FURANO, July 26 -- “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe…”
With the recent haze, the air we’ve been breathing has been suffocating to say the least. At home, I’ve been “purifying” the air by diffusing lavender essential oil. There’s something immediately calming yet uplifting about this clean, floral fragrance.
Instead of the incessant smog, I dream of running in lavender fields ... and my dream came true during a recent trip to Furano.
Lavender farms central
Located in the centre of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, Furano is known as the Belly Button Town (Heso no Machi). Its unique geography and high elevation creates a Continental climate, perfect for skiing, wine-making and lavender farming.
While other travellers head for the powdery slopes in winter, I’m here to experience the beauty of endless lavender fields in summer. The best time to visit is in the month of July when lavender blooms are at their peak.
Take a train from Sapporo to Furano (transferring at Takikawa station). From Furano, hop on the Norokko Go “lavender train” to the Lavender-Batake station, open only during the summer months from June to August.
Perhaps the best and biggest lavender farm for flower-crazed visitors is Farm Tomita, a five-minute walk from the Lavender-Batake station.
Fields of purple
A riot of rainbow colours welcomes me upon entering the farm. Flowers planted in the Hanabito Field include marigolds, California poppies, Clovenlip toadflax and other mid-summer blossoms.
But true joy (for me, at any rate) lies ahead in the next field. Row upon row of lavender cover the Sakiwai Field.
Here four types of lavender are grown; the Okamurasaki, Yotei, Hanamoiwa and Noushihayazaki. The gradual shift in colour from a light bluish-violet to a darker royal purple is stunning.
Depending on the variety, lavender can grow up to three feet. This perennial flourishes when it gets plenty of sunlight, which is why the most beautiful blooms come at the height of summer.
Bending over the tiny buds, take a deep breath. The fragrance is exquisite.
In fact, the Egyptians used this herb over 2,000 years ago to perfume their skin. Archaeologists have uncovered urns and even mummies in pyramids with traces of lavender residue.
Potpourri and perfumery
Next, early Greeks learned to perfume themselves with lavender from the ancient Egyptians. The Romans followed suit, using lavender blossoms in their public baths. In fact, the name lavender comes from the Latin word “lavare”, meaning to wash.
Here at the farm, visitors can observe workers harvesting lavender periodically. The flowers are then processed in-house. Farm Tomita has the only distillery in Japan that extracts essential oils from lavender.
These essential oils are then used to make various products such as lavender soaps and perfumes. You can witness this first-hand at the perfume workshop next to the Traditional Lavender Garden, with an unparalleled view of the scenic Tokachi Mountain Range.
Have fun learning how to make lavender potpourri at the Potpourri House. The flowers’ stems are cut when in full bloom, tied into small bundles and hung to dry for a few weeks.
Food-wise, skip the croquette burgers at the café overlooking the lavender fields and go for the lavender ice-cream instead. There’s even lavender coffee and tea available!
Consider attending some of the local festivals in late July such as the Shikisai Lavender Festival and Furano’s famous Belly Button Dance Festival.
Expect plenty of flowers and fireworks but also crowds as tourists and locals jostle for room to move.
Fancy a change from a grey haze to a purple blaze of fresh blossoms? Here’s to lavender fields forever!
Hokusei Nakafurano- cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido 071-0704, Japan
Open from late April to September 8:30am – 6:00pm; October to mid-April 9:00am – 4:00pm (admission free)
This story was first published in the print edition of The Malay Mail, July 25, 2013.