Furano is known as Heso no Machi (the Belly Button Town) due to its location in the exact geographical centre of Hokkaido. This point is marked with a public monument in one of the town's elementary schools and there is an obvious path to it for public access.
Furano's inland location (almost 100 km -- about as far inland as Japan gets) and high elevation result in a continental climate, the reason behind Furano's successful ski hill and wine industries. There is a very large temperature variation, so it is best to wear layers and prepare for all weather. Summer midday temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celcius, and winters drop below -20C. Furano receives between 9 and 10 metres of snowfall each winter.
The region's population is approximately 23,000, including the incorporated communities in the outskirts. The population of the main municipal area is said to be about 16,000. Don't expect to meet a large number of English speakers outside of some hotels, some tourist attractions, or the Furano Visitor Centre at the train and bus station.
There is increasing interest from foreign skiers and snowboarders each winter, particularly from France, Finland, Canada, and Australia. Australians are well represented but international interest is more balanced here than Niseko, which has a more obvious Australian influence.
The valley north of Furano has always been famous for its summertime lavender fields and other flowers, which draw multitudes of visitors from Taiwan and China as well as from all over Japan. Furano receives 10 times the number of tourists in summer than it does in winter.
A long running Japanese television drama, Kita no Kuni Kara, was filmed in Rokugo, a region just outside Furano, and at other locations around town. This show was about a heartbroken father who brought his children from the city to the wilds of Hokkaido. Because of the show's 20-year run and vast popularity, Japanese people feel they know Furano well before they arrive.
Furano has indirect train service from Sapporo and New Chitose Airport. All trains require a transfer at Takikawa station. Please check the current timetable, but at the time of writing the last trains leave New Chitose Airport at 8:19PM and Sapporo at 9PM. In the winter, there is also a Ski Express Train from Sapporo which leaves at 8:04AM, and can also be accessed from the local airport train which leaves New Chitose at 6:53AM. There are 12 direct trains from Asahikawa on the JR Furano Line, with the last train leaving JR Asahikawa Station at 10:37PM.
If you are arriving at New Chitose Airport after 8PM, an expensive taxi ride might be necessary.Prai Travel has some discounts and can take reservations. It may cost ¥25,000-35,000 depending on season if booked in advance, and more if not.
Furano is accessible by Highway 237 and Highway 38. There is no direct expressway to Furano yet, however the expressway has been extended to Shimukkapu so the travel time to Furano from New Chitose airport is now about 2 hours. In 2016, tunneling works are continuing to bring the expressway directly to Furano. There is also an expressway to Takikawa, which is about 45 minutes away. In good weather, it takes about 2 hours to reach Furano from Sapporo and 1 hour from Asahikawa. Driving to Furano in winter requires road sense and experience driving on snow is helpful. The winter conditions cannot be underestimated, however speed limits are slow, local drivers are courteous, and all cars are fitted with suitable tyres.
The JR Furano Line runs north to Asahikawa, through the scenic Furano Valley, full of flower fields in the summer. The Furano-Biei Norokko tourist train runs daily from June through August and on weekends into the fall. It stops at Nakafurano with its lavender slopes, at the seasonal Lavender Field station near Farm Tomita, and at Kamifurano near Flower Land Kamifurano. Yamabe Station on the JR Nemuro Main Line east (toward Obihiro) offers access to mountain-climbing trails on Mount Ashibetsu, which is located within the Taiyou no Sato park, about 45 minutes' walk from the station.
Furano Bus provides most local bus services. The office is located next to the entrance to JR Furano Station. Conveniently, their office is next to the Furano Tourist Association, which can provide advice on how to reach tourist attractions by bus. There are 8 busses a day between The New Furano Prince Hotel and Asahikawa. This is the local bus and not a tourism bus, so first and last busses are not always convenient. Busses head to Asahikawa from about 6am but stop at around 4pm. Busses head to the Furano New Prince Hotel from Furano Station from around 11, having departed Asahikawa at around 9.30am. The bus has luggage storage underneath if required. When you board the bus, take a ticket. Surrender it when you alight and you will be charged per stop travelled. An indicative fare is Furano station to the New Furano Prince Hotel, which in 2016 cost 260 yen. Stops are announced in Japanese, English, Chinese and other languages.
Taxi services in Furano are very good. It is not customary to hail a taxi on the street, however they are always waiting at the train and bus station. Drivers for the most part will not speak English. Any business operator in Furano will gladly call you a taxi if you ask them to, saying 'taxi kudesai'. Taxis charge by the metre, not by set price, however set prices are advertised in winter to visit Tokachidake and other far off destinations. In 2016, indicative fares one way from the train and bus station in Furano are: New Furano Prince Hotel about 2000 yen (7km), Furano Cheese Factory about 1200 yen (3.5km), Furano Winery about 1200 yen (3.5km), Farm Tomita about 3000 yen (10km). Carry cash to pay the driver however some may offer credit card services. A normal sedan taxi seats 4 passengers plus the driver. A larger taxi (called a jumbo) seats 9 passengers plus the driver and costs around 40% more. These must be ordered by telephone.
To rent a car in Japan you must have an international driving permit issued in your home country. There is a Toyota rental office in Furano with an online booking system available in English. In peak tourism times, JR Trains also offer rental cars at the station in Furano. Winter driving conditions cannot be underestimated in Furano, and ice, blizzards and snow drift are issues. Japan drives on the left. Japanese stop signs are a red inverted triangle, not an octagon, which is very difficult to remember for foreign drivers. Also, around 9m of snow falls each winter so lines are not visible on the road surface from around November to March. Speed limits are slow in Hokkaido, 40km in Furano town, 60km on the main road to Asahikawa. But locals and tourists alike do not always follow the speed limit which creates added dangers. Roads around schools are completely off limits to cars during drop off times, but this is only signed in Japanese. Driving is arguably the best way to see the Furano area, although in July and at other peak times, congestion is very heavy. GPS machines can be configured to read telephone numbers and map codes, although they will most likely still direct you in Japanese. In Japan, the blood alcohol limit for drivers is zero. No alcohol can be consumed by the driver and your system must be 100% clear of alcohol.
Rental cycles may be found near the train station. With the station at your back, several souvenir shops on the left side have bicycles for rent. They may not offer a helmet (adults in Japan almost never use bicycle helmets) but helmets may be available if you ask. Many hotels and pensions will also lend out bicycles. It's safest to stay on sidewalks wherever possible.
It's quite possible to explore the small downtown area on foot. The Kitanomine ski village is also very accessible by foot, although winter conditions can be severe. Other areas, such as Rokugo, are quite spread out, with several kilometers between points of interest. During winter, one should be very careful of footing, as paths and streets are often slick ice.
Furano's main attractions are outdoors, though there are a few other options.
Furano is great for skiing and snowboarding, because of its deep and dry powder snow. If you go in peak season you can expect up to at least a meter of snow to fall in a week, making for fantasic fun! There are 2 areas for skiing in Furano: Furano Zone and Kitanomine Zone. One lift ticket is good for both areas. Also, a ski run goes from the Furano Zone to the Kitanomine Zone, and a lift connects the two. Both areas have several lifts, Kitanomine has a gondola, and Furano has a rope way. There are rest areas and restaurants at both ski areas.
Furano is close to many great hiking trails, including: Furano-dake, Ashibetsu-dake, and Tokachi-dake. The tourist office next to the station has the contact details of an outdoor activity center. In winter, snow-shoe hiking is especially good. You can be picked up from your hotel, driven to a remote location, and make fresh tracks up quiet and surreal snow-covered mountains. Hike over the top of bamboo forests, completely covered with snow.
Other winter activities include snowmobiling and ice-hole fishing.
Local goods include Furano Wine and carrot juice. Hotel shops and grocery stores sell these.
Alcohol can be bought from convenience stores or most hotels, either in the restaurants or via vending machines. There are several local businesses, as well.