Hokkaido Lavender Fields and Other Summer Blossoms

Tiffany

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 in Hokkaido—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!

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Photo by Swallowtail Garden Seeds used under CC

Getting In and Around

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 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.

Furano and Biei are rural towns, so public transportation options are highly limited. If you want to explore at your own pace, renting a car is actually your best option if you have a license, and if you want to save yourself the trouble of figuring anything out, a guided tour would be good, too—except those don’t come cheap. Here are some options for cheapos:

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Photo by Nakae used under CC

1. Twinkle Sightseeing Buses

Trains in the countryside can be very confusing, and timetables in English may be unavailable, so if you really want to save yourself the trouble of figuring things out, you can take the Twinkle Sightseeing Buses. They’re not hop-on-hop-off buses; instead, the buses take multiple routes, all of which stop at Furano and Biei’s main attractions. At 500-1,500 yen per course, it’s a steal! This handy guide from 2014 should give you an idea of the Twinkle Bus courses. 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.

2. Furano-Biei Free Pass

The Furano and Biei free pass, 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 4 days within the Furano-Biei area, for 5,550 yen (or 2,770 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.)

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Photo by Tiffany Lim used under CC

The free pass saves you money and partially solves your problem of getting to the main tourist spots—emphasis on partially. If you’re just visiting Furano for the lavenders, then you’re good, as Lavender-Batake Station is especially constructed annually for tourists’ convenience, saving them the trouble of taking a 20-minute walk from Furano Station to the famous Farm Tomita. But if you want to see Furano’s other flower parks and places of interest, such as its famous cheese factory, you’d have to take a bus (which is only available in summer, and costs 1,200 for 2 days of unlimited use—there’s no option for single-journey fare) or a taxi; otherwise, you’d have to take a very long walk (though cycling would be a good option, too!). As for Biei, forget about buses; taxis are also few and far between. Walking is also not an option in many cases.

You’ll be at the mercy of train and/or bus schedules as well. For instance, trains only stop at Lavender-Batake Station, which is constructed annually during lavender season to be as close as possible to the famous Farm Tomita, 4 times a day (though they made more stops during peak season, which was July 17-20 this year). It’ll help to plan ahead accordingly!

The Flower Fields

The good news is that most of these fields do not charge for admission. The bad news is that most of these are quite difficult, if not impossible, to access on foot!

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Photo by Tiffany Lim used under CC

Furano’s best-known place to see lavenders is Farm Tomita, which has several vast flower fields. It 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 of Farm Tomita, 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.

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Photo by James.Kirk used under CC

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?

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Photo by Tiffany Lim used under CC

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.

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Photo by Anne Peng used under CC

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.





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