Country roads are liberating. Even more so when I get to travel them and admire the idyllic scenery unobstructed by tall buildings and bustling crowds at my own pace.
As much as I love country roads and want to freely explore them, I have yet to get a driver’s license, so cycling and walking are my only feasible options when I travel solo (which is most of the times). I am actually a fan of cycling, but I am not the physically fittest person. I had biked only around 7.5 kilometers at most on a pretty flat road in Thailand. However, the vast and colorful fields of Biei in Hokkaido had motivated me so much that I could overcome my worries about cycling on a hilly, more-than-10-kilometer-long road abroad.
Heralded as one of the most beautiful villages in Japan, Biei is actually a town. It is small though and has very large and fertile farmland areas, so it feels like a big bucolic village with computer wallpaper-worthy looks. Biei is also home to Hokkaido’s two most famous cycling routes, the Patchwork Road (14 kilometers) and the Panorama Road (18 kilometers), both of which are among the top cycling routes in the whole country as well. Of course, everyone is welcome to go on a Biei road trip by car and by tour bus, but with the well-paved roads and picturesque countryside views throughout, I highly recommend renting an electric bicycle near Biei Station like I did, so that nothing comes between you and the scenery.
I initially wanted to cycle both the Patchwork Road and the Panorama Road as a full-day trip, but as you can see in the featured image, it was an overcast day and the weather forecast warned me that the rain would start around 12pm. Biei was my last destination before I flew back to Nagoya, so I couldn’t change anything on my itinerary. Although there was no sunshine, there was no way I would miss one of the destinations I looked forward to the most in the entire country, so my Biei road trip had to go on as I hoped that I would be lucky enough to pedal around for at least a few hours and could return my bicycle before it rained.
I was staying in Asahikawa, so I could take a quick morning train ride to Biei and arrived when the rental bicycle shops near Biei Station started opening. English was kind of limited when I visited in August 2019, but it probably depends on each shop too. The shop owner I met was kind and she tried her best to show me how to use an electric bicycle. The bicycles come with front baskets and mine had enough space to store my bulky tote bag and camera bag. I had to sling my tripod bag on my shoulder, but it didn’t affect riding much.
The first few moments of pedaling made me a bit worried though. There were some cars while I rode from Biei Station area to the start of the Patchwork Road. The street is very wide and Japanese drivers are mostly cautious, honestly much better than Thai drivers, but I was nervous about biking outside my home country for the first time and potentially making traffic mistakes.
When I arrived at the Patchwork Road though, my worries started to melt away. The road remains wide and well-paved, but the crop fields replace low-rise buildings and shops. I visited on a weekday, so there were very few cyclists around and cars rarely passed by.
Feeling the wind as I rode along the road, I felt exhilarated even under the gloomy sky.
The Patchwork Road is actually a network of roads cutting through local farmers’ fields. The vegetable fields are mostly green and brown, together forming a quilt-like landscape, hence the name Patchwork Road. The artistic crop fields weren’t intended for tourism, but thankfully, the farmers and the town allow us to travel along the roads and see their fields as long as we respect the farmers and their vegetables. See one of the cute signs below.
Summer is the best season to drive or ride along the Patchwork Road. The farmland reaches its green peak, occasionally sprinkled with flowers. While it can be hot sometimes, electric bicycles can help a lot. I was also worried about riding uphill at first (I had fallen off a bicycle while trying to go uphill before and couldn’t help being wary…), but with an electric bike, it felt easy even for me. To add, the hills of Biei are mostly gently undulating, so they probably wouldn’t be too scary for most people. How I wish rental electric bicycles would be available in Thailand.
Nice to see Hokkaido’s famous potatoes while they are still in the fields. It was my first time getting so up close to farmland outside Thailand and I was very excited since Thai farmland and Japanese farmland are different. I felt like what I saw in the Harvest Moon video games came true.
The farmland of Biei is dotted with iconic trees. Some of these trees have become renowned for decades since they caught the eye of Japanese creative and marketers and got featured in commercials, product packages, and TV dramas.
The first tree on the Patchwork Road is Ken and Mary Tree. The lone poplar tree was starred in Nissan Skyline car commercial in the 1970s.
The yellow house near the Ken and Mary Tree is Pension Ken and Mary, with Tree Terrace Cafe. It seems nice to stay overnight in Biei if you have time and budget.
Mild Seven Hill is well-known for a group of larch trees, which was planted as windbreak, but it has become iconic like other trees on the rolling hills of Biei. The name Mild Seven Hill came from the 1970s ad for Mild Seven cigarettes which featured the hill and the larch trees.
The rain clouds were rolling in, but I got to keep rolling on.
The three oak trees faraway are called Parents and Child Tree. They do look like a family.
In Potato no Oka (Potato Hill) area stands another famous oak tree called Seven Stars Tree. The tree was not on the Seven Stars cigarette package. I was positively distracted by the row of trees behind the Seven Stars Tree though and ended up forgetting to take a picture of the Seven Stars Tree, haha.
A closer look at the Parents and Child Tree.
At that point, the rain seemed to be encroaching, so I tried to speed up to get back to the rental bicycle shop in time. I arrived at Hokusei no Oka Observatory Park, one of my last desired stops, after 11am.
Hokusei no Oka Observatory Park was quite crowded because the hill is actually close to Biei Station and also a rest stop with tourist information counter, food stalls, cafes, souvenir shops, and restrooms. I had to get Hokkaido milk soft serve ice cream to reward myself for cycling this far and also because I was leaving Hokkaido soon.
Hokusei Hill has become popular because of the pyramid-shaped observatory that affords uninterrupted views of the Patchwork Road with the Tokachidake mountain range in the background, as well as some flower beds. They were still pretty beautiful when I arrived, but lavender beds had all withered. Late-July was probably a better time to see the flowers.
After enjoying the field and mountain views from the top of the pyramid on Hokusei Hill, I decided to trust the weather forecast and the cloud conditions and pedaled back to Biei Station area before I finished biking the whole Patchwork Road. It was the right decision because the first pitter-patter came when I reached Biei downtown area. I reached the rental bicycle shop before it rained hard. The shop owner looked relieved to see me get back in time and she asked me if I had fun. I really did.
Too bad I couldn’t visit Zerubu no Oka (Zerubu Hill), the best flower viewing spot on the Patchwork Road, and couldn’t cycle the Panorama Road at all. The Panorama Road may have fewer famous trees than the Patchwork Road, but there are still the Lone Christmas Tree and Shikisai no Oka, the vivid rainbow flower field often shown on Hokkaido tourism posters. A few other pretty farms like Kanno Farm and hills with beautiful views are located along the Panorama Road too.
Although I didn’t get to bike both routes and see everything I wanted under the perfect blue sky, I had a lot of fun realizing my dream of doing a cycling road trip in Biei. From Biei Station area to the Patchwork Road and back to Biei Station area, I biked about 24 kilometers. Electric bicycle is so helpful and I felt proud of myself for having cycled as much as I could.
This concluded the series of posts about my first Hokkaido trip in August 2019. I actually took this trip about one month before I had to take an entrance exam for my graduate school in September 2019 and change my status from research student to Master’s student. That entrance exam was at the back of my mind most of the times while traveling and before this trip started, there were times I wasn’t sure about going on this trip. But in the end, I was very glad I went and made “sunshiney” memories in Hokkaido despite the stress and six out of my nine days there having rain (ranging from slightly rainy to full on stormy). I got to visit a region in Japan that I had been wanting to visit for more than ten years and managed to pass that entrance exam in the end.
I ended up so deeply in love with Hokkaido that trips number 1.5 and 2 followed in 2019 and 2021, and hopefully more when I can go to Japan again.
When to visit: Always accessible, but late-July seems like the best time to see the vegetable and flower fields. I visited in early-August and it was great too, but some flowers have withered.
I heard that Biei is still beautiful in autumn, but please don’t expect to see the vegetables and the flowers at their best. Winter visit is also possible for those who like snowy landscape.
How to get there: Traveling from Asahikawa Station to Biei Station by JR Furano Line train takes only around 30 minutes.
You can start from Sapporo Station too, but it takes around one and a half hour to get to Asahikawa Station by Limited Express Lilac or Limited Express Kamui train first.
Once in Biei, you can rent a bicycle (200 yen per hour) or an electric bicycle (600 yen per hour, recommended) from one of the rental bicycle shops near Biei Station. The link includes information on how to bike safely and respectfully in Biei.
Rental cars and rental motorbikes are available too. Or if you don’t drive or ride, check out Biei Town’s bus tours. You get to visit Biei’s small but dramatic duo, Blue Pond (Aoi-ike) and Shirahige Waterfall, as part of the tour too.
This post is also part of the Sunday Stills (Road Trippin’), Flower of the Day (recent challenge), Writer’s Quotes Wednesdays (week #28: Livin’ in Sunshine Even When the Sun Don’t Shine), Fan of… (recent challenge), Weekend Sky (recent challenge) and Which Way (recent challenge) Photo Challenges.