Driving in Hokkaido is made easy, despite mountain bends and snow, by wide roads and English-language signage that helps guide you to wilder places. Toll highways at this writing link Sapporo only with Otaru, Asahikawa, Rumoi, and Obihiro, but nearly complete (and recently cheapened) stretches can take you close to Hakodate and Abashiri. Otherwise, two-lane roads are the norm, and untimed stoplights can slow travel.
Most major auto-rental companies have offices at Sapporo's New Chitose Airport, in major cities, and in smaller tourist areas. Nevertheless, we recommend you make automotive plans around JR Sapporo Station. JR Hokkaido arranges very good value travel packages, but service is available in English only at major stations such as Sapporo and Hakodate. Car rentals, depending on the season, can cost as little as ¥5,000 per day, but budget at least ¥10,000; reservations are best made through the ToCoo website for Orix, Times Car, Budget, Nissan, Toyota, MMC, and J-Net. August is peak holiday driving season, so book early. You can request an English-language navigation system called car-navi.
Japanese are cautious drivers, and Hokkaido is the best place in Japan for driving, even though wide, straight roads, treacherous winter weather conditions, and most visitors' unfamiliarity with all of the above gives Hokkaido the worst traffic fatality figures in Japan. Beware of speed traps, especially in holiday periods: in apparently rural areas a hidden village can dictate urban speed limits of 40 to 60 kph.
JR Hokkaido Rent-a-Car (JR北海道レンタリース). JR北海道レンタリース 1 Kita 6 Nishi 1, Kita-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, 060-0806. 011/742–8211; www.jrh-rentacar.jp.
Nippon Rent-a-Car Hokkaido. Kita 6 Nishi 4, 2-13, 060-0806. 011/746–0919; www.nrgroup-global.com/en.
ToCoo Car Rental (トクー！). トクー！ www2.tocoo.jp/en.
Toyota Rent-a-Car (トヨタレンタリース札幌). トヨタレンタリース札幌 0123/40–0100; rent.toyota.co.jp/eng.