We left Sapporo in our rental car at 0940 hrs and arrived at Furano at 1130 hrs. It is a fairly well-known ski resort in the winter, especially amongst Japanese and Australian skiers and snowboarders. As we pulled into town, we could see the distinct grass-covered runs on the ski hill. We found a car park facing the ski hill and stopped to stretch our legs. The car park belonged to a local departmental store, ZozoTown, and we went in to take a look. We had some time to kill before our meeting with a local realtor.
The meeting with the realtor didn't take long and soon we were on our way to Farm Tomita, the most established and famous lavender farm in the Furano area. As it is on every tourist's must-see list during lavender season, there was a massive traffic jam enroute to the farm. There were security officers directing traffic and we ended up parking a distance away, closer to the Tomita Melon House end.
Tomita Melon House was packed to the brim. People were buying whole orange-fleshed, honey-sweet melons, and queuing for melon ice-cream and other melon desserts. We quickly got in line to purchase ours too. The melon ice-cream was creamy, sweet and fruity; a perfect dessert on a warm summer day.
We were walking towards Farm Tomita with our ice-cream in hand when we were stopped by the security guard outside the farm. He pointed to signs prohibiting people from bringing products from Tomita Melon House into Farm Tomita. The guard appeared flustered and even hostile, so we hurried back to Tomita Melon House to finish our ice-cream and bin the used cups.
It was free to enter Farm Tomita and the flowers were exceedingly beautiful. The intensity of the colours made my jaw dropped. Pictures just don't do justice to this place.
The farm sold all sorts of lavender products, from perfumes to ice-cream. Whilst the farm was crowded with tourists snapping pictures of the flowers, not many people were buying from its store and ice-cream kiosk. I got my cup of lavender ice-cream in a jiffy. Hubby took the first spoonful and exclaimed: "Yucks! Tastes like toilet bowl cleaner!" Obviously, that ruined the experience for me!
We wandered around the farm some more before returning to the car park. It was then that it became clear to us that there was tension between Farm Tomita and Tomita Melon House. Farm Tomita had deliberately erected an unsightly wooden fence to prevent customers of Tomita Melon House from enjoying the view of the lovely flowers as they sat eating their melon desserts. Both businesses bore the same Tomita name, and we were curious about the feud. I tried to look it up online, but couldn't find any information about it. It was only made known to us the following day by our realtor.
We continued our journey to another renowned flower garden, Shikisai no oka, in Biei. Again, there were hordes of tourists. The place was like a busy pasar malam with stalls selling food, children's rides, and even an alpaca farm. It was free to enter the garden.
We stayed for a while, then moved on to Shirogane Blue Pond (Aoi-ike). This pond in Biei is known for its stunning blue colour. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was anything but blue! Recent rain in the area had turned the pond a murky green. Just our luck!
Our hotel for the night was at Fujita Kanko Washington Hotel in Asahikawa. Surprisingly, this hotel no longer exists and has been replaced by Hotel Wing International Asahikawa Ekimae since July 2019. We had paid S$173.19 for a twin room, with breakfast included. It wasn't our first choice, but the hotel we were after was fully-booked. We had planned the trip at the last minute, and it was peak season in the Furano to Asahikawa region due to the lavenders being in full bloom. Parking cost Y800 per night at an open-air car park nearby.
Smoking was allowed in the hotel, and the whole place reeked of smoke, including our tiny room. The room came equipped with an air purifier, but it didn't help as smoke had already permeated into all the soft furnishings. The room had a small window which looked directly into another small window! The room was a Japanese-style room, which meant the mattresses were laid directly on the floor and there were kneeling pads in place of chairs in the room. I noticed that, no matter how small a hotel room was in Japan, the bathroom would still have a bath-tub and this hotel was no exception. Taking baths is certainly a very vital part of Japanese culture.
I had settled for this hotel in the end because of its location and it did not disappoint. We were directly opposite Asahikawa Station and AEON Mall Asahikawa, as well as just a stone's throw away from the flagship store of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, the noodle joint which brought spicy miso ramen to the world.
For a store with countless outlets all over the globe, I had expected the flagship store to be really fancy, so I was surprised to see that the outlet just looked like a very ordinary, run-of-the-mill Japanese eatery. Being a fan of Ramen Santouka, I slurped up every bit of my spicy miso ramen.
Hubby wasn't too impressed with his ramen though. He left hungry and had round 2 of his dinner at the food court of AEON Mall. Cold cha soba (buckwheat noodles) with tempura hit the sweet spot for him.
We enjoyed walking around AEON Mall. From cream cakes to Hokkaido melons, everything looked so enticing.
Breakfast at the now defunct Fujita Kanko Washington Hotel was quite possibly the best breakfast buffet I had ever had. Super-unhealthy-eater-me was overjoyed that they had homemade ice-cream at the breakfast buffet! I shamelessly helped myself to 6 scoops of that rich, creamy goodness, made from fresh Hokkaido milk.
I was bursting at the seams as we drove back to Furano. Our realtor in Furano had arranged for us to meet a builder that day. It took us about an hour to reach Furano. With time to spare before our meeting, we hit 2 mega stores next to each other - Daiei Supermaket and Super Center Bestom (a home improvement store). The dazzling array of merchandise those stores carried was out of this world! The Japanese really think of everything, and have a product to cater to every need.
Our meeting with the builders was another eye-popping experience. In less than 24 hours before our first meeting with the realtor, the builders had prepared a detailed proposal with computerised graphics, 3D images, etc. The Japanese are such hard workers whose attention to details puts everyone else to shame. They served us sweet Hokkaido melon and offered to take us out to lunch. We politely declined and said we already had lunch plans at Kumagera, to which they nodded in approval.
We chatted with our realtor before parting for lunch. Out of curiosity, I asked if he knew the cause of the tension between Farm Tomita and Tomita Melon House. Well, apparently, Farmer Tomita left the lavender business to one son, and the melon business to another. No prizes for guessing which made more money. The business which sold sweeter than honey melon with the glorious view of the flowers, or the business which sold ice cream which tasted like a cleaning product! A bitter sibling rivalry ensued which led to nasty signs and picket fences being erected.
Kumagera was just a short distance from the builders' office. We arrived at 1245 hrs and were shown to 2 seats at the counter. We ordered some Furano potatoes to share, and their signature dish, beef sashimi on rice (Y1,980). I had my hesitations when I first saw the blood-streaked raw beef glistening before me. Once I overcame the initial fear, I actually found the beef sashimi sublime!
Whilst having our lunch, a local resident came to sit next to us at the counter. When he realised we were not Japanese, he asked where we were from. When we replied "Singapore", we half-expected him to shrug and look away, but he surprised us by saying: "Ah! Singapore! Kim Jong Un!" At that time, it was barely a month after Singapore had hosted the inaugural meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Little did we know that The Rocket Man would be responsible for putting Singapore on the world map, and not the efforts of our founding fathers...
Our new friend was a local asparagus farmer. He chatted with us happily and offered us his plate of tempura asparagus, which the restaurant had made with asparagus from his farm. Dipped in a little bit of salt, the asparagus was delicious. Fresh, crisp and crunchy. We savoured the dish together, and at that moment, felt incredibly lucky to have experienced the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Furano people.
With a 210 km drive to Noboribetsu ahead of us, we left Furano that afternoon, after a quick wander around town and a brief visit to Furano Cheese Factory where we sampled different types of cheese made from Hokkaido milk. There was much more to experience in Furano, and we knew in our hearts that we'd definitely return one day with our family in tow.