From 1907 to 1981 this rail line was the main route to Eastern Hokkaido from Sapporo via Furano. Traveling alongside Sorachi-gawa river from Takikawa you encounter the old coal mining towns, Northern Hokkaido’s top ski resort and the pleasant artificial lake Kanayama-ko. After crossing the Karikachi Pass, the majestic Tokachi Plain awaits you.
DURATION: 3 hours
ORDINARY FARE: ¥2860 (Valid for 2-day)
BEST TIME: Year-round.
Akabira ›› Take an old coal mine tour with a former miner. It is possible to detour from Sunagawa via Utashinai by bus.
Furano ›› Northern Hokkaido’s ‘ski and agricultural capital’, indulge in tasty cheese, wine and ice cream.
Higashi-Shikagoe & Kanayama-ko ›› Relaxing in a cottage, log hotel or campsite by the pleasant artificial lake in the forested valley.
About 80km northeast of Sapporo on the JR Hakodate Line, Takikawa is a start of the JR Nemuro Line. You will have a layover if you are heading east to Furano.
Heading east out of Takikawa and passes through the rice fields, the train crosses Sorachi-gawa, the longest tributary of Ishikari-gawa.
The small city Akabira holds the original forms of old mining remnants behind the modern train station. Soon after Akabira, look out for the Old Sumitomo Akabira Coal Mine with a a 43.8m-high pithead on the right.
26.6km to 54.6km
Ashibetsu to Furano
Ashibetsu was also once Sorachi’s major coal mining town. You can switch to Chuo Bus here for a scenic byway to Asahikawa passes through the lovely Shinjo Pass and Kamuikotan gorge.
A few kilometers after Nokanan you spend about 10 minutes in Takisato Tunnel (5595m) and Shimanoshita Tunnel (2839m), then you meet the charming city of Furano across Sorachi-gawa.
Furano is said to mark the geographical center of Hokkaido and the main setting of the long TV drama series Kita-no-Kuni-kara. JR Furano Line heads north to Asahikawa via Biei.
Tourist-friendly attractions and dining options dotted around the city (such as the rural village Rokugo) so you won’t miss out anything. In winter, the ski area is occupied by skiers and snowboarders.
Yamabe is the base for climb to the sharp-edged Ashibetsu-dake (1726m) on the rugged Yubari Mountains, where you can admire the mountain from the platform. The trailhead of Yamabe Natural Park Taiyo-no-sato is about 4km west of the train station (taxi costs around ¥1500).
81.6km to 94.8km
Kanayama to Higashi-Shikagoe
After pass through Sorachi-gawa Tunnel (2255m), the train crosses the picturesque artificial lake Kanayama-ko and follows the southern shore. Currently all local trains from Takikawa via Furano end this lakeside unstaffed station near the limestone quarry. The holiday resort Kanayama-ko Forest Park is 3km from the train station across Shikagoe-ohashi bridge.
Alternative JR buses (列車代行バス) connect Higashi-Shikagoe with Shintoku (1hr) on Route 38, stopping at Ikutora and Ochiai stations.
94.8km to 136.3km
Higashi-Shikagoe to Shintoku
Stopping after Ochiai, alternative JR buses cross the dynamic Karikachi Pass (644m) on the border of Kamikawa and Tokachi regions. Most buses pause at Sahoro Resorto with ski slopes, hotels and the Bear Mountain.
The refreshing highland town Shintoku is a main gateway of Western Tokachi and famed for high-quality soba. The train station area has some excellent noodle shops.
You will have a layover if you are continuing east to Obihiro on the JR Nemuro Line or west to Sapporo on the JR Sekisho Line.