Surrounded by beautiful countryside, FURANO (富良野) is famous throughout Japan as the location of a popular soap opera Kita no Kuni Kara (From the Northern Country), about a Tokyo family adapting to life in Hokkaidō. The landscape evokes Provençal France, with bales of hay lying around and lone poplars etched against the peaks of Daisetsu-zan National Park. The busiest season is June and July, when vast fields of lavender and other flowers bloom, drawing visitors to the gently undulating countryside hereabouts – ideal for walks, cycling and photography; the most scenic farmlands surround the tranquil settlements of Kamifurano (上富良野), Biei (美瑛) and Bibaushi (美馬牛). In winter, Furano is known for its skiing.
The local tourism office is working hard to ensure that the Japanese character and charm of the area aren’t lost or overlooked by visiting gaijin. During the ski season a free cultural performance is held every Saturday night at the restaurant at the Kitanomine gondola station. This includes a presentation of the town’s “belly button dance”, the highlight of Furano’s Heso Matsuri (Navel Festival), held every July 28–29 and celebrating the town’s position at the centre of Hokkaidō.
Further afield, if you need goals for your perambulations head to Kamifurano where the Goto Sumio Museum of Art (後藤純男美術館; daily 9am–5pm; ¥1000; w www.gotosumiomuseum.com) contains dreamy landscape paintings from one of Japan’s major contemporary artists, or to Furano’s wine and cheese factories. Furano and the outlying towns in the area can also be used as a base for a hike up the 2077m active volcano of Tokachi-dake, some 20km southwest and within the Daisetsu-zan National Park.
Skiing in Furano
Skiing in Furano
Furano’s winter focus is its ski resort (w princehotels.co.jp/ski/furano; day ticket ¥4200) on the slopes of Mount Kitanomine, a popular option with those seeking to escape the crowded foreigner scene at Niseko. The slopes are challenging, but not as varied or as long as Niseko’s; to go off-piste, or try backcountry skiing with qualified English-speaking guides, contact Hokkaidō Powder Guides (t 0167/22-5655, w www.hokkaidopowderguides.com).
It’s not just flowers that thrive in Furano’s fertile soil. The area is also known for its melons, potatoes, onions, milk and grapes. At Chateau Furano (w www.furanowine.jp; Sept–May 9am–4.30pm, June–Aug till 6pm; free), around 4km northwest of Furano Station, you can sip from a range of 18 different wines; some of them are fairly palatable. The obvious accompaniment is cheese, and this can be sampled at the Furano Cheese Factory (富良野チーズ工房; w www.furano.ne.jp/furano-cheese; Apr–Oct 9am–5pm; Nov–Mar till 4pm; free), about 1km east of the New Furano Prince Hotel. Apart from selling concoctions such as a brie turned black with squid ink, this fun facility also allows you to practise milking a fake cow (¥100) and sign up for bread, butter-, cheese- and ice cream-making workshops (¥680–850).