I couldn’t help but feel a little like Dorothy from the movie “The Wizard of Oz” these past 2 days. You know that memorable moment when the movie switches from boring black-and-white to a spectacular rainbow of colour? That’s how I felt coming from gloomy Fukui to the vibrance of Furano. Reminiscing about the amethyst-coloured Furano lavender fields, emerald green hills of Biei, aquamarine waters of the famous Blue Pond and golden sunflower fields I definitely felt like I had put on a pair of ruby red slippers and stumbled on the very colourful land of Oz….Two days ago, I escaped the very dreary of Fukui after a “tornado” of summer camp activities for students and the incoming of all the new Fukui ALTs, hopped on a plane to Hokkaido and when I awoke yesterday it was in the beautiful town of Furano. Furano’s a small town located in supposedly, the exact geographic centre of Hokkaido, earning it the famous nickname “Heso no Machi” which translates in English as “Bellybutton Town.” What drew me to this town was that it is very famous for its lavender farms, with very good reason. It seems once the summer months of July and August roll around, everywhere you look this fragrant flower is blooming. The best season for lavender viewing is mid-July to early August.
I wasted no time getting down to business. According to my hostel’s manager, Tomita Farm is undoubtably the most famous of the lavender farms and he encouraged me to go early, and when I say “early” I mean eeeeeearly: 6am!!! Good heavens, and here I thought this was supposed to be my holiday! Once he explained that the second the tour buses arrive you can find it very difficult to get quality photos and would have to fight through tides of people however, I said a hasty good-bye to any notion of sleeping in. UGH! If there is one thing I loathe it’s fighting through swarms of tourists when all I want is to stroll through a picturesque place peacefully. So come the crack of dawn I was up and ready to go!I really enjoyed watching the Tomita staff work hard gathering the lavender that would then be sold in various forms. The lilac-colored tractors and mopeds that the staff were riding around the farms totally made my morning! I couldn’t help grinning when I saw this; only real men can ride lilac mopeds with pride.
All the lavender produced on the Tomita Farm is harvested and sold in various forms. The most exciting for tourists like me is the food! They had me hook-line-and-sinker when I saw this sign. They had lavender ice cream, lavender soda, lavender pudding, cheesecake, jelly, cream puffs,… I was in such a good mood and it was my first morning in Hokkaido after months of excitement so I decided to celebrate with the breakfast of champions: lavender ice cream!
What a FABULOUS way to kickstart my holiday! Before I left I popped into the stores to do a little bit of omiyage shopping (souvenir shopping for friends and family in Japan). I walked through the door of the dried flower store and did a complete double-take. It was like walking into a different world! I left some time later with my wallet feeling distinctly lighter and my bag bulging with omiyage, potpourri, tea, bath bombs and postcards. All that shopping, and the heat left me feeling a little withered so I decided before leaving to buy a lavender ramune (lavender lemonade soda) and walked across the street to the melon store.
I promptly just about had a heart attack! For those of you who can’t read that sign, those 4 little cantaloups are selling for 8,000yean (approximately $90!!!!!). Jiminy cricket! I love fruit as much as the next girl (perhaps even a bit more so, I didn’t get the nickname “fruit bat” without reason) but I would never, in a hundred years, spend $20 on a bloody melon, regardless of how delicious you say it is!
Lucky they had something a little more up this scrooge’s alley, slices of cantaloup dripping with juice for a mere 250yen. I could live with that. So I bought one and settled into a swing chair outside to enjoy my prize and read a bit of my book. After all, I had time to enjoy myself, it wasn’t even 10am yet! Cantaloup craving satisfied I headed off to do some more sightseeing. First stop was the Ningle Terrace, an area of cute, tiny local artist shops. Each wooden cabin is nestled away in a small forest and connected to a series of other cabins by an elevated wooden platform, each cabin housing a different local artist. I ended up purchasing some pretty cards from an artist whose work I quite enjoyed, along with a special “painting” made entirely out of paper. It was enjoyable but a little out of the way. I was beginning to understand why having a rental car was going to be very useful. Hokkaido is very large, and the distance between touristy places quite vast compared to other locations in Japan that I’ve gone sightseeing.
After that I headed out to the Cheese Factory and the Furano Winery. I wish I could say I recommend them…but looking back there is a distinct “meh” feeling about my time spent at both. The wine and cheese products produced at both places can easily be purchased around Furano so there’s no need to make a special trip all the way out there, because it wasn’t easily accessible. The only redeeming part of this trip was the lunch. I went for lunch at the Furano Winery restaurant and ordered the Furano cheese fondue for one and sat eating with a lovely view of Furano. While at lunch I poured over magazines of the best places in Furano to visit that I had picked up from the tourist information center. I settled on a new mission: Lake Kanayama. It promised a beautiful scenic drive (it was about 1 hour from where I was) and I would be rewarded with more beautiful lavender. En-route I stumbled upon a very lovely field of sunflowers which brightened my day. Sunflowers are my favourite flower and I hadn’t seen a field so large since I last visited Tuscany. Thanks perhaps to my amazing new country music playlist the drive flew by and next thing I knew I had arrived. The lake was beautiful, even if it was too cold to swim in (even for this Canadian), and I couldn’t help but be impressed with the deep indigo colour of this particular type of lavender.
After my unsuccessful attempt to go swimming, I managed to only get in as far as maaaybe my ankles, much to the entertainment of the locals fishing, I decided to call it a day and headed back to my hostel. All in all a fantastic first day in Hokkaido!
Tomorrow: More flower fields, rolling hills of Biei and the Blue Pond!