans are probably already familiar with Niseko. There are five ski resorts in the area for you to choose from, but they can be a bit awkward to get to. From Sapporo you can take a train to Kutchan Station for ¥2,100 one-way, then take a bus to your ski resort of choice. The train is covered by the Hokkaidō Love Pass but the buses generally won’t be.
More details on getting from Tokyo to Niseko, plus what’s new for the Niseko 2022/23 season.
If you’d like to really work your pass and experience something unique head to Abashiri. Here you can see the Okhotsk Sea drift ice (more on that here) and visit the Abashiri Prison Museum — Japan’s own Alcatraz. Non-reserved seats on the limited express train to Abashiri Station would normally cost ¥10,010 one-way from Sapporo, but is fully covered by the Hokkaidō Love Pass.
Events and festivals
February in particular is a great month for events in Hokkaidō. Here’s a quick round up:February 3-4: Noboribetsu Onsen “Naked Man” Festival
February 4-11: Sapporo Snow Festival
February 11-12: Abashiri Okhotsk Drift Ice Festival
February 11-18: Otaru Light Snow Path
So, by now you can see that this pass is incredible value and a great way to experience Hokkaidō. But, with a limited number of passes available you’ll need to get in quick. What are you waiting for?