Greetings. This is Nazrul from the Hokkaido Government Representative Office.
I had the opportunity to spend the night at Tokachidake Onsen Ryounkaku, which is the highest hot spring inn in Hokkaido. At 1,280 metres above sea level, patrons of the inn are able to see the ‘sea of clouds’ in the summer, where clouds hover between the town of Kamifurano below and the inn. I was awoken as early as 4:30 AM because of summer sunlight, and went outside to have a good look at sea of clouds below.
The view was, simply put, breath-taking. I’ve never seen a sea of clouds, and it’s a surreal experience to actually see them right below me. It was completely bright as early as 4:45 AM that morning, and I had a complete view of the clouds faraway. Even better, there were also clouds surrounding the mountain behind the inn.
After enjoying the magnificent view outside, I went to try the inn’s famous hot spring. It was a rather unique experience; the brownish hot spring water was full of iron content and is very beneficial for the skin. On top of having a wonderful experience of dipping in hot spring in the cool morning, it also offers a full view of sea of clouds outside. Of all the hot springs I’ve been, I have to say that this has one of the best hot springs I’ve ever been to.
My guide Noriko, who is also the manager of Ryounkaku, arrived shortly to fetch me and continue our exploration of Biei and Furano. As we headed down the Mount Tokachi slopes to the town below, we were amazingly lucky to stumble upon wild foxes on the road. Not just one fox, but a whole family of them! Noriko mentioned that wild animals are common in Hokkaido, so foreign visitors should pay attention on the roads and look out for them if they’re driving.
Our first stop is Shirahige Waterfall, where ‘shirahige’ means ‘white beard’ in Japanese. This unique waterfall features cobalt-blue water and it resembles a white beard when the water falls into the river, which flows all the way to Biei (‘Blue Pond’) which I will drop by next. The waterfall is open to public without any charges, and is open throughout the year. There are also many hot spring inns nearby, so visitors can also opt to spend a night near the waterfall.
Next comes one of the most anticipated moments of the trip: visiting the Blue Pond. The Blue Pond is one of the most popular tourist spots in Hokkaido, and almost every visitor travelling to Hokkaido in the summer includes this into their itineraries. The colour of the pond is surreal: cobalt blue and transparent, it is unlike any other pond I’ve come across. Plus, the water colour changes depending on the season, and so does the surrounding foliage so the overall view will transform completely. The Blue Pond is open throughout the year and entry is free as well.
Next up is another must-visit for summer travel in Hokkaido: Shikisai-no-Oka, which translates as ‘Hill of Four Seasonal Colors’. Indeed, the undulating hills are a spectacle to watch: it is a myriad of blooming flowers that showcases the sheer beauty of Hokkaido summer.
The entire place is fifteen hectares, and visitors can spend a whole day just strolling around the place. There are many types of flowers blooming in the summer, with sunflowers and lavenders being the most popular flowers. Although summer is the peak season, it is also open during winter where visitors can rent snowmobiles and participate in winter activities. Entry to the place is free but visitors are encouraged to donate at least JPY 200 each for maintenance.
It’s also interesting to know that, on top of the sprawling flower fields, there is also a mini-animal farm where visitors can see and feed alpacas. This is very popular among kids, but I think adults will surely find this experience refreshing as well. Plus, there is also a huge gift/souvenir shop and a snack corner where visitors can enjoy lavender and melon ice creams.
En route to my next destination, Noriko brought me to an interesting location in Kamifurano. It’s dubbed the ‘Rollercoaster Road’ because it resembles one with its undulating road that goes up and down.
Last but not least is another major tourist spot for all visitors: Farm Tomita. The farm is immensely famous for its wide variety of lavender types, and summer is also its peak season (especially July). Like Shikisai-no-Oka, the place is also huge and visitors can spend up to a full day there. There are also many lavender souvenirs there, as well as a café, so be sure to check them out if you visit the farm.
One important thing to note about Farm Tomita is the train access during summer. Visitors can take the Furano-Biei Norokko train that runs between JR Asahikawa and JR Furano, and alight at JR Lavender Farm station between JR Kamifurano and JR Nakafurano, and then walk directly to the farm for 7 minutes. This train runs only in the summer, with 6 trains running daily between June and August, and only on weekends from August to September.
I took the open-air Norokko train to JR Furano, which took around 15 minutes, and met up with Adrienne again for the next part of my journey. She brought me to my hotel, Furano Natulux Hotel, and we met up with the owners Mr. and Mrs. Ishihira. First, they showed me around the local Heso-Matsuri (‘Navel Festival’ in Japanese) since Furano is in the center – hence ‘navel’ – of Hokkaido.
The festival’s main event begins only in the evening, so Mrs. Ishihira drove me around to see different parts of the town, such as a winery and New Furano Prince Hotel. She told me that Furano is also popular for its ski resort, and is a popular alternative to Niseko among foreign visitors. Along the way, we also spotted some wild deer, which is a rarity even among the locals!
Just before heading to Heso-Matsuri, Mr. and Mrs. Ishihira invited Adrienne and myself for dinner at their hotel. Their hotel just received Michelin certification for their restaurant, and their dinner reflected their food quality. It’s one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long time, which included Furano beef steak, cheese fondue and local vegetables. After that, it’s off to the local festival where I see a parade of participants celebrating in the joyous occasion.
One more surprise awaited after the end of the festival. We went to a local bar for some supper, and when we stepped out of it to go back to the hotel, I was shocked by how clean the streets are. It was virtually spotless: all the participants had apparently packed up and cleaned the streets. The cleanliness caught me by surprise; I have never seen something like it back home!
My exploration of Sapporo and the final installment of my summer business trip continues in the blog post. Stay tuned!