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.
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. We ask for advice in the tourist information office, and more specifically if it is possible to bike to the famous Blue Pond. “Blue Pond by bike?! Oh no, steep, no possible!” answers the man who helps us out while highlighting a few roads on the map, insisting heavily on some must-see trees… We listen, ask a few more questions, and after a quick calculation, decide that we will go for the “no possible” and attempt to bike to the Blue Pond!
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. Indeedn the Lonely Planet presents this area as the next best thing after a trip to Southern France for Japanese!
The bike ride proves to be completely okay with gentle climbs and welcome 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 colour of the water is bluer than the sky on a sunny day 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 quite 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, but still, it is hard for me to understand such a hype, especially now that my main concern to avoid the huge thunderstorm that is coming in.
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 would do to the colour of the Blue Pond.
Claire & Marcella