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Northern Japan Itinerary: 10D9N in Hokkaido and Tohoku

Thinking about venturing beyond the bright lights of Tokyo and exploring more of Japan? Turn your head north and look at what the regions of Hokkaido and Tohoku have to offer with this 10D9N Northern Japan itinerary. From historical relics to stunning natural landscapes, the sights in Hokkaido and Tohoku will make this Japan vacation a truly special one.

One great thing about travelling in Japan is how convenient it is. Most of the country is linked up via a solid network of trains, buses and domestic airlines that makes it possible to get around the country quickly and easily. In this itinerary, we’ll share some recommended ways to get around Japan.

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Days 1-2: Sapporo, Hokkaido

Hokkaido’s capital city of Sapporo is the perfect place to start any holiday in northern Japan. You could easily spend a few days or more here in Sapporo if you wanted to.

While Sapporo is most well-known for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in February, but there is plenty to do here throughout the year. Odori Park is a picturesque strip of green in the city centre; the nearby Sapporo TV Tower has an observation deck overlooking Odori Park and offering panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Busy Susukino is the largest entertainment district in Japan outside of Tokyo for those who are looking for some buzz, and those who want to eat all the ramen they can at the famous Ganso Sapporo Ramen Alley. Other Hokkaido specialties that you can indulge in include visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum and the Shiroi Koibito Park.

Popular day trip destinations from Sapporo City include the picturesque Otaru with its canal and preserved buildings, Asahikawa with the Asahiyama Zoo that has a famous penguin walk, and the caldera Lake Toya and Lake Shikotsu

Getting to and around Sapporo

Image credit: Ruben @ruramos

Fly into New Chitose Airport and take the JR Hokkaido Airport Rapid Service to Sapporo City in just 40 minutes. Limousine bus services are also available that can drop you directly at certain hotels, but takes about twice as long depending on road conditions.

Sapporo City is well-served by subway, trams and buses, and JR Railways, making it easy to connect to most other cities around Sapporo.

Days 3-4: Hakodate, Hokkaido

Image credit: Matt Lin

Located on the southern end of Hokkaido Island, Hakodate Port was one of the first harbours open to foreign trade, giving the city that rose up around it a unique international flavour, particularly evident in Motomachi with many buildings influenced by cultures from around the world, as well as the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses, historical storehouses in Hakodate’s Bay Area that have since been converted into a shopping complex.

Visit the Hakodate Morning Market to sample some of the local seafood delicacies like fresh crabs and squid that you can fish for yourself from a tank. Don’t forget to take the ropeway up the famous Mount Hakodate for one of Japan’s top scenic views, especially when illuminated at night.

Also of note is the unique star-shaped fortress built during the Edo period: Goryokaku, a citadel surrounded by a moat and very popular during Hanami for its perimeter of cherry blossom trees. Yunokawa Onsen is a popular hot spring resort that offers views of the Tsugaru Straits while you soak.

Getting from Sapporo to Hakodate

Photo credit: Shawn.ccf @enarika

The fastest way would be to take a domestic flight from Sapporo to Hakodate which takes just 45 minutes. While you can fly from New Chitose Airport, you also have the option to fly from Okadama Airport which is located in Sapporo City itself, connected by buses and the Sakaemachi Subway Station.

Alternatively, take the JR Hokuto Limited Express Train which takes about 3.5 hours to get from Sapporo to Hakodate – it takes longer but is typically about half the price of a full-priced domestic flight. The cheapest option would be highway buses that take around 5.5 hours but have an overnight option to save on time and accommodation.

Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station and Hakodate Airport are located some distance outside the city centre but are easily connected via the train and shuttle buses. Within Hakodate, there is a well-established tram and bus public transport system to get around, as well as a ropeway leading up Mount Hakodate.

Learn more about transportation in Hakodate.

Days 5-6: Okushiri, Hokkaido

Image credit: Visit Hokkaido

The island of Okushiri is Hokkaido’s westernmost offshore island and the perfect spot to leave the city behind you. Nature lovers will enjoy the many trails for hiking and beaches complete with spectacular views of the ‘Okushiri-Blue’ ocean. Cycling is a popular activity on Okushiri as well. The island has many interesting rock formations on its coastline, but the most recognisable symbol of the island is the Nabetsuru Rock that’s almost 20m tall, named because its arch reminds people of a pot handle.

And for those who love Japanese food, Okushiri is known for signature seafood dishes like fresh abalone and sea urchin on rice. You can even head out on a fishing boat to get yourself the freshest abalone straight from the sea. The island also is known for producing its own wine at Okushiri Winery.

Getting from Hakodate to Okushiri

The easiest way to get to Okushiri would be to take a domestic flight from Hakodate Airport that takes just 30 minutes. Alternatively, you could take the train and/or bus to Esashi and then take a car ferry to Okushiri, but it would take you around four to five hours in total.

Hakodate is the only airport that offers direct flights to Okushiri, so you will need to fly back to Hakodate to connect to the rest of Japan.

Days 7-8: Aomori, Tohoku

Image credit: Aomori Prefecture

Cross the channel from Hokkaido to Tohoku prefecture, a favourite for holiday lovers looking to escape the crowds and busy cities to enjoy the Japanese wilderness and magnificent landscapes. Aomori on the northern-most tip of Honshu has a great mix of historical and cultural sights to check out.

One special spot in Aomori City is the Sannai-Maruyama Historical Site, the largest site in Japan with historical remnants from Japan’s oldest prehistoric Jomon period, dating as far back as 13,000 BC. In stark contrast is the contemporary architecture of the Aomori Museum of Art a short distance away, famous for its collection of Marc Chagall works and a very large dog statue by Nara Yoshitomo.

The Nebuta House Warasse also lets visitors experience the giant lantern floats and Haneto dancing from the famous annual Aomori Nebuta Festival anytime of the year, while you can visit the Hakkodamaru ferries that used to be the main link between Hakodate and Aomori. Aomori is also the region with the highest production of apples in Japan, so make sure to indulge in all things apple when visiting.

How to get to Aomori from Hakodate

While there are direct flights that take around 50 minutes from Sapporo to Aomori, your best bet to go from Hakodate to Aomori is to take the Hokkaido Shinkansen that will take you an hour via the Seikan Tunnel, the longest tunnel in Japan that connects Hokkaido with Honshu.

Many of Aomori City’s sights can be found in the city centre near Aomori Station and Aomori Port, with a bus network that connects to the other popular tourist sights in and around Aomori City. The Shin-Aomori Shinkansen Station is a short train ride away from the city.

Days 9-10: Akita, Tohoku

Photo credit: Yoshiyuki Obayashi

The name Akita is most commonly associated with the dog breed that was named after this region it originated in, but visitors to Akita on the northeast coast of Honshu often return for its beautiful mountainous landscapes and historical preservation.

Akita City has some interesting landmarks worth visiting, like Senshu Park with the ruins of Kubota Castle, the contemporary Akita Museum of Art designed by famous architect Tadao Ando, and the 100m-tall Akita City Port Tower Selion that offers panoramic views of the city and surroundings, but its more popular sights are scattered around the prefecture.

Those curious about the history of the Samurai should head out to the Kakunodate Samurai District in Semboku, a former castle town and one of the best areas to see the architecture and history of the Samurai back in the day. For outdoor lovers, the Shirakami mountains that straddle Aomori and Akita offer plenty of hiking opportunity and natural wonders to gawk at, while the volcanic Mount Hachimantai is home to some of the best hot springs in Japan like Nyuto Onsen, as well as Lake Tazawa, the deepest caldera lake in Japan.

How to get from Aomori to Akita

The most scenic way to get from Aomori to Akita would be to take the JR East Resort Shirakami train on the Gono line, a 5-hour train ride which offers spectacular views of the Shirakami Sanchi along the northwestern coast. If you are looking for speed, the Shinkansen Limited Express Tsugaru cuts through the inland in just under three hours.

Alternatively, while there are some bus networks serving some of these major tourist sights, renting a car to drive around the mountains allows you more freedom to explore and appreciate the mountain views on your own time.

At the end of your trip, you have several options for your journey back to Singapore. Aomori has an International airport that connects to Japan’s major hubs like Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo which have connecting flights to Singapore.

There is plenty to see and experience in Japan. Go beyond the tried-and-tested attractions and venture a bit further and wow yourself with some of Japan’s lesser seen sights. Japan’s major cities are generally quite well-connected via the railway, buses or internal flight network so getting around usually isn’t too difficult.

You can save a fair bit on transport with enough advanced planning – Japan Railways offers different types of passes and packages, and many of the airlines typically have heavily discounted tickets if you book ahead of time.

Overview of the itinerary

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