Hokkaido’s Biei and Furano towns attract domestic and foreign tourists every summer because of their flower farms and breathtaking landscapes. In July and August, lavender blooms and the farming fields are filled with different hues of green and yellow. However, public transportation in Hokkaido is not cheap. The easiest way to get around is by renting a car. What is the option, then, for tourists unable to drive?
The good news is that Japan Rail is offering tourists and residents of Japan an unlimited Furano Biei Rail Ticket for 6500 yen for four days. From Sapporo, it gives travelers a two-way free ticket to the unreserved seats of the Limited Express Kamui and Lilac Trains to Asahikawa or Furano Lavender Express directly to Furano. The ticket also includes unlimited rides on the JR local trains from Asahikawa to Furano, allowing travelers to take time in exploring the scenic areas of Furano and Biei.
Aside from this, the holder of the ticket can also ride the Furano-Biei Norokko Train, a vintage train car that takes you to the key stations from Asahikawa to Furano. This tourist train carriage is only in service during the lavender season from June to September.
The Furano-Biei Rail Ticket is economical and convenient for tourists who are unable to rent a car. Here are some schedule tips and a suggested itinerary to maximize your use of this ticket pass.
During July and August, the Furano Lavender Express is usually extra crowded with tourists coming from different parts of the country. There is a bigger chance to secure a seat using the Limited Express Kamui and Lilac Trains. The train ride is also shorter (1 hour and 25 minutes) compared to the Furano Lavender Express (2 hours).
If you are using the Furano Biei Rail Ticket, it is also a better option to stay in Asahikawa as there are many cheap hotels in this city compared to Furano and Biei. Asahikawa is a booming city in this part of Hokkaido and is known for its 50-year old zoo. It’s not difficult to find some local delicacies, too; for example, in front of Asahikawa Station, there is a long road full of shops and restaurants.
For your first day, after checking in to your hotel, spend the afternoon exploring Biei town. Biei is a 30-minute train ride from Asahikawa. If you have enough time, visit the Blue Pond by riding a bus in Biei going to Shirogane. The bus stop is in front of Asahikawa Bank (Biei), not in front of Biei Station. You may ask the Biei Tourist Information Center near Biei Station to be sure where to go.
The bus only runs five times a day so be sure to check the schedule. Spend an hour or less there and catch the bus going back to Biei Town. Spend your evening in this quiet area and have some yakiniku or Biei ramen. Biei is a quaint, charming town with small, old buildings. The year when the buildings were created is shown in front of the building. The whole town looks like a movie set!
Your second day can be spent exploring the flower farms in the town of Furano. Catch the 7:40am local train to Lavender Batake or Naka Furano (there are only special days where Lavender Batake is open). Visit the famous Farm Tomita and take gorgeous pictures with many different flowers.
Try the local lavender ice cream while viewing the spectacular flower landscape. Try their melon desserts too in Tomita Melon House; it’s one of the best I have ever tasted! Bring some fresh lavender from their store or opt to buy some other lavender goodies. Farm Tomita is known not just for its lavender fields but also for their poppies, rapeseed fields, and other in-season flowers. This farm really burst into different shades of colors in the summer season.
After Farm Tomita, walk for ten minutes, or catch a shared taxi from Tomita Melon House for 200 yen, to Choei Lavender Farm. This is a ski resort in the winter but is converted into a lavender farm in the summer. There is a ski lift that you can take for 300 yen (return) to go up to the mountain to see the magnificent view of Furano town. The lavender covering the hill of this farm is a really a sight to behold. You can relax at the mountaintop for a great view of the lavender and the town of Furano.
Catch the train to go back to Kami-Furano Station and explore the Hinode Park Lavender Garden and Flower Land Kamifurano. If you have time, you can also visit the Miyama Toga Park with its “trick eye” museum, Ferris wheel, ice cream factory, and much more. It’s a perfect way to end your afternoon!
The Biei Hills are quite famous in the summer because of their beautiful landscape. They can be reached by bicycle although it is more difficult to use an ordinary bicycle compared to the electronic one. When you rent a bicycle in one of the shops near Biei Station, the shop staff will give you a map and direct you to the key places to go. This is a great guide as some areas are still unsearchable in Google Maps.
Some of the famous areas are Ken and Mary Tree, Hokusei-no-Oka View Park, Shikisai-no-Oka, the Parent and Child Tree, and more. However, I suggest you get lost along the way and discover endless fields of different hues! You can see different kinds of fields in an explosion of green and yellow colors, including onion, buckwheat, wheat, malt, and barley.
Be careful not to enter the fields as they are private areas, but feel free to take photographs and enjoy their beauty. Lastly, if you still have time to spare, visit the Takushinkan, a gallery that showcases the hills of Biei in every season.
For your last day, ride the Norokko Train from Asahikawa to Furano main town. The first trip from Asahikawa starts at 10:00am and a reserved seat costs an additional 520 yen. If you don’t want to pay the additional fee, go to the station thirty minutes before the departure time to secure a seat in the unreserved area of the train. The Norokko Train is a great way to see the landscape of Asahikawa, Biei, and Furano.
At Furano Station, you can drop by the Furano Drama Kan for some souvenirs. If you’re familiar with television dramas filmed in Furano like Kita-no-Kuni Kara or Kaze-no-Garden, you will really like this place.
If you like cheese, Furano Cheese Factory is a nice place to visit. You can visit these places by hiring a taxi at Furano Station or renting a bicycle. For lunch or snacks, go to Furano Marche, which is about five minutes by food from Furano Station. The place offers local produce and delicious food.
If you think the Furano-Biei Rail Ticket is not for you and you will not spend four days in Central Hokkaido, then JR also offers a Lavender One Day Ticket, an unlimited local train pass from Asahikawa to Furano for 2500 yen. These are economical options in getting around these towns in Central Hokkaido even without your own car. The JR Furano Biei Rail Ticket is only available from the end of April to October 2017 so be sure to book it while you can and get the most out of this beautiful area.