The Lilac and Kamui services are limited express trains operated by JR Hokkaido that provide a fast link between the cities of Sapporo and Asahikawa. These are regular services that run roughly every 30 minutes and take around 1 hour and 25 minutes to cover the distance between Sapporo and Asahikawa.
Both of these trains are fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. At Sapporo Station the Lilac and Kamui depart from Platforms 7 and 8.
Lilac vs. Kamui
The Limited Express Lilac runs along the exact same route as the Limited Express Kamui and both trains make the same stops. While the Lilac uses a 6-car #789 series train, the Kamui uses a 5-car #789-1000 series train. The #789-1000 series is slightly newer than the original #789 series, but the main difference between the two trains is that while the older Lilac train has a Green Car with first class seats, the Kamui train has no Green Car. The Kamui has just four cars of non-reserved seats and one reserved seat car (in car 4). However, the Kamui does have “u-seats” in its reserved seat carriage, which have their own power outlets and are a bit more spacious and comfortable than regular seats. If you wish to use a Green Car with the Japan Rail Pass you will have to buy the Green Japan Rail Pass which is a little more expensive.
There are just 7 stops on the route of the Lilac and Kamui services.
Sapporo – Iwamizawa – Bibai – Sunagawa – Takikawa – Fukagawa – Asahikawa
The key destinations are listed below with non-reserved fares and example journey times given from Sapporo Station
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and also its largest city. Many tourists visit Sapporo for the Snow Festival which is held every February. During this week-long event large parts of the city are decorated with beautiful ice sculptures and statues built of snow. Sapporo’s other attractions include the 19th century Sapporo Clock Tower (also called Sapporo Tokeidai), the Sapporo Beer Museum, the Susukino entertainment district, the ropeway that leads to the summit of Mount Moiwa, and Hokkaido University Museum. The museum’s exhibits cover science, natural history, and the history of the university with dramatic dinosaur skeletons and a life-size model of a woolly mammoth among the displays. The museum is free to enter and closed on Mondays.
Transfers can be made here to local services on the Hakodate Main Line, Chitose Line and Gakuen-Toshi Line. This station also has limited express services for Hakodate, Abashiri, Wakkanai, Kushiro, Obihiro and Muroran, and rapid services for Niseko, Otaru and New Chitose Airport.
This station serves the city of Iwamizawa which has a number of attractions. The top attraction here is Hokkaido Greenland amusement park which has 46 rides including Hokkaido’s longest roller-coaster and its tallest Ferris wheel. Hosui Winery is open for tours and wine tasting from April to November. Natural hot spring spa facilities can be enjoyed at the resort Log Hotel Maple Lodge which is open to day trippers as well as overnight guests. Little Rock Hills is recreation of an English country village with a café, restaurant, antiques shop, and cottages with gardens that you can stay in. Iwamizawa Park is home to a rose garden and a local history and science museum which includes a planetarium. The museum is closed on Mondays, and admission is 310 yen for adults (210 for the planetarium), 210 yen for senior high students (150 for the planetarium), and 100 yen for children (100 yen for the planetarium).
Transfer here to the Muroran Main Line.
Train fare: 1,600 yen
Train time: 25 minutes
Bibai’s main attractions are its museum, the Arte Piazza sculpture museum, and Bibai Snow Land activity park. Bibai Local History Museum has exhibits exploring Bibai’s history, culture, and natural history with a special emphasis on the history of the local coal mines. This museum is a 6 minute walk from the station and is open from 9.00 to 17.00 with last entry at 16.30. The museum is closed on Tuesdays and during the winter season (from November 1st to April 30th). Admission is 200 yen for adults or 50 yen for children of junior high school age and younger.
Arte Piazza is an open-air sculpture park which is a 20 minute bus ride or 10 minute taxi ride from Bibai Station. The park features 40 marble and bronze sculptures by the contemporary artist Kan Yasuda who was born in Bibai. There is a café in the park, a gallery, and there are also sculpting classes on the first weekend of the month. Although Kan Yasuda is now based in northern Italy, he sometimes visits the park to mentor the sculpting classes. Arte Piazza is free to enter and is open 9.00 to 17.00. It is closed every Tuesday, between December 31st and January 3rd, and on the days following national holidays (excluding Mondays).
From December to March, the Alpen Golf Club near Bibai is open as Bibai Snow Land. This winter activity park has a range of activities to enjoy which include snow shoeing, snow tubing, snowmobile touring, snow rafting, snow golf, and snow soccer! There is also a restaurant on site where you can enjoy delicious nabe-style seafood hotpots. Bibai Snow Land is a 15 minute taxi ride from Bibai Station but there is also a free shuttle service to and from the snow park which can be booked in advance.
Train fare: 2,440 yen
Train time: 35 minutes
Takikawa main attractions are its aviation park and hot spring facilities. Many people come to Takikawa in May during the Nanohana Festival to view the bright yellow fields of canola flowers (called nanohana in Japanese). There is also a Lantern Festival in February during which 10,000 paper lanterns decorate the city streets.
Takikawa Sky Park is an aviation park where you can experience flying in a glider. A 10 minute course costs 7,000 to 7,500 yen depending on the type of glider. There is also a Sky Museum which is open from 9.00 to 17.00. The Sky Park is open 8.30 to 17.00, but closed on public holidays and on weekends during the winter season. Glider flight experiences are available from mid-April to mid-November. The Sky Park is a 5 minute taxi ride from Takikawa Station.
Takikawa Fureai-no-sato is a natural hot spring facility with a variety of indoor and outdoor baths and saunas. The facility has an on-site restaurant and also a number of cottages for guests who wish to stay the night. Fureai-no-sato is open from 8.00 – 22.00 with last entry at 21.30. Admission is 500 yen for adults and 250 yen for children of elementary school age or younger. This facility is a 15 minute taxi ride from Takikawa Station, but there is also a free shuttle bus service.
Transfer here to the Nemuro Main Line.
Train fare: 3,040 yen
Train time: 52 minutes
Transfer here to the Rumoi Main Line.
Train fare: 4,250 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 5 minutes
Asahikawa is Hokkaido’s second largest city and is a popular base for travelers visiting nearby Daisetsuzan National Park or traveling further to the lavender fields of Furano. The most popular attraction inside Asahikawa is its zoo, but there are number of other interesting tourist spots that can all be accessed easily from the station area.
Asahiyama Zoo has animals from several continents including Asian snow leopards, American timber wolves, African lions, and Arctic foxes. The zoo is constructed in such a way that visitors can safely get close to the animals and view them in a habitat that resembles their natural environment. Admission to the zoo costs 820 yen for adults and is free for children of junior high age and younger. For the zoo’s opening hours please visit the official website. To get to the zoo take bus number 41 or 47 from the number 6 stop at Asahikawa Station. Buses depart every 30 minutes, take 40 minutes to reach the zoo and cost 440 yen. A taxi ride from the station will take about 30 minutes.
Otokoyama Sake Brewery Museum has exhibits showing traditional sake making methods, a Ukiyo-e woodblock print gallery showing the sake making process, a sake tasting corner, and a shop. Entrance to the museum is free and it is open from 9.00 to 17.00 (closed between December 31st and January 3rd). The museum is a 20 minute taxi ride from Asahikawa Station.
Asahikawa Ramen Village is a collection of eight ramen noodle restaurants together with a souvenir shop and a ramen shrine. Visitors who want to try a variety of ramen types can order small bowls at each shop. To reach the Ramen Village take the Sekihoku Line from Asahikawa Station for 10 minutes and get off at Minami-Nagayama Station. The Ramen Village is a 7 minute walk from the station.
Kita-no-Arashiyama is a village with several craft workshops, ateliers, and galleries featuring pottery, glass, woodwork, and dyed materials. Visitors can take part in pottery and glass making experiences and also take part in traditional tea ceremonies in the village’s teahouse. To get to the village from the station take the number 3 or 33 bus for 20 minutes and a fare of 200 yen.
Asahidake Onsen is a hot spring resort in Daisetsuzan National Park. The resort is close to the aerial lift Asahidake Ropeway which carries passengers in gondolas up Mount Asahi where they can admire the alpine views. This is also a popular ski resort in the winter. Asahidake Onsen can be reached in 70 minutes by car from Asahikawa Station. The Ideyugo Bus 66 takes around 90 minutes from bus stop 9 at Asahikawa Station and costs 1450 yen for adults and 730 yen for children.
Popular skiing locations near Asahikawa are Kamui Ski Links and the Asahidake Ski Resort.
Asahikawa holds a Winter Festival every February. This is similar to the Snow Festival in Sapporo and features both snow sculptures and ice sculptures.
Transfer at Asahikawa Station to the Soya Main Line, Sekihoku Main Line, and Furano Line.
Train fare: 4,690 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 25 minutes
Train fare: 4,690 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 25 minutes
A timetable and route finder, and a downloadable route map can be found on the official JR Hokkaido English language website.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.