Furano (富良野), located in the geographical center of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, is an amalgamation of several quaint farming towns around a small municipal center. Furano is famous for its remarkably light and dry powder snow, beautiful fields of lavender, entirely domestic vineyards, and its unique Hokkaido Belly Button Festival.
Furano is known as Heso no Machi (the Belly Button Town) due to its central location. 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 a light jacket is recommended even in the summer. Summer midday temperatures may exceed 30 degrees C, and midwinters will drop below -30. Furano has very heavy snowfall in the winter.
The population is approximately 26,000, 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 the major hotel and tourist areas.
There has been a substantial increase in foreign skiers and snowboarders, particularly from Australia, in recent seasons. At least 2,000 Australians visited Furano in the 06/07 winter. Furano seems set to enjoy the same skiing success that Niseko has.
Meanwhile, the valley north of Furano has become more and more famous for its summertime lavender fields, which draw multitudes of visitors from Taiwan and China as well as from all over Japan.
Furano has indirect train service from Sapporo and New Chitose Airport. All trains require a transfer at Takikawa station. 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.
Lavender Express Bus, . This line provides connections from Biei, Asahikawa Airport, and JR Asahikawa Station.edit
New Chitose Airport Shuttle Bus, . Winter.. This shuttle bus goes directly from the ski slopes to the airport. Check the timing, though, because some flights land at the airport after the last day's shuttle, which could lead to a very expensive taxi ride. It should be possible to reserve seats on this bus by emailing Prai Travel Services.edit
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. The closest expressway exit is Takikawa, about 45 minutes away. In good weather, it takes about 3 hours to reach Furano from Sapporo and 1 hour from Asahikawa. Driving to Furano in winter can be quite dangerous and is generally not recommended — unexpected blizzards, snow drifts, and icy roads are common.
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 directly across the street from the entrance to JR Furano Station. Conveniently, their office is shared with the Furano Tourist Association, which can provide advice on how to reach tourist attractions by bus. Overall, the bus service is poor, with only a few buses each day going to many of the major destinations.
Due to the lack of effective public transportation, taxi services in Furano are very good. The largest carrier, Furano Taxi, has a cell-phone interpretation system which can provide service in English, Chinese, and Korean. Their fleet also contains wheelchair-accessible and other special-needs vehicles. For a small group, taxi can be quite affordable, with fares to many tourist attractions under 2,000 yen per trip. There is a 20% fare increase for late night (10pm to 5am) or winter (Nov 25 to Mar 31) services.
Furano has a high traffic accident rate and one of the highest fatality rates for accidents in Japan. Rights of way are often confusingly marked on back and rural roads, where locals will often drive in excess of 100 kph. Driving is not recommended during the peak summer holidays (o-bon or local festival periods) due to the severe traffic congestion. If you are unfamiliar with winter driving in Japan, do not start here. A four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended. Many minor roads will be solid ice, and major roads may ice or drift over during the evening and early morning. The stop lines and center lines will be completely invisible at many intersections — look for the blue signs which designate them. With that said, Furano has a generally poor public transit system, and many of Furano's unique attractions are best reached by car. Be careful when drinking — even a sip of wine puts one over the legal driving limit in Japan.
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 Cheese Factory (富良野チーズ工房 Furano Chizu Kobo), 字中５区 (Near the New Furano Prince Hotel.), ☎ +81 0167 23-1156 (email@example.com), . Apr-Oct 9AM-5PM, Nov-Mar 9AM-4PM. This factory and small museum was built in the 1980s. You can see the cheese getting produced downstairs, while upstairs you can buy from the shop. A specialty item is the cuttlefish ink cheese, Camembert-style with white mold and black cream colored by cuttlefish ink. If you have time, a hands-on project — making cheese or ice cream — could be fun.Tours are free; workshop prices vary. (43.320955,142.378972)edit
Furano Winery, (3 km from Furano Station.). Watch the bottling of wines, sample the locally made wines, and buy bottles to take home.edit
Hokkaido Belly Button Festival (Hokkai-Heso Matsuri). edit
Kami-Furano Pioneer Memorial Museum (上富良野町開拓記念館 Kamifurano-cho kaitaku kinenkan), North 28, West 3, Kami-Furano (On the east side of Highway 291, 200m S of the junction with Highway 237.), ☎ +81 0167-45-3158. May, Jun, Sep, Oct Sa-Su 9AM-4PM; Jul-Aug Tu-Su 9AM-4PM. This small museum is dedicated to the history of Kami-Furano, the northern part of the greater Furano area. There are photos of (locally) famous people and of volcanic eruptions that impacted the region in the last century. The garden outside has lavendar and other flowers, and also some shaded picnic tables.Free. (43.481371,142.464277)edit
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.
Ningle Terrace (Ninguru Terrace), (Near New Furano Prince Hotel.). This collection of small shops, built in small log huts, sells various items. One lady makes snowflakes out of silver, with a unique mold for each flake. Another shop sells rural landscape pictures. There's also a small glass maker.edit
Seoul Terrace, (Between the hospital and Furano Station on 5th Street.). A Korean restaurant operated by a Korean couple. Nearly everything is handmade. Authentic Korean dishes and Japanese fusions. Portions are a little small, so order a side dish.¥800-1500. edit
Masaya, (Between Furano Marche and Furano Station on 5th Street.). An okonamiyaki shop that is very with locals and travelers. The owner is very entertaining and speaks excellent English.¥800-1000. edit
Yama no Doxon. Tu-Su. This restaurant, also known as the Furano Beer Hall, has microbrews on tap, fresh bread, smoked meats, local cheeses, and other food.Lunch ¥600-1000, dinner ¥1200-1400, all you can eat and drink ¥3000. edit
Furano Delice, (Kitanomine.). Sells milk pudding and cakes.Snacks ¥400 and up. edit
Tomizushi, (Near 7-11, Kitanomine.). A large range of fantastic sushi even including the surprisingly delicious raw horse. Has an English menu.edit
Syoujiki Mura, (Kitanomine.). Serves a range of ramen and Japanese curries. Great food, English speaking waitress and menu.edit
Tirol Lamb BBQ, (Downstairs from Cafe Tirol, Kitanomine.). Korean-style "cook it yourself on the table-top" restaurant. Little English is spoken, though the staff are friendly. Local wine by the glass or bottle.Lamb sirloin ¥650, lamp chops ¥980, 90 minute all you can eat and drink ¥4000. edit
JUN Restaurant, (New Furano Hotel, Kitanomine.). This hotel restaurant is rather expensive, but conveniently located for skiers.edit
Panier, (Tucked away off the main roads of Kitanomine.). It serves a little of everything, including pizza and pasta as well as japanese style curries — including their special, a black curry. Cheap and tasty.edit
Kumagera, 3-22 Hinodemachi (turn left [toward Obihiro] on main road by station, then right at the first corner), ☎ 0167-39-2345, . Friendly staff offers many local specialties and nabe (hot-pot) meals cooked at the table. Bar in basement. Multilingual menu: Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean. A good place to pass the time between trains. Look for their black woodpecker logo.edit
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.
Furano Winery. These wines can be bought from the winery itself, or in restaurants and gift shops around town. There are white, rose and red wines available, as well as the local speciality — lavender wine. The white wine can also be bought with lavender, which has a subtle undertaste.edit
Furano Brewery, (At Kitanomine Ski Area.). This brewery has a pilsner, a dark ale, a light ale, and seasonal specials. If the brewery is closed but you'd like some of its beer anyway, try some restaurants around town.edit
The Bridge, 8-3 Saiwai-cho (On 5th Avenue, 5 minutes from the station), ☎ +81 050-1365-8825. Daily 8PM-2AM. An American-style pool bar in downtown Furano. The owner is an ex-pat American who has been living in Furano for a long time. A great place to enjoy cocktails and pub food while mingling with locals and foreigners. Free billiards. Smoke free.¥500 and up. edit
Alpine Backpackers Hostel, (Close to the Furano Ski Area rope way.), ☎ 0167-22-1311, . A small hostel. The manager speaks some English. It has WiFi and a computer, a small kitchen with equipment, a simple onsen, a living room and eating facility where you can buy western-style breakfast. The manager organizes outdoor activities from the outfitter office next door.Dorm beds ¥2500-2700, twin ¥5,400. edit
Petit Hotel Suzuran, 17-6, Kitanomine (in front of Furano Ski Ground (Kitanomine side)), ☎ +81 167 22-3667, . checkin: 3:30PM; checkout: 10AM. A family owned hotel near lavender fields with English-speaking staff and WiFi.edit
Cottage North Hill Sasaki, (80m from Furano Ski Ground on the Kitanomine side.), . checkin: 3:30PM; checkout: 9:30AM. A house good for families, short term or long term.edit
Furano Prince Hotel, (Located next to the single chair lift in the Kitanomine area.), . edit
New Furano Prince Hotel, (Near the High-Speed Ropeway in the Furano Ski Area.), . This upmarket hotel has a bakery and large gift shop.edit
New Furano Hotel, (1 minute walk from the Kitanomine Gondola.), . While the management is friendly, they don't speak much English. Rooms are small but clean. There are vending machines with beer, as well as a gift shop, ski and snowboard lockers, a restaurant, wireless internet at the JUN Restaurant, public baths, a game room, a tea room, and coin laundry.edit
Minshuku Mutsukari, 8-13 Midorimachi, Furano, Hokkaido 076-0021, Japan (Take a left out of the train station, past the bike hire place and then left again at the corner. About 10 min walk down this road you pass a post office and join Route 38. Keep going straight and the Minshuku is on the right-hand side of the road opposite Lawson.), ☎ +81 0167 22-3261, . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 10AM. This Minshuku is a further away from the ski slopes, but it's nice, has free parking and no curfew. The house leans a little and the tatami rooms are not brand new, but the landlady is lovely and you can have meals included if you wish. They have a Japanese-style (single-sex shared) bath for relaxing after a hard day on the slopes. There is a bus stop outside.¥6000. (43.337198,142.395138)edit
Fresh Powder Apartments Furano, 14-26 Kitanomine (Across the street from Kitanomine Ski Hill, 40 m from Kitanomine Gondola.), ☎ +81 0167 23-4738, . checkin: 3PM; checkout: 10AM. Self-contained apartments ranging from studio to 3BR, each with a full kitchen, private laundry, bath/shower, English TV, and internet access. Ideal for families and international visitors on long stays.Fully furnished studio from ¥16,000. edit
Taiyo no Sato Campground (山部自然公園太陽の里), Nishi 19, Yamabe (From Highway 38 in Yamabe, southern Furano, take Highway 706 west several kilometers.), ☎ +81 0167 39-2312. This is a very large campground in the foothills of the mountains. There is a very small store here that sometimes has fresh vegetables and little else, so stock up in town. There are spots for tents and RVs.Free. (43.246469,142.340627)edit