Hokkaido Independent

  • Destination: Japan
  • Duration: 12 days
  • Price: $2230

The northernmost of the main islands, Hokkaido is Japan’s last frontier, kept at bay by wild mountains, virgin forests, sapphire lakes and surf-beaten shores. The attitudes of the inhabitants are akin to those of the pioneers of the American West, but still unmistakably Japanese.

Day 1

Travel to Sapporo

You will travel on your own to Sapporo.You can take the train (10-12 Hours) or fly (2 1/2 Hours) to Sapporo. There is also an overnight train leaving from Tokyo and arriving at Sapporo early the next morning.

Day 2


After breakfast, you will meet with the licensed, English-speaking guide who will escort you around Sapporo. There is no pre-defined itinerary. The guide will adjust the itinerary based on your preferences and interests. Explore the Hokkaido Historical Village open air museum where many buildings from around Hokkaido, both modern and traditional, have been relocated. Tour the original Sapporo Beer brewery, and sample the many freshly-brewed beers. Take the short train ride to Otaru where there are many trendy shops and restaurants. Visit the Sapporo Botanical Garden, established in 1886 by Hokkaido University, and a wonderful place for a picnic lunch. In the evening, you can have dinner at the Sapporo Beer Garden, located next to the original Sapporo Beer brewery, where you can try the local specialty of grilled lamb, cooked yourself at the table.

Day 3

Lavender Farm Tomita,Travel to Sounkyo Onsen

The morning in Sapporo is free to explore on your own. In the afternoon, you will travel by express train and bus to Sounkyo Onsen. Before leaving Sapporo, you will transfer your main luggage to Abashiri, and you will travel to Sounkyo Onsen and Abashiri with an overnight bag only.

Day 4

Sounkyo Onsen

The entire day is free to enjoy the natural beauty of Sounkyo. Rent a bicycle and ride to the nearby waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. Ride the nearby gondola and chairlift to the top where you will get an excellent view of Kurodake, an old volcano, and the surrounding mountain peaks and ranges. If you have the energy, you can climb Kurodake and other nearby mountain peaks. In the treeless areas between the peaks, you will find many alpine flowers. Enjoy the village that feels like a Swiss village and enjoy the Ashi-yu (foot bath) with naturally-heated mineral water located in the center of the village. Or just walk along the river and enjoy the solitude and beauty of the area.

Day 5

Travel to Abashiri

In the morning, you will travel by bus and express train to the city of Abashiri on the northeastern coast of Hokkaido. After arriving in Abashiri, you will pick up your rental car which will be your means of transportation until Kushiro. In the afternoon you can visit the Abashiri Prison Museum. This prison was known as the “Alcatraz” of Japan.

Day 6

Shiretoko National Park

You will drive to Shiretoko National Park. Shiretoko is an ancient Ainu word meaning ‘edge of the world’. Here you can board a sightseeing boat for a scenic cruise along the coast of the Shiretoko peninsula, where you will see the 300 foot rocky cliffs bordering the ocean, with waterfalls cascading over the cliffs and a snowy mountain range as a backdrop. You can drive into the Shiretoko National Park for some excellent short hikes with it scenic beauty and abundant wildlife including deer, bear and foxes.

Day 7

Travel to Akan-ko

Today you will drive to Akan-ko (Lake Akan). Along the way you will stop at the Gottoro Overlook where you can get a bird’s eye view of a large caldera lake (weather permitting, of course). You will also stop at Lake Kussharo, where you can dig down into the sandy beach to find thermally-heated sand, or just relax in one of the hot, mineral water foot baths. After that, you can visit Iozan, with its many sulfur vents coated yellow from the many years of exposure to the steam. You can also stop at Lake Masshu, considered by many to be one of Japan’s most beautiful lakes because of its clear, deep-blue water. After arriving at Akan-ko and checking-in, you can attend an authentic Ainu Dance Demonstration at the Ainu Village.

Day 8

Akan-ko, Akan International Crane Centre,Kushiro

The morning is free to enjoy scenic Akan-ko. Take a sightseeing boat cruise around Akan-ko where you will stop to see Marimo, the unique globe-shaped algae that only grows in Akan-ko. Visit the Ainu Village with its many souvenir shops and restaurant selling authentic Ainu cuisine. In the afternoon, you will drive to the nearby Akan International Crane Center. Cranes are thought to live a thousand years, so they hold a special place in Japanese culture. It was once thought that the cranes were extinct. However, a handful were found about 60 years ago, and locals have made great efforts to bring them back from the brink of extinction. Late in the afternoon, you will drive to Kushiro, where you will drop off your rental car.

Day 9

Travel to Noboribetsu Onsen, Poroto Kotan  Ainu Village  and Museum

You will travel by train to the city of Shiraoi, where the Poroto Kotan Ainu Village and Museum is located. Here you can see a traditional Ainu dance demonstration, as well as a demonstration of traditional Ainu musical instruments. In the museum, you can learn about the history of the original inhabitants of Hokkaido, as well as their every-day life and how they lived. Later in the day, you will travel by bus to Noboribetsu Onsen, one of the most popular and famous hot spring resorts in Japan. After checking in, you are free to enjoy the many hot springs or walk around the Jigokudani (Hell Valley) where you will find many steam vents, thermally heated pools and small geysers.

Day 10


You will travel by train to Toya-ko, one of the largest and deepest volcanic caldera lakes in Japan. After checking in, you can visit Usu-zan and Showa-shin-zan, both active volcanoes located at Toya-ko. You can take a cable car to the top of Usu-zan, which last erupted in 2000. Here you can walk around the rim of the volcano through the barren, moon-like landscape. Afterwards, you can visit Showa-shin-zan. In 1944, a surprised wheat farmer found Showa-shin-zan growing out of his field instead of wheat, and it has been growing larger ever since then. You can also visit the nearby Toya-ko Volcanic Museum. Amazingly, when Usu-zan last erupted in 2000, no one was killed. But there was a lot of damage from the eruption, and much of it is preserved at the museum, and illustrates the sheer power of geo-thermal activity and documents the volcano’s turbulent history.

Day 11


You will travel to Hakodate by bus and train. After arriving in Hakodate, you can visit the Goryo-Kaku, Japan’s first western-style fort. You can then visit the Moto-machi historic area. Overlooking the western bay at the foot of Mount Hakodate, there are numerous sloping streets lined with 19th century churches, consulates, shops and homes of the foreigners who first opened this area of Japan to commerce. In the evening, you can take a cable car to the top of Mt. Hakodate, where you will enjoy a panoramic view of Hakodate’s night lights.

Day 12


In the morning, you can visit the Hakodate Morning Market, where the sellers can prepare the specialties of Hakodate (crab, sea urchin and squid) fresh from their stalls for breakfast. You will travel on your own to Tokyo. If you need assistance, we can help. Contact us for details. You can take the train (10-12 Hours) or fly (2 1/2 Hours) to Tokyo. There is also an overnight train leaving from Tokyo and arriving at Sapporo early the next morning.


Accommodations in Budget-class hotels including all taxes, fees and breakfast every morning (See the Upgrades Page for available Upgrade Options)

  • Sapporo – Western-style hotel such as Dormy Inn Sapporo
  • Sounky Onsen – Japanese style ryokan such as the Northern Lodge (Japanese style or western style rooms available)
  • Abashiri – Japanese style ryokan such as the Abashiri Kanko Hotel (Japanese or western style rooms available)
  • Akan-ko – Japanese style ryokan such as New Akan Hotel (Japanese or western style rooms available)
  • Kushiro – Western style hotel such as the Lavista Kushirogawa Hotel (Japanese style or western style rooms available)
  • Noboribetsu Onsen – Japanese style ryokan such as Daiichi Takimotokan (Japanese or western style rooms available)
  • Toya-ko – Japanese-style ryokan such as Sansui Hotel
  • Hakodate – Western-style hotel such as Hakodate Comfort Hotel

JR Hokkaido 4-Day Flexible Pass

4-Day Car Rental, including CDW coverage

Addresses, Phone Numbers and Maps of Accommodations in both Japanese and English

8 Hours with a licensed, English-speaking Japanese guide in Sapporo

Emergency contact number in Japan

Detailed, easy-to-follow directions from city to city to take the worry out of travel in Japan

Suggested train schedules

A copy of our “Gaijin on Getas” tour handbook  which contains 150 pages of Japan travel tips, Japanese language tips, Japanese customs and etiquette and Japanese history to prepare you properly for your trip and allow you to enjoy Japan even more after you arrive.