8 Things To Do in Furano and Biei, Hokkaido

Shirotai Farm, Hokkaido

Furano and Biei are most famous for their picturesque rolling fields of lavender and other summer flowers, but there is actually plenty more to see and do in the area than simply admire its bucolic rural landscape.

Up-close encounters with local wildlife, amazingly photogenic natural phenomena, locally-produced wine and cheese, a magical night-time ice festival, energetic hiking in stunning scenery in Japan’s largest national park, and top-class skiing and snowboarding opportunities are just some of the activities in offer in this scenic rural area.

Here are some ideas for an in-depth exploration of the Furano and Biei area, listed north to south starting with the place the farthest from central Sapporo, but you could easily flip the order and go from south to north, ending your journey at Asahikawa town instead. Whatever route you take, the best (and in some cases only) way to get around and access the flower fields and other attractions in the area freely is to rent a car.

Japan Experience’s Hokkaido rental package will give you the freedom to get out and explore the fantastic rural scenery of central Hokkaido, and costs just £206 for 3 days - see their  website for more information and to make a booking. So what are you waiting for - get yourself some wheels and head out into the great beyond for a grand northern adventure!

1. Play with Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo

Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo

Asahiyama Zoo is Japan’s northernmost zoo, and specialises in the native flora and fauna of Hokkaido. Here you can encounter exciting wildlife native to Japan’s northern island, such as Shika deer, eagles, cranes and wolves (now sadly extinct in the wild) as well as other animals from around the world, such as polar bears, giraffes and big cats.

The zoo was one of the first to introduce winter-time “penguin walks”, letting visitors and the penguins eyeball each other from spitting distance. It also has designed and installed a number of unique enclosures and observation points that allow you to get up close and personal with some of the zoo’s most impressive inhabitants, such as underground glass domes putting you in the position of wolves’ and polar bears’ prey, and underwater tunnels and tubes allowing you to watch seals and penguins skimming elegantly through the water inches from your nose.

The zoo makes a great stop-off if you are travelling to the Furano/Biei area from Sapporo using public transport. is open from 9:30 or 10:30 until 15:30-17:15 depending on the season and costs 820 yen (about £5.85) to enter.

How To Get There

Asahiyama Zoo is around 20 minutes drive from Asahikawa Airport, 30 minutes from Asahikawa Station, or 2 hours from central Sapporo.

2. Ride a Bicycle through Patchwork Fields

Irodori no Oka, Biei © Biei

The Biei and Furano area is most famous for its bucolic rural landscapes of vast, colourful rolling flower fields. Once you’ve arrived, the best way to explore the local area’s sights is to hire a bicycle and get out on two wheels.

Start with the area northwest of the town centre, known as Patchwork Road. Make sure you stop off at the Hokusei Hill Observatory, a pyramid-shaped structure offering fine views out over the fields, and Zerebu Hill.  You can explore this flower park on foot, but opt for a more unusual mode of transport by taking a ride in one of its interesting old-fashioned carts! The area’s other slightly wacky claim to fame is as the home of several famous trees, including a line of larch and poplar trees sporting monikers such as “Seven Star’ and “Mild Seven”. The reason? The trees are sponsored by car and cigarette companies, who saw it as an ideal advertising opportunity in the area, which is a popular film location for Japanese TV soaps.

The area south of the town centre is known as Panorama Road. Here, make a beeline for Shikisai Hill, where you can explore the spacious flower fields on a variety of unusual vehicles, from golf carts and a tractor train to snowmobiles in winter! If after all that you still haven’t had your fill of Biei’s bucolic scenery, then Takushinkan, which exhibits landscape photography from Biei and across Japan by renowned Japanese landscape photographer Shinzo Maeda and his eldest son, is also worth a visit.

How To Get There

Both Patchwork and Panorama Road are around 15-40 minutes drive from Asahikawa Airport, 30-60 minutes from Asahikawa Station, or 2-3 hours from central Sapporo.

3. Ride a Tractor through Lavender Fields

Lavender field in Hokkaido ©Yasufumi Nishi
 
Not just for grannies - lavender has been cultivated in Furano for more than 50 years. Time your visit for summer to coincide with the blooming of Furano’s vast fields of lavender, when the surrounding area is carpeted in the delicately scented purple blooms for miles around. The lavender starts blooming in late June and reaches its peak from mid July to August. Depending on the season, you can also see a range of other summer flowers, from lupins and lilies to poppies and sunflowers.
 
Without a doubt, the top place to witness Furano’s sprawling fields of lavender is Farm Tomita, from where you can marvel at the lavender and flower fields framed against the spectacular backdrop of the Tokachi mountain range. The farm’s famous lavender ice cream is not only delicious but eminently Instagramable - but don't take our word for it, see here!

In 2008, Farm Tomita also opened a second farm, Lavender East, about four kilometres east of the main farm. As Hokkaido’s premier lavender destination, naturally the main farm becomes quite crowded during peak season, so head to the extension if you want to escape some of the lavender-seeking hordes at the main farm. Here, you can admire the largest lavender field in Furano at 14 hectares - you can also get that promised tractor ride through the fields on the “Lavender Bus”!

Nearby Flower Land Kamifurano also offers bumpy rides through its lavender fields on carts pulled by tractors. Still not enough lavender for you? Try one of their hands-on experiences, such as lavender cutting and flower pressing, to create a memento of your visit to take home.
 

How To Get There

Farm Tomita is around 40 minutes drive from Asahikawa Airport, 60 minutes from Asahikawa Station, or 2 hours from central Sapporo.

4. Get Snap-Happy at the Blue Pond

Blue Pond, Hokkaido
 
If you’ve still got room on your camera roll after all the snapping you’ll have done at Furano and Biei’s beautiful lavender and flower fields, then the Blue Pond is the place to head to next. If you’ve still to capture the perfect Hokkaido holiday selfie then it’ll give you another chance, and if not the gorgeous colour will enable you to go #nofilter with your Instagram updates!
 
Random factoid: the pond may look 100% natural, but it’s actually part of an erosion control system built to prevent damage to the town of Biei in case of an eruption by nearby Mt Tokachidake (fascinating, we know!). And yes, that’s the same postcard-perfect mountain range that looked so beautiful and innocuous when you photographed it behind those lavender fields only a short while ago...

 
In all honesty, there isn’t much to do at the Blue Pond other than get snap-happy and fill up any space remaining on your camera roll, so if you’ve got time to kill while you're there, why not head over to nearby Shirogane Onsen for a quick relaxing bath? Shirogane Onsenkyo Mori-no-Ryotei Biei is open 10:00-16:00 and costs 800 yen (around £5.70) for adults (Address: 10522-1 Shirogane, Biei, Kamikawa, Hokkaido).

How To Get There

The Blue Pond is around 35 minutes drive from Asahikawa Airport, 50 minutes from Asahikawa Station, or 2-3 hours from central Sapporo.

5. Fill Up at Furano Winery

Winery, Yamanashi prefecture
 
After all that hardcore flower-viewing and tractor-riding you’ll surely have worked up a thirst that can only be quenched by one thing - wine, and wine alone! After drawing lots to determine your hapless designated driver (because he or she sadly doesn’t get to imbibe - Japan has very strict drink-driving laws!) head over to Furano Winery, a short drive from the lavender fields.
 
Wine may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of alcoholic beverages and Japan, but local wine has been produced in Furano since 1972. Perched atop a hill overlooking the town, the winery is open to the public and includes free wine tasting - need we say more? If you are not a fan of boozy lunches and prefer to pair with your vino with something more substantial then you can try the winery’s selection of wines matched with western-style food dishes over at the Restaurant Winehouse.


And minors and teetotallers need not despair - about 1.5km north of the winery is the grape juice factory, where you can watch the production process and sample the flavoursome grape juice. The winery is open 9:00-17:00, while the grape juice factory is open 10:00-16:00.

How To Get There

The winery is around 50 minutes drive from Asahikawa Airport, just over 1 hour from Asahikawa Station, or 2 hours from central Sapporo.

6.  Get Your Powder on a Furano Ski Resort

Skiing in Furano, Hokkaido

If you’re visiting the Furano area in winter you won’t get fields full of flowers, but you will get plenty of powder! Strap on your skis and head down to Furano Ski Resort, one of Hokkaido’s most famous ski resorts, for all the snow-related activities you can manage and more.

The resort is made up of two connected peaks, both offering long, fast runs that have featured in World Cup races. For more advanced or adventurous skiers, there are novelties such as downhill courses, terrain parks, and a half pipe. But those who are less skillful on the slopes won’t go short of things to do either - there are also plenty of wider, gentler slopes suitable for beginners and families. Tickets start from 1600 yen for a nighter pass, 4000-4800 yen (£29-34) for a half day pass, or 5500 yen (£39) for a full day pass, with rentals starting at 5500 yen (£39) for various gear. 

Not a skier or snowboarder? No problem! Hit up Family Snowland (ignore the name - it's not just for families!), where you can try a variety of other fun snow activities, from snowmobiling and snow rafting to parasailing and even dog sledding. There we go - we told you Furano would offer more snow activities than you could possibly handle!

How To Get There

Furano Ski Resort is around 60 minutes drive from Asahikawa Airport, 1 hour 20 minutes from Asahikawa Station, or 2 hours from central Sapporo.

7. Feast on Camembert at a Cheese Factory

Cows at Shirotai Farm, Hokkaido

Again, cheese is probably not the first food to cross your mind when you think of Japanese cuisine, but Hokkaido has a proud tradition as Japan’s dairy powerhouse. Over 70% of Japan is mountainous; Hokkaido is not only Japan’s largest prefecture, but also home to an unusually high amount of flat land, perfect for vegetable and dairy farming. In fact, Hokkaido produces about 50% of Japan’s milk, as well as a whole range of other dairy products such as butter, yogurt, ice cream - and of course the aforementioned cheese.
 
Furano Cheese Factory (Address: Nakago, Furano, Hokkaido) produces its own very palatable camembert-type cheese. During your visit, you can watch the production process but - more importantly - also stuff your face on the finished article with free cheese samples in the factory shop (make sure to take your disguise of comedy spectacles and fake moustache so you can go round multiple times). More adventurous cheese connoisseurs can also branch out and try “ikasumi cheese” - a cheese coloured black using squid ink!


If you appetite for cheese still hasn’t been appeased even after all those samples, don't worry. Besides the cheese factory and factory shop, there is also an ice cream parlour - with cheese, pumpkin and grape flavour ices on offer - and pizzeria on site. And if merely gorging on dairy isn’t enough for you then you can also join a variety of hands-on workshops and try your hand at making butter, cheese, bread or ice cream. 

The cheese factory is open 9:00-17:00 (16:00 in winter) and is free to enter. Hands-on workshops require a fee. They start at fixed times throughout the day, but advance reservations are not required (except for the bread workshop).

How To Get There

The cheese factory is just under 1 hour’s drive from Asahikawa Airport, around 1 hour 15 minutes from Asahikawa Station, or 2 hours from central Sapporo.
 

8. Take a Hike in Daisetsuzan National Park

Mt Asahidake ©Yasufumi Nishi

Hokkaido has a grand total of six national parks, of which Daisetsuzan National Park is the largest. With a total area of 226,000 hectares, it is larger than than some of Japan’s smaller prefectures! Preserving a vast mountainous area of virtually unspoiled pristine wilderness, the park is a haven for humans and animals alike seeking solitude and nature away from the bustle and busyness of Japan’s big cities. 
 
Daisetsuzan is dominated by a chain of several 2000 metre tall volcanic mountains, making it as much a paradise for hikers and nature lovers as for its ursine population (see below!). While you’re there, why not tackle one of the park’s peaks? Depending on your inclinations and fitness level, you can tackle anything from a short half-day hike to the classic 1-2 day tour between Mt Kurodake and Mt Asahidake.
 
The park is also home to several small, quaint onsen towns, chief among them Asahidake Onsen, Sounkyo Onsen, and Tokachidake Onsen. These will stand you in good stead when you’re ready for a luxuriant soak after climbing one of the park’s peaks, such as Mt Kurodake, which is one of the most accessible. For those who are happy to ‘cheat’, Asahidake Ropeway at Asahidake Onsen lifts you to within about two hour’s hike of Mt Asahidake’s summit, while the Kurodake Ropeway and chair lift at Sounkyo Onsen do even better and whisk you to within about an hour’s steep climb of Mt Kurodake’s summit.
 
Daisetsuzan’s primeval wilderness is home to countless clusters of alpine plants but also various wild animals including Shika deer - and Japanese brown bears! If you’re willing (or eager) to risk a run-in with one of Japan’s furry residents then head to the popular circular hiking route whose trailhead is located in Daisetsu Kogen Onsen. The area is so densely populated by bears that hikers are required to attend a short lecture at the bear information centre before setting off - eek!
 

How To Get There

Asahidake Onsen is around 45 minutes’ drive from Asahikawa Airport, 1 hour from Asahikawa Station, or 3 hours from central Sapporo. Sounkyo Onsen is around 1 hour 15 minutes’ drive from Asahikawa Airport or Asahikawa Station, or 3 hours from central Sapporo. Daisetsu Kogen Onsen is around 2 hours from Asahikawa Airport or Asahikawa Station, or 3.5 hours from central Sapporo.
 

Bonus - Brr! Sounkyo Ice Festival

Sounkyo Ice Festival

If you’re visiting Daisetsuzan National Park in winter, pencil in a side-trip to Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival, an eight-week long festival held in Sounkyo Onsen every year from late January to late March. The festival sees the town’s riverside populated by a variety of fantastical life-size ice structures such as igloos, castles, bridges and pillars, creating a fantastical mini village within a village. For your 200 yen (£1.40) entrance fee, at night - which is the most magical time to visit - you’ll get to see all the sculptures illuminated with colourful lights, as well as a small fireworks display.

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