It was a crisp morning on July 18 when we departed Otaru for Furano, a lovely town in the centre of Hokkaido.
To get there, we had to take a train from JR Otaru to JR Sapporo, and changed to another train that took us to Takikawa.
That’s several hours on the train, and we kept boredom at bay by taking photos of ourselves and the views from the window, and enjoying cans of local beers purchased from the onboard snack cart.
While the train rides from Chitose airport to Hakodate, Shiraoi and Otaru gave us mostly views of commercial and industrial buildings, visions of sprawling fields dominated our journey towards Furano. How refreshing!
After a little more than three hours of train rides, we arrived at the little JR Furano station.
Our hotel, Natulux Hotel, sits opposite the train station. High-five for such great convenience!
Natulux Hotel is positioned as a boutique hotel, and its guestrooms are quite minimalist. One of the design features in the guestroom is a panel of raw concrete wall. I also like how a piece of stone is used to show the room number. Rooms are small – I’m not surprised – but clean and very comfortable.
We chose to spend our first day in Furano by talking a stroll down its streets and see how the locals live. Furano is another quiet Japanese town with few cars. Most people cycled or walked.
And when I say Furano is quiet, it really IS quiet. The photo below of a main street was taken on Wednesday at 4.41pm.
We walked around for half an hour, and had only six bicycles pass us by: three mothers, each with a child cycling behind them.
Along the way, we discovered a little temple with a statue of Guan Yin. Walking on, we passed schools with happy little children in uniforms and tiny hats playing on swings, and a field full of boys playing baseball.
We also spotted a lovely house with two dilapidated vintage cars outside. And while we stood by the pavement admiring this dreamy home, and saying how we would love to have a home like this in a quiet town, a young mother came along with two lovely little girls with ponytails bouncing against their heads. What a happy sight!
Onwards we went, and this time, the husband checked the map for somewhere we could visit. We decided to check out Furano Shrine, which wasn’t too far from where we were.
It was absolutely serene, and we hang around a while enjoying the calm. The husband struck a conversation with a schoolgirl there, and learned how to pray the Japanese way: you toss in your offering of money, clap your hands twice, hold your palms together and pray away. I hope he got that right through his limited understanding of the Japanese language.
I realised that Furano Shrine has three smaller Shinto arches in addition to the main one at the entrance. I’ve never seen something like this, even at the shrines in Kyoto. How interesting, and I would love to know why. Too bad the schoolgirl was gone by then.
After leaving the shrine, we intended to make our way back to the hotel via a different route, but spotted Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) along the way. We were curious to know if KFC tasted the same in Japan (I love KFC in Shanghai, but not quite in Singapore), and popped in to share a two-piece meal.
Oh boy! Were we glad we made a stop at KFC! Colonel Sanders-san made such wonderful fried chicken that we wished we could bring him back to Singapore! Unlike the oily, unevenly seasoned pieces of chicken sold in Singapore, KFC in Furano was well seasoned, crispy but not dripping with oil, and fragrant, without the smell and taste of stale oil.
We cleaned our chicken to the bone swiftly, smacked our lips in joy, and continued our trek back to the hotel. But wait! Something caught our attention again. We spotted Furano Marche in the distance. We remembered that Furano Marche had recently opened in Furano, and was recommended in tourist guides. We had nothing but time on our hands, so we made our way there.
Furano Marche is basically a marketplace where people can buy all of Furano’s famous produce such as carrot juice, melons, wine, dairy products and lavender products, as well as home decor and cooked food. An area with little food stalls sold local vegetarian spring rolls (very crispy and savoury!), soft serve ice-cream, Japanese burgers and little cakes shaped like bears and stuffed with an assortment of cream.
It was lovely to sit on one of the benches in the square, munching and chatting away as the sun set. If only life could be like this every day!
Without the warmth of the sun, Furano started to get a tad chilly. We did not have our coats with us, and decided that we must return to the hotel to at least dress warmer before we explored further.
We had a late dinner that evening at a barbeque place called Yamadori. There are apparently two barbeque restaurants in Furano city centre with the same name. The one we went to is in a stone house, adjoining one that is covered with vines. The other Yamadori is in small a pink house.
The Yamadori we went to is run by a cheerful, rosy-cheeked man in his 50s (well, he looked like he’s in his 50s, but the Japanese people tend to look younger than their biological age!) and a team of middle-aged ladies in the kitchen and polite, energetic girls in the dining area. It feels very much like a family business.
We ordered two types of normal grade pork and the second best grade of beef available on the menu.
While I’m a great fan of beef, I found the pork tasted a lot better than the beef! So we ordered another round of pork…and more beers. Amazingly, the meal cost a little more than S$50. That’s such a delight on the pocket!
We were so stuffed at the end of dinner that we had to cradle our tummies as we shuffled back to the hotel. Still, once back in the comfort of our room, we opened a bottle of lavender wine to share between us, as we reminisced our trip so far.
And with the final sip of wine, we curled up in bed and dreamt of an even better day tomorrow.