One of the standout images of Hokkaido, especially in its contrast to the other main islands of Japan, is that of wide-open fields of corn and dairy farms, somewhat reminiscent of the Great Plains of North America. Tokachi is the heart of that image. A rural plain between two great mountain ranges in the south-central portion of the island, this region hosts many travelers heading for the wildlife of Shiretoko National Park to the east or the great hikes of Daisetsuzan to the north. Tokachi, though, has its own adventures ripe for the harvest.
Farmers have taken advantage of the fertile lands rich with the volcanic ash that helped grow this island, and now Tokachi is home to some of the country’s top large-scale agricultural producers. The plains hold their own majestic beauty, and they’re backed by great peaks in the distance. Regional characteristics logically inform the specialty foods of Tokachi, such as soba, or noodles made from buckwheat, which grows in abundance here, or myriad dairy products, especially cakes and all kinds of sweets. You’ll find your fill of dessert specialists throughout Obihiro, the capital and only urban center designated a city in this region.
Highlights of Obihiro
Using Obihiro as a base, area highlights include hot spring resorts, hiking trails, gardens, seasonal events and farm stays. In town, Tokachigawa Onsen lies on the banks of the Tokachi River and attracts bathers from far and wide for its amber-colored “Bijin-no-yu,” or beauty bath. Unlike most onsen in Japan, this unusual “moor” hot spring has high contents of organic matter from reeds and other native plants that combine with the geothermally-heated natural spring water to gently caress the skin. It’s said to be effective for neuralgia, muscle pain, stiff joints, burns, and many other maladies.
There's plenty to do outdoors. If hiking is your forte, Mount Poroshiri has a two-day advanced course with magnificent views at the peak and good camping facilities. For a more leisurely alternative, the Rokka Forest is a stop on the Hokkaido Garden Path. Rokkatei is one of the many confectionery makers here, and they’ve taken the sweet shop to a whole other level by creating a living space to bring out the sweet flavors. In this natural setting with small art museums and cafes, you can stroll along babbling brooks and enjoy the quaint artsy huts surrounded by flower gardens.
Seasonal event highlights include the Hotaru no Seseragi firefly viewing event at Tokachigaoka Park in July, the Heigen Festival with taiko drumming and traditional dancing you can join in August, the Chrysanthemum Festival in late October, and the Ice Festival, with ice sculptures and fireworks in early February.
Of all the farms in the area, the story of one small operation is catching national and international attention, the Tokachi Girls Farm. Originally conceived as a venture to prove that young women can make it in an industry overwhelmingly dominated in leadership positions by the male and older segment of the population, the three “girls” running the show here have gone beyond the norm in other innovative ways. Using European concepts of direct farm-to-consumer markets and agricultural experiences, they have found ways to raise awareness and understanding of sustainability and nutritional health. To start their venture, they even crowdsourced funding in order to rent the land and expensive equipment necessary to even get started. Going all-out in farm life, they even began their own clothing line, Agri-fashion, both improving on farmwear and creating wider awareness of their mission.
Reconnect to nature
Just five minutes from “Happiness” (a literal translation of Koufuku Station), the Girls Farm is also something you can experience for yourself. On a few hectares, they grow sweet corn, fourteen kinds of potatoes, pumpkins, asparagus, horseradish, coriander, and other vegetables—and there you can participate in the harvest yourself. If you want, you can even drive the tractor!
After the fields and greenhouses, rest a bit and then enjoy those very vegetables you picked, prepared in a wholesome and nutritious meal at their on-site café. A large portion of the planet has been separated from the experience of growing our own food and eating it in the modern world, something which the vast majority of humans had done for thousands of years. Here, you can reconnect, but also take your knowledge of nutrition to the next level. Part of your experience will be the memories, which you can enhance by getting a bird’s eye view with photos made by their drone while in the field or on the tractor.
Good times at the farm can be had from June through October, with booking available starting on April 15. A four-hour morning tour starts at 9:30 am and runs 7,000 yen for adults (discounts for children available).