After the trip representing Xtrekkers to the Southern part of Hokkaido Island, another invitation came out to check out the central parts of Hokkaido – Furano, BiEi and Hoshino Resorts Tomamu – thanks to the Tourism office of Hokkaido.
Most of the time when people think of Hokkaido during winter, the thoughts would automatically go to the snow fields of Niseko. I have visited it during Autumn during my last trip to Hokkaido. Beautiful place indeed but like most touristy place, it is also pretty crowded.
Personally I would love to visit places that the locals go to have that bit of authenticity and also to avoid the crowd as much as I can. As far as I am concerned, the snow in Hokkaido is pretty consistently powdery through my journey and I won’t be surprise it has the same. Even Yamagata which is further south is okay too.
So what are the other alternatives to Niseko? You can follow the itinerary being done for this trip and adjust from there. Suffice to say, if you enjoy a place a lot, even if you stay there for 2 months you will feel it is too short. Yes, this trip is too short but most importantly, make full use of the time there to create memories. Hokkaido is certain a good place to do it.
Day 1: Singapore – Taipei- Chitose-Biei
I took a Scoot flight (www.flyscoot.com) from Singapore to Hokkaido via Taipei and there is a one-hour transit at Taipei itself. There’s also a direct flight to Hokkaido too but it is during winter period and only for certain days (last checked a direct flight on Sunday 4 Feb is only SGD178!!). Needless to say direct flights are always welcomed.
Tip: I always upgrade to the seats upfront in Scoot especially on connecting flights so you get back to the transit area at the fastest possible time. For the transit in Taipei, I was able to fully utilise my time to have Beef Noodles (红烧牛肉面) and Braised Pork Rice (卤肉饭) on the way back with time to spare to join the Q to get back on board. At least it taste nicer than the food on the plane right?
We arrived at Chitose Airport (CTS) at around 3pm and it is already blue hour. Sato-san and Yuka-san meet us Larry (@lkzx), Chloe (@chloetwl) and me (@wilzworkz_wilswong) at the airport and we are promptly huddled up to the van. People…it was minus temperature. Huddling up is not fast enough okay!! But still I can do this…
We arrived at Biei Hotel Parkhills. It is a simple no frills local 3-star hotel that has all the necessary amenities and Shirogane is an on-sen village (on-sen is a must in winter!). What I do like about this place is its proximity to the two landscape hotspot – the Shirahige Waterfalls and Aoiike Blue Pond.
600m above sea level, 30m tall the waterfall spreads out forming a triangular shape like a moustache or beard hence its name Shirahige or White Beard. The water is actually blue in colour because the source is natural hot spring. The water then created the Blue River that flows downward towards the man-made Blue Pond.
I took the shot in the early Blue Hour morning at around 6.30am. Boy it was super damn cold. Heat packs definitely needed and thank goodness the 90 dollars down feather jacket I got from Decathlon actually works superbly well to block the cold (my meat-tec and heattech from Uniqlo works too!). Shot with Huawei Mate 10 Pro edited with Snapseed.
The other highlight around Shirogane area is the Blue Pond. This man made pond is constructed next to the Blue River to deal with volcanic sand erosion and during Summer you can actually see the blue colour. The Blue hue is caused by the aluminium in the water
During Winter, once the river freezes over, the snow covers the pond easily. The top view of the Pond does gives it a hint of the beautiful blue right beneath it (or maybe it is just my crappy White Balance). Shot with Huawei Mate 10 Pro and DJI Spark.
There are other spots I have yet to explore that I might plan in upcoming photography trips to Hokkaido including Shirakaba Kaidou and Tokachidake Observatory (with Milkyway).
Day 2: Shikisai-no-oka / Goto Sumio Art Gallery-Museum / Farm Tomita / Furano Marche / Fukuzushi / New Furano Prince Hotel
Hokkaido in most seasons is known as the land of Lavenders and one of those places where you can visit them in abundance is at Shikisai-no-oka or in English the Hill of the Colours of the Four Seasons (officially it is called Panoramic Flower Gardens). While White is technically a colour so they are so correct. Even though the whole field is now covered in snow, you still can enjoy this beautiful place by going through the whole property in snow mobile. Oh boy that is super fun if you never do any snow mobile before.
For our lunch stop we went to Goto Sumio Museum at Kamifurano (or top of Furano). Sumio Goto was (yup he just passed on) is a famous watercolourist and his works were exhibited all over the world. You may think that he just have some painting but it takes one to see it with their own eyes what a master he is. Pigments from plants and minerals are expertly used to create 3D effects on the paintings itself. Photos here don’t do this painting any justice at all.
He has this multi-panel painting of two Sakura trees that is overlaid with gold and platinium foil. The interesting tit-bit – the trees are not together in a real life but situated apart. Once you are there just staring at it, it was as though you are amongst the trees with the sunset rays running through the branches.
He has another masterpiece that is based on China’s Huangshan. The enormity of the task of drawing multiple panels took years to complete. Check out the silver and gold overlays and the overall effect is breathtakingIt is only people who has full conviction of their work can pull such works of art. You seriously have to see it to believe it.
If you think that going to the Art Museum is only for the Art works, then you are wrong. Just go to the second floor of the Museum and there is a very good eatery called Furano Grill. I had a hamburger steak made of Japanese Pork and Beef. Superb! And the view of the fields beyond is just breathtaking as well!
Furano is actually the centre of the Rural community so having farmers market is definitely expected. The vegetables here are fresh and if you do know a thing or two about Hokkaido produce, the quality is definitely there (our food is always super fresh, super sweet and super tasty!). Two things I heartedly recommend – the Milk (and everything that has got to do with milk) and the Potato.
We were introduced to two places where you can get the local produce, Furano Marche and Biei Senka. I would recommend that you visit these markets towards the end of your trip if you are buying some local produce as souvenirs to bring back. Because the potato crisps are in bags, putting them in luggages will definitely need some precautionary measures (maybe just buy a box and dump everything in).
I would love to bring some of the potatoes back so I can baked them and eat with Hokkaido butter but the trip just started and decided not to get it. Well at least I did get myself some fantastic local beer! Yes do buy the limited edition Furano Vintage Sapporo Classic! And yes I brought one back for special occasion only (CNY!!)
After a whole day of traveling we arrived at New Furano Prince Hotel. Situated in the middle of the forested area and at the foot of the ski slopes so the hotel is well equipped for skiing and trekking activities. Yes it has On-sen. Yes it has a lift for skiers right outside the hotel and yes it has very nice room.
What’s nice about this place is the forest right beside the hotel. Inside the forest is the Ningle Terrace, small cottages housing small art and crafts businesses. The whole village got that romantic vibe to it and is definitely perfect for any wedding shoot.
There’s also this beautiful coffee place called the Mori no Tokei (Forest Clock Cafe). You grind your own beans and the staff slowly poor hot water over your freshly grounded coffee. Coffee lovers…you know a good place when you smell the coffee. If you are into photography and love to shoot portraiture, this is the place to be at your best.
We end our day at Fukuzushi famous for its super huge and fresh sushi. I had my omakase in Yamagata and totally miss the freshness of seafood when back home. Fukuzushi is located up in the mountains and yet its seafood is top-notch fresh too. I have no complaints whatsoever.
- Huawei Mate 10 Pro
Day 3: Smelt Fishing at Lake Kanayama / Lunch at Log Hotel Larch / Cheese Cake at Furano Delice / Tea Ceremony / Dinner at Ajito
The third day promises to be a day of experiences. I was quite pumped to try ice hole fishing actually, seeing Alaskans doing it near igloos. Well, in Hokkaido’s Lake Kanayama we do the same thing but we fish for smelt.
Smelt is a family of small fish found in the oceans and in Japan, the fresh water smelt is called Sprinchus lanceolatus. Yes it looks like shishamo we eat in the restaurants but the difference this time round is we deep fry it instead of BBQ. And I must add, Tohru Sakamoto-san (of North Gear) coated the fish with frying powder (something similar used with fried chicken) while the fish is still alive.
You can’t get any fresher than this. Yes….oiishi!!! Many congratulations to Larry for being the best fisherman amongst us three!
Lake Kanayama is actually quite picturesque. If you want an unforgettable honeymoon place, the Log Hotel Larch is a good option to consider just next to the lake. Even if you are not staying, have an afternoon tea at the restaurant too. Beautiful place.
There are deserts and there are DESERTS. Cheese cakes, especially Hokkaido ones are to die for. Look, the Hokkaido milk is one of the best if not the best. Thick, rich, creamy, fatty, filling…all the good stuff in life can be combined into one drink and the Hokkaido milk is it. And if the milk is heavenly, then the cheese from the milk won’t be shabby either.
So off we go to Furano Delice where they serve myriads types of Cheese cakes. I can only say, a trip to Hokkaido without eating the fresh Cheese cake is like coming to Singapore not having to eat Hainanese Chicken Rice + Fried Kway Teow + Chilli Crab all rolled into one (sorry to those lactose intolerant people…you miss a great thing).
After desert definitely need a cup of tea to wash down all the sweetness. Yes, time for tea ceremony. Seriously ah just for a cuppa have to go through a ceremony? For the uninitiated, going for a tea ceremony is a great way to understand and meet people.
Legend goes that a monk started the tea ceremony to make two warring warlords to meet and make peace. The tea ceremony is to let people come to a place of humility and be open to others. The spirit of tea ceremony, ichigo ichi-e ( 一期一会) is to inculcate into people to treasure all the interactions with others. Even though we might meet each other often, the moment of that one meeting will be lost forever. In short be thankful for small moments and meetings in life.
This is not the first time I went through the tea ceremony. The first proper one was done in Yamagata with proper kimono for both genders. This tea ceremony is held at the local community centre (very much like our own CCs) and is to allow foreigners to understand and experience tea ceremony. And the best part is that the local high school girls are the hosts for the ceremony, ensuring that this treasured tradition do not die out. It was fun attending it again and seeing the different styles employed in both occasions.
How do we end our day in Furano? A good ole dinner at Ajito! By now the stomach is bursting with fullness from the day’s food. But there is good reason to eat more!
Ajito is actually a pub where the skiers like to gather after a full day of fun on the slopes. When it comes to food, I will usually won’t discount pubs (until I learn my lesson when having the best beer battered fish and chips at a london pub). Ajito serves up several dishes that are nice but not really memorable until … their ‘Dutch Oven’ was served on the table.
It is a very simple dish actually. Pork, sausages, chicken, carrot, onions and yes the famous Hokkaido Potato are all mixed into this iron pot and simmered through. Simple yes. Taste. Out of this world. Damn even describing this dish is making me salivate!!! Do note, you have to pre-order this dish before going down as they have to get all the ingredients and simmer this dish. I will try to do it in Singapore!!
The other thing one should buy is Furano Bijou’s Chewy Fruit Ice. Furano Bijou is a desert shop that sells cakes, confectionary and the chewy fruit ice. It is tough to explain this but it has the texture of mochi, the freshness of fruits, is sweet but not to the level of a desert sweetness. You can go to its own shop to buy it or get it at Ajito where the fruit ice is matched with Hokkaido Ice Cream and sweet potato – a combination that is also flawless.
Day 4: Hoshino Resorts Tomamu
Moving from New Furano Prince (yes there’s the old one very near to Ajito), we moved to Hoshino Resorts Tomamu.
I shall be blunt. Hoshino Resorts Tomamu is unapologetically touristy. And yet it is also a very enjoyable place as well. I would say this place is great for family if you want activities for the whole clan.
What do they have during winter? Their iconic Ice Village. Ice Terrace and Cloud view at the top of the mountain via the Unkai Ropeway. Slopes they have plenty. There is even a man-made indoor beach you can swim during winter (I kid you not).
When it comes to eating, they have the Hotalu Street, a small little enclave with eateries that you can ski straight into it. There are cafes with cakes and sweets. Ramen, Curry, and Western restaurants too but the only one I had tried and seriously have no problem recommending is the Bowl & Roll House – Eni. Why? See the photos and ask again.
Once you eat your fill. Here comes the activities that will burn all the fats gained from the food!
After the lesson, we checked into our hotel rooms. I think ‘room’ is an understatement. Palace is think is apt. Jacuzzi by the bay window facing beautiful ski slope (or in the case of Chloe, the magnificent valley view), big living room, big wash room and get this…a SAUNA (and I still do not know how to on it).
Thanks for having us (Chloe, Larry and me)
- Yuka Amoh-san, representing the Prefecture
- Sato-san for planning the trip
- Tushima Kensuke-san of Furano City
- Yuta Sumi-san of Furano City
- Zhang Yi of Furano City
- Hisaki Ono-san of Goto Sumio Museum
- Tohru Sakamoto-san of North Gear for setting up our smelt fishing ‘expedition’
- Momoko Tsuchiya-san of Honshino Resorts Tomamu
There will be planned trips to Hokkaido in the coming months. If you are interested to join us for a special Milkyway shoot in May with Sakura and Snow mountain tops thrown in, then email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be updated once the itinerary is up.