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Flowers, food draw visitors to heart of Hokkaido

The seasonal Norokko-go train arrives at Biei Station. The station house is surrounded by highland flowers during the short summer.
A train runs through low hills.
A slope is covered with blossoming potate plants. Potate harvest is in late summer.
Shikisai no Oka Hill, where sunflowers bloom. Sightseeing while riding tractor-pulled carriages is popular.

Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

About 1.3 million people a year visit Bieicho, known as the town of hills, located in the center of Hokkaido. Summer is an especially popular time because highland flowers dot the countryside.

On one holiday afternoon, the station was crowded with tourists. The neatly built station house made with Biei soft stone is one of the major attractions.

A special seasonal train called the Norokko-go, which connects Asahikawa and Furano, is recommended for those who want to enjoy the scenery. The highlight is the seven-kilometer jaunt from Biei Station to the next stop at Bibaushi Station. The train runs slowly for about 20 minutes through the section where hills patchworked with flowers and the pointed roof of Bibaushi Primary School can be seen.

This summer, curry udon noodles have suddenly became popular in Biei. Tourists will find colorful orange banners with white writing reading, "Biei curry noodles" at various places in town.

The noodles are made completely from wheat grown in Biei, called koumugi (scent wheat). It was originally grown for bread flour and has an elastic texture. The curry also contains locally grown asparagus, tomatoes and potatoes and locally produced meat.

In early July, local volunteers prepared 500 servings of the curry noodles and sold them in front of the station. They sold out in less than two hours.

At Hanahito Park near the station, a store called the Hometown Market, which sells produce straight from the farm, is popular. The store is operated by a local nonprofit organization. Asparagus with opened ears, tomatoes with galls, strongly curved cucumbers--these nonstandard products, which are usually not put on the retail market, are sold at low prices.

Natsumi Takahashi, 36, who sells produce harvested by her mother, said: "There are many frequent customers for nonstandard products. There's no difference in taste. I think some customers like our produce better because of its imperfect appearance."

(August. 5, 2005)
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