Summer Sojourns (Part 1) – Lavender Furano

DSC03674Summer hit Hokkaido like a home run out of nowhere this week, with daily temperatures soaring above the thirties. The week before, Kyushu had been battered by Typhoon No.3, leaving swathes of land in Fukuoka and Oita under water. Here in Hokkaido, however, temperatures are slowly creeping above 25 degrees during the day. When dusk falls, it drops severely to the mid-10s (15 or 16 degrees). And then, it took a sudden spike above the 30s.

Unlike my colleagues at school, I welcomed and embraced the heat. For once, it felt like I was back home again, having been born and raised in the tropics all my life. I was thankful for the opportunity to continue my exploration of Hokkaido.

Here in Hokkaido, summer means lavender and melons – and Furano is synonymous with both. There’s even a dedicated train line that only operates during the lavender season – ferrying tourists by the hundreds every day from Furano to Lavender Fields Station for only 460 yen (return). From Lavender Fields Station, it’s a 5-minute walk to Farm Tomita.

DSC03623Farm Tomita is the top tourist draw in Furano. Despite the scorching heat, thousands brave the summer heat to wander among its purple lavender fields. Although it’s still considered early in the lavender season, meaning to say, the lavender is not in full bloom yet, the purple flowers had bloomed sufficiently to make for beautiful images.

19780377_10154690842427036_5535549101343014770_oAn essential part of the Farm Tomita experience, besides snapping a ton of pictures beside these flowers, is lavender ice-cream. You can choose from a variety of flavours – lavender, melon or a mix of lavender and melon/vanilla. I recommend getting the lavender/melon or lavender/vanilla mix.

Complete your Tomita experience with a slice or two of honey melon – the perfect dessert to beat the heat. Truth be told, however, that I preferred the ice cream to the melon. Granted, the melons were sweet and juicy, but at 250 yen per slice, and knowing the premium prices that honey melons command in Hokkaido, I actually have tasted better ones from back home. Still, having come all the way to Farm Tomita, leaving this place without having tried both the ice cream and melons would have been a gross travesty!!

DSC03664I did, however, give the lavender souvenirs a miss. If there’s one thing that Japan does exceptionally well, it is to milk the tourist experience with all kinds of delicious and exquisitely packaged sweets and obscenely cute knick knacks that will have you tossing your entire fortunes into their cash registers.

At one end of Farm Tomita, there are shops selling lavender scented perfumes, lavender hand cream, lavender hand soap, lavender bath salts, lavender moisturising cream, lavender potpourri, lavender everything.

At the other end, there are cafes and restaurants offering all manner of melon desserts and drinks. Purple and orange may not be a fashionista’s idea of a matching outfit, but here at Farm Tomita, it is a winning combination!   LS

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Soak In The Mountains

The Japanese love their baths, and so does this Singaporean. However, despite my affection for the bubbles, I planned this trip according to the places I felt fit in with my route. It wasn’t a conscious decision to select hotels / inns with onsens but I somehow ended up doing that anyway. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, and along the way, I chanced upon a few onsens that I had not penciled in originally.

Take the Ryounkaku Onsen (凌雲閣 温泉) deep in the mountains of Tokachidake(十勝岳) for example. I never intended to visit the onsen, and in fact until last night, was headed in the opposite direction for a day trip to Biei (美瑛) as I had previously read about the beautiful scenery that decorates this little town. I was also keen to get out of Furano (富良野) because other than skiing, there’s really nothing much else to do. Visits to the Furano Winery and Cheese Factory on the previous days had been disappointing affairs.

DSC09123DSC09149Anyhow, while reading up on Biei (美瑛), many of the reviews centred on the lavender fields (which you won’t be able to find in winter) and the eerily charming Blue Lake (青い池) – which I figured would most likely be frozen in this chilly weather. That made up my mind to explore another vicinity. And that’s when I stumbled on Kamifurano (上富良野町).

Like its sister town, Kamifurano (上富良野町) is also renowned for its lavender fields. However, Kamifurano (上富良野町) is also the access point to an onsen that is apparently at a whopping 1,280m above sea level. Call me nuts but there’s something liberating about freezing / frying your ass off in a piping hot tub way up in the mountains (nope, not the part about being naked)!!!

20151215_13153720151215_13233320151215_153204As it turns out, the journey to Ryounkaku Onsen (凌雲閣 温泉) in itself is half the fun . The winding road up into Hokkaido’s highest onsen offers breathtaking vistas of the Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪山) and random thoughts of dying. Like, what if my bus skids off the road and rolls off the mountain? Yesterday’s dip at the Furano New Prince Hotel could have been my last onsen experience. And then, it started to snow while I was midway up the mountains. When the bus made a brief stop at the first onsen – the Fukiage Onsen (吹上温泉), it had started to snow with a vengeance.

20151215_13182520151215_140037Thankfully, I made it alive, and soon found myself confronted with this stunning view before me! (see picture above) The water itself may put off some people because it’s actually reddish brown in colour due to the high iron oxide concentration. But if you buy into those healing properties that soaking in an onsen apparently brings, I guess you would dive head in even if the water is blood red. I mean, it’s not like you get a chance to soak in this view butt naked every day, is it?

I think I’ll be contented even if this is my last dip.  LS