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.
Sapporo to Asahikawa
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
Iwamizawa ›› Sorachi’s transport hub provides opportunities for interesting side trips to Mikasa, Kuriyama, Miyajima-numa and Shinshinotsu Onsen.
Bibai ›› Take bus to the sculpture park Arte Piazza, hillside onsen or try the traditional yakitori.
Sunagawa ›› A starting point for an alternative route to Furano, passes through the colliery-era towns of Utashinai and Akabira.
Hokkaido’s major transport hub, all limited expresses for Asahikawa (and further north) on the JR Hakodate Line depart from Sapporo. Daytime local trains run to Ebetsu or Iwamizawa.
BOARDING ›› From Sapporo to Shiroishi, the line runs along the JR Chitose Line. Shinrinkoen (12.2km) is the nearest station to Nopporo Forest Park that contains Hokkaido Museum and Historical Village of Hokkaido.
17.9km / 21.0km
Nopporo & Ebetsu 野幌 · 江別
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 of Ebetsu with several historic buildings.
BOARDING ›› The train crosses the 600m-long Yubari-gawa Bridge (built in 1937) over the artificial waterway, where you enter Sorachi Region soon. Kami-Horomui (36.3km) is the nearest station to Shinshinotsu Onsen.
DETOUR: 10km Northwest of Kami-Horomui
Shinshinotsu Onsen 新篠津温泉
Ishikari Region’s smallest agricultural village, Shinshinotsu is ideal for family vacation. You can enjoy camping and getting into hot water around the pretty lake Shinotsu-ko. Shinshinotsu Onsen Tappu-no-yu, about 30 minutes by bus from Kami-Horomui, is a good place for a soak after activities.
Founded in 1878 as Sorachi’s transport hub and capital, Iwamizawa is a good base of visit the region’s old coal mine towns. You will find the red brick Rail Center (岩見沢レールセンター: built in 1899) at the north gate of JR Iwamizawa Station. Daytime local trains on the JR Hakodate Line require a change here.
BOARDING ›› Heading north from Koshunai (13km after Iwamizawa and local trains stop here), keep an eye out for the 29.2km Japan’s Longest Straight Road (日本一の直線道路) to Sunagawa on the left side, marked by a blue monument.
DETOUR: 10km Northeast of Iwamizawa
Japan’s second smallest city by population, however Mikasa holds some of the first-in-Hokkaido: a fledged underground coal mine (1879), railway line (1882), telephone service (1883), water supplies (1888) and a roadside station (1993). Mikasa is also known for both its fossil-rich mountains and the birth place of Hokkai Bon-uta (folk song for coal miners).
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. Most limited express trains stop here.
BOARDING ›› The 20km-long straight tracks along Route 12 head north to Sunagawa.
The small industrial city of Sunagawa is a transfer point for Kamisunagawa and Utashinai continue to Akabira on the JR Nemuro Line. If you waiting for a bus, stroll around the Oasis Park (オアシスパーク) that contains a retarding basin, located behind the Sunagawa medical center.
BOARDING ›› Between Sunagawa and Takikawa, the 516m-long bridge across Sorachi-gawa.
DETOUR: 10km East of Sunagawa
Japan’s smallest city by population (3000!), Utashinai grew into a 46,000-person with nine coal mines in the 1950s. Sorachi’s last underground mining was finished in 1995, but this tranquil city has some cultural places along the valley. The route between Sunagawa and Akabira via Utashinai is an attractive alternative route from Sapporo to Furano.
Takikawa is both transfer hub to Furano on the JR Nemuro Line and right bank towns along Ishikari-gawa (such as Shintotsukawa and Hokuryu). All trains between Sapporo and Asahikawa stop here.
BOARDING ›› The 16km-long straight tracks run head north to Moseushi (99.4km), one stop south of Fukagawa, across the rice fields.
The northernmost city of the Ishikari Plain that has a nickname Rice Land, Fukagawa is a jumping-off point for Rumoi by train, 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.
CONNECTIONS: Trains for Rumoi / Buses for Horokanai and Shumarinai
BOARDING ›› The stretch from Fukagawa to Asahikawa is an important site of local Ainu culture. Shorty after Osamunai (114.0km), the train passes through the 4523m Kamui Tunnel completed in 1969, the JR Hakodate Line’s longest. The tunnel replaced 14.7km of track from Kamuikotan Station (1901-1969) along Ishikari-gawa.
Hokkaido’s second largest city of Asahikawa (literary means ‘sunrise river’) 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. The main attractions are rather spread out, so you will need to use a rental bike or bus. Asahikawa is a good transport hub for Biei, Furano, Wakkanai and Abashiri or as a base for Daisetsuzan National Park.