For around 8000 yen you can catch a ferry from Tomakomai to Oarai. This is one of the cheapest ways to travel from Sapporo to Tokyo as it travels overnight, saving a nights worth of accommodation. The cheapest way to Tomakomai Port from Sapporo is by bus from Sapporo Station. Then from Oarai, you need to catch a bus to Mito Station and then either a bus or train to Tokyo.
The Seikan Tunnel linking Japan's main island of Honshu with Hokkaido took 17 years to build between 1971 and 1988 and is one of the engineering wonders of the world. It is the deepest (240 metres) and longest (58 kilometres) rail tunnel in the world, although the part of the tunnel actually under the sea is shorter than the submarine part of the Channel Tunnel. The original plan was to build a shinkansen (bullet train) link to Sapporo, but the arrival of large commercial jet aircraft in the 1970s quickly put paid to the idea. Although normal passenger trains run through the tunnel, freight traffic is now much more important.
It is very easy to get to and from the Chitose Airport and the trains are quite frequent. 1040 yen
It is very expensive to travel around Hokkaido!! The Hokkaido Free Kippu allows you to travel on JR trains and buses for seven days. It costs 23,750 yen for unreserved seats. You can also try the ostrich jerky!
This option is mainly for JR Pass holders. Otherwise, I think it cost about the same or less to fly with Airdo.
Basically, as a JR Pass holder (not JR East or JR Hokkaido), you can get from Sapporo to Tokyo (or vice versa) without paying a supplement, so you can use the night time to travel the around 1,000km distance and save 1 night of hotel. These are the trains you need to take:
1) Hamanasu - I think it generally departs Sapporo at 10:00pm. As a JR pass holder, you can reserve for a nobi nobi seat (aka carpet seat) or a dream seat without paying a supplement (more later). This train will get you to Aomori at around 5:40am.
2) Leave for Shin Aomori. I think they arrange it such that the connecting train to Shin Aomori leaves a few minutes later on the adjacent track.
3) Take the Shinkansen from Shin Aomori to Tokyo Station. There is one departing around 6:15 and one departing at 6:45 or so. You'll get to Tokyo in roughly 3 hours and still have most of the day to do some sightseeing.
(Please confirm the schedule with Hyperdia.com because the times may change.)
One minor annoyance with the JR Pass is that when you purchase the pass overseas, you only have the exchange voucher rather than the pass. In order to reserve seats using your pass (and thus not paying the supplement), you need your JR pass #. So, this means you cannot really reserve the seats until you arrive in Japan. It is fine in low season, but I heard that the carpet seats and dream seats go pretty quickly, especially since you can reserve about 1 month in advance. I recommend reserving as soon as you get there.
Only 2 trains above require reservation: Shinkansen to Tokyo (or from, if you are travelling from the other direction) has a mandatory seat reservation requirement. The Hamanasu does have unreserved seats but if you want something a bit more comfortable, you should reserve, especially since it is free.
I want to point out one more thing to which I had a little trouble finding the answer before my trip. If you want to exchange your voucher for your JR Pass, you can typically specify the "start date" of the pass, which could be a few days after the date of exchange. In my case, I got my JR Pass on the 10th but do not want to start using it till the 12th. The minute I have the pass in my hand, I can start reserving seats as long as the trains are departing within the 7 day period starting on the 12th.
(I suspected this was the case, but it was confirmed, although since I don't know how to speak Japanese, it was a bit hard to ask this particular question using sign language. I ended up showing my train schedule and said "reserve" and the staff at the Nagoya JR station was able to guess what I was after.)
Just a word of caution: there is a charge for the berths, so make sure you ask for the dream or carpet seats. If you do not speak Japanese and you are reserving your tickets at a less touristy location, you should print out the schedule and train times / numbers so that it is easier to book the ticket.
If you are very concerned about your ability to reserve a seat on the Hamanasu, you can try the website I linked below. It tells you how occupied the B seats and the regular seats are (but not specifically the carpet or dream seats) but at least you can gauge your chances of getting one a reserved seats from the vacancy level.
Carpet Seats / Dream Seats:
Basically the dream seats are like the reclining airline type seats. I heard it was nice but I actually got the carpet seat on my recent trip.
The carpet seat compartment is not actually filled with "seats". The compartment is divided into an upper level and and bottom level and the floor are covered with carpets, hence the name. (See picture) There are drapes between the seats so you won't see your neighbours. The upper seats are more private and seems to be a bit wider.
You cannot wear shoes on the carpeted platforms, so the seats are probably as clean as a typical berth. You are provided a thick blanket, a pillow, and a hanger for your jacket. While the blanket is thick, if you fold yourself in like a mummy, the floor is still a bit hard on your back, so I recommend using the blanket (folded in half) as your "bed" and cover yourself up with a personal blanket or jacket instead. You are basically sleeping on the floor, so it gets a little bumpy but you get used to it after a while. I find that I was able to sleep about the same amount as on a sleeper car, so that's not too bad. And it's free. One con is that there are no luggage racks on the carpet cars, so you'll have to bring your bags to your own seat. It is probably better if you don't have large luggage. My friend and I were able to fit our 2 carry on cases and 2 knapsacks + 1.5 cheesecake on our seats, but she did have to take my case in the upper level. The other passengers seem to be travelling really light though. Maybe they used the luggage forwarding service?
I posted a few pictures of my lower level seat. Basically the upper seat runs lengthwise across 3 lower level seats. (i.e. the "roof" on my seat is actually the upper compartment) It is more private but they go really quickly. We were not able to get 2 upper level seats in the same car.
You can see a picture of the dream seat and get more detailed on the JR pass and JR pass strategy on Japan-guide.com.
NEW CHITOSE AIRPORT: Click Here
MAP OF SUBWAY OF SAPPORO: Click Here
JAPAN SHINKANSEN MAP: Click Here
SHINKANSEN ROUTE MAP: Click Here
New Chitose Airport
New Chitose Airport, northern gateway, is located thirty-six minutes by train from Sapporo. You can fly directly not only to domestic cities but also to foreign cities; Seoul, Guam, Saipan, Hongkong, Honolulu and Cairns. This Airport aims to be the bridge between Japan and rest of the world with the first twenty four hour international air cargo base in Japan. Flights connect Sapporo directly with the main cities in Japan, and the comprehensive and modern facilities of Chitose are renowned.
The island of Hokkaido is very far from central Japan. It is possible to go by train but it's almost as expensive as flying. I used the ferry instead: it took one day and a half from Nagoya but it was a real bargain at 4000 yens ($37) one-way.
It is possible to rent a Motorcycle in Sapporo. There are a number of rental shops. The one I use is the Eagle Motorcycle Rental shop located in Shiroshi
Don't think about renting a motorcycle to ride in the snow ( November to April ). Outside winter, Hokkaido provides some excellent riding opportunities. Be sure to bring your International Drivers License specifying your Motorcycle rating. A 50cc motorcycle ( Gentsuki ) can be ridden with a car license in Japan. Gentsuki is a great idea for day tours around Sapporo. In particular, the 50cc Honda Cub is a really fun bike with lots of space for luggage. There are special rules for Gentsuki in Japan including a speed limit of 30km/h and special rules for right hand turns when there are two lanes or more. Pillion passengers are also not permitted. A trip into the mountains on a Honda Cub will be slow, perfect for taking in the views and feeling the nature around you. Prices range from $50/day for a Honda Cub to $200/day for the largest bikes. Rental fees rates start to half after the second day. Helmets and other accessories are also available for hire. A recommended route for a day trip is to Lake Shikotsu. Two things to riders in Hokkaido should be particularly wary of are the possibility of ice and snow in high altitude areas and possible loose gravel on the side of the road (left over from gravel used to prevent slipping during times of snow).
Sapporo's subway system, primarily, comprises of 3 lines. In each station, there are signboards in Japanese/English and shouldn't be a problem getting around.
Subway 1-Day Card (800 Yen)
Unlimited usage of Sapporo's three subway lines on one calendar day. Note that a discounted pass is available on weekends.
Donichi Subway Ticket (500 Yen)
Unlimited usage of Sapporo's three subway lines on one calendar day. To be used on weekends and public holidays only.
Combination One Day Pass (1000 Yen)
Unlimited usage of the subways, trams and buses of JR Hokkaido Bus, Hokkaido Chuo Bus and Jotetsu Bus on one calendar day.
Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass (1500 Yen)
Unlimited use of JR trains between Sapporo and Otaru and on Sapporo's three subway lines on one calendar day. Note that a round trip Sapporo-Otaru by regular tickets costs 1240 Yen alone. Available to foreign tourists only at JR information desks in Sapporo Station and Shin-Chitose Airport.
New Chitose opened in 1991 to replace Chitose Airport (now a JASDF base). New Chitose became Japan's first 24-hour airport in 1994. By land area, it is the largest airport in Japan. During the 1990s, it was touted as an international gateway and had regular flights to Europe and Oceania. Today, its services to Europe have ceased, while its international services are mainly transporting tourists from East Asia and Australia for sightseeing and skiing. The airport has a single semicircular terminal building which handles domestic and international flights. There is a huge shopping complex called Shopping World where travellers can purchase Japanese souvenirs, sweets, chocolates and fresh seafood.
Take the train from Tokyo and you'll go through the Seikan Tunnel (at 34 mi/55 km, it's one of the longest underwater tunnels in the world). 515 mi/830 km northeast of Tokyo.
In 'clear days' seasons, try to get an overnight ship cruise from Tsuruga to Otaru ! It's the best way to enter Hokkaido!
Best way to see Sapporo is by bycicle.