Going up along Japan’s third-longest river across the agricultural Ishikari Plain from Sapporo, one of Hokkaido’s most important rail lines (formally called JR Hakodate Line) follow the old coal mining towns and great rice fields in Sorachi Region. Limited express trains, such as Kamui and Lilac, run every half hour to one hour.
DURATION: Limited express 1.5 hours, Local 2.5 hours (basically require a change at Iwamizawa or Takikawa)
ORDINARY FARE: ¥2860 (Valid for 2-day)
BEST TIME: May to October for museums and walking. Winter for Asahiyama Zoo and ice fishing on Shinotsu-ko.
Bibai ›› Take bus to the sculpture park Arte Piazza, hillside onsen or try the traditional yakitori.
All limited expresses for Asahikawa (and further north) depart from Sapporo, Hokkaido’s major transport hub on the JR Hakodate Line (for Otaru) and the JR Chitose Line (for Muroran). Daytime local trains run to Ebetsu or Iwamizawa.
17.9km to 21.0km
Nopporo to Ebetsu
Japan’s top renga (red bricks) producing area founded in 1891, Ebetsu is the largest satellite city of Sapporo. There are more than 400 old and new red brick buildings in the city. Nopporo is de facto city center with several historic buildings.
21.0km to 40.6km
Ebetsu to Iwamizawa
The train crosses the 600m-long Yubari-gawa Bridge (built in 1937) over the artificial waterway, where you enter Sorachi Region soon. Kami-Horomui is the nearest station of the lakeside Shinshinotsu Onsen.
Founded in 1878 as Sorachi’s transport hub and capital, Iwamizawa is a good base of visit the region’s old coal mine towns, such as Mikasa. You will find the red brick Rail Center (built in 1899) at the north gate of the train station. Daytime local trains on the JR Hakodate Line require a change here.
Bibai was once Hokkaido’s second largest coal mining city sits halfway between Sapporo and Asahikawa. About 90,000 people lived here in the 1950s, but the last underground coal mine was closed in 1973. Today Bibai is putting effort into tourism and tasty yakitori.
57.4km to 83.5km
Bibai to Takikawa
The 20km-long straight tracks head north to the small industrial city Sunagawa, a transfer point for Utashinai. The 516m-long bridge across Sorachi-gawa between Sunagawa and Takikawa.
The northernmost city of the Ishikari Plain that has a nickname Rice Land, Fukagawa is a jumping-off point for Rumoi by train, Shumarinai-ko (via Horokanai) and Hokuryu Onsen by bus. The city has a variety of orchards, cycle paths, trails and soba restaurants. All limited express trains stop here.
Hokkaido’s second largest city of Asahikawa lies on the Kamikawa Basin. The city is straddles the clear rivers and laid out in a grid pattern, with its varied attractions, bustling izakaya, ramen spots, craft studios and home to Kamikawa Ainu.
Asahikawa is also a good transport hub on the JR Furano Line (via Biei), the JR Soya Line (for Wakkanai) and the JR Sekihoku Line (for Abashiri) or as a base for Daisetsuzan National Park.