Hokkaido, land of… instagrammable lavender fields and fresh vegetables – that seriously was my impression of Hokkaido before I set foot in it, and well, they were proved right. After we booked tickets we seriously spent a long time deciding between train-ing Hokkaido (as our friends had done it before!) and self-driving. What ultimately swayed the decision was the fact that we wanted to visit several onsen towns, which were not near any train stations. Also, travelling by car meant we could split up our journey.
Driving in Hokkaido: What you’ll need.
First and foremost, you will need an International Driver’s Permit. There is plenty of information on this online, so google is your best friend. For us, we trooped down to our local AA (that’s Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous) on a Sunday evening to get it done. The application was pretty seamless and super straightforward – we were given iPads to fill in our details and had our pictures taken then too, and only needed to wait for 30 minutes before collecting them. Most importantly, Teddy adds that we also saved the $5 (per application) delivery fee.
Prior to arriving in Sapporo, you’d obviously need to pick a rental car company to rent from. For us, location was paramount and so we chose Times Car Rental as it was opposite the hotel we were staying, and the Tocoo website was also easy to navigate. On check out you will be asked if you would like to purchase the Hokkaido Expressway Pass, which price is dependent on the number of days you want to use it for.
We didn’t buy this pass, thinking that we could buy it when we picked up the car. I’m not sure if that is possible – we enquired about it at Times, but we were told we couldn’t purchase the Expressway Pass. That said, we didn’t really use it that much. We only used the expressway one day and paid about 900 yen in tolls on that day. The pass costs about 8000 yen-ish, if I recall correctly. It is fully possible to do a road trip without the Expressway Pass.
Tocoo will also send you an ETC card which you will need to insert into a unit in the car. This records the toll gates which you go through – i.e. it is somewhat similar to a credit card.
I think the drive in Sapporo is probably the toughest as there was the most traffic lights and humans. Most of our drives outside Sapporo was devoid of other vehicles and humans, and most people also tend to go above the speed limit. For someone who doesn’t drive at all (me), the drive outside Sapporo was very manageable and enjoyable. While roads can get a bit windy, especially around the Lake Saroma and Akan areas, the drive is super scenic and I’d highly encourage people to go check it out still!
Returning the ETC card
PLEASE READ THE FINE PRINT. You are supposed to return the ETC card the same day you return your car – we didn’t, and only returned it a day later, but it was fine. Returning the ETC card was… simple, I think. We simply had to put the ETC card in the return envelope provided (with the free pocket wifi as well!) and mail it off using the TA-Q-BIN service, available at 7/11. And yes, we had to pay for return postage… even though it was supposed to be free. Shrugs.
Ok this is probably the most boring post I’ve ever written, but hey, it’s one of those “for completeness” posts.
Hokkaido Road Trip (July 2018)
Hokkaido Day 0: Introduction to Sapporo + Driving in Sapporo (this post!)
Hokkaido Day 1: Sapporo
Hokkaido Day 2: Sapporo – Furano – Asahikawa
Hokkaido Day 3: Asahikawa – Lake Saroma
Hokkaido Day 4: Lake Saroma – Lake Akan
Hokkaido Day 5: Lake Akan – Kushiro
Hokkaido Days 6 and 7: Kushiro – Obihiro, Obihiro – Sapporo
Hokkaido Days 8 and 9: Sapporo