Getting Around Sapporo – The Sapporo Subway

Sapporo, just like other Japanese cities, is well serviced by rail transportation. The subway system serves most of the inner city. The Japan Rail Hokkaido (hereby referred to as JR) trains connect Sapporo to the surrounding towns, the New Chitose Airport, and other major destinations throughout Hokkaido.

The System

The Sapporo Subway system is made up of 3 lines and is very simple to use.  Rides on the subway range from ¥200-360 depending on how far one travels through the system. The blue Toho Line runs north-south and serves the northeast and southeast of Sapporo. Major destinations accessible on the Toho Line include Toyohiro Park (Toyohiro Koen station), and the Sapporo Dome (Fukuzumi station). The green Namboku Line runs north-south as well, but serve the areas directly north and south of the city centre. Major destinations along the line include Nakajima Park (Nakajima Koen station) and Hokkaido University (Kita 12 Jo station). The orange Tozai Line runs mainly east-west and serves the city’s northwest and part of the southeast.  Famous attractions on the Tozai Line include the Shiroi Koibito Park (Miyanosawa station) and Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen station). All three lines feed into Odori Station. Like most Japanese subway systems, all stations in the system have a letter and number combo to identify the station. Because you know it’s a lot easier to say station H-05 than saying Higashi Kuyakusho Mae station for us foreigners.

The two main hub stations are Sapporo Station and Odori Station. The Namboku and Toho Lines both connect into Sapporo Station. Sapporo Station is your launching pad for rail travel to the rest of Hokkaido. All the JR Hokkaido trains come into Sapporo Station. The Rapid Airport Express, for example, would deliver you here to Sapporo Station. Sapporo Station is a huge complex worthy of its own blog post (yet to be written). Odori Station is the giant 3 station hub that connects all three lines together in the middle of Sapporo. The station sits directly underneath Sapporo’s centrepiece of green, Odori Park. Surrounding Odori Park would be many office buildings and shopping areas.

Fares and Sapica

Ticket Vending Machine image from City of Sapporo

The system for fare payment is very similar to the systems used in most of Japan. So if you are familiar with riding Japanese subways, skip the next two paragraphs. If you are a Japanese rail newbie, read on.

Cash fares are accepted at the ticket vending machines at all stations. To figure out how much you need to pay, you need to look at the giant map above the ticket machine. Look for the station that is your final destination. That station will have a number underneath it that represents how much you must pay. On the machine, select English if you can’t read Japanese. Then select the number of people you are paying for, select the price for your trip, and insert the appropriate amount. The tiny little magnetic ticket(s) will then be spat out at the bottom of the ticket machine. The machines do accept both bills and coins.

A very important thing to remember is not to lose the ticket. You need the ticket to get you through the gate into the subway system. You feed the ticket into the gate reader and take the ticket back on the other side of the gate. You also need the ticket to get you out of the subway system. You stick the ticket in like before, but this time, you don’t get the ticket back. The transit gods take your paper offering, thank you, and send you on your merry way. Also, don’t stick the tickets near anything that will demagnetize it. My wife’s ticket got demagnetized a couple of times. Each time we tried to exit, she got stuck behind the gate. Then almost out-of-thin-air, a subway staff member comes to remedy the problem. They read  the price and station of origin written all over the ticket. After verifying you’re in the right place for the right price, they let you go.

However, if you will be spending quite a bit of time travelling by transit, the best thing to get is the Sapica IC card. It’s the Sapporo smart card that allows people to pay for travel on city buses, streetcars, and subways. The card can also be used in some retail locations, especially within the subway system.

A Sapica can be bought at almost any ticket vending machine throughout the subway system. It costs ¥2000. ¥500 is a refundable deposit for the card and the remaining ¥1500 is used towards your travel on the subway, bus, or streetcar.

The other great thing about using the Sapica is that after a few rides, you can receive a free ride. Every ride helps to collect Sapica points. 10% of each ride’s fare is put into points. These points then can be redeemed for a free ride. From my experience, once there are enough points to cover a ride, the points are automatically deducted and, voila, free ride. Because my average subway ride cost ¥200. I basically got a free ride after 10 rides.

Even if you don’t get the free rides from using the card for a few days, I think it’s way easier than trying to fish out enough Japanese money to pay for a ride. Just tap the card at the gate reader and go.

Other fare media are available, such as one-day subway passes (¥800 on weekdays and the Donichika Ticket is ¥500 on weekends and holidays) and one-day bus/streetcar/subway passes (¥1000). All these different fare options get you into the transit system differently, so the Sapporo Municipal Transportation Bureau has a webpage in English that explains the ins and outs of some these fare media.

The Trains

The blue Toho Line – my usual subway ride during my time in Sapporo

Sapporo subway trains are fairly frequent with the possible exception of early Sunday morning where you may want to check the schedule carefully if you really need to be somewhere on time.  The platforms are quite long and actually much longer than the trains that serve them. It looks like they built the stations with growth in mind.

The trains run on rubber tires, as opposed to steel wheels on a rail. Rubber tire trains are much less common, but not totally unheard of. Other rubber-tired trains that I’ve ridden include the Montreal Metro, the Yurikamome Line in Tokyo, and the Wenhu Line in Taipei. Looking down upon the guideway, you’ll find that there is a single centre guiding rail. There are no actual steel rails that one normally sees in most subway systems.

Riding the orange Tozai Line

As with most subway/metro systems in Japan, seating is primarily bench seating lining the sides of the cars. Thus, all seated passengers are sitting facing into the middle of the car. All the cars connect to one another. So you can walk easily from the front end to the back end of the train to the front. There are two subway staff on each train. There’s the driver and the doorman. The driver is at the front and the doorman is at the back. The doorman makes the announcements on the train and watches the platform when the train is stopped. If I sit at the back of the subway, I can hear the doorman close his window as we leave a station.

That’s getting around Sapporo on the Sapporo Subway in a nutshell. There’s quite a few other webpages with explanations on riding the subway. Here they are:

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