Flying to Hokkaidō is often the cheapest way to get there. Sapporo's New Chitose Airport is the main port of entry, seeing an increasing number of direct international flights wing in from around Asia and the Pacific, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Thailand, Guam and Hawaii.
Hokkaidō-based budget carrier Air Do (www.airdo.jp) flies direct from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to New Chitose and also to regional airports such as Asahikawa, Hakodate, Kushiro, Memanbetsu and Obihiro. It also flies to New Chitose from Hiroshima, Kobe, Nagoya and Sendai.
ANA (www.ana.co.jp) has flights to New Chitose Airport from cities around Japan and also direct flights from Tokyo to some of Hokkaido's regional airports, such as Asahikawa, Hakodate, Kushiro, Memanbetsu, Obihiro and Wakkanai.
The following budget airlines offer cheap flights, from as low as ¥4000 one way, to New Chitose Airport from Tokyo. If you buy a ticket from Narita, be sure to factor in the cost and time required for the trip to the airport.
Jetstar (www.jetstar.com) Also flies to/from Nagoya and Osaka.
Vanilla Air (www.vanilla-air.com)
Ferries make the journey from Honshū to Hokkaidō. This is pretty much never the cheapest way to get anywhere, and is always the least time-efficient, but the ferries themselves can be fun: long-haul ones have communal bathhouses, dining halls and even karaoke rooms.
Tomakomai is the main port of entry for long-haul ferries. Shorter runs from Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on Honshū, go to Hakodate. Ferries going up the Japan Sea coast travel to Otaru.
The following companies operate ferries to/from Hokkaidō:
MOL Ferry (www.sunflower.co.jp) Between Tomakomai and Ōarai (Ibaraki-ken) – the closest port to Tokyo.
Seikan Ferry (www.seikan-ferry.co.jp) Runs between Hakodate and Aomori.
Shin-Nihonkai Ferry (www.snf.jp) Down the Japan Sea side of Honshū, between Tomakomai, Akita, Niigata and Tsuruga (Fukui-ken); and between Otaru, Niigata and Maizuru (Kyoto-fu).
Silver Ferry (www.silverferry.jp) Between Tomakomai and Hachinohe (Aomori-ken).
Taiheiyō Ferry (www.taiheiyo-ferry.co.jp) Down the Pacific coast of Honshū, between Tomakomai, Sendai and Nagoya.
Tsugaru Kaikyō Ferry (www.tsugarukaikyo.co.jp) Between Hakodate and Aomori, and Hakodate and Ōma (at the northernmost tip of Honshū).
With the opening of the Hokkaidō Shinkansen in 2016, it's now possible to take a shinkansen (bullet train) all the way from Tokyo to Hakodate, the terminus in southern Hokkaidō. Travel on the Hokkaidō Shinkansen is included in the country-wide Japan Rail Pass.
A marvel of Japanese engineering, the Seikan railway tunnel travels beneath the Tsugaru Strait, connecting the islands of Honshū and Hokkaidō. With a total length of 53.85km, including a 240m-deep and 23.3km-long undersea portion, the Seikan Tunnel (青函トンネル), opened in 1988, is the deepest and longest undersea tunnel in the world.