The main rail route between Sapporo and Eastern Hokkaido, the limited express train passes through the forested mountains and land of sprawling fields. You can easily get off the train for relax, outdoors or wine tasting.
Sapporo to Kushiro
DURATION: Limited express 4 hours
ORDINARY FARE: ¥6820 (Valid for 3-day)
BEST TIME: June to October / December to March for winter wonderland
Tomamu ›› Skiing or overlooking the dramatic unkai (sea of clouds) at this Hokkaido’s most inland resort with its high-rise hotels.
Shintoku ›› Shintoku is famed for high-quality soba, the train station area has some excellent noodle shops and restaurants. It is worth a stopover for lunch.
Obihiro ›› Discovering Tokachi’s cosmopolitan capital with its numerous reputable restaurants, sweet shops and onsen sento (bathhouses).
Ikeda ›› The scenic Wine Castle is a few minutes’ walk from the train station. Of course you can taste wine of the day.
All limited expresses for Obihiro and Kushiro depart from Sapporo.
BOARDING ›› The first stop of the limited express train on the JR Chitose Line is Shin-Sapporo (10.9km). All local trains for the JR Sekisho Line leave from Chitose (41.0km).
JR Sekisho Line officially starts at Minami-Chitose, the junction for New Chitose Airport and Tomakomai. All trains stop here.
BOARDING ›› Heading east on the JR Sekisho Line from Minami-Chitose, the line crosses the JR Muroran Line at Oiwake (61.6km) in Iburi Region. Before passing through Takinoue (79.8km), look out on the right for a red brick hydroelectric power plant (built in 1925) along the scenic Ryusenkyo gorge.
This station is a southern gateway of Yubari (in Sorachi Region), once the ‘capital of coal’ and 117,000 people lived here in 1960. You will find the mining remnants and declining towns along Yubari-gawa.
BOARDING ›› The line from Shin-Yubari to Shintoku in the deep Hidaka Mountains was completed in 1981, with many tunnels and bridges. There are no local trains this section, but the ordinary ticket (or the Seishun 18) users can be take the limited express train’s non-reserved seats (need to change trains at Shintoku).
Bordering on both Central and Eastern Hokkaido, this peaceful village in Kamikawa Region (Northern Hokkaido) embraced by the majestic forest in the mountains. Shimukappu was once Hokkaido’s most inland village and hard to reach, but today you can easily visit here by train.
BOARDING ›› The line runs along the clear stream Mu-kawa and the Doto Expressway in the valley.
Tomamu is one of Hokkaido’s most accessible ski resorts, with its own train station at the base of slopes. Free shuttles buses, timed to meet all trains, make a few minutes run from JR Tomamu Station to the Resort Center.
BOARDING ›› The train heads into the 5810m Shin-Karikachi Tunnel (新狩勝トンネル) on the border between Kamikawa Region and Tokachi Region. From where, the dramatic highland farm spreads out of the train.
This refreshing highland town is a main gateway of Western Tokachi and the end of the JR Sekisho Line. About 12km north of the train station, Sahoro has Eastern Eastern Hokkaido’s premier ski resort. Currently alternative JR buses run here to Higashi-Shikagoe, from where you can continue travel to Furano by train.
BOARDING ›› The train enters the vast Tokachi Plain on the JR Nemuro Line. The limited express Tokachi stops at Tokachi-Shimizu (185.5km) and Memuro (206.6km).
DETOUR: 40km Northeast of Shintoku
Daisetsuzan National Park’s only natural lake, Shikaribetsu-ko feels isolated and mysterious destination. Winter visitors marvel at its ice village with an onsen on the frozen lake. There is only one onsen hotel on the western shore of the lake, but it is worth a night.
Tokachi Region’s capital and transport hub, Obihiro boasts numerous reputable restaurants, sweet shops and onsen sento (public bathhouses). A well-laid-out city center was modeled on Washington DC, which makes an ideal for pleasant strolling. It is hot in summer and cold in winter.
BOARDING ›› From Obihiro to Ikeda, the train crosses the three big rivers: Satsunai-gawa (札内川), Tokachi-gawa (十勝川) and Toshibetsu-gawa (利別川).
DETOUR: 10km Northeast of Obihiro
Tokachigawa Onsen 十勝川温泉
This serene riverside onsen resort has a variety of hotels. The moor water contains organic matter of vegetable origin. Whooper swans congregating on the bank of the river from December to March.
Ikeda is best known for its winemaking and a handy stopping-off point to Okhotsk region. Look out for the hillside Wine Castle on the left.
BOARDING ›› Soon after Atsunai (290.2km) you meet the Pacific Ocean and enters Kushiro Region. A few kilometers after Onbetsu (305.2km), the train passes into the peaceful brackish marsh Pashikuru-numa (馬主来沼).
Kushiro is Eastern Hokkaido’s largest port town and one of Japan’s premier fishing bases facing the Pacific Ocean. Summer is often cool and grey, but a foggy night on the river bank is fantastic. A wide variety of tasty seafood and sushi fascinates many travelers.
CONNECTIONS ›› The scenic JR lines head east for Nemuro (6 daily / 2.5hrs) and north for Abashiri (5 daily / 3.5hrs). Long-distance buses run to Akanko Onsen, Kiritappu Onsen and Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula.