Article updated on May 21, 2020
Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The black cloud seems to move faster than me, while I puff and sigh trying to get uphill along the patchwork road in Biei on my rental bike. The sound of thunder is getting closer and I really don’t want to end up in the middle of this storm in this hilly and cultivated area of Hokkaido, famous for its lavender and sunflower fields.
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It is late afternoon and this morning we started our visit to the “Provence of Japan” arriving by train from Asahikawa to Biei, a village famous for its surroundings and old train station. One of the most noticeable features of the area, past the flower fields and the famous Blue Pond are must-see trees…
After five weeks in the country of the rising sun among high mountains, volcanoes, and rice fields, it is surreal to discover that this most remote part of Japan resembles the French countryside so much. Indeed, this area is the next best thing after a trip to Southern France for the Japanese!
The bike ride proves to be completely okay with gentle climbs and welcomed slopes down afterwards. Sooner than expected we reach the touristy but legendary Blue Pond which is a sudden reminder that we are not in France at all. The cobalt-blue colour of the water is due to naturally present chemicals, and changes depending on the weather and the angle of sight. Reflections of green trees on the opposite shore merge with the intense blue water, tainting the surface turquoise, contrasting with the black and white trunks of dead trees standing in the middle of the pond.
After biking back and enjoying the hearty specialty of Hokkaido, the curry tonkatsu, we decide to go for another bike loop: the panorama road. Several trees in this area have been used in TV commercials, prompting Japanese people to visit these sites and take selfies with the famous trees. Biking through the quiet countryside, the proximity of a famous tree can be guessed by the site of an unexpected huge parking lot in the middle of nowhere! Indeed, in Japan it is quite unusual to see these lonesome trees, and they have become a huge hype!
Just in time I manage to return to Biei before all hell breaks loose. Comfortable and dry, I wait for my train back to Asahikawa while outside streets get flooded instantly wondering about what this does to the colour of the Blue Pond.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles (zoom out) about the area!
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Or click on the images below for a selection in Hokkaido:
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