Day 8 (3/4).
It was raining with occasional thunderstorms all the way from the Hill of the Buddha to Otaru. After a week on the road, we finally arrived at Otaru (小樽), the port city at Ishikari Bay roughly half an hour of train ride from Sapporo. For many Japanese and East Asians, Otaru has become famous after the 1995 hit movie “Love Letter”. Directed by Shunji Iwai (岩井 俊二) and starring Miho Nakayama (中山 美穂), “Love Letter” was filmed entirely in Hokkaido, particularly in Otaru. After the film, The little port city Otaru has become a cultural destination.
We dropped off our bags at the hotel, returned the Toyota near the railway station, and found our way to Sankaku Market (三角市場) for a seafood lunch.
Situated near Otaru Station, Sankaku Market (三角市場) is very popular for tourists and locals for fresh seafood.
The market sells seafood from all over Hokkaido.
The market has only one narrow aisle and shops at both sides.
Some shops also offer seafood snacks or lunch.
We chose the most popular eatery in the market, Takinami Restaurant, where there was a long queue of visitors at the door.
Sea urchin, crab meat and prawns with rice, and crab miso soup
Despite the rain, we made a brief visit to the canal area of Otaru.
We didn’t stay long at the canal because of poor weather.
Instead, we dropped by the Otaru Art Base: four historical buildings were preserved and converted into art exhibition spaces.
Built in 1923, Takahashi Warehouses was turned into the Stained Glass Museum.
Most of the stained glass windows on display were manufactured in England in the 19th and early 20th century.
These stained glass windows were preserved from churches that got torn down.
In the heydays, there were 25 banks supporting the economy of Hokkaido. One of them was Mitsui Bank (三井住友銀行). The Neo-Renaissance building symbolizes the prosperous years of Hokkaido.
The former lobby and reception counter are splendid.
Former conference room
Other than the history of the former bank building, there was also an art exhibition in the building.
After checking out the Art Base, we returned to the hotel and finished the slide of Yubari (夕張) cantaloupe purchased from the market.
Day 8 (1/4).
Many people acknowledge the harmonic relationship between buildings and nature in Japanese architecture. Taking the site’s natural context as design inspirations and the dominating factor for spatial arrangement is popular among modern Japanese architecture, where buildings are sometimes configured according to the site terrain or to a unique relationship with a natural element such as a feature tree or a water body. This respect to nature is quite apparent in the works of Tadao Ando.
On our way to Furano, we tried visiting Ando’s Chapel on the Water but failed to get in because of a private wedding taking place. We decided to return once again when we left Furano. To ensure entry, we managed to arrive at the official time for visit: 06:30 to 07:15. Getting to the chapel in Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム) at 06:30 meaning we had to leave our hotel in Nakafurano at 5am.
We made it to Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム) on time for the 6:30 visiting time slot for Ando’s Chapel on the Water.
We were surprised to find that at least 30 people were already waiting for the staff in the waiting lobby. We were soon led out to a path leading to the concrete enclosure of the chapel.
We walked along the concrete wall of the chapel until reaching an opening into the inner court.
Once we got into the inner court, we finally had our first glimpse of the beautiful chapel architecture and its famous cross in the water.
The entry path continued to the back corner of the chapel, where a flight of stairs led us up to the small semi enclosed platform dominated by the cross concrete members.
From the platform we followed a spiral staircase descending down to the main chapel space.
Used for wedding ceremonies, the chapel is simple and elegant. The prime focus for all visitors is the view of the cross and water pond, which takes the place of the traditional altar piece.
The enormous opening can be shut with the hydraulic powered sliding door.
Once the door is shut, the sound of the moving water would be shut off from the interior.
The staff demonstrated the closing and opening of the sliding door for us.
Once the door was opened, the interior was filled with the sound of moving water again.
The exterior scenery was peaceful and calming. The boundary between the interior and exterior didn’t seem to exist.
We could sit there for a long time just to take in the peaceful scenery and calming sound of water and birds. We could imagine how the scenery might change in different seasons.
To exit, we followed the spiral staircase to the lower level, passed through a circular space and left the building from its side.
Outside the building, we could see the frame structure housing the track for the sliding door.
Just like the Church of Light, visiting an early work of Tadao Ando is always touching and inspiring. Taking the effects of light, reflections, sounds and water to formulate the spatial qualities of the architecture, seeing his buildings has always been a spiritual experience for us.
Day 7 (5/5).
After rolling hills of wheat fields and floral farms, it was about time for us to leave Furano. Before calling it a day, we decided to end the day with a final touch of fairytale like fantasy. Hidden in the forest adjacent to Prince Hotel Furano, the Ningle Terrace is consisted of fifteen shops housed in small fairytale like timber houses. These houses are more than just cute eye candles. Each shop is occupied by a local craftsman selling his or her unique handicrafts. Owing to the power of the famous scriptwriter Sou Kuramoto (倉本 聰), the Ningle Terrace has become another attraction in Hokkaido related to his creative talents. Used as the film set for one of Kuramoto’s work, deep in the forest Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計) has become a pilgrimage site for his fans.
It was our final evening in Furano. We decided to sought after a magical finale.
Before entering the forest of Ningle Terrace, we stopped by the interesting gift shop selling products related to Sou Kuramoto (倉本 聰).
15 shops make up the beautiful Ningle Terrace.
The atmosphere of the Ningle Terrace was quite romantic with the lighting.
Deep in the forest stands Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計), a filming place for one of Sou Kuramoto’s (倉本 聰) work.
The interior of Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計) looks quite surreal.
Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計) wasn’t full, but it was impossible for us to find a seat at the central communal table.
At Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計), the central communal table is reserved for coffee lovers who wish to grind their own beans and make their own coffee.
Other than coffee, we also ordered a light dinner to end our day at Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計).
Day 7 (4/5).
Famous for its rolling hills and agricultural fields under the shadows of Taisetsu (大雪山系) and Tokachi Range (十勝連峰), Biei has long been known for its beautiful rural scenery. Throughout the years, Biei has been a popular filming location for television commercials, TV shows and music videos. To promote tourism, local officials have designated two driving routes: Patchwork Road and Panorama Road for exploring some of the best scenery of Biei. These two routes bring visitors to meander between rolling hills and wheat fields and arrive at various lookouts, viewing towers, and parks. With the aid of a tourist map and road signs, we managed to drive along these two routes to explore the area causally.
Just a stone throw away from Bi.Ble restaurant, we made a brief stop at Tree of Ken and Mary (ケンとメリーの木). This poplar tree appeared on a 1973 Nissan Motor TV commercial, and has since then become a popular site for local visitors.
Known as a major attraction on the Patchwork Road, the pyramidal lookout at Hokusei-no-oka Observatory Park (北西の丘展望公園) offers visitors a 360 degree overview of the surrounding landscape.
At Hokusei-no-oka Observatory Park (北西の丘 展望公園), a man-size raccoon sculpture greeted all visitors among the vending machines.
Some tourists preferred to visit Sanai no Oka Observatory Park (三愛の丘展望公園) by cycling.
In June, the fields surrounding Sanai no Oka Observatory Park (三愛の丘展望公園) are covered in lush green wheat.
Wheat field near Sanai no Oka Observatory Park (三愛の丘展望公園).
Chiyoda no Oka Observation Deck (千代田の丘見晴らし台) situates away from main roads and receives only a handful of visitors throughout the day.
From Chiyoda no Oka Observation Deck (千代田の丘見晴らし台), we were impressed by the surrounding scenery.
Cattle roamed freely on a green slope near Chiyoda no Oka Observation Deck (千代田の丘見晴らし台).
We stopped by one of the many rolling wheat fields.
Some fields had yet occupied by farmer’s crops.
Large crows stood at the ridge of the hill to search for food.
Like Tuscany of Italy, Biei is largely covered with green rolling hills.
With 15 hectares of land, Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘) is one of the busiest tourist attractions in Biei.
Again we were too early to see the full flower blossom at Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘).
The supposedly colourful hills of Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘) were mainly green.
Despite heavily edited, the poster reveals what all tourists want to see when they come to Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘).
A fox family were running around the Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘) while we were ther.
The hay man welcomes every visitor at Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘).
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.
Occupying the former Hokuei Elementary School, the Ecole Hoteliere Etude is a culinary school affiliated with Bi.Ble Restaurant.
It is green everywhere in Biei, even the school building.
Across 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.
Each hotel room has a decent window.
Each room enjoys the view of the picturesque wheat field below.
Bi.Ble Restaurant is located at the far end of the compound.
Biei 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.
The first things that greeted our arrival at Bi.Ble was the famous bakery and its fireplace.
Almost 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.
Beyond the wheat field lies the distant volcanic mountain ranges of Daisetsuzan and Tokachi, whose ashes produce the highly fertile soil of the area.
Perhaps 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.
Appetizers made with local pork and produces decorated with a touch of nature.
The dining experience at Bi.Ble was a fusion of French culinary techniques and Japanese aesthetics with the palette of Hokkaido.
From the local volcanic soil, even the most ordinary ingredients like carrot and potato tasted better.
Each dish was like a minimalist painting to us.
Each dish came in small portions, but it ended up quite a filling meal after all the courses.
A fine dessert to ended a special meal.
After 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.
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.
Compared to other farms in the area, Farm Tomita is quite well organized.
Other 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.
In the Spring Field, Iceland poppies, oriental poppies, and chives offer visitors a beautiful scene prior to the lavender season.
The Spring Field was full of life.
With flavour of onions and garlic, Chive flowers can also be used as herbs.
Iceland poppies are hardy perennial found in many parts in the world.
Just like our earlier encounters, the lavender had yet reached their full bloom at Tomita.
But that wouldn’t discourage visitors to pose for photos in the lavender fields.
The scent of lavender filled the air.
The sloped lavender field is the favorite photo spot for many visitors coming to Tomita.
We could imagine the layers of purple waves in a few weeks’ time.
Many love to stand in the rows of lavender for photos.
Somehow the sloped terrain of the field was perfect for appreciating the layering lavender.
Other types of lavender had yet developed their buds.
A number of houses in the farm contain displays of old distillery tools.
As well as information on essence extract process.
At Tomita, many souvenirs are made with lavender essence, including bathing soap.
Not as famous as Yubari (夕張) Melon, Furano Melon is nonetheless the must-have snacks for tourists coming to the farm.
After a relaxing stroll in the farm, it was time for us to bid farewell to Tomita and moved on the the nearby Biei.
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.
Run by the municipal government, the Choei Lavender Farm offers visitors in town the first glance of this year’s lavender.
The ski lift of Choei Lavender Farm would operate between late June to August.
Up on the slope at Choei Lavender Farm, we could see the lush-green lavender plants standing in front of the distant mountains.
A small area of Choei Lavender Farm, was dedicated to white lavender.
Too bad we couldn’t take the sky lift up the slope.
We came few weeks too earlier, as most lavender plants were far from full bloom while we were there.
Despite of that, we still enjoyed taking photos of the iconic lavender of Furano.
Choei Lavender Farm consists of rows after rows of lavender plants on the slope. During full bloom, the slope would turn violet in colour.
Just a few minutes of drive from Choei lies Saika no Sato Lavender Farm, another popular farm in Nakafurano famous for lavender fields.
At Saika no Sato Lavender Farm, we stopped by its cafe for a drink.
We ordered their signature purple heart drink: lavender ice in calpris, a Japanese soft drink that is somewhat milky and vanilla flavored.
Similar to Choei Lavender Farm, we were once again too early for the lavender fields in Saika no Sato.
Depending on the type, the lavender in Saika no Sato had a slightly deeper hue of purple than the ones we saw in Choei.
While lavender might not be at its best, we did appreciate seeing other beautiful spring flowers in Saika no Sato.
The 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.