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

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

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Colour Your World in Furano

By Denis Plamondon

Photo: By Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

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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.

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

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

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Lavender field in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

Lavender field in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

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Butterfly in Highland Furano

Butterfly in Highland Furano

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Lotus flowers in a lovely pond in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

Lotus flowers in a lovely pond in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

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Mushroom in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

Mushroom in Highland Furano, Hokkaido

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Wineyards in Furano, Hokkaido

Wineyards in Furano, Hokkaido

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Wine Barils in Furano Winery, Hokkaido

Wine Barrels in Furano Winery, Hokkaido

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Cellar in Furano Winery in Hokkaido

Cellar in Furano Winery in Hokkaido

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Wine labels with typical Furano colours in Hokkaido

Wine labels with typical Furano colors in Hokkaido

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Rainbow of colourful flowers in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

Rainbow of colorful flowers in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

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Sunflower field in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

Sunflower field in Naka Furano, Hokkaido

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Warm Welcome to Noboribetsu

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Noboribetsu: Fostering Health from Hell

By Denis Plamondon

Photos: Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

Noboribetsu Onsen (登別温泉) is definitively a place to visit if you’re planning a trip to Hokkaido, especially if geothermal activities are included on your agenda! This small town hosts some of the most renowned hot springs in the world. The resort area, entrenched in its mountainous landscape, is only 8 kilometers away from Noboribetsu JR train station and is easily reached by bus in 15 minutes.

When you arrive, you will soon discover the calming effects of this intense geothermal destination. Most of the hotels and inns are equipped with outstanding o-furo bathing facilities, and some even specialize in comprehensive health programs. You can choose from a wide variety of therapeutic and healing experiences, including spa massages and fitness activities. No matter the choice you make, one thing is certain – with water temperatures varying from 45 to 90 degrees Celsius, nature is supplying one of its primary substances in full force. In fact, in Noboribetsu (which means: a river with dark colors in the native Ainu language: nupur-pet, nature is venerated as much as it is feared; devils and demons are considered an evocation of the ominous spirits that rise from Jigokudani or Hell’s Valley, which is one of the main attractions in the region. At the end of August, Noboribetsu Onsen organizes its famous annual Jigoku Matsuri .

Hell’s Valley is proof of the incredible rawness, harshness and power of such an inhospitable environment. The extreme heat and corrosive minerals that rise from the ground prevent vegetation from growing. As visitors walk along a wooden path that cuts across steaming puddles, sulfuric streams and hot gases spewing from deep within the earth, they are left with a strange feeling of amazement and admiration for this barren landscape – one can almost imagine walking along the back of a dragon!

Several hiking trails are well indicated just beyond Hell’s Valley. You will find yourself suddenly trekking through lush vegetation and listening to the sounds of the forest as you climb towards an observatory that overlooks a scorching lake. Your stroll will then continue past blistering mud pools on the way to a “natural foot spa” in the forest which is made from a cascading hot spring. It’s a great place to relax and bathe your feet.

Back in Noboribetsu Onsen town, you can ascend higher into the mountains via a cable car to see spectacular Kuttara Lake, a perfectly round caldera that is now filled with deep blue water. A cable car ticket will also give you access to a bear park where more than a hundred brown bears live in protective captivity; although these wonderful creatures are impressive to see, one can but feel distressed to see so many crammed in a small arena begging for food from tourists. Atop, you will also find the world’s largest brown bear museum and an Ainu museum which demonstrates the close relationship between the two, as Ainus’ worshiped the bear as a God.

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Engraved stone in Jigokudani, the Hell's Valley of Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Engraved stone at Jigokudani, Hell's Valley of Noboribetsu in Hokkaido

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White landscape in Hell's Valley, Jigokudani, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

White landscape of Hell's Valley Jigokudani in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

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Story of a man who came to collect raw material for gun powders. His eyesight was healed by the contact with the water from the hot spring. An altar was builted as a grateful gesture.
Story of a man who came to collect raw material for gun powder. His eyesight was healed by contact with water from the hot spring. An altar was built as a gesture of gratitude.

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Altars are always close to nature manifestation. Jigokudani Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Altars are never very far from natural manifestations, at Jigokudani Noboribetsu in Hokkaido

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This geyser gushes its boiling water out from Jigokudani in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

This geyser gushes out boiling water at Jigokudani in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

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Boiling mud in the Oku no Yu pound. Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Boiling mud, Oku No Yu Pond at Noboribetsu in Hokkaido

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Oyunuma thermal lake, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Oyunuma thermal lake and smoke rising out of Mount Hiyori near Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido

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Pathway along the Oyunuma river in Noboribetsu Hokkaido

Pathway along Oyunuma River in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

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Thermal waterfall in Oyunuma river and natural pool for footbathing, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Thermal waterfall at Oyunuma River and natural pool for footbathing, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

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Unbearable conditions for noble animals in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido. Fog is due to low cloud, not to hot spring reaction.

Unbearable conditions for noble animals in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido. Fog is due to low clouds, not to hot spring reaction.

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Your comments are most welcomed.

Here is a link to Tourism office of  Noboribetsu Onsen Web site.

Date Samurai Matsuri: Hokkaido

By Denis Plamondon

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

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Opening of the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

Opening of the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

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Memento of the Bushido (The Way of the Warrior)

There are many festivals in Japan and finding one in Hokkaido isn’t hard! Japanese enjoy celebrating past events and observing important anniversaries. Hokkaido is no exception to this fervor. When planning a trip to Hokkaido, consider that many events run during the peak summer season, thus the next question on your checklist may easily read: are their festivals worth the effort of traveling so far a field?

This is a question we asked locals at Lake Toyako about the Date Samurai Matsuri (1-2 August 2009). Some responses were uncertain and unenthusiastic. One senior lady we met said with a quiet smile: “when you’ve seen it once …” Nevertheless, trusting a good recommendation and our own intuition, we set-off by train for the town of Datemombetsu … and, we were pleased with the outcome of this 2-day festival. The events of the first day conveniently took place in front of the Datemombetsu JR train station, from 6 pm onwards. Citizens, visitors and contributors alike were greeted by the organizers in typical festival fanfare during the opening ceremnoy, including a sacred blessing and sutra from a visiting monk. A representative from each of the 10 participating floats gregariously introduced themselves to an equally receptive crowd. As the procession of floats, dancers and performers paraded down the town’s main street, onlookers were treated to the usual aromas and resonances of summer in Japan – whiffs of yakitori on the grill, the drum beat of taiko 「太鼓」 – always a great way to stimulate the senses and nourish the soul.

The following day consisted of a historical re-enactment of a samurai procession preparing for battle. The event was short from about 3-4 pm, and held in a large park called “Date Rekishi no Mori” (伊達歴史の森) some 20 minutes walking distance from the JR station. (Nonetheless, it was prudent to arrive early to secure a good spot.) This colorful and imposing production involved as many actors in traditional costume as there were spectators. Armies of samurai (侍) and heavily armored cavaliers paraded across the makeshift battlefield to congregate atop a hill, while an array of banners and flags fluttered in the background and gunmen on bended-knee fired shots into the air from vintage weapons. A contingent of samurai warriors, wearing outfits from the “bushido” (武士道) era, followed with their squires and fabulously adorned horses. Each took a turn to enter the arena and demonstrate their respective skills. The ceremony reached its climatic finale with the lighting of a bonfire and cries for the triumphant return of samurai armies from the supreme commander known as the sodaisho (総大将)or shogun (将軍).

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Order of cart presentation in the parade of 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

Order of floats in the opening parade during the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

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Pushcart at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Pushcart-float at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Black and white banner at the 209 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Colourful banners at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Warriors with their red banner at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Warriors in vibrant red at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Archery at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

A group of archery apprentices choreographically take aim with the grace inherent to this sport. 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido.

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Re-enacting old gun shooting at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Re-enacting gun shooting at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Personalizing the "Bushido" or "Way of the Warrior" in the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Personalizing the "Bushido" or "Way of the Warrior" at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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A proud and young samurai? 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

A proud and young samurai at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Cavalry and ground army presentation at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Cavalry and ground army presentation at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Inspection and presentation of orders at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Inspection and presentation of samurai sections at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Please share your comments with me:

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Next article: Discover the Geothermal Region of Noboribetsu

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Craters of Toya:

Nishi-Yama Hike in a Disaster Safari!

By Denis Plamondon

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

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Nishi Yama Crater near Toyako, Hokkaido

Nishi Yama crater near Toyako, Hokkaido

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We were enjoying the scenic view of Toyako from our lakefront Japanese style room at the Kawanami Hotel while reminiscing about last night’s fireworks. The sun was a little shy in the sky, but the clouds were dispersing and the day seemed promising. We had several options to spend the day, some contingent on the weather. Viewing Mount Isu is said to be spectacular from the summit on a clear day, where you can hike across a ridge to witness Isu’s active fumes, and admire Lake Toya, Mount Yotei and Uchiura Bay from an observatory.A local bus that takes you to Mount Isu and Showa-Shinzan volcanoes, is conveniently located from the main road in town in front of major hotels, including ours. If your journey starts at JR Toya train station, you can take the Toyako onsen bus and get off at the Nishi Yama bus stop.

Unfortunately for us, a sea of clouds came rolling in at the last minute! So we opted for nearby Nishi Yama, to the west of Mount Isu, instead. Nishi Yama last erupted in 2000 and left a scene of devastation that local authorities have kept untouched for a better appreciation of the power and danger generated by this natural phenomenon. You approach the crater along a long sinuous path, adjacent to a national highway that once crossed the site, now ripped apart and staggered at various heights. The path continues through a small nearby village, now mostly buried under a landslide triggered by the eruption. Scattered remnants are left as is to preserve the authenticity and eeriness of the devastation – chunks of asphalt, fallen electric posts and road signs, abandoned cars, collapsed houses and a daycare that was evacuated in time. The path is easy to walk, mostly paved or covered with old wooden railway planks. This is indeed an interesting and educational venture for all members of the family as it is for any advance hiker.

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Keeping the fire active while cooking Eggs on a BBQ in Nishi Yama, Hokkaido

At the outset of our one-hour hike, we were greeted by vendors at an outdoor farm BBQ with whole eggs and potatoes, a welcomed boost of energy. Nishi Yama, Hokkaido

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Wooden Sidewalk along Nishi Yama's craters, near Toyako in Hokkaido

Wooden path along Nishi Yama's craters, near Toyako in Hokkaido

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Collapse Road caused by Nishi Yama's volcanic activities in Toyako Machi, Hokkaido

Collapsed national highway caused by Nishi Yama's volcanic activities in Toyako, Hokkaido

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Electric post and road signs left behind after Isu eruption on its west flank in year 2000, Hokkaido

Electric post and road sign left behind after Isu eruption on its west side in year 2000, Hokkaido

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Part of Natinal Highway collapsed in Nishi Yama,, Toyako Hokkaido

Part of highway collapsed in Nishi Yama. Lake Toya, Hokkaido

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Remnants of a collapse house in Nishi Yama, Hokkaido

Remnants of a collapsed house in Nishi Yama, Hokkaido

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All roads go to.... from Nishi Yama Observatory, Hokkaido

All roads go to.... from Nishi Yama observatory, Hokkaido

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Warned by early volcanic activities and land elevation, inhabitants seeked refuge in safer area.

Warned by early volcanic activities and land elevation, inhabitants took refuge in safer area.

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Scallops at the Yakitori no Ippei restaurant were absolutely delicious, Lake Toyako, Hokkaido. Particularily, after a day long hike in the surroundings

Scallops at the Yakitori no Ippei restaurant were absolutely delicious, Lake Toyako, Hokkaido. Particularily, after a day long hike in the surroundings

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Supplementary information and  photographs for Nishi Yama and Lake Toya:

Toyako Onsen Tourist Association

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Hokkaido : Land of Northern Beauties

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Here are previews of coming articles on Hokkaido. Please come back later to see the details of respective postings.

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Close up of Rishiri Volcano in northern Hokkaido

Close up of Rishiri Volcano in northern Hokkaido

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Nishiyama Toya-ko, Hokkaido

Nishiyama Toya-ko, Hokkaido

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Datemembetsu Launch of Samurai Matsuri

Datemembetsu Launch of Samurai Matsuri

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Samurai Matsuri in Datemembetsu, Hokkaido

Samurai Matsuri in Datemembetsu, Hokkaido

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Shiraoi: Rediscovering Ainu culture, Hokkaido

Shiraoi: Rediscovering Ainu culture, Hokkaido

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Noboribetsu: Sulfur, heat and onsen

Noboribetsu: Sulfur, heat and onsen

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Furano: Flower fields in Naka-Furano, Hokkaido

Furano: Flower fields in Naka-Furano, Hokkaido

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Community fish market in Wakkanai, Hokkaido

Community fish market in Wakkanai, Hokkaido

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Rishiri Lake and Rishiri Volcano, north west of Hokkaido

Rishiri Lake and Rishiri Volcano, north west of Hokkaido

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Southern part of Rebun Island in Hokkaido

Southern part of Rebun Island in Hokkaido

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