Right now, many in Honshu—Japan’s main island—are sweating buckets and feeling uncomfortably sticky, as summer in Japan is quite the hot and humid season. So where’s one good place for a summer getaway? Up north taking in the lovely Hokkaido lavender fields—that’s where! Hokkaido’s climate is cooler than mainland Japan, which means that summers over there are more pleasant.
Summer is also a time when Hokkaido’s countryside bursts into color with beautiful summer blossoms, and Furano and Biei are two of Hokkaido’s best-known places where colorful flower fields are concerned. While these areas will have different types of flowers blooming from July to October, July is considered the best time to visit, especially for the lavenders, which will be mostly—if not totally—gone by mid-August. You’ve just got a little more time to see the lavenders this year, but in case you’re planning a last-minute trip, read on!
Getting in and around Furano and Biei
If you’re getting to Hokkaido by plane, the most common point of entry is Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport. (For the cheapest ways to get to Sapporo from Tokyo, check out this article, which covers the “Welcome to Hokkaido” discount flight fare.) From Sapporo, you can take the Chuo Bus to Furano, which costs 2,260 yen one-way (or 4,150 yen round-trip) and takes about 2 and 1/2 hours. You can check the timetable here.
Alternatively, you can take the Super Kamui limited express from New Chitose Airport or Sapporo to Asahikawa or Takikawa, after which you switch to local trains to Furano or Biei. The Furano-Biei Rail ticket covers this journey, so read on to learn more about it.
Furano and Biei are rural towns, so public transportation options are highly limited, and many attractions are not within reasonable walking distance of the nearest station. For instance, in Biei, taxis and buses are few and far between. You’ll also be at the mercy of train and bus schedules, which possibly means cutting short your sightseeing time just to, say, catch a train that comes by once every hour.
If you want to explore at your own pace, renting a car (if you have a license) is actually your best option. And if you want to save yourself the trouble of figuring anything out, a guided tour would be good, too—except those usually don’t come cheap.
So, if you’ve already ruled out those options, here are some ways to make the most out of these towns’ limited public transport.
A word of caution beforehand, though—you might have to take multiple modes of transport depending on what you’d like to see. For instance, if you’re just visiting Furano for the famous Farm Tomita, then the Furano-Biei rail ticket’s got you covered. However, many of Furano’s other places of interest are quite far from train stations, so you’d have to cycle, walk for quite a distance, or take a bus or taxi. For ideas, you can see JR Hokkaido’s sample courses here.
Also, do note that some options mentioned here are unavailable during non-summer months (summer months in Japan being June, July, and August).
Trains in the countryside can be very confusing, and timetables in English may be unavailable. If you really want to save yourself the trouble of figuring things out, you can take the round-trip bus tours, which stop at Furano’s and/or Biei’s main attractions. They’re not hop-on,-hop-off buses; think of them as tour buses without a guide. While they save you the trouble of figuring out how to get from point A to point B, the downside is that you’ll be spending very limited time at the tourist spots, essentially just having enough time for photo ops but not too much time to explore.
As of 2017, there are two Furano-Biei routes, one Furano-only route, and four Biei-only routes to choose from; they cost 2,000-5,000 yen for adults (half-price for children). Reservations are necessary, and must be made at least two days in advance. Except for the Biei tours, you can reserve here (website in English).
Meanwhile, from July to August (specifically, July 3-August 15 in 2017), Furano has the Kururu Bus, which is more like a hop-on, hop-off bus. There are two courses that operate during different days of the week; one costs 1,500 yen (1,000 for children), while the other costs 2,000 yen (1,500 yen for children). The latter operates on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (except the 15th of July and August) and makes more stops. Prior reservations are not required.
2. Train passes
To make the most out of your trip to Furano and Biei, it’ll definitely help to plan ahead, so click here for the train timetable for May 3-October 9, 2017.
a. Furano-Biei Rail Ticket
The Furano-Biei rail ticket, which is available at major JR offices in Hokkaido, gets you round-trip train transportation from New Chitose Airport (or Sapporo) to Furano and Biei (and vice-versa), as well as unlimited train travel for up to four days within the Furano-Biei area, for 6,500 yen (or 3,250 yen for children). (Bonus points for the Norokko, which takes you to Furano and Biei, being an old-school train that offers scenic views of the countryside.) Holders of the Furano-Biei rail ticket can also rent a car around Asahikawa and Furano for 3,090 yen (6,170 yen in July and August).
b. Lavender Ticket
A one-day pass for 2,500 yen, this is an option for those who just need unlimited rides within the Furano-Biei area. But is it worth it? It seems that the Furano-Biei rail pass still gives you more bang for your buck. In fact, it will cost you more to combine the Lavender Ticket with round-trip transportation between Sapporo and Asahikawa or Furano.
3. Shared taxis (only from Nakafurano Station to Farm Tomita, and vice-versa)
Running every 20 minutes from around 8:40 am-4:50 pm all July, a ride costs 200 yen per passenger. Up to nine passengers can fit in a taxi. You can’t make a reservation; just board from Nakafurano Station, Farm Tomita, or Tomita Melon House. This is a good option if you don’t have one of the aforementioned rail tickets.
The Hokkaido lavender fields and other summer blossoms
The good news is that most of these fields do not charge for admission. The bad news? Most of these are quite difficult, if not impossible, to access on foot.
Furano’s best-known place to see lavenders is Farm Tomita which has several vast flower fields. The closest station is Lavender-Farm (Lavender-Batake in Japanese); however, this station is only open in summer, and only the Norokko-go stops here. The second closest station—which, unlike Lavender-Farm, is open year-round—is Nakafurano, although it’s a 25-minute walk from there to Farm Tomita.
The farm has 10 fields and gardens, one of which is devoted solely to lavenders (though lavenders also grow in some of the other fields). The lavenders draw in plenty of tourists, and it’s quite telling how they’re the star attraction, as the place has several souvenir shops with all things lavender-related, including ice cream and cheesecake.
But don’t just go there to see the lavenders; the other blossoms are just as lovely, if not more vibrant and colorful because of their red, yellow, and orange hues. This writer really recommends not missing the lavenders, but if you can’t visit during lavender season, Farm Tomita during the rest of the summer months should still be a treat for the eyes.
4 km to the east of Farm Tomita is its second farm, Lavender East, which only features—you guessed it! It’s one of Japan’s largest lavender fields, and it’s so large that, for 200 yen (100 yen for children aged 4-12), the farm offers 15- to 20-minute guided tractor rides across one of their fields. You’ll see not only lavenders, but also a breathtaking view of the Tokachi and Yubari Mountains, the backdrop against which the lavender fields are set. Walking from Farm Tomita to Lavender East isn’t feasible, but it’s a 7-minute car ride from one farm to the other. If you can’t or won’t rent a car or get a cab, unfortunately, you might have to skip this option.
Flower Land Kamifurano, a 5-minute taxi ride or 60-minute uphill walk from Kamifurano Station, is another area that’s popular for its lavenders. Hokkaido is something like a gourmet paradise for many Japanese, and since Flower Land Kamifurano also has asparagus, corn, potatoes, melons, and onions in addition to flowers, why not get some top-quality produce here?
Meanwhile, Biei has Shikisai no Oka (Shikisai Hill), aptly known as a panoramic flower garden. See that beautiful picture above? It was taken at Shikisai no Oka. It’s a vast, vast garden that many people tour around through tractors, buggies, or carts. It also has a tiny alpaca farm (500 yen for admission). It’s a 10-minute taxi ride from Biei Station (forget about walking; it’s not recommended) or a 30-minute walk from Bibaushi Station, a station away from Biei.
Lastly, Biei is also known for Panoramic Road and Patchwork Road, which aren’t literal roads, but more like fields. Again, these are nearly impossible to access on foot, but should be quite a pleasure to cycle to and from. You can also see parts of these areas from the Norokko train.
This article was written in 2015 and last updated in May 2017.