From Tokyo to Hokkaido for under 50 bucks in train tickets–Part 2 of our Japanese rail voyage
The conclusion of our slow-life adventure to Japan’s northernmost prefecture with trains, hot springs, and so muh delicious seafood.
This is the second-half of our low-price, high-adventure trip from Tokyo to Hokkaido using Japan Railways’ Seishun 18 Ticket. For Part One of the story, click here.
In case you’ve never had the chance to use them, Japan’s Seishun 18 Tickets are awesome. Sold in bundles of five, each ticket (priced at 2,370 yen [US$21]) gives you unlimited rides on Japan Railways local and regular express trains anywhere in Japan for one calendar day. So using just one, we were able to travel all the way from Tokyo, leaving the capital at 4:44 in the morning, to the northern tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu, where we caught an overnight ferry to the northern island of Hokkaido.
After boarding the ship at 11:30 p.m., we slept peacefully until 3 a.m. the next morning, when we were woken by the P.A. announcement that we would be docking at the port town of Hakodate, on Hokkaido, at 3:20.
As you might have guessed, there’s not a lot to do in Hakodate at 3:20 in the morning, and with Hokkaido being Japan’s northernmost prefecture, it’s quite a bit chillier than we’re used to in Tokyo. So we relaxed for a while inside the terminal building, eventually heading out at around 5:40.
However, the first train to Oshamanbe, the next station on our route, isn’t until 8 o’clock. So where were we headed? To Hokodate’s famous morning fish market, of course, to eat at one of the numerous restaurants set up to serve workers and shoppers alike.
▼ Salmon and ikura rice bowl for just 500 yen…
▼ …plus a slice of Hokkaido’s prized melon for 300 yen.
Now we were ready to get on the train to Oshamanbe, which is a two-hour ride (since it was now the next day, we now had to use a second Seishun 18 ticket). Along the way, the train stops on the platform for 20 minutes at Mori Station, and even though Mori means “forest” in Japanese…
…Mori Station is actually right next to the ocean. Because of that, its famous ekiben bento boxed meal is a seafood offering: the ikameshi (squid with rice).
A large number of passengers hopped off the train while it was stopped to buy one of these 780-yen delights, and we were glad we did too, since the sweet/salty sauce and fluffy rice were as enjoyable as the sea breeze blowing across the station platform.
In time the train started up again, and we rolled into Oshamanbe at 11:19, which gave us almost a two-hour gap in our schedule before the next train to Kucchan Station (if you’re wondering why Hokkaido has so many unusual-sounding location names, it has to do with many of them tracing their roots to the language of the island’s indigenous Ainu culture). Looking at a map of the town on a wall of the station, we saw that there’s a hot spring district within walking distance, so we strolled over for a dip in one of its day-use bathhouses.
▼ Oshamanbe Station
▼ Oshamanbe Onsen Hotel, where non-guests can use the hot spring baths for just 440 yen.
After a piping-hot, yet deeply rejuvenating, soak, we asked the hotel’s owner is she could recommend a place to eat. She told us about a restaurant called Kanaya Honten, so we headed there for our third seafood meal of the day.
Hokkaido is roundly considered to be the best place in Japan to eat crab, and the 1,180-yen kani meshi (crab rice) is yet another piece of proof as to why. With every bite, our taste buds thrilled at the delicious flavor, and we found ourselves unable to in any way slow our chopsticks, swiftly polishing it off before walking sideways back to the station.
The rain came again during our 68-minute ride from Kucchan to Otaru, so we closed our eyes and reminisced about all the sea creatures we’d eaten so far that day, drifting in and out of train swaying-induced naps. Outside the windows, the verdant woods of Hokkaido rolled by, and at some points we were so far away from the rest of the population that there wasn’t even any cell phone signal.
Otaru was the second-to-last stop on our tremendous train trip, and being a big tourist draw, there are plenty of trains from here to Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido. We still had 30 minutes before the next train, though, so we stretched our legs with a brief stroll along the city’s famous canals, and stopped by sweets shop Kuwataya for an 89-yen panju, a confectionary that’s somewhere between a Japanese manju dumpling and Western-style bread-based pastry.
And with that, it was time for the very last of our many train rides, and at 5:02 p.m., 36 hours, 18 minutes and more than 1,100 kilometers (684 miles) the platform at Tokyo Station, we were in Sapporo.
Resisting the carnal pleasures of the city’s Susukino entertainment district, we instead succumbed to the gastronomic ones of ramen restaurant Sumire, celebrating the end of our journey with a bowl of 900-yen miso ramen, which was as delicious as we’d been hoping it would be for the last two days.
The Seishun 18 Ticket may not e the fastest way to get around Japan, but it’s one of the most economical. Travelling along the same routes that the locals do also lets you see a side of the country that you’ll miss zipping around on the Shinkansen, and the sheer number of trains and stations you’ll use along the way makes the Seishun 18 Ticket an incredibly memorable choice for foodies…
…or anyone who wants to savor the adventure of a slower paced trip across Japan.
Photos ©SoraNews24 Note: This trip was completed prior to this month’s Hokkaido earthquake.