This map summaries the results of the many long nights I spent planning a self-drive family holiday in Hokkaido last summer. It was hard work – how I struggled to keep a clear head at work on some afternoons – but it was worth it! Hokkaido is now one of my favourite places and I’d love to return to do more hiking, eat more seafood, soak in the hot springs, and just relax and enjoy the natural beauty and fresh air…

Highlights from this trip, in chronological order, include:

While researching online, a few names always came up in the forums, offering advice about what to do in Hokkaido and getting around the island. I told myself that I shall consolidate all the intel that I gathered for this trip and document them here so that someone else could benefit from this pool of knowledge. I’m also especially proud of my Google map!

We rented a car for 12 days in Hokkaido as this gave us more flexibility in getting around. This was my first time driving in a foreign country. Having spent most of my life in Singapore, which is relatively flat with no mountains at all, I soon learnt that I couldn’t drive in a straight line from point A to point B in Hokkaido. Instead, I’d often have to go around mountains or national parks, which meant longer driving times.

In Singapore, I never had to drive for no more than an hour each time because it’s so small and traffic jams don’t exist here (Singaporeans who beg to disagree should try driving in cities like Istanbul and Shanghai where the traffic actually comes to a complete standstill). In Hokkaido, I drove several hours a day on average and across greater distances (Hokkaido’s about six times the size of Singapore). Fortunately, I split the driving with my dad who’s accustomed to being behind the wheel for hours as he drives a taxi occasionally. This meant that I got to snooze or snack on delicious chili tapioca chips (that my mum brought for me from Singapore) during the drive!

One of the most helpful sites I found was Northern Road Navi which enabled me to work out the approximate driving times and distances, as well as visualise the routes.

Another technological innovation that we used was the GPS in our car. All we had to do was to type the mapcodes for the different locations (as we didn’t know how to input the address in Japanese). Only thing is that I had to figure out the mapcodes beforehand. Some I found on forums about Hokkaido but the majority were found using Mapion.Follow the GPS

Getting the right MapCodes took quite some effort… For instance, I had to insert an address written in Japanese and decipher amongst the search results on Mapion, all without being able to read much Japanese except for some of the characters in Hiragana. An alternative way of using the GPS system in the rental cars would have been to put in the telephone number of the venue or destination, however this wasn’t always accurate although it came in handy whenever we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t in the itinerary.

Two other useful sites to check out if you are planning to do a driving holiday around Hokkaido:

Hokkaido Fly & Drive

Car rental: To Coo! – compares the best rates available across different companies

That’s all for now! I will gradually (i.e. slowly) post my travel tips and experiences in Hokkaido. Hopefully I will review all my photos from this trip before summer 2013 ends : )

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60 replies on “12 Days of Summer in Hokkaido

    1. It’s really easy. First, you need to have a Google account (e.g. Gmail). When you’re on Google, go to “Maps” and you’ll see a “My Places” button in the column on the left. Click on it and select “Create Map”. You just need to insert the addresses of the places that you want to note on the map and save these as you go along. Hope this helps and happy ‘mapping’!

    1. It was a breeze driving in Hokkaido (long winding mountain roads aside) especially since the rental cars generally come with GPS and you can find out ahead of time the relevant information to key into the machine for some of the places that you want to go. Have fun!

  1. Hello angeline, u have an interesting blog..can u email me your intinery for the trip and also the driving google map? Thanks

    1. Hi May, I don’t have a brief itinerary that I could share yet (am working on it, together with the many photos that I’ve to process). You can see the Google Map here: http://goo.gl/maps/HHVrZ

      In brief: Our travel route would look like an infinity symbol.

      We started in the centre of Hokkaido with 3N in the Furano-Biei-Nakafurano region. This included visits to selected flower farms and walks in the Daisetsuzan National Park.

      We then moved eastward to Abashiri and Shiretoko Peninsula where we spent a few nights in a small town Rausu. Then we moved south, with Akan as our base, and visiting several lakes enroute and also Kushiro.

      From here, we drove back towards the centre of Hokkaido, passing through Obhiro and stopping at Sapporo for 1 night. We moved north-west along the coastline, going to Otaru and Shatokan Peninsula for a few days, before making our way to Noboribetsu area with its beautiful lakes and onsens. We drove back to New Chitose to take the plane to Tokyo.

  2. Started my “three year overseas adventure” in Hokkaido 16 years ago, Ended up living in rural Hokkaido for four years,including one year in Biei, and loved it – even/especially the winters! Now I’m in Tokyo and blogging about the different “cities within the city.”

    Thanks for writing this post and making the map! I look forward to visiting your posts about the different places you visited.

    1. Hi Aaron, thanks for commenting and look forward to reading more of your observations and adventures in Japan on your blog(s)! I really hope that I’ll be able to go through all the images from this trip in the next two months or so 🙂

  3. Hey Angelina, I’ll be travelling to Hokkaido this May. Planning to drive along Furano-Biei-Asahikawa and wondering how were the flowers and fields during May in Biei? Many sources say the best time to travel to these places is July-Sep, so not sure if the plains and fields will be bare and empty just after the winter season.

    1. Hi, sorry for the belated reply as I was on holiday and didn’t have my computer with me. I’ve only been to Hokkaido once and that was in mid August, which would be around mid/late-summer for Hokkaido. My take on Hokkaido is that any time is a good time to visit the island – it just depends on what you’re interested in to experience as there’s always something interesting to see/do/eat.

      June-September is when the weather is warm with lots of greenery.

      As for a visit to Biei/Furano in May, I found this page with some info: http://www.japan-guide.com/forum/quereadisplay.html?0+100077

      Hope this helps!

  4. Haha I COMPLETELY sympathize with the frustration of navigating using the car’s GPS in Hokkaido, those map codes were a bit of a nightmare eh? I used to have to sit on the side of a road for 20-minutes trying to find the location I wanted (No, I do not want to go to on a 25-hr road-trip to southern Kyushu…). Luckily everyone I asked for help at the tourist information centres were very kind!

    Loved looking through your blog today! Best of luck on your next trip to Hokkaido 🙂

    1. I did a lot of pre-trip-work on the internet. So was armed with mapcodes for various places. Next time, I might want to do a mix of train and car transportation.

  5. Hi, Angelina!

    What’s your impression of the following lodgings you stayed at : (1) Minshuku Bibaushi (2) B&B Abishiri ?

    Your itinerary is fantastic! Very well thought out, meticulous in detail and definitely involving hours of painstaking research. Loved especially your trip to the Shiretoko Peninsula and yep, my wife and I just reserved a room at the Pension Rausukuru for our June self-drive holiday.

    1. Hi Richard, thanks for your feedback and I’m glad some of the information is helpful (happy to share what I found) 🙂

      We enjoyed our stay at Minshuku Bibaushi. The family didn’t speak much English but were responsive in email communication. It’s clean and tidy (communal bath & toilet facilities) and I like that it is located on a side road with nature/gardens around it. Breakfast and dinner were delicious with generous portions of home-cooked food.

      We only spent one night in Abishiri as a stopover between Furano and Shiretoko. I was looking for something affordable and with no-frills – B&B Abishiri fit the bill. It’s a clean and basic dormitory with communal bath and toilet facilities – reminded me of scenes on TV programmes showing children/teenagers going to a school camp! There was an indoor onsen, which was a nice touch.

      Glad you’re headed to Rausu! It’s very nice and laid back. The people who run Pension Rausukuru don’t speak much English but were super friendly and helpful. We had a great stay there – if you can, try to have dinner there at least once.

      I need to continue working on my photos and write more about this trip here. This is by far one of my favourite trips! 🙂

      1. Hi angelina,

        do you have the email address of Pension Rausukuru so that i can make a reservation.

        Thanks

  6. Hi, Angelina,
    We a group of overland travellers and interested to visit Hokaido.
    The size of our group has always been a problem in the booking of accomodation. As it is heartbreaking to trim down the size. The best we can do 20 to 24 pax.
    We have 16 days and the selected date is April/May next year
    Please advise.

    Thank you
    Best Regards
    Linus

  7. Hi Angeline, Love your photos. Is it possible to share your list of map codes ? Took one look at Mapion and didn’t know what to do 🙂

    1. Hi Swee Leng, I don’t have all the map codes listed on a sheet. However, if you click on the link to the Google Map on which I’ve marked the different places that I visited, you would see the map codes for all the different places. Link: http://goo.gl/maps/IDhFW

      Hope this helps!
      Angelina

  8. Hi there,
    Your trip seems so much fun! I’m looking to do the same in a couple of months and would like some help.
    Is it possible to share roughly how much the self drive cost you? I can roughly estimate the gas and rental costs but I’m wary of hidden costs like tolls and entrance fees to parks etc. How much would you say is a good sum to set aside for a 10 day self drive? A few party members are malaysian so they really need to allocate funds since the ringgit is so… Low right now.
    Please do get back. There’s so many blogs detailing self drive trips but nobody ever talks about money, haha.
    Thank you so much in advance!

    1. Hi Mei Ann, coincidentally, I’m in Hokkaido right now 🙂 I don’t think we kept track of the petrol and road toll fees for the previous trip. Our costs might also not be reflective of how much it would cost for you as we travelled quite a bit between the western and eastern ends. We also went on many highways – if you could figure out your route in advance to get around the highways, you probably can save a bit. It would probably help to rent an ETC toll card if you’ll be driving for 10days.

      On this current trip to Hokkaido, we rented a car for only 2 days – mainly so that we could drive up into the mountains in Daisetzusen National Park. We drove for around 10 hours in total, from Sapporo to Mt. Tokaichi (in Furano) and from the mountains to Otaru. Petrol seemed relatively cheap compared to Europe and was around 3000yen. The toll fees on the other hand seemed quite expensive – we paid around 9000yen. Car rental for 2 full days, via TooCoo, was around 16400 yen.

      As for entrance fees, this varies from one place to another so it just depends on where you might visit. You should be able to find info on entrance fees on the websites of these places, though it might sometimes be in Japanese. In which case, you can use Google Translate to help you.

      Hope this info helps!
      Angelina

      1. Dear Angelina,
        It does help a lot! At least we can guesstimate with ballpark figure, previously it felt like groping in the dark. We have yet to finalise the route though, as our first was a tad too ambitious. Worried that in pushing to cover everything we might be too tired to fully enjoy the experience so we’re slowly scaling back. But thank you so much again and looking forward to read more of your adventures! 🙂

        1. Happy to be of some help! Hokkaido is a lovely place to visit. The island is about six times the size of Singapore with a fair amount of mountain roads, so I would recommend taking your time to travel around and enjoy each place 🙂

  9. Thanks for the blog post – it will help us a lot in our trip planning. I hit the Mapion link that it in the blog and the entire site is in Japanese – how did you find the Mapcodes in english?

    1. Hi Christy, happy to hear that this article is useful for your trip planning.

      Mapion is not available in English unfortunately. In order to obtain the map codes, I inserted the address written in Japanese and deciphered the search results on Mapion (I can make out some of the kanji characters).

      Alternatively, you can use the GPS system in rental cars, where you just need to type the telephone number of the venue or destination. This is not 100% accurate, but you should get the right addresses most of the time. This was handy whenever we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t in the itinerary.

      I’ve included the map codes for the places that I identified/visited on this trip on this Google Map: http://goo.gl/maps/IDhFW

      Hope this helps,
      Angelina

  10. hi just wanna say ur google map has been a great help in my planning for the hokkaido trip i intend to do in end july- early aug. can i know how was the weather like when you went? i am really worried about the driving in hokkaido especially if there is heavy rain, as even in singapore, during thunderstorms, driving is pretty scary. Thank you!

    1. Hello Nat, you are most welcome and I’m happy to hear that you found this useful. We were there in mid August and it was hot in the day time. It can get a little cool in the evening particularly if you’re in the mountains. I don’t remember driving in heavy rain when I was in Hokkaido then. We encountered some light drizzle with mist when we were in Abashiri but it was no problem driving in this situation at all. Hope this helps!

      1. thanks for the reply. im assuming hot, but still not as hot as singapore.. haha. anyway, can i know how to use the mapion thing. i tried to key in the address but where do i find the mapcode for the place? sorry for being a trouble…

        1. Hi Nat, so sorry – I realised that I missed this other question of yours. I hope you figured out how to use Mapion? The easiest way – for someone who doesn’t read Japanese – will be to use Google Translate to translate the entire website. Just copy and paste the URL into Google Translate, select the language and click ‘Enter’.

    1. Hello, I don’t remember paying any parking fees at the attractions that I visited by car. You would however have to pay if you park in a public car park nearby an attraction.

  11. Hi Angelia, thanks for the informative post! I’ll be going to Hokkaido next month. You mentioned that you were there during mid-August, how is the crowd and traffic there? Sadly, I’ll be going during the obon period and I’m worried about the traffic.

    1. Hi GK, the traffic and crowds were fine and not excessive in the places where I visited. There were no long queues. I’ve not travelled during the obon period in Japan so I’m afraid I don’t know how the situation would be like in Hokkaido.

      Hokkaido is a huge island. Some places would be more crowded or popular than others, and others less so 😉

  12. Hi Angelina

    I’m just starting my research on Hokkaido and I stumbled upon the beauty of Daisetsuzan National Park. Was a little sad when I read online that the place is most accessible by car haha! I love road trips but the ones I’ve done were all aided by English road signs and maps. I’m thinking of driving from Sapporo to Daisetsuzan.

    Do you think i’ll still face the language barrier if I brought my own GPS or use google maps from my phone to navigate? Or would you recommend just using the car’s inbuilt GPS? How was your car rental experience with TooCoo?

    I know no Japanese, but I can make out the kanji words (as in, I read them in Chinese haha).

    1. Hi Stacey, I suppose part of the reason why the Daisetsuzan National Park, as well as some other parts of Hokkaido, is not overrun with tourists is because of its slight inaccessibility 😉

      While the road signs are in Japanese, the names of major landmarks and towns are also printed in the Roman alphabet. So you shouldn’t have much problem navigating around the island, unless you are trying to get to somewhere remote.

      You should be able to get by with the GPS that is provided by the car rental companies – if possible, request for an English-language GPS when you make your reservation. You can then use Google Maps on your phone as a back-up.

      I’ve used TooCoo twice in Hokkaido – most recently in September 2015 – and would recommend it. The website is user-friendly and is available in English: https://www2.tocoo.jp/en.

      And I’m like you – I don’t know Japanese but can make out some of the kanji characters!

      Angelina

  13. Dear Angelina,

    My family plane to going to Hokkaido in 8 June, your posts have help me a lots in planning the trip, thank you.

    As for Himawari-no-sato do you know in early June, am i able to see Sunflower? Thinking if I drive too long hour from Biei, and did not see much sunflower, what a waste..

    1. Hi Mona, I’m pleased to know that these posts have been helpful in your family trip planning! I don’t think that the sunflowers would have bloomed in early June as the festival in Himawari-no-Sato is typically from mid-July to late August. You can get the latest update of the sunflower blooms from the official website: http://www.town.hokuryu.hokkaido.jp/himawari.php – it’s in Japanese but the English Google translation (the button is on the top right corner) should suffice in navigating the site. Hope you’ll enjoy Hokkaido!

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