The Rapid Niseko Liner is a daily rapid service on the Hakodate Main Line that runs between Sapporo and the ski resort area of Niseko. For passengers traveling from Sapporo this service is convenient not only for Niseko, but also for the scenic port city of Otaru.
The Rapid Niseko Liner has just one early morning service each day that runs from Rankoshi Station to Sapporo Station and one evening return service that runs from Sapporo Station as far as Kutchan Station. This train is operated by JR Hokkaido and is completely covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
The Rapid Niseko Liner stops at the following stations. Only the train from Rankoshi stops at the stations in brackets ().
Sapporo – Kotoni – Teine – Otaru-Chikko – Minami-Otaru – Otaru – Shioya – Ranshima – Yoichi – Niki – Shikaribetsu – Ginzan – Kozawa – Kutchan – (Hirafu) – (Niseko) – (Kombu) – (Rankoshi)
Please note that the train from Sapporo terminates at Kutchan and to continue on to the ski resort areas of Niseko you will need to take a bus or taxi. The key destinations are listed below with fares and journey times given from Sapporo Station.
Sapporo Teine Ski Resort can be accessed by JR Bus 70 from the south exit of this station. Sapporo Teine is the biggest and best of the ski resorts around Sapporo and it has various trails suitable for all levels of ability. The bus takes around 16 minutes to get to the Olympia Zone of the resort and another 12 minutes to get to the Highland Zone (which has the more advanced trails). The ski season here lasts from November through to early May.
Teine Station is also convenient for Sapporo Starlight Dome, a digital planetarium that has three 45 minute shows a day at 12.40, 14.00 and 15.20. Between April and October there is an extra show at 16.40 on weekends and holidays. The planetarium is closed on Wednesdays, Thursdays and the days following national holidays. Admission is 900 yen for adults and 500 yen for children of junior high school age or younger. The planetarium is a 7 minute walk from the station.
Train fare: 340 yen
Train time: 13 minutes
The town of Otaru has three stations. Although Otaru-Chikko Station is not close to the main sightseeing area, it is convenient for two of Otaru’s top tourist hotels. Grand Park Otaru is a modern seafront hotel with spacious rooms, three restaurants and immediate access to a large shopping mall. The ryokan inn Ginrinso is a natural hot spring hotel perched on top of Cape Hiraiso. With indoor and outdoor mineral baths, stunning sea views, traditional Japanese architecture and interior design, and the best local cuisine this hotel offers unbeatable luxury.
Train fare: 750 yen
Train time: 32 minutes
This station is the closest to Otaru Ferry Terminal which has ferry services to Niigata and to Maizuru in Kyoto Prefecture. The ferry terminal is an 18 minute walk from the station or a 7 minute taxi ride.
This station is also a 6 minute walk from Otaru Music Box Museum which displays and sells an incredible variety of wind-up music boxes. Open every day, the museum is free to enter.
Train fare: 750 yen
Train time: 35 minutes
This is the main station for Otaru and is convenient for the main sightseeing areas, major hotels, and for taxi and bus services around town. Otaru is a scenic port town, with many beautifully preserved historic buildings which are variously used to house museums, art galleries, craft shops, antique stores, and delicious sea food restaurants.
The highlights of Otaru include the multiple stained glass and art nouveau galleries of Otaru Art Base, the Otaru Museum Main Building which has an impressive collection of railway vehicles, the Otaru Museum Canal Building which has fascinating history and natural history displays, the finely crafted glass works of Kitaichi Glass and Taisho Glass Palace, and the historic warehouses that line Otaru Canal. Popular activities include rickshaw rides, cruises on the canal, a sea cruise to the Blue Grotto, and taking the ropeway up to the summit of Mount Tenguyama.
Train fare: 750 yen
Train time: 39 minutes
Ranshima Beach is a five minute walk from this station. In the summer months this sheltered beach is a popular camping and barbecue location.
Train fare: 1,130 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 4 minutes
Yoichi is a pleasant seaside town with a number of attractions within walking distance of the station.
Yoichi Nikka Whisky Distillery is a historic location dating from 1934 and is open for tours and tastings. The distillery, which is free to enter, is open every day from 9.00 – 17.00 and closed over the New Year’s holidays. It is an 8 minute walk from Yoichi Station.
Yoichi Space Dome is a museum which was built to celebrate the achievements of Japan’s first astronaut, Mamoru Mohri, who was born in Yoichi. The museum has scale models of the International Space Station, and Hubble Telescope, a digital planetarium, and more exhibits giving insights into the life of astronauts in space. The museum is closed on Mondays and between December 31st and January 5th. Admission costs 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for children of junior high school age and younger. It is a 7 minute walk from the station.
A number of museums in Yoichi are related to the history of the local fishing industry. These include the Yoichi Fisheries Museum, the preserved fishing buildings of Old Fukuhara Gyojo where herring were processed after being caught, and the preserved herring mansion of Old Shimoyoichi Unjoya which shows how a local merchant family lived in the 19th century. All of these facilities have the same opening hours and admission fees. Each location is open from 9.00 to 16.30 and closed on Mondays, the days following national holidays, and during the winter season (mid-December to early April). Admission for each location is 300 yen for adults and 100 yen for children of junior high age and younger.
Hamanaka Moire Kaisui-yokujo is a popular beach in Yoichi during the summer season.
Train fare: 1,290 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 11 minutes
Kutchan is the final stop for passengers traveling from Sapporo and the access point for the ski resorts of Niseko. Kutchan is mainly a winter sports destination, but in the summer visitors can enjoy rafting or kayaking on the Shiribetsu River and hiking on 1,898m high Mount Yotei. The conical Mount Yotei is known as the “Mount Fuji of Hokkaido” and dominates the local scenery. If you are not interested in climbing there are gentler hiking trails in the scenic woodland around Lake Hangetsu and the “mirror marsh” of Kagaminuma. Camping, fishing and golfing are also popular activities. Kutchan’s main attractions are listed below.
Kutchan Natural History Museum has exhibits on local history and culture as well as natural history and is open from 9.00 to 17.00 with last entry at 16.30. The museum is closed on Tuesdays and during New Year’s holidays. Admission is 200 yen for adults and 100 yen for children. The museum is a 6 minute taxi ride form the station.
The Shu Ogawara Museum of Art has a permanent collection of works by the local painter Ogawara Shu (1911 – 2002) whose colorful paintings were influenced by his travels in China, Tibet, and India. The museum is open from 9.00 to 17.00 with last entry at 16.30. It is closed on Tuesdays, during the New Year’s holidays, and between exhibitions. Admission is 500 yen for adults, 300 yen for senior high students, and 100 yen for children junior high age and younger. The museum is a 7 minute taxi ride from Kutchan Station.
Mishima’s Shibazakura Garden is a private garden covered with colorful “shibazakura” or moss phlox flowers that is free to enter every year from May to June. The garden is popular with sightseers and photographers for its bright fields of purple, pink, and white flowers with Mount Yotei as a dramatic backdrop.
Kutchan Potato Festival is held in August to celebrate the city’s most famous food. This event includes a parade, a fireworks display and street stalls selling a variety of tasty potato dishes.
There are several hot spring bathing areas around Kutchan. In the Hanazono Onsen area the Zaborin Ryokan is a contemporary inn built in a traditional style that provides luxury accommodation and cuisine with private indoor and outdoor pools. In the Hirafu Onsen area the Vale Niseko is a luxury boutique hotel with ski-to-the-door access, private apartments, an on-site restaurant, and heated outdoor baths with mountain views. In the same area Hotel Niseko Alpen is a larger facility with two restaurants, shops selling souvenirs and winter sports equipment, a full size swimming pool, indoor and outdoor hot spring baths, a stone sauna and a karaoke corner.
Train fare: 2,100 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 56 minutes
Niseko Ski Resorts
The Niseko area is famous for its deep powder snow and world-class winter sports facilities. The ski season is also long here, lasting from late November until early May. There are four main ski resort areas that can all be accessed from Kutchan. These resorts are all interconnected; it is possible to ski between them, there are shuttle buses that run between the bases, and the Niseko United All Mountain Pass grants access to all the lifts and gondolas.
Niseko Grand Hirafu is the largest ski resort in Niseko with 30 ski trails and 15 lifts and gondolas. There are ski schools offering private and group lessons for all levels of ability, rental shops for ski equipment, and 9 cafes and restaurants offering a great range of food and drink. This resort can be accessed from Kutchan Station by bus in 20 minutes and by taxi in 15 minutes.
Niseko Village has 8 lifts and gondolas, long off-piste trails, and a Snow School offering private and group beginner and refresher lessons. Besides skiing and snowboarding there are a range of activities on offer here including snowmobile rides, snowshoeing, snow rafting, and reindeer sledding. Guided back-country tours are available for more advanced skiers. Niseko Village is a 37 minute bus ride or a 22 minute taxi ride from Kutchan Station.
Niseko Annupuri has 5 lifts and 1 gondola, a ski school with lessons for kids and adults, a rental store for ski equipment, and five dining facilities. This resort has 13 courses suited for beginners, families, or more advanced skiers who are looking for a challenge. Niseko Annupuri can be accessed from Kutchan Station in 30 minutes by bus or 25 minutes by taxi.
Niseko Hanazono is a smaller, family-friendly resort with 3 lifts, terrain parks suitable for all levels of ability, a ski school, a day care center, three dining facilities, and activities such as tubing, and tours by snowshoe, snowmobile or snow raft. Guided back-country ski tours are also available for advanced skiers, including group trips to the untouched slopes of an abandoned ski resort on Mt. Weisshorn that can now only be accessed by snow cats. This resort is a 15 minute taxi ride from Kutchan Station.
As there is only one Rapid Niseko Liner from Sapporo each day, many travelers choose to take the Rapid Airport service as far as Otaru Station and then change to a local train bound for Kutchan Station, Hirafu Station or Niseko Station. This can take around 2 hours depending on the time of day.
Travelers returning from the Grand Hirafu resort to Sapporo may choose to board the Rapid Niseko Liner at Hirafu Station (at 6.46 am) as this station is closer.
Article by Michael Lambe. Photos by Michael Lambe, ta98/pixta (4), norizou/pixta (5). All rights reserved.