*

Field of flowers in Naka Furano in Hokkaido. Photo fused with clouds

Field of flowers in Naka Furano in Hokkaido. Photo fused with clouds

*

Colour Your World in Furano

By Denis Plamondon

Photo: By Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

*

Furano is great multi-season destination. Located in a wide valley, some 140 kilometers east of Sapporo, this “lavender country” has something to offer everyone in each season. In winter, Furano promotes its cosy resorts and powdery snow ski slopes (international standards) to all skiers, snowboarders and cross-country skiers alike. In summer, activities range from canoeing, rafting, horseback riding and hiking to lifetime experiences like hot-air ballooning. There are also many farms, factories and a spectacular array of flowers to discover.

This region of Hokkaido most likely derives its name from the Ainu word Fu-Ra-Nui – referring to the sulfuric smell of the river. When making a hotel reservation, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that Furano has two districts: JR Station, accommodation and civic facilities are located in the downtown district, while many hotels, bars and restaurants are found in the Kitanomine district across the river, close to ski slopes.

No matter where you chose your base, most places are easily accessible with local transportation. The Kururu Shuttle Bus offers a day pass during the summer, which allows you to get on and off at the main attractions in a single day if you begin your journey early in the morning. Depending on where you’re staying, a good place to start is at the Highlands Furano with its radiant fields of lavender and refreshing hikes through the forest. Next en route is the Furano Winery where you can visit the cave and sample a variety of wines; you will probably end up buying a few bottles, the labels are particularly beautiful. Then, you can treat yourself to a fondue made from local cheese at the Wine House and benefit from a fantastic panorama of Furano. For fans of Japanese TV dramas, you can also enjoy a visit to the set of “From the Northern Country” which is filmed on location in Hokkaido.

If you’re going to Furano to admire the celebrated lavender fields and the beauty of their deep purple signature, you should plan a visit between mid-July and the beginning of August before harvest. In any case, a trip to Farm Tomita in Naka Furano will certainly be a highlight. This is where you’ll find the famous rainbow of colorful flowers advertised on the cover of most Hokkaido magazines. Lavender gives a pleasant experience with its unique aroma and color, but did you know that it has a fragrant taste as well? Find out more on your own and don’t miss the ice cream at Farm Tomita!

Pension Lavender is a lovely place to stay. For a delicious and inexpensive dinner, the Tirol Lamb BBQ next to Snow Flake Lodge is recommended, both owned by cheerful ski instructor Kojima Hisayuki. If you’re looking for a fun and friendly bar to hang out in the evening, Bar and Dining Ajito is your choice. Apparently, Aussie’s and Japanese warm up the place during the winter season. Lastly, don’t miss out on the abundance of sweet succulent melons and other fresh fruits, vegetables and local products.

*

Furano Valley: View from Farm Tomita in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

Furano Valley: View from Farm Tomita in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

*

Lavender field in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

Lavender field in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

*

Butterfly in Highland Furano

Butterfly in Highland Furano

*

Lotus flowers in a lovely pond in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

Lotus flowers in a lovely pond in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

*

Mushroom in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

Mushroom in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

*

Wineyards in Furano, Hokkaido

Wineyards in Furano, Hokkaido

*

Wine Barils in Furano Winery, Hokkaido

Wine Barrels in Furano Winery, Hokkaido

*

Cellar in Furano Winery in Hokkaido

Cellar in Furano Winery in Hokkaido

*

Wine labels with typical Furano colours in Hokkaido

Wine labels with typical Furano colors in Hokkaido

*

Rainbow of colourful flowers in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

Rainbow of colorful flowers in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

*

Sunflower field in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

Sunflower field in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

*

Hokkaido Mon Amour!

By Denis Plamondon

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

*

Rebun flowers with Rishiri volcano in the background

Rebun flowers with Rishiri volcano in the background

*

Hokkaido is a very large and unique island, so planning is best if you wish to optimize your journey within a given budget. In a series of articles to come, I will share with you the itinerary we chose, the decisions we made and the discoveries we enjoyed. As it was our first time traveling to this magnificent place, I can only talk about the selected period of our trip, the summer period between July 31 and August 12. Hokkaido has four very distinctive seasons, so you should decide when to go accordingly. In subsequent postings, I will be commenting about the surroundings of Lake Toya (Toyako), the Samurai Festival in Datemombetsu, the thermal and sulfuric landscapes of Noboribetsu, the Ainu museum and its culture in Shiraoi, the winery, the flowers and farmlands of Furano, the end of the railway in Wakkanai, the world of fishery, seaweed culture and other wonders on Rishiri and Rebun islands, and finally, the interesting city of Hakodate. Let’s start with transportation in Hokkaido.

*

Transportation

If you are a visitor to Japan, you will certainly benefit from the use of the Hokkaido JR Rail Pass,  but if you are already living in Japan you can only avail yourself of the more restricted Hokkaido Furii Pass or the popular seishun 18 ticket (seishun ju-hachi kippu). If time is not an issue, reaching Hokkaido on a ferry is an excellent option as well (Oarai to Tomakomai Ferry). The shinkansen and limited express trains will bring you there from Tokyo in 4 hours, but you can fly for more or less the same price with a few local airlines.

In reality, you are most likely to use different kinds of transportation, including taxis, during your holidays: we flew to Chitose Airport on the outskirts of Sapporo, and used the shinkansen only at the end on our way back to Tokyo (stopping in Matsushima for a little additional fun). In Hokkaido, the seishun 18 ticket, which allows you to use only local trains, served us perfectly since the slow pace gave us an opportunity to really feel the countryside and meet charming people along the way. From Wakkanai, we crossed by ferry to Rishiri and Rebun Islands. I highly suggest renting a bicycle to go around Rishiri Island, which is a great way to discover the region while keeping your body in shape. We even hitchhiked on Rebun Island after hiking for many hours in the wild. On the return from Wakkanai, we took the overnight bus to Sapporo, which allowed us to save on accommodation as well as time. However, on our way back to Tokyo from Hakodate, we were compelled to use an express train to make up some time.

Beside the great countryside and open spaces you see when taking the train in Hokkaido, the first thing you will remark is the people themselves. Unlike Tokyoites who are often busy with the matrix of their cell phones, Hokkaido inhabitants are happy to see you, help you and stop to chat. The second obvious thing you will soon realize is the smell of diesel (!) as very few lines are electric due the breadth of this island. The third thing about travelling in Hokkaido, and important to be aware of, is the relatively fewer connections and frequencies in the transport system. So plan your holidays well and don’t be in a rush. It’s Hokkaido; it’s huge, exciting and beautiful. There are mountains and volcanoes, rivers and sea shores, farmlands and rice fields, islands and fisheries to explore.

Lake Toya turned out to be a lovely starting point. We decided to start our journey in Toyako, a beautiful location which offers a fireworks display every night during the summer season. (Toyako Onsen was the venue for the recent G8 Toyako Hokkaido Summit). During our 12-day visit to Hokkaido, this is where we found the best value for accommodation at the Kawanami Hotel. We chose a Japanese style room with a fantastic view on the lake. The friendly personnel looked after us well. Facilities include interior and exterior thermal baths (o-furo) which we enjoyed after exhausting hikes in the vicinity, free internet access, a good value restaurant, a small art gallery and a cozy lounge. The hotel proved to be well located to visit surrounding volcanoes like Usu, Showa Shinzan and Nishi-Yama. So don’t hesitate to stay at the Kawanami Hotel; price starts at only 3900 yen per person. For the more information on our journey to Hokkaido, please come back to this site soon.

*

Naka Furano, farmlands and Mountains In Hokkaido

Naka Furano, farmlands and Mountains In Hokkaido

*

One man Train car going to Wakkanai in Hokkaido

One man Train car going to Wakkanai in Hokkaido

*

The Crew's cabin in One man train car! Hokkaido

The Crew's cabin in One man train car! Hokkaido

*

Trees in Highland country near Furano Hokkaido

Trees in Highland country near Furano Hokkaido

*

Farm with rice fields in Hokkaido

Farm with rice fields in Hokkaido

*

Date Samurai Matsuri and 2 horses in DateMembetsu Hokkaido

Date Samurai Matsuri and 2 horses in Datemombetsu Hokkaido

*

Showa Shinzan near Lake Toya in Hokkaido

Showa Shinzan near Lake Toya in Hokkaido

*

Flowers in a sailing boat on the island of Rishiri, Hokkaido

Flowers in a sailing boat on the island of Rishiri, Hokkaido

*

Tunnel on the Hokkaido Raiway system

Tunnel on the Hokkaido Raiway system

*

Sunset observed from the Ferry after Rebun, Hokkaido

Sunset observed from the Ferry after Rebun, Hokkaido

*

Next article: Hiking in a disaster area

Horikiri Shobuen Gardens:

An Original Iris Matsuri

By Denis Plamondon
Photos: Sandra D’Sylva & Denis Plamondon

*

Koto, Shamisen Horikiri Shobuen Station

Koto and Shamisen at Horikiri Shobuen Station

*

As summer kicks off with flowers in full bloom, festivals to celebrate irises, azaleas and hydrangeas have been organized across Japan. On June 7th, we decided to go to Horikiri Shobuen Gardens in Tokyo and, as soon as we pulled into the train station, we discovered that most of the neighborhood had gathered for an annual iris festival! Local organizers had closed the main avenue and surrounding small sinuous streets leading to Horikiri Shobuen Gardens allowing hundreds of performers to exhibit their many talents. They had even laid down tatami (畳)mats for spectators to slip off their shoes, sit down and appreciate the show in comfort. Groups of dancers and musicians paraded one after the other for the enjoyment of their suburban audience and the few foreigners like us who had ventured into the heart of Edogawa. Wadaiko (和太鼓)and taiko (太鼓)[Japanese drums], koto (琴)and shamisen (三味線)[three-stringed Japanese banjos], and traditional dances were in abundance, with performers clad in colorful costumes, unusual hats and head bands. A few female performers in particular added a special texture to their folk dances with specially angled geitas (下駄) [wooden shoes].

*

Horikiri Shobuen Station Iris Festival

Horikiri Shobuen Station Iris Festival

*

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Wadaiko Dancers

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Wadaiko Dancers

*

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers Yellow & Orange Outfit

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers

*

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Traditional Dance in Streets

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Traditional Dances in Streets

*

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers Group in Black & White Outfit

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Traditional Dances in the Streets

*

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers featuring Geita variation

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Dancers Featuring Geitas

*

Iris Festival in Horikiri Shobuen, Dion Shinyou Taiko Group

Iris Festival in Horikiri Shobuen - Dion Shinyou Taiko Group

*

Iris festivals (Shobu Matsuri) in Tokyo are coming to an end soon (June 1 to June 30). Flowers have already reached their peak, but will last until mid-July.  If you miss them this year, make sure to put one of these festivals on your calendar next year. Horikiri Shobuen Garden and Mizumoto Koen Park in Katsushika-ku, or Yoyogi Park, are among the favorites.

*

Iris Violet Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

Violet Iris - Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

*

The variety of these flowers is phenomenal . The beauty in their colors and the care that gardeners take to provide them with the best conditions are worth a yearly visit.  Admiration, contemplation and peace are surely the best words to express one’s state of mind when experiencing this extraordinary diversity of nature.

*

Iris Violet Unique Horikiri Shobuen

Horikiri Shobuen- Unique Iris Variety

*

For more information: see related articles in The Nihon Sun 1) Yomeiri Fune: Wedding Ships Set Sail in Japan and 2) Meiji Jingu Iris Garden

In Spanish: Flores de Iris

In Japanese: 堀切菖蒲園

*

Field of Iris in Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

Field of Irises at Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

*

Iris viewing rapidly produces a sound peace of mind.

Le célèbre marché de Tsukiji à Tokyo

Par Denis Plamondon
Photos de Sandra D’Sylva & Denis Plamondon

*

Secteur du Marché Coin Harumi-Dori et Shin Ohashi-Dori

Secteur du Marché Coin Harumi-Dori et Shin Ohashi-Dori

*

Le marché de poisson de Tsukiji, à Tokyo, rafle la palme du plus gros marché de poisson au monde. Il met en circulation près de 3,000 tonnes métriques de produits de la mer à chaque jour. Ses produits atteignent toutes les ramifications de la ville de 12 millions d’habitants avec une efficacité déconcertante. Vous connaissez Tsukiji? Sa réputation dépasse largement les frontières du pays et représente l’attrait touristique le plus couru de Tokyo. Son succès n’est pas sans occasionner des problèmes de logistique et d’adéquation dans les relations interpersonnels entre les 65,000 employés qui y travaillent à longueur d’année et la marre de touristes qui l’envahisse à tous les jours, sauf le dimanche. Le gouvernement du Tokyo métropolitain a même dû émettre une mise en garde en décembre 2008 afin d’ interdire l’accès du public aux espaces réservés à la mise aux enchères du thon, de loin l’attraction la plus recherchée du marché. L’embargo est levé, mais le public doit se conformer à de nouvelles consignes.

*

Le marché de poisson de Tsukiji

Le marché de poisson de Tsukiji

*

Aire de circulation centrale au marché de Tsukiji

Aire de circulation centrale au marché de Tsukiji

*

Une visite au marché de Tsukiji est excitante. Le circuit passionne par son excentricité, la fraîcheur et l’abondance du poisson. L’exercice s’inscrit au chapitre de l’éducation, car les découvertes et les démonstrations sont fort instructives. L’endroit grouille d’activités et de soubresauts : Des camions, des lifts, des chariots motorisés et des bogheis filent dans les corridors étroits du marché, car le transport rapide de cette infinie variété de produits marins est primordial. Les touristes ébahis ou à moitié endormis côtoient et se frottent à tous les corps de métiers qui s’y activent, vendeurs en gros, comptables, crieurs à l’encan, distributeurs, acheteurs et intermédiaires, boutiquiers, employés et manouvriers.

*

La valse des chariots motorisés circulant à vive allure

La valse des chariots motorisés circulant à vive allure

*

Un peu d’histoire

Le marché en gros tire ses origines de la période Edo alors que le premier Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, le grand bâtisseur de Tokyo au 16e siècle, donna des droits de pêche à quelques privilégiés afin d’approvisionner le château d’Edo; les pêcheurs vendaient les surplus dans les environs du pont de Nihonbashi et, avec le temps,  le marché prit de l’expansion. Après le grand tremblement de terre de 1923, la plupart des marchés de poisson étant détruits, la Ville de Tokyo ordonna la construction d’un marché central pour la vente en gros des produits de la mer.

Explorer  les charmes de la délectation

Est-ce l’événement en soi qui génère autant de charisme ou  la facination vient-elle en partie de la préparation singulière que s’impose le visiteur éphémère? Disons le d’emblée, il faut se lever tôt pour jouir de cette expérience unique et grisante. Dès 3 heures du matin, les produits de la mer arrivent du monde entier par bateau, rail, camion ou par avion. Rappelez-vous que le métro ouvre ses portes entre 5h00 et 5h15 du matin, selon les stations.

La  plus impressionnante de ces activités matinales demeure, sans contredit, la mise aux enchères de ces superbes thons congelés que l’on aligne sur le parquet de la bourse marine.

*

Les thons les acheteurs analysent le produit avec attention

Les thons alignés, les acheteurs analysent le produit avec attention

*

I faut toujours surveiller ses arrières

I faut toujours surveiller ses arrières

*

Dans l’enceinte de cette mise aux enchères, oubliez les gadgets de la ville électronique d’Akihabara. Le folklore, la tradition et les réflexes ancestraux ont préséance sur les prétentions du virtuel. Les acheteurs se promènent entre les torpilles de poisson, lumière de poche à la main, analysent la qualité de la chair, notent sur un petit carnet le prix qu’ils sont prêts à payer et passent au suivant. Vers 5 heures 20, un crieur actionne une cloche et le marathon des enchères commence. Le débit est rapide, le spectacle, captivant. Pendant que des centaines de touristes s’entassent sur un étroit corridor de 30 mètres de long par moins de 2 mètres de large, les lots de poissons passent d’un propriétaire à l’autre le temps que l’encanteur balbutie un chapelet de mots incompréhensibles. Vers 7 heures du matin, le tout est liquidé. L’urgence continue de pousser les acteurs de cette tradition vivante à garder la cadence et la vigueur du tempo, car c’est de la fraîcheur du produit qui en dépend. La ville se réveille, les cuisines s’animent, les habitants auront faim. Il faut maintenir le rythme. Ainsi va la vie japonaise.

*

Les enchères commencent, le crieur donne un spectacle intriguant

Les enchères commencent, le crieur donne un spectacle intriguant

*

Après l'achat du thon congelé, la course contre la montre

Après l'achat du thon congelé, la course contre la montre

*

La coupe du poisson congelé à Tsukiji

La coupe du poisson congelé à Tsukiji

*

Après la coupe du thon congelé, la distribution

Après la coupe du thon congelé, la distribution

*

L'enchère du thon frais à Tsukiji

L'enchère du thon frais à Tsukiji

*

Les chariots s’activent, les trancheuses électriques découpent le poisson congelé alors que des poissonniers émérites émerveillent la galerie avec la beauté de leur art, la dextérité de leurs gestes et leur agilité à manier le couteau et la scie tranchante. Le sol de béton est mouillé, la glace est omniprésente.

*

Trois hommes manient la scie pour découper le thon

Trois hommes manient le couteau pour découper le thon

*

Le coupeur et le comptable à Tsukiji

Le coupeur et le comptable à Tsukiji

*

Le thon en pièces dans un présentoir à Tsukiji

Le thon en pièces dans un présentoir à Tsukiji

*

Il est temps de découvrir la variété de fruits de la mer et d’anticiper la nostalgie d’une vie à proximité, car les prix sont excellents, le choix intarissable. Il existe plein de boutiques aux  produits séchés, d’articles de cuisine, de couteaux, de céramiques, etc. Il y a aussi plusieurs restaurants à sushi dont il faut à tout prix essayer. À huit heures le matin, o n se fait plaisir et la dégustation de sashimis délicieux peut commencer. Après plusieurs visites dans ce marché exquis et les restaurants qui l’entourent, je vous recommande le “Sushizanmai” – une chaîne de restaurants spécialisés dans les sushis- autant pour la qualité de la nourriture que pour l’ambiance et la gentillesse du personnel souriant qui s’anime dès que vous ouvrez la porte et qui demeure à votre disposition en s’assurant de votre confort.

*

Le restaurant de sushi "Sushizanmai" près de Harumi-Dori

Le restaurant de sushi "Sushizanmai" près de Harumi-Dori

*

Après ce festin exceptionnel, dirigez-vous vers Ginza. Prenez la rue Harumi-dori, vous êtes à 5 minutes de marche à peine du célèbre théâtre Kabuki de Ginza.

Le marché de Tsukiji déménage

Selon le Japan Times, le gouvernement métropolitain de Tokyo désire relocaliser le marché de Tsukiji en 2012, dans le district de Koto sur une île artificielle qui contient des contaminants, près du front de mer d’Odaiba. Malgré les pressions du public et les recherches additionnelles du gouvernement afin de vérifier le bien fondé des opposants, il est quasi certain que le projet ira de l’avant. L’opposition est d’avis que la raison principale de ce déménagement se trouve davantage dans le projet de construction d’un “Centre des Médias” pour les jeux olympiques de 2016.

*

Un guide en ligne pour visiter le marché et qui contient des informations très utiles est disponible.   Il renferme également des statistiques de 2004 sur le volume, la quantité et la variété des produits transigés dans le marché de poisson, fruits et légumes.

Si vous voulez écrire un commentaire, prière de retourner au début de cet article.