It’s just over a 2-hour drive from Asahikawa, Hokkaido’s second city, to Tomamu, a mountain resort surrounded by the peaks of the Hidaka. But there is so much glorious nature to see along the way that you could easily spend a day or more travelling through this spectacular part of Japan.
From secluded waterfalls and iridescent blue ponds to monumental mountain vistas and fields of flowers, the route showcases Hokkaido’s grandiose landscapes in all their diversity. And in the summer, Japan’s northern island has low humidity, cooler temperatures and no rainy season – unlike much of the rest of the country.
The starting point for your trip is Asahikawa, a vibrant city lesser-known to most tourists. Stay at Hoshino Resorts OMO7 Asahikawa for an opportunity to sample some authentic Japanese urban culture.
Located near the centre, the hotel organizes outings for guests with local experts, allowing you to drink in small izakaya or eat in tiny restaurants you would otherwise never set foot in. Ramen is a speciality, as is the grilled mutton dish jingisukan.
From Asahikawa, it’s just over 30 minutes by car to Biei, a hilltop town surrounded by flowers and fruit trees. Drive through town and take route 966 alongside the Biei River.
You’ll soon arrive at Shirogane Blue Pond, a body of water that shimmers with a remarkable bright blue glow. While the pond itself is man-made (a tactic to protect Biei from volcanic mudflow), the colour is natural.
It’s thought that aluminium in the water scatters sunlight, and the contrast is heightened by the whiteness of the rocks caused by sulphur and lime minerals. Surrounded by white birch and withered larch trees, the pond is a photographer’s dream.
A little further along the road, you’ll come across the Shirogane Fudo Falls, where snowmelt from the Tokachi mountains plummets energetically down a 25-metre drop. The site is known as a local “power spot”, lined with 88 stone Buddhas.
A mile or so upstream, the Shirahige Falls features several strands of water tumbling down a 30-metre cliff and coming together in a cobalt blue pond at the bottom.
The colour is all the more spectacular when set against a white blanket of snow in the winter.
Further along route 966, you’ll hit a turn-off for Mount Tokachi Observatory. With its prime location overlooking the Daisetsu and Tokachi mountain ranges, this panoramic platform offers breathtaking views of an area known by the indigenous Ainu as Kamuimintara (garden where the Gods play).
The belching fumes of Mt. Tokachi are straight ahead, with the Daisetsuzan chain stretching out to the north, including Hokkaido’s highest peak, Mt. Asahi (2291m).
Drive back down the same road to pick up route 824 towards the Miyama Pass Outlook Terrace, another 360-degree viewpoint on the imposing Daisetsuzan National Park.
The nearby Miyama Art Park includes a large Ferris wheel, allowing you to gain more height for yet more sumptuous vistas.
Continue on to Furano along route 237, Hokkaido’s famous Flower Road. Running from Biei to Furano, this 20-mile stretch is lined with an astonishing array of colourful tulips, pink moss phlox, lavender, and more.
Have your camera at the ready!
The same road leads to Kanayama, where you should head east along route 465. You’ll soon come across Lake Kanayama, a reservoir surrounded by thickly forested mountains.
In summer, the hillsides by the shore are covered with deep purple lavender. A recreation center organizes activities such as fishing, canoeing and jet skiing, and the intrepid can go canyoning along the Sorachi river.
In winter, the whole lake freezes over, a chance to try your hand at ice fishing for smelt.
From the lake, it’s a 40-minute drive to the all-season resort of Tomamu, where Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Tomamu awaits you. Every room has a private sauna and jet bath, plus dramatic views of the birch wood forests and surrounding peaks.
While winter promises world-class skiing, there’s plenty to enjoy here in the summer. The Unkai Terrace, for example, capitalizes on a local climatic phenomenon that regularly see thick layers of clouds forming, resembling waves in the sky.
Situated at 1088m and accessible via gondola, the terrace is perched over a cliff edge. When the conditions are right, it feels like you’re walking in the clouds. Yet another remarkable natural phenomenon in a day filled with them!