All limited express trains between Hakodate and Sapporo pass through this route, via the JR Muroran Line (室蘭本線) in Iburi Region and the JR Chitose Line (千歳線) in Ishikari Region. The main attraction along the route is Shikotsu-Toya National Park (支笏洞爺国立公園), one of Hokkaido’s most popular destinations and easily accessible from Sapporo or New Chitose Airport.
Oshamanbe to Sapporo (via Chitose)
DISTANCE (via Chitose): Hakodate to Sapporo 318.7km / Muroran to Sapporo136.2km
DURATION (limited express): Hakodate to Sapporo 3.5 to 4 hours / Muroran to Sapporo 1.5 hours
ORDINARY FARE (via Chitose): Hakodate to Sapporo ¥6270 (Valid for 3-day) / Muroran to Sapporo ¥2860 (Valid for 2-day)
BEST TIME: Year-round
Toya ›› The closest station to Toyako Onsen (7km northeast) on the southern shore of Toya-ko. Hokkaido’s most active volcano Usu-zan offers dynamic views and geological sites.
Muroran ›› Just 7km off the main line from Higashi-Muroran, this industrial city boasts eastern Japan’s longest suspension bridge and photogenic coasts.
Noboribetsu ›› Hokkaido’s most famous onsen town nearby the steaming Jigoku-dani (hell valley). Relaxing your body and mind.
Shiraoi ›› The Upopoy Ainu National Museum and Park is situated on the calm lake Poroto-ko.
Chitose & Shikotsu-ko ›› Hokkaido’s airline hub offers a good link for Japan’s clearest lake Shikotsu-ko surrounded by beautiful mountains.
START: 112km from Hakodate
Halfway between Sapporo and Hakodate on the JR Hakodate Line, this coastal town is a major rail junction and the start of the JR Muroran Line. All limited express trains stop here. You will have enough time to explore the town if you are traveling from Hakodate or Otaru by local train.
BOARDING ›› JR Muroran Line follows the scenic shoreline along the Uchiura Bay (内浦湾) passes through eight tunnels to Toya, where you enter Iburi Region. Some local trains stop at the hidden station Koboro (129.8km), sandwiched between the long tunnels and there are no roads from here. You will find pleasant beaches with campsites near the train stations from Rebun (135.9km) to Toyoura (148.4km).
The beautiful caldera lake Toya-ko is a unique tourist spot in the western part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, about 7km northeast of JR Toya Station. Toya-ko and its surrounding volcanos are listed as a Unesco Global Geopark. Donan Bus runs from JR Toya Station to Toyako Onsen terminal (18min / ¥340).
BOARDING ›› Look north to see the two volcanos of the rugged Usu-zan (737m) and the triangle-shaped Showa-shinzan (398m). You can walk to the historic temple Usu-Zenko-ji (1.5km north) and the trailhead of Usu-zan (2km northeast) from Usu (158.9km).
This bayside city was founded by Tohoku-born samurai chief Date Kunishige in 1869. There are cherry-blossom viewing spots around the train stations.
BOARDING ›› One stop east of Date-Monbetsu, the coastal station Kita-Funaoka (169.7km) has a good sunset view from the platform and the double-peaked mountain Koma-ga-take (1131m) is visible far over the bay. After passing through some tunnels, keep an eye out for the 1380m-long Hakucho-ohashi, Eastern Japan’s longest suspension bridge across the Muroran Bay.
This is where the 7km-long branch line for local trains heads west to Muroran. The limited express train Suzuran for Higashi-Muroran from Sapporo (6 daily / 1.5hrs) continue to Muroran as a local train.
BOARDING ›› For Muroran, the local train skirts the massive steel mill. If you plan to visit the scenic cape Chikyu-misaki, get off at Bokoi (5.9km) and change to the bus.
7.0km from Higashi-Muroran
The heavy industrial city Muroran sits on the Etomo Peninsula with a natural harbor. Eastern Japan’s longest suspension bridge of Hakucho-ohashi, coastlines and factories make up amazing views. You will find several scenic walks and viewpoints around the town.
BOARDING ›› Go back by local train you came to Higashi-Muroran, the line follows the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean – along with the busy Route 36 to Sapporo.
Noboribetsu is one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts bustling with international tourists. About 10,000 tons of mineral water gushing out every day from the volcanic valley of Jigoku-dani and muddy pond of Oyu-numa. Buses run from JR Noboribetsu Station (14min / ¥350).
BOARDING ›› One stop east of Noboribetsu, Kojohama (210.4km) is a coastal onsen town with quite ageing accommodation along Route 36. All onsen has 100% free-flowing hot sulfur spring and open for day-use to the public around ¥500.
Known as the lakeside Ainu village of Poroto Kotan (ポロトコタン) facing the pleasant Poroto-ko (‘large lake’ in Ainu) surrounded by forest, Shiraoi is home to Upopoy (‘singing in a large groupe’ in Ainu) National Ainu Museum and Park. It is an agreeable place to stopover the journey between Sapporo and Noboribetsu
BOARDING ›› From Shiraoi, the train runs on Japan’s longest straight rail line (28.7km). Look out for lovely racehorses backed by the volcano Tarumae-zan (1041m) around Shadai (231.4km).
The coastal industrial city of Tomakomai has one of Japan’s vital commercial ports facing the Pacific Ocean. At the west side of the train station, the Oji Paper Mill has 200m-high chimneys and the world’s fastest papermaking machine. Don’t miss the unique seafood ekiben (駅弁: railway boxed meals) at the ticket gate. Tomakomai is also a major gateway to Hidaka Region for Erimo-misaki.
BOARDING ›› JR Chitose Line branches off from the JR Muroran Line at Numanohata (256.3km), but all trains run from Tomakomai direction. Before arriving at Minami-Chitose, you enter Ishikari Region. Look out for New Chitose Airport on the left.
274.7km / 277.7km
Minami-Chitose & Chitose 南千歳 · 千歳
The city of Chitose is famous for its Hokkaido’s airline hub and a convenient gateway to the lake Shikotsu-ko.
At Minami-Chitose (most trains stop here), the 2.6km branch line turns southwest to New Chitose Airport and the JR Sekisho Line heads east for Kushiro.
BOARDING ›› Beer lovers should head for the Kirin Beer Park Chitose at Osatsu (281.2km) or Sapporo Beer Hokkaido Brewery at Sapporo Beer Teien (283.4km) by local train, located between Chitose and Eniwa.
DETOUR: 25km West of Chitose
In the eastern part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Japan’s clearest lake Shikotsu-ko is plunges as deep as 363m. This mysterious lake is never freeze in winter and its convenient access from New Chitose Airport by bus. Shikotsuko Onsen (支笏湖温泉) has accommodation, shops and restaurants.
Shin-Sapporo is a convenient transport hub on the JR Line and the Tozai subway line. There are some hotels, shopping malls and family-oriented attractions within a short walking distance from the station. All trains stop here and JR buses run to the Historical Village of Hokkaido via Nopporo Forest Park.
BOARDING ›› JR Chitose Line officially ends at Shiroishi (312.9km) on the JR Hakodate Line, but all trains go directly to Sapporo across Toyohira-gawa.
Hokkaido’s 150-year-old capital and Japan’s fifth-largest city, Sapporo is a spacious and laid-back place. The compact city center is well-laid-out and it has a lot of parks dotted with Western-style historical landmarks, which makes a pleasant stroll.
CONNECTIONS ›› About half of the rapid trains from New Chitose Airport for Sapporo continue to the nostalgic port town Otaru (32min). There are also frequent trains for Asahikawa.