The lavender paradise that is Furano lasts all summer, but it’s not like this area is a one-hit-wonder. All of Hokkaido is stunning in winter, with snowy landscapes, cozy hot springs and scrumptious food that never disappoints. And Furano is no different. So here’s what can you do in Furano and the surrounding area if you visit in winter.
A dip in the Tokachidake hot spring “Ryounkaku” will be the highest altitude soak you can have in Hokkaido and one of the top 5 highest in Japan. At an altitude of 1,280m, this is the highest hot spring in Hokkaido. With more than 40 years of history, this onsen is especially appreciated by hikers and skiers, as it offers healing heat that high in the mountains. “Ryounkaku” actually means “an inn above the clouds”.
It has an indoor bath, one for both genders, and an outdoor bath, or rotenburo, which is the real superstar of this onsen. The views from this rotenburo facing the mountains are stunning at an any time of year, and are especially serene in winter when everything is blanketed by snow. The hot spring water is naturally brownish-yellow, full of healing minerals like calcium sodium sulfate, but make note that your skin will require a good scrub afterwards.
If not bathing, you can still enjoy great views from the onsen’s restaurant.
The official Facebook page for details
Access: You can rent-a-car and drive, or hire a taxi tour provided by Furano Tourism Association. There are options for direct airport pick-up.
Apart from the so-called Road to Heaven (Shari Highway, Route 244) and the Shiretoko Highway (Route 334 east of Shari), there is one of those impressive long straight roads near Furano as well. It’s nicknamed “Rollercoaster Road” and you will drive on it as you pass the famous lavender fields of Tomita farm and go towards the “Ryounkaku” onsen.
Make sure to drive slowly and enjoy the ride, and then pull up to the side to go out and have a proper look at the landscape. This is not a very busy road, so it might be possible to take pictures in the middle of the road.
This unbelievably blue pond is no Instagram filter – it’s very real, and very blue. You might be surprised to find out, but the Shirogane Blue Pond is very young – it was formed after the eruption of nearby Mt. Tokachi in 1988. The Biei river was dammed to stop volcanic mud-flow, so in many ways this pond is both natural and artificial. Actually, even the locals didn’t know about it for many years until it was discovered by a photographer!
The naturally blue water is due to mixing with aluminum from the cliffs in Shirahige Falls, after which it goes to fill the pond, and sulfur and lime which whiten the bottom. This chemical cocktail killed the trees, but that only gave more eerie beauty to the pond.
Nature is always stunning, but if we must choose, it’s best seeing the Blue Pond in late fall and winter. When the pond is not reflecting a sunny sky it actually becomes bluer and it goes to show its natural blue. When covered by snow, the Blue Pond is a winter fairy tale straight out of a book! This is also a better time in terms of crowds, as many people combine a trip to the lavender fields with the Blue pond in summer. As any popular tourist spot, weekdays are better for a visit than weekends, if you can choose.
There are many ways of getting there straight from Sapporo or straight from New Chitose airport, as well as bus tours and taxi sightseeing tours.
Mouthwatering food is what Hokkaido’s famous for, so after eating your way through Furano, you might naturally want to bring back as much local food as your suitcase can carry. Kyohsai Farm in Furano offers just that, plus extra – with their jam-making sessions. You start with fresh fruit and detailed instructions, and after an hour you have handmade jam and original labels you can design. They also have over 35 different jams you can taste and buy from their shop.
Participation Fee: 1,200 yen(tax included)
Time: 10 AM and 2 PM – held twice daily
Reservations need to be made in advance, at least 1 day in advance
For more details visit their official website
Fun fact: Kyohsai Farm has a playroom and a gallery dedicated to the popular character from a children’s anime called Anpanman. The only shop in Japan to be connected directly to the author of Anpanman, Takashi Yanase, they even have original artwork signed by him.
Kyohsai Farm is located around 20km away from the city center of Furano, Hokkaido and is best accessed by car.
In Furano, you can buy everything in a lavender version – even lavender chocolate, and lavender wine! Check out the omiyage shops that are bursting with lavender products all year round, so you can take some of that prize-winning lavender even if you visit out of its season.
As anywhere in Hokkaido, in Furano you can try some of Japan’s tastiest potatoes, corn and pumpkin – all in season in autumn. In some specialized shops you can buy unique potato varieties, like pink and lilac potatoes, that have been created recently and are only available in Hokkaido.
Don’t miss out on dairy and meat, as both are also considered extremely delicious in Hokkaido. On a cold autumn or winter day head into a cozy restaurant and see if they have a nabe hotpot with game meat, deer meat being one of the more popular choices.
For more about Furano check out Kamifurano Tokachidake Tourist Association website and Furano Tourism website that feature up to date information on local events and festivals, tours, taxi and car rentals and so much more.
There you can find important advice, and the crucial one for winter is: Please don’t go into the snowy field as you might damage the lavender seeds planted under the snow.
For Social Media updates, check out their Facebook page