Denise Stephens travels from Sapporo to Furano on the Lavender Express train
: The train was the North Rainbow Express-type which JR Hokkaido uses on its scenic routes. The carriages have wide-view windows and skylights, allowing a much better view than standard express trains. Comfort was superior too, with reclining seats upholstered in shades of lavender, green and gold.
Station experience : Sapporo JR station is a busy one with a good selection of shops selling food to take on the train. I bought sandwiches and coffee, then headed for the platform. This has signs indicating the spot to queue for each car, which makes boarding smooth.
On time : The train departed Sapporo on time at 9.07am, and was just a few minutes late getting into Furano.
Class : Ordinary.
The seat: Car 4, 12A, a window seat.
Price : $100 for a Furano-Biei ticket plus the reserved-seat charge. This ticket, available only in the summer, gives a return trip to the Furano-Biei-Asahikawa area plus use of local trains within that area.
Travel time : Two hours.
Fellow passengers : A mixture of day trippers and people going to Furano for the weekend.
How full : About three-quarters full.
Food and drink : None available on the train, but plenty of options at Sapporo station to take on the train.
Entertainment : Once the train gets out of Sapporo, it's all about the scenic views. The route passes through rice paddies and vegetable fields, with mountains in the distance. I spotted a huge statue just before Ashibetsu, gleaming white against the lush green landscape. This depicts the goddess Kannon and is the third largest statue in Japan.
Service : Announcements were made in English, Chinese and Korean as well as Japanese. There were tourist brochures and maps available in each carriage.
Toilets : Clean and functional.
Nice surprise : Car 3 had a lounge with comfortable couches on its lower level, which would be really nice for a group travelling together.
Luggage : There are luggage racks at the end of each car. Due to the scenic wide-view windows, the overhead rack is only big enough for coats and similar items.
Final word : The Lavender Express is the fastest train to Furano, and saves changing trains at Takikawa. It only runs during the summer when the famous lavender fields are in bloom. I recommend it as very comfortable way to enjoy the scenery.