By David the AppleOnsen
This week, we go north. The weather is getting warmer. The nights are still chilly, the leaves will soon be coming back to the trees, and of course, the long-awaited sakura will grace us with their presence. You have probably seen pictures of the famed fields of lavender in Furano, Hokkaido. They are indeed beautiful and fragrant (although the smell of lavender has always reminded me of the air-freshener in my grandmother’s bathroom…which is not necessarily a bad thing…) and well worth a visit. BUT I would be remiss to not encourage you to explore Furano’s excellent onsen options while you are in the neighborhood.
The area around Furano is rich with onsens… there are 6 distinct regions there, and onsens-a-plenty! You could spend a week there and not have time to soak in even half the onsens. I imagine that you could probably just dip your toes in each one, but what satisfaction would that bring? My suggestion is that you head for the Shirogane Onsen town in Biei. It is in the mountains about an hour bus-ride from Furano. The bus-ride itself is quite pleasant as you pass through farmer’s fields and the air smells like fresh laundry. If you are into camping, there are in fact two campgrounds there, both of which are quite big and very quiet. On top of the fact that you get to camp there, they will also give you discount tickets for almost all the onsens in town.
The “town” is very small. There is a small shop that serves as convenience store, grocery-store and general everything store. There is also a restaurant that serves the usual ramen and udon. If you are thinking about staying at a hotel, the hotels have small gift-shops that have some snacks too. The beauty is that you can wander around the quaint town of Furano during the day, and then escape to the quiet countryside in the evening.
There is so much to do in that area, especially if you are into hiking….There are two smoking volcanoes (read: Active), that have a light sulfuric smell to them. You can climb both mountains, and get pretty close to the active volcanoes!
If mountain hiking is not your thing, then you don’t have to climb mountains. There is a blue pond (青い池, Aoiike) about 3km from Shirogane onsen. This is a very famous attraction that people from all over come to see. The blue, blue water is a result of natural minerals (including aluminum) that have dissolved in the water. There is a wonderful nature path that meanders over to the pond. Along the way, there is a small side-route on the path that will take you to an amazingly calm cascade-waterfall (it is both) in the middle of the woods. There is a small shrine built there. Despite the crazy popularity of the blue pond, this small piece of tranquility gets very little tourist traffic. It is the kind of place where you might bring a book and sit and read the afternoon away.
There is a very strange earthquake information center there too. I am not entirely sure if they have ever had any visitors, but the whole building is ready to welcome you. It is called the 十勝岳火山砂防情報センター, and it is located at the top of a very high flight of covered stairs. The stairs are probably covered because of the snow in the winter, but in the summer the air does not move well in the stairway.
Here is some information about it (all in Japanese…): http://www.as.hkd.mlit.go.jp/chisui04/work/ishikari/work_04_04.html
Okay, okay… I guess I should mention the onsens too… this is supposed to be an article about onsens. There are plenty of onsens there. The hotels all have day-visit prices and they are mostly quite reasonable (one charges 800+yen, which I think is a bit ridiculous…). The Hotel Yumoto Shirogane has a wonderful rotenburo. Quite a nice relaxing place with a great view.
I didn’t spend much time on the onsens in this onsen article, not because they are not worthy, but more because they are just part of the reason you should go to this wonderful region of Hokkaido!
There is a youth hostel in Biei, but it is not cheap…
For more information on Biei, please visit the following sites: