Fields of flowers!


Furano’s main summer highlight has got to be her sprawling fields of the loveliest flowers.

And one of the best places in Furano to enjoy nature’s most beautiful blooms is Farm Tomita, and that was where we went. To get there, we could either take a bus or a special train that runs only thrice a day per way. We chose the train.


The Norokko Train runs slowly between JR Furano station and the temporary Lavender station, which is put in use only in summer when the flowers are in bloom. It goes slow so that passengers can enjoy and take decent photos of the landscape. As such, the train has full windows on the sides.


Lavender station sits in the middle of a field, and it a lovely sight from afar.


From Lavender station, Farm Tomita is a lovely five- to seven-minute walk. You will know which direction to walk – just follow the crowd. And you’ll know when you are getting close to the farm. The air will start to smell sweeter, heavy with the unmistakable scent of fresh lavender. It is a wonderful feeling.

The first sight that greets you at the entrance of Farm Tomita is pretty, but it isn’t the best the farm has to offer. Visitors have to be eager enough to walk deeper into the farm grounds to be able to savour the most beautiful sights.


One of my favourite parts of Farm Tomita is a gentle slope, in front of a row of souvenir shops, cafes and the farm’s perfume workshop. Because of the thick lavender blooms, the hills is a lively shade of purple. It is especially lovely against a backdrop of blue and white skies.

From the top of the hill, Furano looks like something out of a picture book!


Walking on, we discovered another field of blooms that was also spectacular. If you find this image familiar, well, this is one of the most photographed locales in Furano.


It was here that most visitors fought to get the best photograph, and I saw some of the ugliest people. Ugly because they trampled onto the flowers to have a picture of themselves being among the flowers, or carelessly dropped their bags and/or umbrellas onto the flowerbed whenever they wanted to pose for a photo.

And none of these trolls were Japanese.

Apart from looking at flowers, visitors can also learn how perfumes and lavender soaps are made, and buy some farm-made scents and lavender products for family and friends back home.


After three hours of being one with the flowers and climbing up and down slopes, we were tired and hungry. Nobody could ever starve in Farm Tomita. Nobody with some money, that is. Apart for several cafes within Farm Tomita, there is also a large area that sold food and desserts and where tired visitors could sit at tables under large umbrellas.

Thanks to the sky and clouds being at their best that day, this dining area looks like it is out of a picture book too! :)


We had a lunch of beef patties with rice and creamy strawberry milk shakes before catching the last train back to JR Furano.


It was almost 4pm when we got back to Furano city centre, which left us little time for more attractions. Most attractions in Furano, or Japan for that matter, close at 5pm or latest 6pm.

I wanted to visit a cheese factory but because of the bus schedule, we would only get there about 4.45pm. The factory closes at 5pm.

The Furano Wine Factory stays open till 6pm though, making it the only attraction we could visit. But again, the local bus schedule is such a pain in the arse. The next ride is quite a while away, so we decided to just walk there.

It would take us 30 minutes, the staff at the local tourist office warned. Never mind. We have each other to lean on if our legs broke! :)

It was a good decision to walk. We got to see even more of Furano. Anyway, the weather was pleasant this very day; the sun wasn’t too strong and the wind was chilly.

We spotted pretty little flower bushes, came across quaint little house, and smiled at children riding home on bicycles after school.


I have to admit though that I was aching from all that walking. I’ve been walking way too much since we landed in Hakodate, and my feet and back aren’t in the best shape. A nerve in the small of my back would get pinched when I’m on my feet too long, and that pain can be atrocious.


But stubborn me persisted. I loved too much the feeling of walking hand in hand with the husband, and seeing the sights. Talking a taxi to the wine factory would take away the fun. After god knows how long, we finally saw these barrels. OK, we must be reaching soon!


After a long time (or at least it felt long!), we spotted a building on a hill, and I remember reading somewhere that the wine factory sits on a hill. Hurrah! But maybe a weak sort of hurrah because we had to climb up that hill!

 We made it in one piece anyway. :)

At the Furano Wine Factory, visitors could sample some of the wines produced there. They aren’t the best I’ve tasted, but hey, this is Japan-made wine!


We rested our feet at the factory for a while, before making the long journey back to the hotel. The husband was so proud of my tolerance for pain and offered to massage my feet back in the room. TLC. That’s all I need. :)

After a hot lavender foot bath and a foot massage courtesy of the husband, we put on warm clothes and headed out into the cold night. Such weather calls for a hot pot!

So we consulted our map and bearings, and went in search of Kumagera, a popular hotpot restaurant. We took the wrong turn though, and ended up in a dim, Twilight Zone sort of place. It gave me goosebumps, and I was close to crying. I insisted that we were lost, although the husband was certain we were on the right track.

How could a popular restaurant be in such a dark area?!

So I cried. Tears, when used sparingly, will turn stubborn men into putty. So the husband relented, and agreed to turn around and ask a local for directions.

True enough, we were in the wrong side of town. So we retraced our steps according to the local’s advice and finally found Kumagera. Phew!

Kumagera has menus in English and Mandarin, great news for tourists. Although Kumagera is famous for its Bandits Hotpot which contains a variety of meats such as duck, chicken and beef, and vegetables, we figured that we could not possibly eat so much. So we shared a beef shabu shabu.


Lovely sight isn’t it? The beef slices tasted as good as they looked.

The waitresses at Kumagera were a lively lot, and practiced their English with us. :)


Well-fed and happy, we retired to our hotel and were knocked out from exhaustion soon after.

We were up early the next morning for breakfast, as we had to catch the 10.04am train to Takikawa and onwards to Sapporo, our final stop on this vacation.

Breakfast was the usual fare – egg omelette, ham, fruits and yoghurt. But the milk was kick-ass! It was freshly made in Furano, the waitress proudly declared.


Oh! With milk so divine, I want to retire here and drink milk all day!

But I still have many more years till retirement, and had to move on for now. So we bade Furano goodbye sadly, and went on to Sapporo.


Furano, the bellybutton of Hokkaido

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.

ImageOh 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.