It has been such a long time since my last post that it would take me forever to catch up on all the incredible places we have visited, but Hokkaido truly is a magical place like no other. Furano in particular was a real highlight for me.
This was our last weekend in Hokkaido and we had started to up the pace on our sightseeing, desperate to see as much as possible before returning to Shanghai and my driving style was starting to become a little, er, more confident. To be fair though, this was the first place in Hokkaido where there was open road to go at. We arrived in Furano in mid afternoon and headed straight for the lavender fields. We had seen the pictures of Farm Tomita everywhere in Hokkaido and were following the same well trodden path as everyone else until we mistakenly pulled in at what turned out to be Nakafurano’s municipal lavender field. Ski lifts took lazy tourists up a steep and steamy hillside covered in colourful flowers and lavender plants with clear views over the mountain plain. At my insistence, we took the sweatier route up the path running alongside the plantation and found ourselves stopping at every step to take pictures of the butterflies jumping ecstatically between petals.
We eventually moved on to the famous Farm Tomita and were greeted by coach loads of day trippers taking pictures of even more impressive flower fields. What made this all the more special is that this is a genuine working farm where lavender was being harvested. We enjoyed stopping off at the little food places to try lavender lemonade, ice cream and Hokkaido’s famous melon bread.
After a night in our extremely secluded (and a little too basic) Akane-yado guest house, tucked away against the foot of a volcano, we decided to drive to the Blue Pond near Biei. Once again, there were hoards of tourists fighting for the best photo angle, even at this early hour of the morning, but fortunately the beauty of the pond more than compensated for this. Apparently the vivid blue shade of the pool is caused by volcanic minerals in the soil and the pool was originally made to protect a local village from lava flows. It is incredible to think that something that was created accidentally by man could turn out to become such a magnificent sight.
Next, onwards to Biei. She had been very keen to go on the historic Norokko tourist train to Furano that JR trains run occasionally across the summer for tourists. The brilliant thing is that you can buy a normal train ticket, but the windows are open to the elements and the old carriages are decorated with flowers. I found it a cute touch that you get a certificate for riding the train too. We made the return trip to Furano, stopping briefly for lunch and took pictures of the green rolling plains, numerous lavender fields and vistas of pointed volcano peaks.
Back then to Biei, which had been described somewhere as one of the prettiest villages in Japan. We were unsure as to who had said this to be honest, or why, and found ourselves quickly bored here. One slight frustration in provincial Japan is that everything closes early and we were already faced with not being able to do much more today . Undeterred, however, we made a quick dash in the car back to Furano to check out the Chateau Furano vineyard. Similar to Farm Tomita and many of the other attractions in Hokkaido, remarkably admission is free and what’s more they actually let you help yourself to free samples of white and red wine and grape juice. Clearly this is not compatible with driving, however, and I’m not sure how else you could travel here. The wine was ok. We then made a similar dash across town to the Furano Cheese Factory. This was again free admission, and with five minutes spare sampled a few slices in the shop before making a polite exit. Phew.
At sunset on this, our last evening, we took pictures around the elevated ski resort area of Furano. We stumbled across a little community centre outside which children dressed in kimonos were practising Taiko drumming in the shadow of a steep volcano. It was as if they were somehow communicating with the landscape and I began to think about how beauty can often be found in the strangest and most extreme of places. I would like to teach Music here, I thought. This was one of my favourite accidental moments in Hokkaido, but not the first. I still think of spending our first evening t in Hokkaido with the friendly South Hokkaido Ocean Sailing Club who generously invited us for incredibly fresh sashimi, sake and beer after we unintentionally stumbled onto their jetty in Hakodate. This happy accident set the tone for the whole trip and I hope we can go back to say hello to them sometime. Thanks Hokkaido, you didn’t disappoint.
N.B. I really do miss melon bread. I also didn’t talk about the Nikka whisky distillery in Yoichi, but I highly recommend a visit. Top tip: take the train and don’t drive. It’s pretty incredible that they offer you three generous portions of whisky for free. And best of all, once again, there is no admission fee! It’s true that Japan can be pricey, but they certainly make up for it at times! The seafood is also ridiculously delicious and they seem to cook with every part of every creature, plant and microscopic organism that the ocean creates in Hokkaido. Just avoid the live squid.
Did you like the stories about our journey in Hokkaido? If this is the first article you’ve read, we would like to invite you to read more about our time in the South of Hokkaido and in Hokkaido’s capital Sapporo. We would love to hear from you if you have also traveled to Hokkaido, or have any questions about travelling around the island.