bibaushi, biei, furano
i was quite confident all train stations in japan, no matter how isolated or remote, would be civilised ie nice train platforms, modern toilets, huge station signs announcing the station name etc. i mean, i’ve visited a good number of train stations in the country and i’d never been proven otherwise.
so, when our norokko train pulled up at bibaushi station 美馬牛駅, we hesitated. could it really be bibaushi? there’s no station sign. anyway we brought our luggages down from the train onto …. a bed of gravel. make it an entire platform of gravel. a pole stuck out from the gravel said: bibaushi. it was no mistake.
the rest of the clan threw dark looks at my direction. what now? there’s 50m of gravel between the plaform and the main road and we certainly couldn’t/wouldn’t wheel our hard cases over them.
bibaushi was a station located between biei美瑛 and furano富良野. from sapporo station, we had taken the limited express kamui to asahikawa 旭川 then transferred to the norokko train (runs only in july to october). the norokko train wasn’t part of the plan; the schedule just kind of coincided. and you needed to pay extra in order to sit at the open area. since we didn’t, we moved to the central carriage after realising our blunder.
it took us a while to find minshuku bibaushi what with me leading the clan in the wrong direction and having to heave the luggages over the gravel and all. so, finally arriving at this cosy minshuku run by an old couple was sweet (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
lunch was at gosh which was at the other side of the station and it was excellent. for a place so quiet and tranquil with hardly anybody on the streets, it was really amazing to find such a quality cafe.
bibaushi would have been the perfect start point to explore the famous biei patchwork and panorama roads. but without a car and being disinclined to cycle, we took a train back to biei station where we could hop on the jr twinkle bus tours for 500 yen per person. there were 2 courses: the twinkle bus biei hill country course: covers tree of mary and ken, tree of 7 stars, tree of family, hokusei hill observatory 北西の丘展望公園, and the twinkle bus biei takushinkan course: covers shinei hill observatory park, takushinkan, shikisai hill季彩の丘 , bibaushi elementary school. take the bus from right in front of the biei train station.
we managed to do both. of the first course, the hokusei hill observatory was the main highlight. of the second, it would be the shikisai hill farm. the rest were just good marketing and as with packages, we had to take everything that came with it. the ideal arrangement would be to drive around those areas leisurely and then take a walk in the fields.
the lavender fields certainly lived up to their reputation. i’m no flower lover and i didn’t think the flowers were especially pretty, but the landscape, the colourful contrast against the green of the mountains and the clouds made for rather dramatic sights.
but there were few opportunities for us to do the head-in-the-lavender shot that everyone’s so fond of doing. somehow, the lavender bushes were either too sparse or too short.
we took a train to naka-furano station and did a walking circuit of 3 flower fields: saika-no-sato彩香の里, nakafurano flower park and the extremely popular farm tomita, in that order. it was the best way to enjoy the lavender fields: cheap, stress-free and with a healthy dose of exercise. be sure to grap the site map from naka-furano station – the coupons enclosed within entitled holders to discounts in the shops at the various flower farms.
from farm tomita, it was a 10 mins stroll to the lavender batake station ラベンダー畑駅(a temporary platform that only operates in summer) where we took a train back to bibaushi. farm tomita was magnificent but a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of tourists.
minshuku bibaushi was like a home away from home. in the morning, kids walked by on their way to school and greeted us good morning. it was a relaxing place to chill: take a walk in the morning, count the number of new water melons in the melon field nearby, admire the neighbours’ flowers or explore the farm fields at the backyard.
which i did on the morning we were leaving. and the weather was perfect.
i wished i could stay another day but we had to go. to the lake district next.