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.