Friday, 14 August 2009

Furano & Biei

Furano is a really popular place to visit in the summer in Hokkaido. There are lots of beautiful lavender fields to see, there's a lot of fresh farm foods and there are a bunch of famous locations from Japanese TV dramas. That last one was a bit of a surprised to me actually - people had always told me about the lavender and the ice-cream, but Yuki said that so many people go there to see the stone house from Kita No Kuni Kara, an old family drama that ran for around twenty years or so, that she almost slipped it into our itinerary until she got a text from her mum saying it was pretty boring.

To be entirely honest I feel like those reasons for visiting Furano are a bit... threadbare. I mean, really the only reason that anyone should need to visit somewhere like Furano is that, lavender or no lavender, there's a lot of beautiful countryside around there.


That's the Furano "City" (I would in no way describe Furano as a city, more as an A road with some side streets) lavender field. Yes, that's right. We timed our visit to hit Furano right after all the lavender had died. It was hotter than smokin' hell the whole time we were in Furano, but the blue skies and mountains may have been worth it.

Furano also marked the first time I've driven in Japan since I got my Japanese driving licence. It turns out that I am covered by Yuki's insurance and she quickly got annoyed of driving through the mountains so she suggested I have a go to get some practice. I was like, "Uh, actually remember I've never driven automatic before" and she was like "So do it now!" It was, indeed the first time I'd driven automatic, and going from manual that feels like suddenly you're not driving a car, more like a bumper car, or you're in a video game. It is pretty easy, but it's annoying that when you're toiling up hills the gear can shift with the slightest move of your foot. Give me a clutch any day I reckon.

Farm Tomita is one of the most famous places to see lavender, but again, the lavender was a gonner. The other flowers, however, were very much alive.


Look at 'em toiling away there. Do you think they have to wear the colour of whatever flowers they're picking at the time? That would be awesome, if inconvenient. At least they could change out of their sweaty purple shirts when they're done with that strip. Farm Tomita is a great example of the Furano lavender industry. Furano is famous for lavender, but lavender is something that just grows. You've gotta find a way to sell it. Hence - dried lavender (ok, potpourri I can see), lavender ice cream (actually tastes a little like parma violets, not bad), lavender cordial (um) and a variety of other lavender related goods. Lavender is not, I think, something that many people consider a food, and I'm interested in the entrepreneurial zest that drives that citizens of Furano to make it so.

Biei, a little to the North of Furano is less touristy, and not famous for anything other than being pretty.


We didn't do much in Biei, just drove around and looked at some fields and forests, but actually I probably liked it more than Furano. Furano is trying to hard to be this tourist hub, when really it's a cluster of random sites around a main road. Biei is just pretty, and the rolling hills did remind me a little of good ol' blighty.


The only trouble with Biei is that in the village itself, where they have a few shops and restaurants, they also have a bunch of signs proclaiming it one of the prettiest cities in Japan. The signs of course are huge, unsightly metal things that jut about twenty feet into the air. That part, in the words of Warren Zevon, ain't that pretty at all.

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