If you have just flown in to New Chitose Airport, you’ll probably head for Sapporo, Hokkaido’s main city and only about 50 kms (30 miles) away. Ground transportation includes JR train service, buses, taxis and rental cars.
JR Airport Express Train
The most convenient way to get from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo is the JR Airport Express Train. Follow the signs downstairs to the basement level of the airport, and wend your way through the corridors to the station gates.
Express trains for JR Sapporo Station (Sapporo Eki) depart every fifteen minutes or so, take only 37 minutes to get there, and cost 1,070 yen one way. (Sapporo Station will be indicated clearly in English on the vending machine buttons.) Don’t bother paying the extra 310 yen for a reserved seat. There are often two trains waiting at the same time, so if you have many bags, get comfortably seated on the later departure.
NOTE: JR Sapporo Station is not JR SHIN-Sapporo Station (the future shinkansen bullet train stop), which will come up about 30 minutes into your journey. Stay on the train until just about everyone prepares to get off; that will be Sapporo Station.
To make life easier, have at least 10,000 Japanese yen cash in hand per person in your party, because many places do not take overseas-issued credit cards. Japan is more of a cash-based society anyway.
Recommended Hotels near Sapporo Station
Bus services are generally a shortcut for locals heading for places in Sapporo and environs who don’t want to go all the way to JR Sapporo Station and then double back. Although buses are only slightly cheaper than the JR trains, they will still take longer due to traffic and winter weather conditions. Not recommended unless you know the exact name of your stop.
There are information booths for bus services clearly signposted in English at the airport. However, ground staff for many transportation modes may not have foreign-language abilities, slowing down the trip to your hotel bed significantly. If your hotel has not advised you of a direct bus service to their doorstep, take the train.
Taxis from New Chitose Airport (and most other places in Japan outside of tourist zones) are metered and not negotiable. A taxi ride to Sapporo may cost you several tens of thousands of yen and therefore is not recommended.
Taxis in Japan are generally for short-term local rides for people without cars, or between destinations not serviced efficiently by public transportation. If you would like to try one (and why not – they’re clean, generally polite, and have that neat system where drivers open the back passenger door for you), then make sure you know exactly where you want to go in Japanese (if it’s complex or hard to pronounce, have your hotel write your destinations down on a piece of paper). Also, if your hotel is a long walk from JR Sapporo Station, and you have a lot of luggage, take a cab from the station. And there is no tipping in Japan, even if you fill their trunk and back seats with bags!
Rental Car Service
Rental car agencies generally cater to domestic tourists who want to visit the Hokkaido outback. Moreover, monolingual rental agents will practically have a stroke if you do not have a Japanese interlocutor, or an advance reservation printed up to present them. Not all car agencies take overseas-issued credit cards either (meaning you will not get a car, so check in advance). And you must have an international driver license. So you will probably not get your car smoothly at New Chitose Airport. If you really must drive, we suggest your hotel arrange a car after you check in (with pick-up and drop-off agencies around JR Sapporo Station).
However, remember that Japan drives on the left (the British side), and driving in Hokkaido isn’t all that pleasant until you get out of Sapporo. It is thoroughly unpleasant for inexperienced snow drivers during Hokkaido winters (November-April). So unless you are comfortable with all of these conditions, renting a car is simply not recommended. You will probably wind up spending more time on logistics than actual sightseeing. With the prevalence of public transportation in Japan, car rentals remain the road less traveled.
Transportation from Sapporo to New Chitose Airport
JR Airport Express Train
Departing from JR Sapporo Station to JR New Chitose Station (Shin Chitose Kūkō Eki) is recommended, because the Express trains take only 30 minutes (the time of arrival at the airport will be clearly indicated in English on the digital train departure signboards). Every other method of transportation takes significantly longer.
However, some trains before and during morning rush hour (6AM-8:30AM) will be local trains that alight at every stop, which means nearly an hour to get there. You should probably wait for an Express; follow the people with suitcases. Take note of when you want to arrive at the airport for check-in, and plan accordingly the night before if you have an early departure. Consult with your hotel lobby clerk if you have any questions. (Hotel Front Desks are very helpful in Japan, and will happily give out this information as part of the service.)
If you are some distance from JR Sapporo Station, you can take the Sapporo Subway (chika tetsu) on the Tōzai-sen (orange line) to Shin-Sapporo Station, then walk up to the JR station of the same name. Board an express train to JR New Chitose Station (Shin-Chitose Kūkō Eki) from there. There is no direct subway line to the airport.
Airport express buses (kōsoku basu) to New Chitose Airport also depart from specifically-signposted roadside stops, and are sometimes cheaper than the JR Train. Consult with your hotel clerk for the nearest one. However, given traffic and winter snow conditions, buses are not recommended unless you are distant from JR Sapporo Station and would have to double back.
Article by Dr. Debito Arudou