ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Japan

BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.21

Day 7 (3/5).

Driving north from Farm Tomita in Nakafurano (中富良野) brought us to Biei (美瑛町) in half an hour.  We followed the GPS to look for Bi.Ble, a French restaurant that caught our attention while we researched for the trip.  Recommended by a guidebook, we were attracted by Bi.Ble’s dishes made from local ingredients, its pleasant timber interiors, and its picturesque setting surrounded by wheat fields.  The entire compound is consisted of four buildings: a culinary school and a staff/student dormitory occupying two former school buildings, a new one-storey hotel and a new restaurant facing a wheat field.  With the aid from GPS and Google Map, we didn’t have trouble finding the place and arrived at Bi.Ble at around 11:30am.  We didn’t make a reservation, and were lucky to get the last table available.  Other than the seafood of Shiretoko, dining at Bi.Ble to sample some of the best ingredients from Furano and Biei turned out to be one of the most remarkable meals we had throughout the trip.

DSC_5972Occupying the former Hokuei Elementary School, the Ecole Hoteliere Etude is a culinary school affiliated with Bi.Ble Restaurant.

DSC_5966It is green everywhere in Biei, even the school building.

DSC_5956Across from the school building stands a minimalist building cladded with green metal panels.  This new addition to the school complex serves as a hotel with several guestrooms facing the wheat field.

DSC_5968Each hotel room has a decent window.

IMG_9924Each room enjoys the view of the picturesque wheat field below.

DSC_5961Bi.Ble Restaurant is located at the far end of the compound.

DSC_5963Biei is well known for its high quality wheat and flour.  In July, the wheat would turn yellow.  By August, the wheat would be ready for harvest.

IMG_7286The first things that greeted our arrival at Bi.Ble was the famous bakery and its fireplace.

IMG_9885Almost all tables in the restaurant had been reserved.  Came without booking, we arrived just in time to sit down at the last available table facing the wheat field.

IMG_9886Beyond the wheat field lies the distant volcanic mountain ranges of Daisetsuzan and Tokachi, whose ashes produce the highly fertile soil of the area.

IMG_9890Perhaps the easiest way to appreciate the taste of Biei is to sample the simplest and purest ingredient of all, freshly baked bread made from the wheat of Biei.

IMG_9894Appetizers made with local pork and produces decorated with a touch of nature.

IMG_9899The dining experience at Bi.Ble was a fusion of French culinary techniques and Japanese aesthetics with the palette of Hokkaido.

IMG_9900From the local volcanic soil, even the most ordinary ingredients like carrot and potato tasted better.

IMG_9903Each dish was like a minimalist painting to us.

IMG_9905Each dish came in small portions, but it ended up quite a filling meal after all the courses.

IMG_9907A fine dessert to ended a special meal.

IMG_9915After visiting the lavender farms and floral fields of Furano, Bi.ble has given us another brilliant way to appreciate what the unique landscape of Central Hokkaido has to offer.

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FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.21

Day 7 (2/5).

Known as one of the most popular attractions in Hokkaido, Farm Tomita (ファーム富田) is probably on every visitor’s itinerary when traveling in Central Hokkaido.  Situated in front of the beautiful Tokachi Mountain Range, the highly popular tourist attraction began as a humble farm back in 1903.  Not until 1958 when lavender was first planted in Farm Tomita for its essence.  After 1970, lavender farming had gone through a gradual decline due to its low profitability.  In 1976, a photograph of Tomita’s lavender fields appeared on a popular calendar published by JR, the national railway of Japan.  This calendar photo had completely changed the fate of Farm Tomita, converting it from a sleepy farm unknown to the public to a popular tourist attraction acclaimed to the entire nation.  Other than checking out the floral fields, visitors also come to purchase all kinds of lavender products, from hand soap, essence oil, perfume, and even food products.

We arrived at Farm Tomita at around 9am, less than half an hour after its opening time.  The farm was already packed with groups of visitors, and even the parking lot was almost filled up.  Given we came a few weeks out of peak season, we could imagine how busy it could become in late July.

DSC_5855Compared to other farms in the area, Farm Tomita is quite well organized.

DSC_5888Other than lavender, Farm Tomita also has a variety of floral fields to attract visitors, including the vivid Autumn Field where flowers would remain until the first frost.

DSC_5863In the Spring Field, Iceland poppies, oriental poppies, and chives offer visitors a beautiful scene prior to the lavender season.

DSC_5874The Spring Field was full of life.

DSC_5878With flavour of onions and garlic, Chive flowers can also be used as herbs.

DSC_5885Iceland poppies are hardy perennial found in many parts in the world.

IMG_9815Just like our earlier encounters, the lavender had yet reached their full bloom at Tomita.

DSC_5893But that wouldn’t discourage visitors to pose for photos in the lavender fields.

DSC_5901The scent of lavender filled the air.

DSC_5904The sloped lavender field is the favorite photo spot for many visitors coming to Tomita.

DSC_5913We could imagine the layers of purple waves in a few weeks’ time.

DSC_5932Many love to stand in the rows of lavender for photos.

DSC_5936Somehow the sloped terrain of the field was perfect for appreciating the layering lavender.

DSC_5934Other types of lavender had yet developed their buds.

IMG_7240A number of houses in the farm contain displays of old distillery tools.

IMG_7262As well as information on essence extract process.

IMG_9833At Tomita, many souvenirs are made with lavender essence, including bathing soap.

IMG_9864Not as famous as Yubari (夕張) Melon, Furano Melon is nonetheless the must-have snacks for tourists coming to the farm.

DSC_5954After a relaxing stroll in the farm, it was time for us to bid farewell to Tomita and moved on the the nearby Biei.

 

 


LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.21

Day 7 (1/5).

Coming to Furano in summer without checking out its lavender farms is like going to Lisse in the Netherlands in spring without visiting Keukenhof Garden to see blooming tulips.  Various types of lavender can be found in Furano, and each has its bloom time between late June to early August.  The peak tourist season is mid July when popular lavender farms would be packed with visitors.  Lavender was not our main purpose of the trip, so we didn’t plan our visit according to the peak bloom time.  In fact, we came a few weeks too soon when the flower farms were much less crowded than their peak season.  As expected, while most lavender plants were not yet in full bloom but the violet colour were beginning to show from the buds.

Tadao Tomita started cultivating lavender in 1958, but considering stopping in 1976 because they failed to make lavender profitable.   Fortunately, a photographer came by his lavender farm, took a photo of his lavender field and published the photo in the calender of the national railway company (JR).  That immediately led to a big surge of tourists flocking in to see Tomita’s lavender fields.  Since then, lavender tourism had become part of Furano’s identity and never looked back.  As lavender was picking up the steam, a local visitor suggested Tomita to start making potpourri and other lavender products.  These lavender souvenirs and tourism itself have been able to sustain the lavender farms, while Tomita gradually expanded the farm with more tourist facilities. Since then, other lavender farms flourished in Furano after Tomita’s success.  Before visiting Tomita Farm, we first checked out two smaller facilities in Nakafurano: Choei Lavender Farm and Saika no Sato Lavender Farm.

DSC_5756Run by the municipal government, the Choei Lavender Farm offers visitors in town the first glance of this year’s lavender.

DSC_5757The ski lift of Choei Lavender Farm would operate between late June to August.

IMG_9770Up on the slope at Choei Lavender Farm, we could see the lush-green lavender plants standing in front of the distant mountains.

DSC_5763A small area of Choei Lavender Farm, was dedicated to white lavender.

DSC_5764Too bad we couldn’t take the sky lift up the slope.

DSC_5766We came few weeks too earlier, as most lavender plants were far from full bloom while we were there.

DSC_5786Despite of that, we still enjoyed taking photos of the iconic lavender of Furano.

DSC_5788Choei Lavender Farm consists of rows after rows of lavender plants on the slope.  During full bloom, the slope would turn violet in colour.

IMG_9805Just a few minutes of drive from Choei lies Saika no Sato Lavender Farm, another popular farm in Nakafurano famous for lavender fields.

IMG_9802At Saika no Sato Lavender Farm, we stopped by its cafe for a drink.

IMG_9801We ordered their signature purple heart drink: lavender ice in calpris, a Japanese soft drink that is somewhat milky and vanilla flavored.

DSC_5801Similar to Choei Lavender Farm, we were once again too early for the lavender fields in Saika no Sato.

DSC_5814Depending on the type, the lavender in Saika no Sato had a slightly deeper hue of purple than the ones we saw in Choei.

DSC_5849While lavender might not be at its best, we did appreciate seeing other beautiful spring flowers in Saika no Sato.

DSC_5850The spring flowers in Furano reminded us of springtime in Toronto, as both Hokkaido and Toronto share a similar latitude of 43 degree north, and thus we could easily draw their similarities in terms of tree and plant species.

 


ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.20

Day 6 (3/3).

A sudden downpour greeted our arrival to the farming community as we left Hoshino Resorts Tomamu and entered Minamifurano  or South Furano (南富良野).  A long and winding road cut through fields of rice paddies, wheat and corn, and passed by rows after rows of farming greenhouses against the backdrop of Tokachi Mountain Range (十勝岳).  Further afield, rolling fields of summer flowers had yet reached their peak moment of summer blossom.  We could imagine that at its peak in mid July, these fields could well be covered in rainbow colours: sunflower, poppies, lilies, and most famous of all, different types of lavender.  At one point, we stopped the car right by a small country road, just to taste the sweetness of nature and feel the mountain air after the rain.  Mist rose from the distant mountains beyond farming fields, making a perfect and dreamy picture of Hokkaido countryside. Welcome to Furano!

Located in the heart of Hokkaido Island, Furano is (富良野) a sleepy town about 100km inland from the sea, enjoying a continental climate that sees heavy and powdery snowfall in winter.  Like Niseko, Furano is a popular skiing resort in winter.  During summer, Furano is a rural wonderland famous for its farmlands and vineyards, especially its rolling hills of flowers that includes the iconic lavender.  Drawing large amount of Japanese and Chinese tourists, summer flowers, especially lavender, have imprinted a vivid postcard image in visitors’ mind even before they arrive in Hokkaido.  For the Japanese, the works of scriptwriter Sō Kuramoto (倉本 聰) have presented the beauty of Furano to everyone in the nation in the past 40 years, marking the relative sleepy town in Central Hokkaido onto Japan’s tourist map.

DSC_5751We stopped the car at a small country road to inhale our first breathe of fresh air from Furano.

DSC_5752Furano is well known for its fine agricultural produce.

IMG_9734Large plastic greenhouses could be seen in many areas around Furano.

IMG_9743No matter where in Japan, rice paddies is often the dominate landscape.

IMG_9746In Hokkaido, wheat is also a main staple food for noodles and bread.

IMG_9749In Central Furano, a complex of four retail buildings known as Furano Marche introduces local produce, snacks and souvenir for visitors and foreigners.

IMG_9750We got ourselves some food for a light dinner.

IMG_9753We got ourselves potato fries, hamburger and fried chicken (all ingredients from the region) for dinner.

IMG_9758From Furano Marche, we had the opportunity to try the local sweet white corn, which could be consumed raw.

DSC_5754In Furano, we stayed at Pension Yamasan in the village of Nakafurano (中富良野), the home of the famous lavender farms like Farm Tomita and Saika-no-Sato.

IMG_9762Dried lavender is used as decorations and natural air freshener.

IMG_9763We were free to use the dining hall for breakfast and evening television.

IMG_9764The common area of Pension Yamasan is full of the owner’s character.

IMG_0040Situated on a hill across from Mount Tokachi, Pension Yamasan offered us pleasant view of the mountain range and fields of Nakafurano.

DSC_5796For visitors without their own wheels, railway is their best bet for reaching the lavender farms in Nakafurano.

DSC_5798After the rain, Furano River was a little muddy at Nakafurano.

DSC_5797Despite we were a month too early to see the lavender in full blossom, other summer flowers were indeed everywhere in Nakafurano.

 


TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.20

Day 6 (2/3).

From Lake Akan (阿寒湖) to Nakafurano (中富良野) where we would stay two nights to explore the rolling hills and farmlands of Furano (富良野) and Biei (美瑛), we drove by Tokachi (十勝), a subprefecture in Central Hokkaido best known for its dairy and agricultural products such as wheat and red beans.  Also known as the land of cheese, some say Tokachi produces about 60% of Japanese cheese.  We didn’t plan to stay in Tokachi, but did make a stop in the subprefecture’s only city, Obihiro (帯広).  There was only one reason: to sample the delicious food of the region.  We weren’t after any fancy kaiseki ryori or seafood feast, but simple local dishes that make use of the best local ingredients of Tokachi.

IMG_0034There is nothing simpler to experience the best of Tokachi (十勝) than have a cup of fresh local milk.

IMG_9711In Obihiro, we made a first stop to Amamuekie, a simple pastry shop housed in a cool container.  Originally worked in the music industry, the husband and wife of Iwamoto family (岩本夫妻) turned their interest in nature and healthy food and opened Amamuekie.

IMG_7127At Amamuekie, healthy pastry made with plant based ingredients without the use of white sugar and animal ingredients such as dairy and eggs are sold, including this cocoa pound cake made with rice flour.

IMG_7836We picked up several items from Amamuekie, including this hojicha (green tea) biscotti, a tasty fusion of east meets west.

IMG_9713On our way to Obihiro, we made our second stop at Sweet Factory Green, a delightful sweets shop in the small town of Otofuke (音更町).

IMG_9715The cakes, chocolate and ice-cream were all so tempting.

IMG_9721Causal seating were provided on the lawn next to the sweets shop.

IMG_9717_01Sun was high and sky was blue, what a perfect moment to enjoy local ice-cream, a piece of fruit cake and a cup of good coffee.

IMG_9722Finally we arrived in downtown Obihiro (帯広), and parked our car in one of the outdoor parking lot near the main train station.

IMG_7105It took us a little while to figure out the correct procedure to activate the parking sensor for our stall.

IMG_9728Our destination, Butadon Pancho (元祖豚丼), situates right across the street from Obihiro Railway Station.

IMG_9726Butadon Pancho (元祖豚丼) offers just one thing in the menu: Butadon (豚丼) or pork bowl.  After about 20 minutes in the queue, we finally got a small table in the small restaurant.  Founded in 1933, Butadon Pancho claims to be the pioneer restaurant that offered butadon.

IMG_9725Originated from Obihiro, butadon is basically a bowl of rice served with several pieces of local pork, topped with sweet soy sauce and green peas.  The bowl also comes with takuan (沢庵) or pickled daikon radish and miso soup.  Nothing fancy, just a simple local dish but made a perfect lunch for us.

IMG_9732After a little over an hour on the road, we arrived at Hoshino Resorts Tomamu, a vast resort compound that offers a variety of activities for visitors, from skiing in winter to hiking in summer.

IMG_7115The main reason coming to Tomamu was to check out the famous Chapel on the Water by architect Tadao Ando.

IMG_9730Unfortunately, the opening times of the chapel was quite limited.  Quite often, the chapel is occupied for private wedding ceremonies.  We had to leave it for another time, and moved on on our journey to Furano, where we would stay for the night.

 


SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖), Kushiro (釧路), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.19

Day 5 (3/3).

About 60km southwest of Lake Mashu, we arrived at Akankohan (阿寒湖畔), our second destination in Akan Mashu National Park.  Under the shadow of volcano Mount Oakan (雄阿寒岳), the onsen resort village Akankohan (阿寒湖畔) right by Lake Akan or Akanko (阿寒湖) is another great place in Eastern Hokkaido to experience the beauty of the region’s volcanic landscape.  While may not be as crystal clear as Lake Mashu, Lake Akan, also a crater lake, is nonetheless also famous for its pure water.  In fact, the pristine quality of the lake water has enabled the famous lake inhabitant, the marimo, to thrive in Lake Akan.  Marimo, a rare ball-like algae, may grow up the size of a football if left untouched for centuries.  Unlike Lake Mashu, Lake Akan has a much bigger human presence especially along the waterfront of Akankohan, where modern ryokans with all kinds of onsen baths, and shops, small museum, and cultural centre about the local Ainu people are established.

We stayed at Akankohan for a night to have a short visit of the lakeside onsen resort.  We didn’t take the tourist cruise boat for a marimo museum visit on a small island in the lake; nor did we do a long hike up to one of the beautiful volcanoes around the lake or visit the Ainu cultural centre.  We did however make a morning forest walk to the boiling bokke mud pool east of the resort village, enjoy a starry night standing on the lakeside boardwalk, and cleanse our bodies and souls in the mineral rich hotspring water of Akan.

IMG_9540At Akankohan, the waterfront is lined with resort hotels and docks for tourist cruise boats.

IMG_9538Located at the waterfront, our hotel Tsuruga Lake Akan Lodge Turano is a comfortable pet-friendly guesthouse with nice views to the lake.

IMG_9545Compared to other lakeside resort hotels, Tsuruga Lake Akan Lodge Turano is much more causal.

IMG_9544There was no hotspring facilities at Tsuruga Lake Akan Lodge Turano, we were invited to use one of Tsuruga’s other hotel’s facility.  Recommended by the hotel staff, we went to Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga for its onsen facilities.  During our visit, men were assigned to use the three-level bathing facilities at the lower floor while women at the 8/F outdoor infinity pool facing the lake.

DSC_5551It wasn’t the darkest and clearest night for stargazing, but chilling out in the cool air at Lake Akan after a hearty buffet dinner was delightful.

DSC_5552Clouds and fog moved quickly across the sky.  Stars were still visible in between.

DSC_5558At Akankohan (阿寒湖畔), Mount Oakan (雄阿寒岳) has a dominant presence to the scenery.

DSC_5561Dusk fell upon with a soft touch of orange cast on the moving clouds.

DSC_5580In comparison, the artificial lights from the lakeside hotels looked overwhelmingly bright.

DSC_5586Various boardwalk structures extend out to the lake for small boats and tourist photos.

DSC_5590Last erupted in 2008, Mount Oakan is a shield volcano rises about 900m from the lake.

DSC_5597Swan like recreational boats looked quite out of place in the natural surrounding.

DSC_5595Most multi-level buildings in Akankohan are resort hotels.  Behind the lakeside hotels, a shopping street lined with souvenir shops forms the main thoroughfare for the village.  The entire village looks completely dependent on tourism.

DSC_5601Near our guesthouse Tsuruga Lake Akan Lodge Turano, the lights from the lakeside hotels looked far more overwhelming than the mighty volcano, which sat in tranquility in the background waiting for its next moment of eruption.


MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.19

Day 5 (2/3).

After a few hours of sleep, we returned to Lake Mashu to seek for another way to enjoy the crater lake and its surrounding landscape.  This time, we took the 14.4km trail along the crater rim up to the top of Mount Mashu or Mashu-dake (857m) in a 4-6 hour walk.  We read from guidebooks and online research that the scenery of Lake Mashu from the top of Mount Mashu would be very promising.  At the onsen village of Mashu, we stopped by a bento takeout restaurant (ほかほか弁当) to order two rice dishes for breakfast, then headed over to Lake Mashu’s Viewpoint 1 to begin our hike.

IMG_9435A terrain model at the visitor centre of Viewpoint 1 gave us a rough idea of the hike, from the trailhead at the south of the crater lake to the peak of Mount Mashu east of the lake.

IMG_9437Soon after the trailhead, we reached the first open lookout of Lake Mashu.

DSC_5431The trail took us along the crater lake on one side, and open plains and distant volcanic landscape on the other.

DSC_5445Most of the trail ran along the rim of the crater lake with little shades.

IMG_9439From time to time, wooden signage indicated how far we were from our destination.

DSC_5456There was pretty much only one trail for most of the time.  It was almost impossible to get lost.

DSC_5477Near the peak, we could fully appreciate the volcanic landscape of the area, including the lush green forest in a caldera next to Lake Mashu.

DSC_5464After the steepest section of the trail, we finally reached the summit of Mount Mashu, a small lookout that offered wonderful panoramas of the area’s volcanic scenery.

IMG_9471From the top, the volcanic scenery of Lake Mashu area was fantastic.

DSC_5474Looking west, the ridge of Mount Mashu led to the eastern edge of Lake Mashu.

IMG_9483Clouds were getting in with the wind but we still had blue sky for most of the day.

IMG_9488Looking north, we could see the eastern tip of Lake Mashu.

DSC_5504With a circumference of about 20km, Lake Mashu is one of the most famous lakes in Hokkaido.  We stayed for 20 minutes or so at the summit all by ourselves, and began the descending journey when another couple followed our footsteps and replaced us at the peak.

DSC_5512Claimed as the clearest water in the world, the beautiful blue colour of Lake Mashu was simply stunning when viewed from above.

DSC_5523The wind was mild and the air was dry, such a perfect day for us to hike at Eastern Hokkaido.

DSC_5527From afar, the tiny island in the middle of Lake Mashu looked funny.

DSC_5529The hike would offer a different scenery if we were to visit in the autumn.

IMG_9512The beauty of Lake Mashu never cease to impress us, despite we were a little tired near the end of the hike.

DSC_5540Finally back to Viewpoint 1, the colour of Lake Mashu had changed due to the constantly moving clouds.  From dawn to mid afternoon, we had fully experienced the sheer beauty of the famous caldera lake.  After about 5 hours of walking, we returned to Viewpoint 1 and treated ourselves with local chocolate milk and a slide of Yubari melon (夕張メロン) , the king of Hokkaido fruit which just broke the record in May 2019 with a pair fetching 5,000,000 JPY (47,000 USD) in auction.