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Trip Report Shinkansen vs Flying - Tokyo to Niseko (Kutchan)

Discussion in 'Japan' started by Any, Nov 3, 2016.

  1. Any

    Any One of Us

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    [​IMG]
    (http://japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp/en/1601_hokkaido.html)

    Choo choo! ... 4 hours later ... Choo choo! ... 5 hours later ... Choo ****ing finally!

    TL;DR - It's worth doing once. Especially if you haven't been on a Shinkansen before.


    With the new Hokkaido Shinkansen that opened in March I wanted to know if it was faster or cheaper or worthwhile to catch the train all the way from Tokyo to Niseko (Kutchan) instead of flying.

    I am just a tourist, however I've been to Tokyo and other parts of Japan many times, but I attempted to approach it from a first-time Tourists point of view.
    My train journey started in Tokyo because I assumed one had arrived and was in Tokyo sightseeing for a few days before heading up to Niseko for some fun.
    I kept a rough note of the costs involved, and paid special attention to check that understanding or reading Japanese wasn't required for the journey. I also purposefully went without internet access on my phone, so no ability to check or confirm things. The only exception is that I assumed one could load up some pdf timetables (this and this) on their phone (I used the offline documents feature of Dropbox), and can use hyperdia.com/en/ before leaving hotel in Tokyo (but not once on the move).

    The trip was really easy and required very little planning.
    So easy that it almost doesn't need instruction
    . So I'm not going to bore you with a big story.
    I included mostly just some notes of things I thought important or things that I hadn't read or confirmed elsewhere in researching the trip.

    In hindsight I should have taken more photos of the signs n stuff to follow, but it really was so easy that you can do it with minimal planning.
    The only stressful point during the day was at the start, I arrived at Tokyo station later than I planned. I got lost in the Tokyo underground flailing about trying to get to JR Tokyo station without using hyperdia at all, it seems I rely on the internet too much ;)


    Using the JR Hokkaido Shinkansen timetable and the JR Hokkaido Timetable I identified 3 well-timed routes that would get me to Kutchan with minimal waiting around.
    3 train changes are required, Tokyo station -> Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station -> Oshamambe station -> Kutchan station
    I was surprised to see at least 1 Shinkansen heading up to Hokkaido every hour of the day. Leaving the only bottleneck at the Oshamambe to Kutchan leg, with a train leaving only every 3 hours or so.

    The 3 conveniently timed routes I found:​
    • 06:32 (Tokyo) -> 10:58 (Hakodate). 11:09 (Hakodate) -> 12:20 (Oshamambe). 13:16 (Oshamambe) -> 14:50 (Kutchan)
    • 10:20 (Tokyo) -> 14:37 (Hakodate). 15:15 (Hakodate) -> 16:25 (Oshamambe). 16:40 (Oshamambe) -> 18:13 (Kutchan)
    • 13:20 (Tokyo) -> 17:51 (Hakodate). 18:11 (Hakodate) -> 19:23 (Oshamambe). 20:00 (Oshamambe) -> 21:37 (Kutchan)
    Ticketing,
    • I didn't use a JR-East-South Rail Pass.
      • However I'd recommend a tourist use one. 6 days of unlimited JR travel for ¥27,000 is a pretty good deal.
      • This pass includes unlimited JR in Tokyo (somewhat useful), the Shinkansen (¥22600 one way), and any JR trains in Hokkaido also (including Hakodate -> Oshamambe -> Kutchan).
      • You don't use the ticketing machines with this pass, but instead wave the pass at the people standing to the side of the ticket gates as if you're some sort of important FBI agent with a badge.
      • However, the opening times to pickup this pass from various places (airport/etc) are quite limited (8:15AM–7PM). If your flight landed at 9pm like mine, you may have to pick up the pass in Tokyo the next day after you've already paid for a train ticket into town.
      • A big problem with the JR-East-South pass is that according to JR's website you must reserve and pick up the Shinkansen tickets at least one day prior to travel (here). I don't know if this is true or not, but it could be a deal breaker for some.
    • I had heard that some other Shinkansen don't require reserved seats (which would have been half the price). However all Hokkaido Shinkansen seats must be reserved.
    • The only payment option available to me at the automated machine was with cash only (even tho I had ¥23,000 on my suica card).
    Shinkansen,
    [​IMG]
    • I entered Tokyo station without a Shinkansen ticket, reservation, and no idea at all what to do really. It's only my second time at this station, and first time on a Shinkansen from here.
    • I was a bit late, and had only about 10 minutes before the train was to depart, but had no problems buying a ticket from an automated machine and getting to the train on time.
    • Tokyo Station has so many Bento shops it's ridiculous. You have so many options. You should buy something to eat on the train!
    • You shove both the ticket and the reserved ticket into the gate ticket checker at the same time. Don't forget to get them back tho! You need to surrender them at Hakodate.
    • The Shinkansen had almost no baggage storage.
      • The overhead baggage compartments were smaller than the average train, far smaller than an aircraft.
      • There is no room for luggage at the end of the carriages.
      • There was a LOT of leg room tho. So much that if you weren't super tall you could fit an average sized suitcase between your knees and the chair in front of you. 4 hours cramped like this would suck tho.
        [​IMG]
        (http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/shinkansen/shinkansen03.html)
    • There is no seat belt, no entertainment system, no usb power, no wifi, no pillows, no blankets, and no in flight meals or drink service.
    • Like most Japanese hotels and facilities, the Shinkansen is heated to about 5000 degrees.
      • wear a tshirt
    • There is 1 x 110volt 220watt power outlet at the foot of each set of seats.
    • A lady with a trolley of snacks & drinks for sale was moving up and down the train. It went past about once every hour.
      • The coffee was terrible.
    • From Tokyo to Sendai the train was very full. After Sendai there were many seats spare.
    • The windows bow and flex with air pressure around the train. Especially when entering and leaving a tunnel.
    • My phone's GPS and it's camera's rolling shutter couldn't cope with the speed.
      [​IMG]
    • There are toilets on the train. But standing up to pee on a train taking random corners is a lot more challenging than aircraft turbulence!
      (no photo!)
    • After going through the Fukushima region no one spontaneously exploded or started glowing (as the western media would have us believe)
    • After Morioka there were mostly tunnels, usually with no phone service, so not much opportunity for photos.The average speed dropped to only about 200kph also.

    Hakodate to Oshamambe:
    [​IMG]
    My train from Hakodate
    • In Hakodate the connection was a different platform, but its only a small station so was very easy to find.
    • Surprisingly, there were fluent English speaking staff. They were very helpful.
    • Purchasing a ticket from a machine was with 1000 yen notes and coins only.
    • The station announcements on the train were also in English.
    Oshamambe to Kutchan:
    [​IMG]
    random picture of a train. (http://www.nisekotourism.com/getting-here/trains)
    • Also includes a platform change.
    • If your connection at Oshamambe is tight, the Oshamambe to Otaru train has one of those ticket machines that buses have. So you don't need to get a ticket beforehand.
      (check out the "Japanese buses" section here)
    • Even if you have a ticket, I believe you're supposed to take a numbered ticket as you get on anyway.
     
    #1 Any, Nov 3, 2016
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2016
    mrtonya, jmpow2, Froff Life and 11 others like this.
  2. Any

    Any One of Us

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    Summary:

    The Shinkansen portion of the trip went by very quickly. Moving so fast you have so much to look at so you're never bored and lose track of time.
    The regular train portion was so slow (60kph) it felt like it would never end.

    The other trains would be ok, but it would also be quite impractical to bring large ski bags on Shinkansen. Forcing you to post or rent your gear. If you need to ski with your own gear the day after you arrive, you'll have to fly.

    It was very scenic however.
    Constant villages and tree covered hillside. With blue tinted mountain ranges in the distance.
    Seeing the top half of Japan in 4 hours is pretty cool. At 320kph you can gradually see the trees change from green to orange to red as we traveled further north.
    I saw some great snow covered mountain peaks and an awesome red sunset over the ocean between Hakodate and Oshamambe.
    It was already dark for Oshamambe to Kutchan, and there's no snow on the ground yet. It was boring as shit. Doing this leg of the journey at night with the lights of the train while it's snowing would look awesome tho.

    Costs and Time:

    By Train:
    4 hours - ¥22,600 ish to Hakodate
    1 hour - ¥1,850 to Oshamambe
    1.5 hours - ¥1,640 to Kutchan
    bus ¥350 or taxi to hirafu ¥2,000

    Approx Total ¥26,000 (without baggage delivery service)
    From Tokyo station to my door in Hirafu took approx 9 hours.


    By Air (with no baggage):
    1.25 hours - ¥1,300 ish Tokyo to Narita

    JAL: ¥26,790
    Vanilla: ¥13,000
    Jetstar: ¥7,000

    2.5 hours - Bus from Airport: ¥4,000

    Arrive at Airport 1.5 hours early.
    Tokyo to Sapporo is a 1.5 hour flight.
    45 minutes to collect baggage.
    45 minutes waiting for bus.
    2.5 hour bus from Chitose to Hirafu.
    Approx 30 mins from Hirafu bus station to my door.

    Approx Total ¥18,300
    From Tokyo to door approx 8.75 hours.



    Some other costs to consider:

    Ta-Q-Bin Baggage Delivery service:
    Approx 3 days - ¥4,500 (I sent a big ski bag and my suitcase)

    Excess baggage / weight aircraft costs:
    > ¥10,000
    (warning. jetstar will empty your wallet and take your first born. vanilla, will empty your wallet but only ask for your left arm.)


    Hopefully with my notes you have the relevant information to make a well informed decision weather to train it or not.
    Have fun.
     
  3. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    Fantastic!
    Thank you!
    And - you're funny, I giggled multiple times reading that. :thumbs:
     
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  4. Hyst

    Hyst One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I will come back to you, don't have the tim at breakfast table.:)
     
  5. TOFF

    TOFF Im kind of a big deal Ski Pass: Gold

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    Awesome.
    We are going to catch the Shink in Feb

    Thanks for the info
     
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  6. Olgreg

    Olgreg One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    Great exploration @Any
    Many thanks for the info.
     
  7. Hyst

    Hyst One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    @Any Thank you very much - should have send you off in the end of the 70's, would have helped me a lot. Yes, it's like I suspected about the same time, a bit more expencive. But rather go by train than fly - a lot more comfortable.

    "I had ¥23,000 on my suica card" :confused: That is a lot you must be traveling a lot - but well invested if you keept it from last time.

    "There are toilets on the train. But standing up to pee on a train taking random corners is a lot more challenging than aircraft turbulence!
    • (no photo!)"
    Thank you very much for your consideration!:rolleyes:

    We will take the the train on or way back from Annapuri to Asaka, having send our gear ahead. (are flying in to Chitose over Osaka (Kansai).
    Taking the train from Niseko St.(or Kutchan) to Tokyo will be a lot easier - don' t really have to plan connections.
    The problem will be - no bento shops in Niseko St. I guess, and Shink bento is always a bit more expensive and less choises.
    As I said you have earned your beer - ask the kanbanmusume when Yummy's opens around the 1.dec. or so. :cheers: or go to Anyway in Kutchan before that - but no beer there. :headbang:

    In the end I can only say :clap::wave:

    Edit.: And for those who have enough money there is the GranClass as well.
    http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/shinkansen/shinkansen03.html
     
    #7 Hyst, Nov 3, 2016
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2016
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  8. Tanuki

    Tanuki A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Thanks, can't wait to do it once the Shinkansen actually extends to Sapporo
     
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  9. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    No doubt at all that the Shinkansen is awesome apart from the criminal lack of luggage space. Just seems a terrible waste to ride it all the way non-stop bypassing so much good skiing on the way just to go to Niseko.
    That is the big plus of the train over plane. Get a JR East pass and ski a whole bunch of places.
     
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  10. Tanuki

    Tanuki A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yeah, interesting how, even now they build them without extra storage and USA etc. Last time we caught the Shinkansen Nanango-Tokyo there was a lot of tourists with ski bags and nowhere to put them
     
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  11. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    This is an amazingly detailed report. Like.

    Deserves a sticky.
     
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  12. Any

    Any One of Us

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    I expected to be able to pay with the suica card so I loaded it up in the morning.
    now ive got this card full of $$, and no way to get a refund until I next go to tokyo :p

    Shops are about 15mins walk from Niseko station. If you went from Kutchan instead, there's a co-op right next to the station there, with a mini bakery and a fresh food section. You could make your own dodgy bento-plastic-bag :D
     
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  13. Hyst

    Hyst One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    No dodgy bag for me - want my bento.
     
  14. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    It might not be Tokyo level Ekiben but the bento you can buy in Kutchan is just fine.
    I'm sure you could get some Ekiben along the route at some stage in that 9 hrs.

    @Any once again thank you for the review, it has created quite the discussion!

    PB and I will do the full season (17/18) and I've proposed flying in to Fukuoka, sending the ski bags and suitcases via tak-q-bin, heading to Hiroshima with light luggage for the first stop and then taking about a week to get to Hirafu checking out parts of Japan we have neglected in the rush for the maximum snow pleasure for the time allocated.
     
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  15. TOFF

    TOFF Im kind of a big deal Ski Pass: Gold

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    So to perform this journey do I just need the JR East pass?
     
  16. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Don't need a JR pass for a single one way trip. Would be worthwhile though if you were to do a return.
     
  17. TOFF

    TOFF Im kind of a big deal Ski Pass: Gold

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    My train trips will be,
    Narita to Shinjuku
    Shinjuku to Ueno
    Ueno to Kutchan.

    Should I get the pass? :)
     
  18. Hyst

    Hyst One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I find it disturbing that there is no discount for the elderly :violin:
     
  19. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Great info @Any!!!!!

    There's only one thing you have wrong, it's not your fault, it's Hyperdia's....
    Getting a Shinkansen without reserved seats is not around half the price. Hyperdia says "fare + reserved seat" but it should read "fare + express train fee". A reserved seat only costs an extra 300-400yen, not some thousands of yen.

    For example, Hyperdia says for Tokyo - Nagano, 4000 yen : fare, + 4200 yen : reserved seat = 8200yen.
    HOWEVER, if you don't get a reserved seat, it will still cost a bit under 8000 yen.

    Good, thread, should be stickied!! :D
     
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  20. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    It's much easier to go Shinjuku to Tokyo Station. Catch the Chuo rapid line (orange), takes about 12 min.
     
  21. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Ok, I've stickied it
     
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  22. TOFF

    TOFF Im kind of a big deal Ski Pass: Gold

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    Great thanks :)

    I'll get the JR pass too
     
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  23. Any

    Any One of Us

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    even if you were going straight to Niseko from Narita the JR pass will costs less in the end, so if you plan to do anything else in Toyko then it seems to be the better option.
    it'd be interesting to confirm/deny if you come across the problems I mentioned regarding booking shinkansen with the JR-East-South pass.
     
  24. TOFF

    TOFF Im kind of a big deal Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yep.
    Will basically just have 1 day in Tokyo just to acclimatise before jumping on Shink to Kutchan.
     
  25. silva

    silva One of Us

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    Thankyou for taking the time to write such a comprehensive review.
    I took the time to read it and really enjoyed your review.
     
  26. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Stopping anywhere on the way?
     
  27. TOFF

    TOFF Im kind of a big deal Ski Pass: Gold

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    Not on this trip, limited time frame
     
  28. kingyo

    kingyo Hard Yards

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    They do have beer; Corona and Heartland!
     
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  29. Hyst

    Hyst One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    :cheers: :whistle:
     
  30. Call_me_Ishmael

    Call_me_Ishmael One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    Can you buy a return ticket on a shinkansen ?
     
  31. Call_me_Ishmael

    Call_me_Ishmael One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    @Sandy ^^^
    ie so you don't have to do 2 ticket pickups
     
  32. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    You can buy any number of tickets for any date (within reason) at one time (so buy return at same time)
     
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  33. Call_me_Ishmael

    Call_me_Ishmael One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    thanks Sandy :thumbs:
     
  34. jmpow2

    jmpow2 Hard Yards

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    Thanks for the info :)

    Will be doing this trip mid Jan (Monday 16th) with a crew of 6 after a couple days sight seeing in Tokyo and wondering if buying tickets a couple days in advance will be enough that time of year???

    (I'd reserve seats on JR East train reservation site, www.eki-net.com, but it will only let me reserve the Shinkansen between Tokyo & Shin-Aomori)
     
  35. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Getting tickets a couple of days prior should be fine. I assume as you are spending a couple of days in Tokyo you will using the luggage forwarding facility for ski gear? That will save on the luggage space issues on the train.
     
    #35 Heinz, Dec 19, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2016
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  36. jmpow2

    jmpow2 Hard Yards

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    Thanks for the feedback :thumbs: Travelling light (renting gear) so luggage not an issue.
     
  37. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Also as I have suggested earlier, if you are taking the train you have the opportunity to stop off at several ski areas on the way.
     
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  38. Toto Warmlet

    Toto Warmlet One of Us

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    I find it undisturbing that 60 is almost always elderly in Japan and sometimes even 55 is.
    Even though they live so long.
    This is not a shinkansen trip yet by quite a few years though the businessmen from Niseko have gleams in their eyes.
    It can be terrifying 60 leagues under the sea for quite a while if you have a tendency to anxiety and even if you don't.
    Luggage space, spuggage lace.
    This can be a surprise.
    Gaijin enginuity is just required, explore the end of carriages behind the end seats, even enter smoking cars.
    Still I'd fly for now.
    You could skip Hokkaido altogether of course.
     
  39. Any

    Any One of Us

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    forgot to use english?
    go back to youtube comments
     
  40. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Depends on the mountain.... Some start seniors at 50yo, some 55yo and some 60yo.
     
  41. hotsaki

    hotsaki One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    I`m 63:).Only good thing about it.
     
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  42. Sandy

    Sandy Dark Sith Lord of the Pool Room Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    e.g.
    50yo: Hakuba Iwatake, Cortina/Norikura, Goryu/47, Sanosaka
    55yo: Naeba/Kagura
    60yo: Happo, Shiga Kogen, Myoko, Tsugaike, Nozawa, Niseko, Furano
    etc. Check on Snow Japan.
     
  43. Tonester

    Tonester One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Those seniors discounts are a bittersweet thing indeed.
     
  44. jmpow2

    jmpow2 Hard Yards

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    Took the trip on the Shinkansen to Niseko (Kutchan) yesterday. No issue at all getting the reserve tickets a couple of days out mid January. The train was pretty full at Tokyo and almost empty by the time we hit Hakodate. We took this timing - 10:20 (Tokyo) -> 14:37 (Hakodate). 15:15 (Hakodate) -> 16:25 (Oshamambe). 16:40 (Oshamambe) -> 18:13 (Kitchen) as it seemed most 'holiday' friendly :)

    We all enjoyed the experience, made a nice change from airports & stress about landing in Sapporo, amazing views along the way. Thinking we'd do the same in the future, at least one way. When the Shinkansen eventually makes it all the way past Niseko it'll be a no-brainer.

    Couple of observations... We had no trouble paying for tickets with credit card at Tokyo station. A very small convenience store is all that's available at the Hokadate change over. Oh, and as Any noted, its seriously HOT on board (the local train at the end was seriously oppressive), so be prepared.
     
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  45. Hyst

    Hyst One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    #45 Hyst, Jan 17, 2017
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2017
  46. TOFF

    TOFF Im kind of a big deal Ski Pass: Gold

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    Quick question, I arrive in Narita on 19 Feb and will purchase a JR East-South Hokkaido pass at airport.
    I will use this to transfer to Shinjuku
    I will use this on 20 Feb to get around Tokyo
    On 21st Feb I will use this to board Shink up to Kutchan.

    The questions, how do I reserve a seat on the Shink and do I need my JR pass first?
     
  47. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Get the JR pass and reserve Shinkansen seat at the same time. No charge for the reservation with the pass. You get a separate seat reservation ticket. Just make sure you tell them the correct date and time. Easy done.
     
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  48. TOFF

    TOFF Im kind of a big deal Ski Pass: Gold

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    Thanks, I thought it was that simple but just wanted to check :)
     
  49. Heinz

    Heinz Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    When I do that I always have the date, time, destination of the Shinkansen written down for them. Takes them a couple of minutes to do.
     
  50. Hyst

    Hyst One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I think you have to take the train both was Tokyo - Kutchan - Tokyo, to make it worth worthwhile to get the JR pass.