Taking a trip to belly button town
Today we took the “Flower Train” from Asahikawa to Furano, a small town about an hour out of Asahikawa that is incredibly popular amongst Japanese tourists. Furano is a small agricultural town, famous for its fields of flowers, melons and annual Belly Button Festival. The festival coincides with the annual melon harvest, and celebrates Furano’s fame as Hokkaido’s Hesono-machi (translation: Belly Button Town – i.e. town in the middle of Hokkaido). Unfortunately we’re here about a month too early to enjoy the Belly Button Festival, but we still got to enjoy Furano’s forests and see some of the flower and melon farms it is so famous for.
The town sits nestled in the gently undulating folds of the Furano Valley, between the towering volcanic peaks of the Tokachi Mountain Range and the Yuubari cluster of summits. Furano sits on the banks of the Ishikari River and is surrounded by farms, fields full of spring flowers and vast tracts of untouched forest. It’s a lovely place to spend a day!
It was the Rokugo Forest that we were primarily interested in seeing, though, so we headed just out of town to the Furano Ski Area which, as the name implies, is a ski area in winter, but is open to hikers in summer. Here we happily spent the morning wandering under the forest’s green canopy, enjoying the warmth of the day (it’s soooo much warmer down here, compared to the exposed atolls of Rebunto and Rishirito).
After a morning spent hiking through the forested hills around the town, enjoying the peace and quiet of nature, we headed back towards town for lunch. On the way we stumbled across the cutest version of a tourist trap we’ve ever seen: a village of log cabins built under the cover of the forest, each of them a little souvenir shop selling hand-made crafty things. We’re not interested in souvenirs (no matter how cute the setting or skilled the artisans), but lunch at the little coffee shop there made for a great pit-stop.
We then spent the afternoon wandering down through the valley, past rice paddies, cabbage patches, flower fields, and watermelon and rockmelon farms. A few kilometres out of Furano itself we came across Tomita Farm – the biggest flower farm of them all. This 40 acre farm opens its fields to tourists every year so that the hordes of floraphiles can take photos of the poppies, lavender and other blooms. We stopped in to have a look – not all the flowers were out yet, but it was still very pretty.
To go with the fields of flowers there is, of course, a gift shop where one can buy some flower-themed gifts. It’s all a bit touristy, but even we were not immune: we just had to stop to taste the lavender ice cream! Shane, quite accurately, described it as a cross between grandma’s soap and pot pourri flavoured ice cream. An acquired taste maybe?
From Tomita Farm we wandered back to the station and caught the little Lavender Train back through the green Furano Valley to Asahikawa. This part of Hokkaido is very rural and produces a significant amount of Japan’s rice and vegetables, so the whole way along we saw farms and fields full of crops just planted. It’s all very, very green and picturesque.
Once back in Asahikawa we sought out a convenient little izakaya (translaion: Japanese pub) for dinner – this one specialised in yakitori (translation: grilled chicken on skewers) and served great food (Shane assures me the beer was pretty good too). We dubbed it “The Samurai Chicken” (you can see why from the photo below). And so ended another great day hiking in Hokkaido!