The city of Furano is famously known as the belly button of Hokkaido, thanks to its location in the middle of Japan’s northernmost island. In the winter months, snow falls thick and fast, while in summertime, endless lavender fields paint the land purple. Furano is also where you’ll find Japan’s best vineyard, as well as some of its strangest festivals. And while Hokkaido’s capital city of Sapporo is where most visitors flock, Furano is arguably Hokkaido’s true cultural (as well as geographical) centre thanks to the variety of its festivals and activities year-round. From skiing in the winter to hiking in the summer, plus the chance to enjoy the finest Japanese wine, Furano has plenty to offer its visitors in every season.
As the winter snow melts and the flowers start to bloom, in the months when the grass is greenest and the air is crisp and fresh, spring is the perfect time to explore the landscape surrounding Furano on your feet or on a bicycle. The spring months in Furano stretch across March, April and May.
Cross the landscape on your bicycle
When the snow has finally melted but the intense heat of summer hasn’t set in yet, the temperate weather of spring in Furano means renting a bicycle and exploring the countryside is ideal. The area is well set up with cycle paths, making it a popular place to traverse on two wheels. If you have a whole day to dedicate to cycling, you can cycle the roughly 32km (20mi) north from Furano to the neighbouring town of Biei. The route is flat and framed by fields of flowers, grassy meadows and a lone tree here and there billowing in the wind. The landscape surrounding Biei is ideal for exploration; the town hosts its own annual marathon, through white birch trees and over gentle hills.
Discover the magical Blue Pond
While exploring the landscape around Furano, make sure to stop at the Blue Pond. One of nature’s beautiful mysteries, this peaceful little lake, which is surrounded at its edges by larch trees, appears to glow a cobalt blue. It’s best visited in May, when the pond shines at its most vibrant. On a clear spring day in May, the mystical reflection of the sky in the water shows the Blue Pond at its most spectacular, so make sure to head out on a cloudless day. The unique colour of the Blue Pond resulted from a large amount of colloidal aluminium hydroxide (also known as the mineral gibbsite) in the water.
The summer months of June, July and August bring with them all the beauty and vibrancy that make Furano such a spectacular place to visit. July is when the lavender fields that surround Furano are in full bloom, and to accompany them is the festival that celebrates the city’s famous nickname.
Explore the legendary lavender fields of Hokkaido
In Hokkaido, winter means snow and summer means lavender. And in the land surrounding Furano, you’ll find oceans of endless, and vibrantly purple, lavender fields in the summer months. The fields begin to bloom in May and continue until October, making the blue-skied months of June and July the perfect time to wander through the lavender. You’ll find the majority of these seas of lavender at Farm Tomita, which owns 13 of the best and most captivating lavender fields in Hokkaido. You can either take a hike to the farm or rent a bicycle to cycle between the picturesque fields.
Celebrate belly buttons in style with the Heso Matsuri
At the very end of July, Furano celebrates its status as the ‘belly button of Hokkaido’ with the Heso Matsuri (literally ‘belly button festival’). The festival is one of the happiest and silliest in Japan, playing host to a two-day-long dance competition in which dancers draw cartoon faces on their bellies. There’s also a large selection of food stalls selling local dishes such as omukare (Japanese curry omelette) and other regional specialties. The festival has been an enormous summer celebration for decades, and has grown in size since it started in 1969. Today the number of dancers with faces on their bellies alone reaches 4,000, let alone the crowds that gather to experience the festivities. Furano even has a shrine dedicated to belly buttons, the Heso Shrine, and during the festival it acts as a centrepiece for the celebrations.
As summer fades into autumn, the flower fields of Furano remain in bloom and start to mix with the reds and oranges of the trees that line the landscape. Autumn in Furano runs from September to November, and early autumn is the perfect time to visit Furano’s winery and taste Hokkaido wine.
Taste local wine at Furano Winery
Japan is better known for its sake and whisky than for its wine, but Japanese wine is on the up, and Furano is home to its own winery. The winery takes advantage of the nearby fields to infuse some of its wine with lavender – something completely unique to the area and to this specific winery. Visiting the winery in the early autumn is spectacular, as the summer heat has passed, the wine is still being harvested and the lavender fields are still in bloom. Join one of the winery’s tours or wine tastings before exploring its picturesque grounds.
Hike across Daisetsuzan National Park
The largest national park in Hokkaido, Daisetsuzan, can be found just outside Furano. Daisetsuzan National Park is home to three mountain ranges and more than eight unique mountains, between which rivers, waterfalls, green hills and forests decorate the landscape. The park is at its most beautiful in the autumn months of September and October, before the snow starts to fall. This is when the leaves change to shades of brown, red and gold, but the flowers of the Hokkaido summer are still in bloom. Autumn also brings with it some pleasant weather that’s ideal for hiking high and far across the park.
Hokkaido is best known for its winter activities and is most commonly pictured with a dusting of snow. And Furano, with its mountainous terrain, is a snow-lover’s paradise in the winter, which extends from December until February. Furano receives an incredible amount of snow each year, making it one of the best places to be if you’re coming to Hokkaido to ski.
Celebrate winter at the Furano Ski Festival
When the snow is at its deepest, on the first two days of February each year, Furano celebrates its second-largest festival (after the summer Heso Matsuri): the Furano Ski Festival. The highlights of this fantastic, snow-covered festival include an enormous fireworks display and a massive ice castle that includes ice slides you can glide down. A bazaar also opens during the festival selling food from the region. There, you’ll find hot drinks, wine, beer and various Japanese hot delicacies to fill up on – the perfect pick-me-up before the fireworks go off. Try to time a ski holiday to coincide with the festival for the ultimate cherry on top of your ski trip.
Go beyond skiing and experience Furano in winter in a hot-air balloon or on a sled
Furano Ski Resort is one of the most popular places in Hokkaido to ski and snowboard during the months of December, January and February. But these aren’t the only winter activities to discover. You can head out on a dog sled and be taken across the landscape near the ski slopes. Alternatively, you can fly high into the air on a hot-air balloon ride that takes you over the peaks of Daisetsuzan National Park, which are particularly charming while coated in a perfect blanket of white snow. Look out for skiers below you on one side and the striking peaks of the national park on the other. If you prefer to keep your feet firmly on the ground, strap on some snowshoes, which can be hired from shops in town, and take a winter hike instead.